Guest blogger series: Shirty pillow

by kath_red on 24/03/2011

in Guest Series 2011, Whip Up Tutorials

Laura and Annie write to each other via their blog across the Atlantic ocean. Laura lives in Bristol, England and Annie lives in DC. I love their blog name Nimble Fingers and Steady Eyebrows – The phrase comes from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and it describes Madame Defarge, who knitted “with nimble fingers and steady eyebrows and said nothing”.

Recycled Shirt Cushion Cover: This is a great way to recycle an unwanted or thrifted shirt. The shirt buttons form the cushion fastening, so all that’s required is some simple sewing and as much (or as little) appliqué decoration as you like. Our final cushion was 18in x 18in (46 cm x 46cm) but you could vary the size depending on the size of your shirt and/or cushion filler.

You will need:
– an unwanted shirt (ours was a man’s cotton suit shirt)
– a cushion filler
– assorted scraps of fabric
– buttons and embellishments as required
– sewing thread

– sewing machine (optional), scissors, ruler & pencil
– paper (or print out the pattern with the house templates)
– hand sewing needle, pins, iron (optional)

Step 1 – Preparation: Cut the templates for the pattern on the front of the cushion. Remember that there is an extra 0.5cm (1/4 inch) boarder around the pieces for tucking under to leave a neat edge. You can check if they fit on the shirt and the cushion by placing them roughly before you begin sewing.

Step 2 – Cutting the fabric: Pin the templates (see below) to the scraps of fabric of your choice (we used fabric in shades of blue and green to match our shirt, but you can use whatever you choose). Cut the shapes out.

Step 3 – Sewing the windows to the houses: Pin the rectangles you cut out for the windows onto the rectangles you cut for the houses. Sew on the fabric for windows using slip stitch (to be neat and to give it a more hand made look, I like to go around the piece with slip stitch one way and then back around the other way – this creates little crosses) and sew on the buttons for door handles.

Step 4 – Placing the Shapes on the Cushion: Lay the shapes out onto the back of the shirt near the bottom and arrange as you like (remember don’t worry if they overlap as 0.5cm will be folded under. Fold under the edges of each piece by 0.5cm (1/4 inch) pinning to keep them in place. Make sure that once you have pinned the pieces on you are happy with the look of the design. This is how it will look once you have sewn it all together. Sometimes it helps to press your pieces with an iron – this keeps the folds neat and secure.

Step 5 – Securing the Houses: Hand sew the shapes in place using slip stitch and using the crossing technique if you wish. Then add the buttons for door handles. Be sure to only sew through one layer of fabric.

Step 6 – Centre the cushion: Place your cushion filler centered over the finished design and draw roughly around it, leaving a few centimeters seam allowance. Cut out the cushion shape from the back of the shirt. Pin it to the front of the shirt with the right sides facing, ensuring that the shirt buttons run straight down the middle of the shape. Cut out so that both pieces are identical in size and shape.

Step 7 – Sewing the Cushion: Using a sewing machine (or by hand, if you prefer), sew all the way around the cushion shape. Trim any excess fabric from the edges and corners, being sure not to trim too close to the stitches. If you are very keen you can even iron out the inside seam before Undoing the buttons and turning right-side out. Insert your cushion filler and button up at the back. Your cushion is complete!

Annie Sewing

Laura Sewing


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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Maya March 24, 2011 at 6:35 am

Lovely!My kids just love this kind of pillows! They invent stories from the appliqued things and I think it’s a nice booster for expanding and enriching imagination! Thanks for sharing!


2 Lutique March 24, 2011 at 11:05 am

that red tag is in Thai language, the name of a school :)


3 kath_red March 27, 2011 at 12:17 am

oh how cute!


4 Kim ~ The Sassy Crafter March 25, 2011 at 4:50 pm

Wonderful instructions! This is the same project that I teach to my beginner sewing students since it’s so simple. My students get a great sense of satisfaction because they’re able to complete a nice looking project, despite the fact that they’ve still at the beginning of the sewing learning curve.


5 Deb - Fabric builder March 27, 2011 at 10:01 pm

I’m definitely into the trend of creating the different fabric building designs on the plllows. It reminds me of the old days when my mother used to sew the fabric patches on the jeans to cover the holes. I really like the farm building settings on the pillows, especially the red.


6 thaneda April 2, 2011 at 6:34 am

nice project! out of curiosity, would you happen to have a higher resolution image of the finished product /project? the script on the pillow looks Thai, and I am curious as to what or how exactly it reads.



7 thaneda April 2, 2011 at 6:35 am

ah – sorry. i missed the first comment. regardless, i’m curious as to what it reads :)


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