Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How to make a t-shirt pillow

To make  your own t-shirt pillow, you'll need:
  • t-shirt
  • fusible web or fusible interfacing
  • scrap of fabric larger than the pillow's dimension
  • thread, pins, scissors or rotary cutter
  • sewing machine
  • iron
  • marking pencil
  • pillow form
Start by deciding what size pillow you'll be making. Measure the design from top to bottom and side to side. The larger dimension is the minimum size for the pillow. I recommend adding a couple inches on each side of the image, to give it a bit of a frame, rather than having the design bump right up against the edge of the pillow. You may not have that option, depending on where the design is and what shape it is.

The burgundy pillow below has a very wide but short design, so the pillow needed to be about 18" square to accommodate the width. There was plenty of fabric on the left and right of the design to get to that size, but the design was printed only about 3" from the neck of the t-shirt. The pillow would have looked odd if the design was at the top of the pillow, rather than centered, so I added a strip above the design, and then folded and stitched the fabric an equal distance below the design to make it look like there was a seam there too.

The black pillow above was more straightforward. The design was about 9" x 11", so I decided on a pillow size that was 14" square, which gives me 2 1/2" of framing on the sides and 1 1/2" of framing at the top and bottom.

I use a 1/2" seam on the pillows, so you need to add twice that (1") to the finished size to get the ideal cutting size. For the black pillow, that meant a 15" square. T-shirt material can stretch when marking and cutting, though, so I like to add a little bit to compensate for that, and the extra can be trimmed away later, so for the black pillow, my goal was to cut a 15 1/2" square.

Make sure the design is centered in your square. The easiest way to do that is to simply fold the t-shirt in half vertically. Then measure half the square's size (7 3/4" in my example) from the fold on each side and mark a vertical line. Unfold the shirt and re-fold it horizontally, and do the same thing. If you want to be more accurate, one option is to take a piece of paper (a paper grocery bag is good) or cardboard that's larger than the size you plan to cut, and then cut a square from its center, the size of the square you will be cutting from the t-shirt, forming a frame that you can place on top of the t-shirt and move until it's centered properly. Then mark around the inside of the frame. Another option, if you're a quilter with a quilting ruler, and you know how to fussy-cut fabric images, is to follow the same fussy-cutting procedure, but with a marker to draw a square of the desired size from the front of the shirt.

For cutting the pieces, I like to use a rotary cutter, because it's less likely to distort the stretchy fabric, but scissors will work if you're careful. First, cut away the neck binding and sleeves. Then, cut along one side of the t-shirt, from the armhole to the hem, so you have a flat piece of fabric. The main thing to remember is that you don't want to risk cutting into the back of the t-shirt when you cut the square from the front of the t-shirt. Cut the marked square from the front of the t-shirt and set it aside. 

Next, you will cut the back of the pillow from the back of the t-shirt. I like pillow backs that fold over each other (envelope style), so there's no need for a zipper, and yet the pillow cover can be removed for washing. If you want to use a zipper or permanently sewn-in-place cover, just cut a square from the back that's the same size as the front square. 

For an envelope style pillow, start by cutting the t-shirt's back into a large rectangle, the width of the front square WITHOUT the extra added for stretching (15" in my example) and the full length of the back of the shirt. Next, figure out how long each of the sections of the back need to be. They overlap, and the amount of overlap is somewhat random. I usually add about 3" to the size the pieces would be if there was no overlap. In other words, take the size of the pillow front WITHOUT the extra added for stretching (15" in my example), divided it in half (7 1/2") and add 3", more or less, rounding up to an easy number to remember (11" in my example). If  you'll be turning under the edge, add another inch, so it would be 12" in my example. Most of the time, I add the inch to only one of the two sections, since I usually leave the t-shirt's hem in place and use it for the finished edge of one of the backing pieces. It saves me time, and the original hem is usually neater than anything I can do myself. For the second piece, without the pre-finished edge, turn under half an inch along one long edge and stitch it down. Two rows of stitching about 1/4" apart will help to keep it from rolling.

Before you sew the pieces together, I recommend stabilizing the front piece. It's generally not a problem if the smaller back sections stretch a bit, and the stretch can make it easier to stuff the pillow, but you don't want the front to stretch out of shape. You can either interface the pillow front, and then line it, or simply fuse the pillow front to a scrap of fabric. Either way, you'll need to cut a square of the interfacing/webbing and a square of the scrap fabric. These squares should be the size of the pillow front WITHOUT the extra added for stretching (15" in my example).

Follow the manufacturer's instructions for the interfacing/webbing, and fuse it to the back of the pillow's front. Be careful not to use too hot an iron or  you will melt the shirt's ink. If you used interfacing, rather than fusing the design directly to the scrap of fabric, pin the fabric square on top of the interfacing and baste the layers together about 1/4" from the raw edges. Otherwise, the friction of stuffing the pillow may damage the interfacing. Trim any excess of t-shirt material that extends beyond the interfacing/lining.

The next step is the only tricky one, which is to figure out which of the two backing pieces will be on top when it's finished. For the black pillow, I needed to interface and line one of the pieces, since there's a second design featured there. I wanted that piece to end up on top when the pillow was finished. Usually, I want the pre-finished shirt hem to be on top, although in the picture below, I needed the other piece to be on top for design reasons.

Here's the trick to getting it right. Lay the front of the pillow on the pinning table, right side of the fabric up, and oriented so that the design is also right side up. Then, lay the piece that you want to be on top when you're done, wrong side up (in other words, the right side of the front fabric and the right side of the back piece are facing each other), along the upper edge of the pillow, matching the raw edges on the sides. The finished edge will be in the middle of the square. You can see that first piece (with the yellow backing) in the picture above. 

Next, place the piece the remaining back section, wrong side up, along the bottom edge of the front piece, matching the raw edges and again having the finished edge in the middle of the square. In the picture, I have one corner of the bottom section turned down, so you can see the three layers -- pillow front, top back section and bottom back section. That corner should be aligned with the right edge of the pillow when you have the three pieces laid out.

The rest is easy. Pin the layers in place. Stitch 1/2" from the edge along all four sides. If you have a zig-zag stitch on  your machine, you can go around the edge a second time with a zig-zag, or just do a second row of straight stitching 1/4" from the edge to minimize the raveling.

All that's left is to turn it right side out and fill it with a pillow form.

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