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Shirred Pillowcase Top

Craft & Design Yarncraft

CRAFT Wardrobe Refresh
Shirred Pillowcase Top
By Betz White

Shirredpillowcasetop Done
When summer heats up I am definitely on the lookout for cool summer tops. And I’ve got a great stash of thrifted pillowcases that are the perfect candidates for a makeover. A few rows of elastic smocking makes a super comfy top and adds just the right detail.


Pillowcase Most pillowcases are approximately 20" wide and 28" long. Measure yours before beginning your project.
Elastic sewing thread
Fabric shears
Straight pins
Safety pins
Sewing machine
Tape measure
Marking tool
42" of rickrack trim (optional)


Before starting this or any project, please read though all instructions that pertain to the size you are making.
Shirredpillowcasetop Step1
Step 1: Plan your top.
For size S/M (finished top shown), use the width of the pillowcase as the width of the top. The hemmed opening of the pillowcase will become the hem of your top.
For size M/L, use the length of the pillowcase as the width of the top and create a new hem.
To determine which size to make, take your upper chest measurement. To do this, wrap a tape measure around your chest under your arms (where the top of the garment will sit). If your upper chest measurement is 34" or less, make the S/M size. If your upper chest measurement is 35" or greater, make the M/L size.
Shirredpillowcasetop Step2
Step 2: Deconstruct the pillowcase.
S/M: Starting at the hem, cut open one side seam and then cut along the seamed end of the pillowcase. Open up the pillowcase flat. Your fabric should measure approximately 40"×28" with the original hem running along the bottom (long) edge.
M/L: Starting at hem, cut open both side seams (one side seam may simply be a fold, in which case cut along the fold). Do not cut the pillowcase’s end seam apart. Open it up and lay the rectangle out flat. Cut off the original pillowcase hems at each end and set aside. Your rectangle of fabric should measure approximately 50"×20"
Note: The total width of your rectangle should be roughly 20% wider than your upper chest measurement.
Shirredpillowcasetop Step3
Step 3: Determine the length of the top.
S/M: Measure yourself from underarm to top of hip (I used a measurement of 16 1/2"). Add 1/2". Measure your length (I used 17" total) up from the finished edge of the hem and mark across the width of the rectangle. Cut the height of the rectangle along this line so that your rectangle is approximately 17" H×40" W.
M/L: Create the bottom hem by turning the bottom (long side) edge up 1/4" and topstitching. Then turn up another 2" hem, press, and topstitch. (If you want the top a little longer than 17", make a narrower hem.)
Shirredpillowcasetop Step4
Step 4: Hem the top edge.
Right side down, hem the top of the rectangle (long side, opposite of hem) by creating a double-turned hem. I used a hemmer foot but you can also make two 1/4" hems turned toward the wrong side. This will be the top of the garment.
Shirredpillowcasetop Step5
Step 5: Wind the bobbin.
Using an empty bobbin, hand-wind the elastic sewing thread onto the bobbin firmly, but without stretching. Fill the bobbin and wrap a second one if you have a spare.
Place the bobbin into the bobbin case. The elastic thread should pull smoothly from the case. You will probably need to loosen the bobbin tension slightly. I did this by loosening the little screw on the bobbin case with the mini screwdriver that came with my machine. Just a 1/4 turn to the left. Check the instruction booklet for your machine.
Shirredpillowcasetop Step6
Step 6: Create the shirring.
With the garment right side up, begin sewing parallel to the top hemmed edge, about 5/8" from double-turned hem, back tacking as you start your row of stitching. Stitch the width of the rectangle. Stitch a second row about 1/4" below the first (I use the edge of the foot as a guide). Continue to make as many rows as you’d like. I made 5 rows of stitching.
You’ll notice that the fabric doesn’t gather a lot at first, but don’t fret! As you make more rows, the shirring will begin to pull in the fabric.
Shirredpillowcasetop Step7
Step 7: Steam the shirring.
Using an iron, give the shirring a blast of steam and watch it spring into action! (I first read about this technique in Heather Ross’s Weekend Sewing book.) It’s like magic.
Shirredpillowcasetop Step8
Step 8: Add trim to the hem.
Replace the elastic threaded bobbin with regular sewing thread and readjust the bobbin tension to the original setting. Topstitch rickrack or other trim to the right side of the bottom hem, covering the stitch line.
Shirredpillowcasetop Step9
Step 9: Check the fit and sew the side seam.
The elastic shirring is pretty forgiving. This is the part where you can adjust things to make the top work for you.
Before sewing the side seam, you’ll want to fit your top. The width of the shirred area should be about 8"–10" narrower than your upper chest measurement. (For example, after shirring my 40" rectangle, it measured approximately 24" wide. My upper chest measurement is 33".) Try on your shirred garment, pinning the side seam. If it feels like it fits well and is comfortable, sew the side seam, right sides together, with a 1/4" seam allowance. If it feels too loose, take a bigger seam allowance and trim off the excess. Be sure to backstitch over the ends of the rows of shirring to secure the stitches.
Shirredpillowcasetop Step10
Step 10: Make straps.
With leftover pillowcase scraps, cut 2 rectangles measuring 3"×18" (For M/L size, use the fabric from the original hems cut off of the pillow case.)
Fold one rectangle crosswise, right side together, and stitch the length of the strap 1/4" from the edge. Turn strap right side out, using a bodkin or safety pin. Press flat with an iron. Repeat for second strap.
Shirredpillowcasetop Step11
Step 11: Finish the straps.
After the straps are sewn and turned, topstitch 1/8" from each edge.
Shirredpillowcasetop Step12
Step 12: Attach the straps.
Try on your top and have a friend help you with the strap placement. Safety-pin the straps to the garment with the ends extending on the inside.
Back at your machine, replace the safety pins with straight pins. Working from the right side of the garment, topstitch the width of the strap by following the first row of shirring stitches. Repeat topstitching on the second row of shirring.
Repeat this process 3 more times for the other strap ends.
Shirredpillowcasetop Step13
Step 13: Finish the strap ends.
Turn the garment inside out and trim the ends of the strap leaving a 3/4" strap length extending past the second row of stitching. Fold this extension under to hem and stitch across the strap. Repeat for the 3 other strap ends.
Shirredpillowcasetop Done
All finished! Wear, enjoy, and stay cool this summer! For more repurposing projects (including 2 made from pillowcases!) check out my newest book, Sewing Green.
About the Author:
Betz White is a designer, author, and “green” crafter who combines her whimsical color and design sense with a love for repurposing. Her first sewing book, Warm Fuzzies: 30 Sweet Felted Projects, was published in Fall 2007. Her second book, Sewing Green, is full of projects made from recycled and organic materials, released Spring 2009. Visit her website at

10 thoughts on “Shirred Pillowcase Top

  1. Sewmarm says:

    Hi, your close-ups were really clear and helpful. The result was absolutely adorable!

  2. Kris says:

    I have a load of this fabric that I was saving for little girls dresses. Shoot! I’ll just use it for these cool tops for MYSELF.

  3. Jamie says:

    I loved this tutorial. I have that same exact sheet set! I was wanting to make something for myself out of it, and didn’t know what to do. Thanks for the inspiration.

  4. Label Mabel says:

    I just ran across instructions on how to make a smocked tank top on another blog but couldn’t figure out how to use the elastic thread. Thanks to your very clear instructions and closeups of winding the elastic thread BY HAND onto the bobbin, now I can make the top … but I think I’ll make this one instead (much cuter – and easier). Thanks!

  5. says:

    Just wanted to let you know I featured this tutorial in a post all about upcycle crafting. Thanks!
    The Handmade Experiment

  6. Pauline Simmonds says:

    Have not made clothing since I left school 30 years ago but am going to give this a go!!! I have a new sewing machine that has not been used for more than sewing a few curtains and cushion covers!!! Hope to post later that I have been succesful?

  7. Belinda says:

    I can’t believe we have that pillow case!!

  8. Geraldine says:

    Did you use a small, 1/4″ hemmer to make your hem?

  9. Pillowcase top | ronda's creations says:

    […] You know that cute fabric with the stripes and the sun that came in my dollar boxes worth of treasures that I blogged about before?  I finally made it into a pillowcase top (although it didn’t start out as a pillowcase, it may have been a sheet in a former life).  Well, I discovered that this shape of clothing is not very flattering on my body type, but it’s fine for around the house, or, as my husband suggested, the beach.  Lesson learned!  Anyway, this top used shirring, which uses elastic thread in the bobbin to gather the fabric.  The hardest part about this technique was figuring out how much to loosen the bobbin tension to get the elastic to feed properly.  Other than that, it was very easy and fun to do.  If you think this style would look good on you, here is the link to the free tutorial: […]

  10. 14 nifty ways to reuse old pillowcases - DIY says:

    […] FAVECRAFTS 6. Create a nice top for the summer Transform your old pillowcases into fashionable tops for summer. Get all your floral pillowcases and turn them into masterpieces! We bet people will be asking you where you got your top from. It would be interesting to watch their faces when you tell them you made it out of a pillowcase! Find the full tutorial here. […]

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