We all have them: those “special” T-shirts from events, vacations or sports teams. Kids have more of them than most! You don’t wear them anymore, but you also can’t seem to part with them. Let’s make them into some cute keepsake pillows! Carefully cut out the motif, stitch and stuff! It really is as easy as that. We created a pattern for cool knotted corners that can be done in the same or a contrasting color (a way to get rid of yet another shirt). One or more of these pillows would be a great gift for someone heading off to college: a little bit of home on which to lay your head.
You can feature a large or small motif on one or both sides of the pillow. If the design is quite small, you could also cut around the graphic and appliqué it (by machine or by hand) to a plain square cut from the same or a coordinating tee. Raw edges are fine for this type of appliqué as the knit fabric will not ravel.
If you are new to working with knits, take a look at our Sewing with Knits tutorial. Working with T-shirt knit is pretty forgiving; we really didn’t have to alter our machine settings at all.
These pillows are super fast and easy to make and would be a great project for kids. Let them pick the T-shirts to cut up and do the simple stitching. The bonus: you just might free up space in a few dresser drawers!
Sewing Tools You Need
- Any Sewing Machine (we recommend the Janome Decor Computer 2014)
Fabric and Other Supplies
- ONE or TWO favorite T-shirts
NOTE: Whether you need one or two shirts will depend on the size of your tee’s design/emblem (if quite large, there may not be enough fabric left for the corner ties) as well as if you want your corner ties to be an accent color (as shown on our Water Polo Pillow Sample).
- (Optional) Scrap or ½ yard of medium-weight fusible interfacing to help stabilize the shirt’s motif; you need a piece just slightly larger than your motif; we used Décor Bond by Pellon
- ONE pillow form
NOTE: The size of the form will be based on the size of the design on your shirt. We used an 18″ x 18″ form for the Water Polo Pillow Sample and a 14″ x 14″ form for the University Pillow Sample.
- Pattern paper or other semi-transparent paper from which to cut a template for the front and back squares
- All purpose thread to match T-shirt(s)
- See-through ruler
- Fabric pen or pencil
- Iron and ironing board
- Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
- Seam gauge
- Seam ripper
- Straight pins
- Hand sewing needle
- Download and print out our Corner pattern sheet.
IMPORTANT: This pattern is ONE 8½” x 11″ sheet. You must print the PDF file at 100%. DO NOT SCALE to fit the page. There is a guide rule on the page so you can confirm your final printout is to scale.
- Cut out the pattern along the solid line. Set aside.
- From the pattern paper, cut a square the same size as your pillow form. For our example, we are using a 18″ x 18″ square to fit our Water Polo Pillow Sample.
- Fold the square in half and then in half again (into quarters). These crease lines and their intersection point will allow you to perfectly center the pattern over your T-shirt’s design.
- If the design sits high on the shirt or if the design you want to capture is on the back of the shirt (shirt back designs are always set higher), you will want to first cut the shirt along the side seams. Cut all the way up through the sleeves so you have two separate panels. This not only allows the shirt to lay flatter, it also allows you to shift the two panels to make best use of the fabric for the front and back squares.
- For example, on our Water Polo Pillow Sample, we used the design from the back of the shirt. The front of the shirt had just a small set of initials over the right chest. We used that for the back of our pillow. Since the neckline on the front of the shirt was quite a bit lower than the back, we offset the back against the front. In this way, we had all available fabric positioned for both the front and the back and could cut both squares at the same time.
- Center the pattern paper square over the T-shirt’s design and pin in place.
- Cut out both panels at one time. We found it easiest to use our see-through ruler and rotary cutter to get a clean cut.
- For matching ties, use the remaining fabric and the pattern to cut EIGHT corner ties. You can cut from any part of the shirt that doesn’t have a seam or hem. If there is not enough remaining fabric, use a second T-shirt in a matching or contrasting color to cut the EIGHT corner ties. We used matching fabric on our University Pillow Sample and a bright blue contrasting shirt on our Water Polo Pillow Sample.
- Cut a piece of the fusible interfacing just a bit larger than your T-shirt’s design. This is optional.
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
- Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse the interfacing to the wrong side of the front panel, directly behind the T-shirt’s design. This step is optional, but it does give the front of the pillow a smoother finish and helps keep the front design from warping when the final corners are tied into place.
- Pin one tie at each corner. Place the straight edge of the tie at a diagonal in each corner. The tie should overlap each side of the corner by about ½”.
- Repeat to pin all the ties in place on both the front and back panels.
- Stitch each tie in place, using a ½” seam allowance (based on the edge of the tie).
- Pull the tie away from the corner of the pillow. Press the seam allowance toward the tie. Trim back the seam allowance to approximately ¼”, trimming away the corner.
- Place the front and back panels right sides together, aligning all the raw edges of shirt squares as well as all the rounded corner ties. Also match the seams of the corner ties front to back.
- Pin around the entire outer edge, leaving a 6″ – 8″ opening along the bottom for turning.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch around the entire outer edge, locking your seam at either side of the 6″ – 8″ opening.
- Go slowly and maintain an even seam allowance around the curves of all the corner ties. You want a very smooth curve.
- Trim back the seam allowances around the curve of each corner tie to ¼”. Press open the seam allowance.
- Turn the pillow right side out through the bottom opening. Push out all the corner ties, gently rounding them with a long, blunt-end tool, such as a knitting needle or chopstick. Press flat.
- Insert the pillow form through the bottom opening and fluff it out to fill the square corners.
- Fold in the raw edges of the opening so they are flush with the sewn seam and pin closed over the pillow form.
- Thread a hand sewing needle with thread to match the shirt and slip stitch closed.
- Once the pillow is centered and adjusted neatly on all sides, loosely knot one corner. Next, loosely knot the opposite corner (diagonally from the first).
- Repeat to knot the two remaining corners. While the knots are still loose, adjust them until they are all relatively matching in size and the front and back panels are just lightly taut.
- Slowly snug the knots until they are tight up adjust the corners of the pillow form, adjusting the knot as needed as you go.
- Pull across one diagonal and then the other, keeping the tautness even. You don’t want to pull the pillow out of shape or pull so tightly that the design is warped. As mentioned above, if you used interfacing behind the front design, it will be easier to tighten the corner knots without affecting the center design.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructions: Debbie Guild