Tutorial: How to Turn Your T-Shirts into Pillows

I have more than enough t-shirts to go around. We probably all do, considering what a wonderfully comfortable staple they are. But they can get tired, or we can outgrow them, or we can just look at them one day and envision that they are destined for a new life: as pillows! My t-shirt drawer was getting hard to close, so I chose a few that I thought were ready for reincarnation. There is nothing wrong with them per se–they just don’t quite hit me right.  Those are my shirts above (can you guess what my favorite color is??), and actually, another one came through the wash after I took this picture. So, my purple brigade and I headed to the sewing machine!

The whole process is really very simple: cut, stitch, stuff, stitch closed. One of these pillows took me about 30-45 minutes, but I was doing a million other little projects at the same time, and I wanted to wait until I had them all finished before I put up a post. If you’re just doing one, it can be on your couch in less than an hour! You start by turning your shirt inside-out and laying it out flat. Trim off the top (the collar and sleeves) in a fairly straight line across (no worries if it isn’t perfect–as long as the seam is straight, no one will ever know). I thought, since these were t-shirts after all, that the body would basically be rectangular, but I found that all 4 of these shirts had curves along the sides. Who knew? If you are working with a larger shirt, or even a children’s shirt, you may not have to trim the sides to make it a straight line at all. (As a side note, I am really excited about the collars and sleeves I have left over–I am thinking about grafting them onto some other garments: stay tuned!)

I used a measuring tape to mark a straight line along the side, and then I put in a few pins to guide me as I sewed. (You could, of course, use the existing seams if you want a more interestingly shaped pillow or if you just happen to be a really big fan of trapezoids).

Once you’re all pinned, you’re ready to sew. If you’re using a knit, you probably want to use a stretch stitch. If your fabric isn’t feeding into the machine, make sure the feed dogs are up (the button for this is on the back of my machine…why yes, I did learn this the hard way!). I started with the side seams, which I had pinned, so I could get them out of the way. Then I stitched across the top (where I had cut off the collar and sleeves).

Once you have those three sides stitched, your t-shirt will sort of look like an inside-out bag.

Now turn that puppy right-side-out again. You will be able to see the corners, and they will look a little bit like pillow corners, and you will be excited about your progress!

Now comes the fun part: stuffing! I just used ordinary Poly-Fil. You could also use a number of other things. The very first thing I ever sewed (I can’t believe I remember this!) was a tiny little blue pillow. The fabric had bunnies on it, and I am sure I had picked it out myself, stylish six-year-old that I was. I stitched it by hand, and then my mom gave me some of her old pantyhose for the stuffing. I was so proud of it. All of that is to say, you can use pantyhose, or socks, or plastic bags, or anything else relatively soft you’ve got lying around that is looking for a good home.

The Poly-Fil can be kind of lumpy, as it is in this picture, so if you use it, you may have to massage it around a little until it looks like you want it to.

Now, the only opening you’re left with is the one at the bottom of what was once your t-shirt. The hem there is going to help you out. At the corners, turn the hem in on itself, so that it is hidden inside what is about to be your new seam. Sew along that line, using it as a guide. Laugh at yourself as you try to maneuver a stuffed pillow through your sewing machine: do it for me! Now you have a pillow! Good job! Now, if you notice, that last side looks a little different from the other 3, since it was sewn differently. That’s totally okay, but if you want all the sides to look the same, you can just put another stitch through those 3 other sides, so you have a nice little border all the way around. This is what I did to mine.

Okay, now you’re really done! Or, if you’re me, you have 3 more to sew. But at least you can be entertained by Pandora during the process!

I loved how all 4 of my pillows were slightly different sizes, with different-sized borders along the sides. And I love that they are all from the same color family. I have seen so many wonderful ideas lately on Pinterest for dressing pillows up: adding buttons, ruffles, felt flowers, stripes of different fabric…the possibilities are endless! If I get tired of these guys at some point, I may update them, but for now I like them just as they are. 🙂

This was a really fun and easy project, and I already have my eye on some other shirts I think I will use to make pillows for the couch. I hope you enjoy giving your shirts a new life as much as I did!

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