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Vintage Pillowcase Pants Tutorial – making a pattern from measurements…

September 20, 2009



After mentioning a possible tutorial for these pants, I had lots of requests.  I made this one with the beginner sewer in mind… lots of pictures and everything detailed.   It’s my first tutorial, so please let me know of any errors or confusing directions!  I’m going to show you how to make the kind of pants I made for my 4yr (Sarah) and 6yr (Lilianne)  old daughters.  I didn’t have any pants that were fitting them like I’d like, so I made my own pattern.  I do want to add in here that most all of my vintage pillowcases had a width of  about 20 inches, so please take into account the size of your child.  Because nobody wants constricting pajama pants!  These will be wide legged pants.  Around a 9 inch width for each pant leg, so I’m thinking this will work best for kids ages 4-7…maybe a thin 8 or 9 year old?  Don’t worry so much about the length because you can always add length to the pant leg as I did with Lilianne’s.  In this tutorial, I’ll be showing you how I made Liliane’s pants, adding extra length to the legs.


What you’ll need:  

  • 1 pillowcase (vintage is always fun!)
  • 3/4in non-roll elastic


First, measure your child’s inseam… from the crotch inside the leg all the way down to the floor.  Write that down, it will be your leg length.  Now, measure your child’s rise…from the crotch inside the leg to the small of the back (or where they prefer their pants to sit on their waist).  Now take that measurement and add 2 inches and write that down.  This measurement will be the length of the pants rise.


Now that you have your measurements, take your pillowcase and fold it in half length-wise  


Now, iron the fold very well to make a well-seen crease…you’ll see why later… 


Now, lay the pants with the freshly creased fold AWAY from you (very important…don’t ask me how I know this) and get yourself a ruler of some kind.   Take your rise measurement and leg length measurement and add them together.  Now compare that to the length of your pillowcase.  Is your pillowcase long enough?  Too long?    I found that I needed 34 inches in total length, so I was going to have to add some length to the legs of Lilianne’s…

If your pillowcase is too long, you’ll want to start by taking your leg measurement and starting  from the open cuffed end of the pillowcase, measure out that length.  Mark it on the folded crease of the pillowcase. 

IF you’re adding length to the cuff, like I did, measure out your needed rise length from the pillowcase… I needed 11 in. So I measured starting from the seamed side of the pillowcase (not the open end of the pillowcase meant for the legs!).  Measure down the length of your rise needed and mark on the folded crease with a fabric marker or pencil.   


Next, regardless of whether your pillowcase is too long or too short,  on the closed end (not the leg end!) of the pillowcase, measure in from there 1.5 inches from the crease (remember the one you ironed in?) and mark it. 


 Get yourself a straight edge and draw a line from the 1.5inch mark down to near where your rise length ends and your pants length measurement starts…


You’ll want to make a curve near the end of the rise measurement like this….


Now, you’re going to want to cut off the seam at the top of the pillowcase.  Because I need all the length I could get out of this pillowcase, I only cut off the very edge.  If your pillowcase was too long, this is where you’re going to cut off the extra  as I did with Sarah’s.  Lop off, from the top seam,  however many inches you need to make the pillowcase the exact length of your rise +leg length. 


Next, cut out that area in the rise that you marked….


Now, open up the pillowcase….does it look like this?    I hope so!   OK, see that nice ironed crease you made up the middle there?  We’re going to cut along that line to make two pieces.


Like this… now you have two seperate pieces…       Still with me?


Now, open up the two pieces and lay them like this…  The first one will be laid out with the underside of the fabric next to the table. 


Now lay the second piece with the underside facing up.  Sandwiched with right sides facing.


Ok, now pin the two pieces together along the cutout on each side…. OR be lazy like me and just line it up and take it to the machine.  Sew along the lenth of the curved area of the crotch cutout…  Feel free to make french seams if you’re feeling fancy!  I don’t….because…well, I just don’t.


Like this…


Now sew the curved cutout piece on the other edge…  you should now have 2 matching edges like this….


Now, if you’re adding length to the leg, here is where you’ll do it.  If you’re not adding length, disregard the next few steps!  I simply cut off the decorative band at the top of a contrasting vintage sheet that I had (that way I already had a finished edge).  Measure out enough to add to both your pant legs and sew it right to the bottom of the pillowcase cuff of each piece, right sides facing…


Now, unfold the cuff and topstitch to make it look nice and lay flat…



Now,  head to a table and pink the edges so you won’t have as much unravelling when you wash them.  Nobody likes strings in their pants tickling them.  Or maybe you do…whatever floats your boat…


Unfold your pillowcase and it should look like this…


Now, open it up and adjust it until it looks like this…. still inside out…


Now take the hem of one pant leg and line it up front to back…  pin if you like… and head to the sewing machine.  Stitch a straight line up one pant leg right over the crotch and down the other leg…


Now it should look like this…pink your edges again..or don’t, whatever…


Next, still inside out, fold down the waistband 1 inch and iron it down…


Now fold it down over again 1 inch and iron…


Head back to your sewing machine… and you’re going to sew down the waistband leaving enough space to thread your 3/4in elastic thru.  Where I am pointing is where you’ll start… 


Stitch close to the folded edge all the way around the waistband leaving at least a 1 inch opening



Now, take your elastic and stick a safety pin thru it like this…


Stick the pinned elastic in the 1 inch opening you left in the waist band….work it all the way around the waistband until it comes back out the same hole… be sure it doesn’t twist over while you’re threading it thru….


Once it’s thru, pin it to the other end of the elastic and try them on your child.  Unpin and pin as needed to make the waistband fit comfortably…


 Head yourself back over to your sewing machine  and stitch the elastic together like this…



Now, stretch out the waistband so that the elastic goes into the fold and stitch down the opening.  Be sure not to sew over the elastic!


Now, turn them right side out and  iron them so they look all pretty.  VOILA !!…Behold the genious of your craftiness!  Pat yourself on the back and run to try them on your child.  I’ve created a flickr gallery for you, so please take a picture for me and post it here so I can see the cuteness too!!

48 Comments leave one →
  1. September 21, 2009 8:58 am

    This is great! Maybe I could tailor this for my daughter–age 7–because she loves PJ pants! Thanks for the how-to.

  2. September 21, 2009 9:24 am

    i found a picture of the sheet/sewing machine cover in my archives:

    the pants are great! i think i may have to make a mini version for the kiddo. looking through my ancient posts reminded me of other things i have made from vintage sheets, dress, kids clothes..such an inexpensive and fun material. if you want to see more look in my april and july 08 archives (not too many posts to weed through).

  3. September 21, 2009 10:06 am

    ooh , that looks so easy & wonderful

  4. September 21, 2009 10:13 am

    Oh I love these! What a great idea, and you did a great job on a very clear set of tutorial instructions (which I personally always need :)).

    I just added your tutorial to the inspiration section of my blog, and you should cross post this on the Vintage Swap website. I just bought a bunch of pillowcases at the thrift store, and you just made my little ones day now that they will get some clothes from them 🙂

    • minivanlife permalink*
      September 21, 2009 10:30 am

      Wow, thank you Heather! I just posted it over on Vintage Swaps. Thanks so much for adding the link to your blog… you made my day!

  5. Heather permalink
    September 21, 2009 10:33 am

    This is a great idea! I have made PJ pants from my girls from patterns before. I am not very good about preserving the pieces from the patterns after using them. This is great cause I won’t even need a pattern!! And I am sure this would work with regular fabric too.

  6. Heather permalink
    September 21, 2009 10:37 am

    Oh one question… Where do you find your vintage pillowcases?

    • minivanlife permalink*
      September 21, 2009 10:41 am

      Here and there. Most of them I found out thrifting. I never pay more than $1.50 for one. Usually around $.25 though. Although I must admit that a few have been found in the cupboards of family members! Vintage linens are a weakness of mine…. all those happy colors and prints… and so soft! Thanks so much for all the love everyone!

  7. September 21, 2009 10:37 am

    great tutorial, thanks for sharing!

  8. September 21, 2009 11:24 am

    These are so cute. I’ve a very novice sewer (as in I hardly ever do it and I’m a bit scared of my machine), but this looks so cute and easy that I will have to give it a go. Thanks for the tutorial.

  9. September 21, 2009 11:40 am

    What cute vintage pants! Thanks for sharing and keep up the great work!

  10. September 21, 2009 12:42 pm

    LOVE these!! I have some thrifted sheets that are begging me to make a GROWN UP pair of these…

  11. September 21, 2009 12:55 pm

    This looks terrific.. very detailed.. thank you for that! I’m definitely going to makes a couple of pair. I’m with Rachel regarding a Grown Up pair…I need some too!

  12. September 21, 2009 1:36 pm

    Great tutorial..>Can’t wait to try it. I am going to try to modify it to make some for my older son…and some mama pjs out of sheets…..Thanks.

  13. September 21, 2009 2:37 pm

    You make the instructions very clear. Thanks!

  14. September 21, 2009 3:15 pm

    I posted a link to this tutorial with the others I have on my vintage pillowcase giveaway post. Thanks!

  15. September 22, 2009 8:59 am

    What a great tutorial. Thanks for posting it, these will definitely be on my must do list.

  16. September 22, 2009 10:12 am

    gosh it looks so beautiful near where you live I am insanely jealous I love waterfalls and rain !

  17. September 22, 2009 11:42 am

    Oh I just want to jump up and make some right now… except everyone is screaming for dinner!

    These are definitely hitting my ‘to do’ list – thanks for the tutorial. xx

  18. September 22, 2009 11:52 am

    Oh my gosh these are fabulous! I’m definitely going to try these! Thanks for the great tutorial and all the pictures (I need lots and lots of pictures, lol). 🙂

  19. September 23, 2009 2:04 pm

    This is such a great tutorial, thank you! Great tip on the pinking shears, I’ll have to try that next time.

  20. September 28, 2009 2:21 pm

    thank you for sharing this lovely tutorial!
    i am in love with vintage sheets/pillowcases and have a few to choose from!
    i am excited to try these, my children will be thrilled : )

  21. October 11, 2009 6:56 am

    I love these and can not wait to try this out with my girls. How cute and how simple. Thanks for sharing.

  22. jaya permalink
    October 12, 2009 2:28 am

    wonderful tutorial, beautiful pictures, very detailed and not confusing at all.. Thanks!

    p.s. love that fabric…

  23. October 13, 2009 1:05 pm

    This is an awesome tutorial. I was planning to use a pattern for my daughter’s pj pants, but I think I’ll try your way instead.

  24. October 18, 2009 10:37 am

    Great tutorial! I’ll be using when I find some good pillowcases to use!

  25. October 30, 2009 1:22 am

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  26. Simone permalink
    January 8, 2010 11:15 am

    These pants are terrific! I hope you don’t mind but I posted the picture and link backs to your site on my blog. Thanks for putting this together.

  27. February 23, 2010 12:45 pm

    These are so lovely. I’m saving this for a project for me and my daughter as we learn to sew together. Thanks so much for taking the time to share, in great detail, how to make these.

  28. March 4, 2010 5:57 pm

    Hi Brandy,
    I’ve tried to email you back several times but keep getting a return notice ???.. anyway, to answer your question, I loved your tut and had no problems at all. I’m one of those girls who
    likes to get my info from the pictures.. I scan the instructions but refer
    back to the photos often. You provided me with a photo for every step and I
    loved it. It was one of the easiest tuts I’ve used. Thanks for sharing!!

  29. March 5, 2010 8:59 pm

    Great Blog!……There’s always something here to make me laugh…Keep doing what ya do 🙂

  30. April 26, 2010 4:23 pm

    This is beautiful! Thank you for sharing your enthusiasm and love for quilting and your family through your wonderful blog. Check out our Society blog at:

    Keep up the beautiful quilting!

  31. Christine permalink
    September 23, 2010 10:11 am

    Thanks so much for posting these wonderfully clear instructions! I’m a visual learner and all the other sites I found only had written instructions which still left me scratching my head, but now it finally makes sense… yay! 🙂

  32. December 1, 2010 4:33 am

    would love to feature your tutorial on the vintage sheet blog.. please let me know if that is all right.

  33. Charity permalink
    January 31, 2011 12:47 am

    FABULOUS!! I just got done making pillowcase dresses for my girls earlier today out of actual pillowcases. I accidentally purchased king size pillowcases as well and wondered if I could make pants from them. I googled it and sure enough…. however, my brain doesn’t allow me to learn much from reading, so I just wanted you to know how much I appreciated all the pictures you included. After searching about 5 different blogs I came across yours. What a huge help this is! thank you so much.

  34. February 12, 2011 5:00 pm

    I clearly must think even more in that way and see what i can do about this.

  35. Johnnie permalink
    December 26, 2011 1:27 pm

    So cute – I have 5 little girls to sew for – love this idea to go with Pillowcase Dresses – thank you!

  36. Tammy permalink
    April 25, 2012 4:57 pm

    Aww..would love to do an adult version of these too!

  37. Gayle permalink
    October 30, 2012 9:31 pm

    I love these! I collect vintage pillowcases as well and have made totes, scarves and a skirt but never thought of pj pants. The only thing I would add to your instructions is that you failed to mention what width seam you used. The standard is 5/8″ but I know a lot of tutorials use 1/2″. I would personally use 5/8″ so that after they are pinked you are left with a little more seam then you show. I would also reinforce the crotch seam either by stitching over the seam a second time, or by shortening the stitch length when you sew the curved crotch seam. There is nothing more disheartening then washing an item you’ve spent time making only to have it fall apart in the machine because you did not finish the seams properly.

  38. November 12, 2012 6:10 pm

    So pretty!

  39. September 28, 2014 6:38 am

    Very good blog post. I certainly appreciate this website. Keep writing!


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