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Pillowcase tutorial for beginners

Who's ready to learn to sew a pillowcase using beautiful fabrics of your choosing with entirely enclosed seams? Me, Me!!!

This is a really great beginner friendly project.  Please don't be intimidated by the mention of French seams...they are no big deal and quite easy to do.

Magic Method or Burrito Method...

The method used to sew a pillowcase in this tutorial, is referred to, as the magic method or burrito method.  This technique is used to enclose the seams found between the border and the body of the pillowcase.  It's a really great way to tackle these projects and once you make a couple, sewing a pillowcase is a super quick & easy project.

I always recommend you read all the way through a tutorial, understanding each step, before getting started.

If often lay out my fabric and attempt any tricky steps in a "dry run" before stitching.  I mean, this is a forgiving project and we do have seam rippers, but we don't need to use them unnecessarily ; )

Fabric needs for each standard pillowcase:

Fabric cut for pillowcase assembly
Fabric cut and ready for pillowcase assembly

Body of pillowcase (dark pink)-

     Non-directional fabric: 27 inches x WOF

     Directional fabric: 44 inches x WOF

Flange or accent strip (light pink)- 3 inches x WOF

Border (teal)- 9 inches x WOF

You do not have to use all three of these pieces.  You could omit the flange, or accent strip (light pink), and only use the body and border pieces.  You would merely ignore the flange in the following steps and proceed without it.

Directional vs Non-directional fabric needs...

Let's talk quickly about fabric orientation.  As you can see in my example, I used a "solidish" dark pink fabric with an overall crosshatch print.  It is not "directional"...meaning I can use it in the vertical or horizontal orientation.  For this reason, I was able to use 27 inches (3/4 yard) for the body of this pillowcase.

If you choose to use a "directional" fabric for your project, you have to do a little bit more work in determining what you want your finished pillowcase to look like.

For example, if you pick a licensed character fabric, in which your Mickey Mouse (or insert your favorite character) heads are oriented in one direction.  You need to look at your fabric and decide how to want the finished heads to be oriented on your pillowcase.

The quick trick I use at the fabric store:

Fold the fabric selvage to selvage and stick your hand into the tube you just created.  The pillow will enter the pillowcase as your hand did.  Check the fabric orientation.  If you are good with how it is positioned, buy 3/4 yard per pillowcase.  If you want it oriented the opposite way, then you will need 1 1/4 yard per pillowcase.

Cutting orientation
cutting pillowcase

Shown above, are visual depictions of the ways you are able to cut out the pillowcase body pieces.

If you are using a "non-directional" fabric (like I am in this tutorial), you would follow the picture to the left in which you cut a 27" length across the WOF.

If you are using a "directional" fabric and the above option does not work for the orientation of the fabric print, you would follow the picture to the right.  You need additional length, since you are turning the fabric and need 44" across the length (not the width as the above option).

You probably want to pull your hair out right now and that's ok!!!  It is confusing....bust out your fabric and orient yourself to the selvage and the orientation of the print.  It will make more sense in your hands....

When in doubt, buy 1 and 1/4 yard per pillowcase and you will have enough either way....

Prepare your flange or accent strip (light pink)

First step is to press the flange (light pink) in half along its length, WRONG sides together.

Please excuse my nasty ironing board cover and unmanicured fingers...how embarrassing!  I'll make a cover for my board soon, but there is likely no hope for my nails as long as COVID is around.

Flange piece pressed right sides together
Flange piece folded and pressed wrong sides together.

Assemble your "burrito" or tube

Assembling the pillowcase "burrito"
Layering fabrics for "burrito" assembly

Layering and assembly the burrito is the hardest part of this whole project!  Please note the "top edge" is located along the left side of the photos...

  1. Lay your border fabric (teal) RIGHT side up, with the long edge (WOF) along the top.
  2. Line up your flange piece (light pink) with the top of the border, aligning raw edges together along the top edge.
  3. Take the body piece (dark pink), orient the long side (WOF) to the top edge, and place on top of other two pieces, WRONG side up.

Roll it up


Stay with me...you will see the light soon!

Take the body (dark pink) and starting at the bottom edge, roll the fabric up towards the top edge.  Stop about 1 to 1 1/2 inches below the top edge.

Next, fold the border (teal) up towards the top edge, aligning the raw edges. This will result in the RIGHT side of the border (teal) being pinned to the WRONG side of the body (dark pink).

It looks weird, but it's correct!!!

Pin along long, top edge

Folding border up to top edge
Folding right side of border fabric up to top edge.
Burrito assembled and pinned
Burrito assembled, pinned and ready to sew.

Sew that "burrito" closed...

Sewing burrito seam of pillowcase
Sewing burrito seam with straight stitch

Take your burrito, or tube, to your machine and sew a straight seam with a 1/4" seam allowance along the long pinned edge.

There really is no need to finish the seam allowance in this case.   This seam allowance will be enclosed in the wrong side of the burrito, once we turn it right side out.

If you prefer to be proper, feel free to zig-zag the edge of your seam allowance or finish using your pinking shears.

Pull out the contents of your "burrito" or tube...

After sewing this seam, you will now have an enclosed tube with your burrito contents (aka pillowcase body) inside.

Now we "unstuff" the burrito.

Gently grab hold of the pillowcase body (dark pink) and pull contents out of tube while turning right side out.

Pull the stuffing out of burrito
Pull the stuffing out of your "burrito"
After unstuffed/opened
After unstuffing contents.

Ta Da!!!

Now you have a border and flange attached to the body of your pillowcase, without any exposed seams.

Pretty cool, right?

Press the body, flange and border.

Iron border of pillowcase
Iron border and flange

Remove selvage and square edge...

Removing selvedge of pillowcase
Line up and remove selvedge edges

You will notice that you might have ugly selvage edges along the length of the body.  If you have a directional fabric and did not use the WOF for your width, then you will not have ugly selvages.  Don't worry, you're correct!

If you do have selvages, clean and straighten out the edge.

You will cut a straight square edge as close to the selvage edge as possible.  If you cut off too much fabric here, the width of the finished pillowcase will be reduced and your pillow will have a tight fit!

If you need a refresher on using a rotary ruler and cutter to square fabric, check out my post How to use a Rotary Cutter to Square Fabric.


Finishing up with a French Seam....oooo la la!

At this point, we will proceed with the creation of beautiful French seams to finish off the edges nice and "professional-like".  It's not to be fancy, I always thought French seams must be fancy.  Nope, while they are kinda pretty, they are also practical and durable....

Do you have to use a French seam?  Absolutely not...

You could finish this bad boy right now....pin right sides together, sew a straight seam across the side and bottom and call it a project.

Feel free to do so...but here's why you shouldn't...

For durability and longevity, not beauty....

Pillowcases get washed alot!  At least they do in my house, maybe we're just big droolers (or let the dog on the bed!)  Anything that gets washed frequently will eventually fray and develop stray threads.  In order for these beautiful pillowcases to stand the test of time, and endure frequent washings, it is important to finish off and enclose those last 2 seams.

It's not hard. If you can sew a straight line, you can make a French seam.

Lay with WRONG sides together...

After straightening out that edge and removing the selvage, lay out pillowcase with long edges lined up, WRONG sides together.

You might be thinking, Jen are you sure?  Yup....I am.  I haven't had any wine at this point ; ) We want wrong sides together here.

Pin pillowcase wrong sides together
Line up and pin pillowcase border and body, WRONG sides together.
French Seam of Pillowcase
Sew straight seam with 1/4" seam allowance

Sew a straight seam, using 1/4" seam allowance, down long end of pillowcase and across the bottom edge.

Finish the edge of your seam allowance, in the method of your choosing.

It's important to finish the edge, since these boys get washed and dried frequently.  You can finish the edge by:

  • sewing a zig-zag stitch along the raw edge of your seam allowance
  • "pink" the edge of your seam allowance with pinking shears
  • serge the seams (more on this in a little bit!)

I chose to pink the edge, since I really don't like zig-zagging edges.  I serge my pillowcases because I can, but realize that I am very lucky to have a serger!

If you choose to pink, don't cut into the seam!  You only need to cut the very far edge of seam allowance.

Pinking edge of seam allowance
Pinking edge of seam allowance

Turn pillowcase WRONG side out...

Pinked edged inner seam
Fabric turned right sides together with pinked edge seam inside.

After pinking both edges of your seam allowance, you are going to turn your pillowcase WRONG sides out.

When you do this, your pinked edges (and RIGHT side of fabric) will be inside the pillowcase.

Give it a good press and make sure your seam is completely open.  We need to be precise with the measuring for the last seam.

Here is the magic of the French Seam....it's so cool.  We are going to sew a straight seam perpendicular to the seam we just made, enclosing that pinked edge inside the seam!

The magic lies in the seam allowances...

Checking seam allowance
Seam allowance on first sewn seam measures 1/4"
Checking seam allowance
Measuring out seam allowance for French Seam, 3/8".

The trick, is making sure that you enclose the entire seam allowance of your first sewn seam inside your French Seam.

This means you need to make the seam allowance of this seam, slightly larger than the seam allowance of your first seam.

The first sewn seam had a 1/4" seam allowance and we will use a 3/8" seam allowance for this second (French) seam.  If you pressed well and measured accurately, you should enclose the seam entirely with this allowance.

Creating French seam on pillowcase
Sewing 2nd seam with 3/8" seam allowance.

Finished French Seams...they make me smile!

Finished French Seam
Finished right side of French Seam
Finished French Seam
Finished wrong side of French Seam

Use a serger if you have access to one!

When I make pillowcases (you can check out some sets on my Etsy page here), I always serge my seams.  I think it helps them be even more durable and helps avoid the annoying "strings" and "threads" that sometimes develop after several washes.

If you are lucky enough to have access to a serger, you can easily use it in this project by making a few adjustments.  You can serge the initial seam used to make the "burrito" as well as  the second seam used to sew together the body of the pillowcase.

The last seam remains a straight stitch, using the same method to create a French Seam.  The only difference is that the serged seam is entirely enclosed in the seam allowance, instead of the pinked edge seam in this tutorial example.

Customize until your hearts content!

Once you master this general technique, the sky is the limit!  You could add a ruffled flange, ruffled or gathered border, rick-rack or piping accent, tie closures, etc.

It's a great foundational tutorial and skill to establish.


Sewn Pillowcase with French Seams

Now, who do you have to make some pillowcases for?

You just created a beautiful, custom pillowcase with enclosed seams...and it wasn't that hard, was it!

Now you have no excuse not to create pillowcases for your home, your family, friends, neighbors, dog-walker, etc ; )

Be safe & stay well,

Jen J