Pleated T-Shirt Pillow Tutorial


I’m sharing a project with you today that is fairly easy, economical and will add a little pizzazz to your house.
I think I’m becoming more and more of a pillow person as I get older. I used to not care so much about pillows but…they are growing on me.

Throw pillows are so darn cute and I just can’t get enough of them!

So, I decided to make one.

I’ve been wanting to incorporate more of my current favorite colors (yellow and grey) into our house lately and came up with the idea of making a pillow out of a few t-shirts.
Now, if you have old t-shirts that you aren’t wearing anymore, this would be a perfect way to use them up. I unfortunately did not have any that were the colors I wanted, so off to Michael’s I went to buy some.
I actually ended up buying a pillow form there too instead of batting, because I tend to not be very good at stuffing pillows- they turn out really lumpy, so I splurged and just bought one that was already made.

Theoretically, if you have t-shirts AND batting this project could be completely free for you to make.

Do you want to know how to make one?

It’s fairly simple, but kind of time-consuming. Just a warning up front. 😉
Those pleats take a while to pin. But other than that, it’s not complicated at all!

Pleated T-Shirt Pillow

You need:

2-XL t-shirts in whatever color (s) you want.
 (you’ll have a bit left over for future projects but you need xl for the proper width.)
Pillow form or batting
Sewing Machine with a needle for sewing knits (ball point, or jersey needle- just look for the ones that say ‘for knits’)
Measuring tape or ruler

Okay. So first, figure out what size you want your pillow to be. My pillow form said 16’x16′ on the package, but when I measured it, it was actually 16 1/2 by 17. So make sure if you get a pre-made pillow form, you measure it before you make the pillow cover!
Use at least half an inch seam allowance.
I ended up cutting my fabric 17 1/2 by 18, because I tend to need a larger seam allowance since I still cannot sew in a completely straight line!

Please excuse the lighting on some of these pictures,
as the only time I had to work on the pillow was after the kidlets went to bed. 🙂

Measure your fabric from just under the arms of the t-shirt all the way to the bottom, leaving the hem on the bottom of your piece of fabric. This makes it easy to fold and sew at the very end- you get a nice straight line instead of a possibly wonky bottom of your pillow.
If you want, instead of cutting out two pieces of fabric length x width, you can multiply the length by two and just cut out one long piece of fabric. This is what I did. I’m all for taking shortcuts in sewing if it doesn’t really affect the outcome! In this case, it doesn’t unless you want matching seams along both sides of the pillow. I don’t care if they are there or not, so I did it this way.
So instead of cutting two 17 1/2’x 18 pieces of fabric, I just cut one 36′ long.x 18′ tall piece of fabric. (this gave me a seam allowance of an inch for that side that I’d be sewing.)
Whew! I hope that isn’t confusing.

This is the fabric, folded in half.

Okay. So you have your fabric cut out for the main body of the pillow.
Now, for the strips that turn into ruffles.

Take the white t-shirt (or whatever your complimentary color is) and cut it across the body just under the arms, and then just cut up one side of the tube to open it into a long rectangle.
Then cut long strips about 2 1/2′ wide. I wanted to make sure I had enough fabric so I made the strips longer than I needed them, then just cut off the extra when I was done folding it onto the pillow cover.
I made 5 white strips for my pillow.
I also used some grey fabric off of an old sheet, and cut it into strips that were slightly thinner.
Then, play around with the fabric to decide where you want to place your ruffles/stripes.

Here is the beautiful part about using t-shirt fabric for this project: You don’t have to hem anything.  Because Jersey/knit fabric doesn’t fray, you don’t have to worry about hemming all of those long strips of fabric! Hallelujah!!

Moving on.

So you have all of your strips and your pillow cover cut out, now you get to sew!
Firstly, make sure your fabric is inside out. (so the seams won’t show.)
Sew around 3 sides of the pillow cover, leaving the bottom part that was the hem of the t-shirt open. Make sure you backstitch at the beginning and the end of sewing, to anchor your seams. Otherwise your pillow cover won’t stay sewed shut!

Then cut off the extra fabric at the corners, turn your pillow cover right side out and iron the seams flat.
Trust me on this one, it looks SO much better if you take the 39 seconds to iron out the seams.
It makes the pillow look more store bought and not ‘handmade’ in that undesirable way.

I zigzagged my edges too, just for extra durability. You can do this, or not. It’s your preference.

Iron those seams nice and flat!

Now comes the slightly tedious part.

The pleating.

Take a long strip of fabric and figure out how big of a pleat you want. I folded mine up about an inch/ inch and a half. Keep in mind that you do not have to be perfect at this, it is very forgiving. 🙂

I started the pleats hanging about halfway off the side of the pillow, because I liked how that looked. You can do whatever you like. 🙂

Simply fold the fabric, making a pleat, then pin. Then repeat.


and again

and again

and again

Til your whole strip is pleated.

Then, if you want to do straight lines in between the pleated strips like I did, just attach the next one with 3 or 4 pins to secure it to the fabric.
Then do the pleating again, alternating with the strips of straight fabric, if desired, til your pillow cover is completely pinned and pleated.

Make sure that when you are pinning, your pins only go through the first layer of fabric. If they go through both, you’ll just have to unpin them and start over. Ask me how I know this. 😉

FINALLY, when you get all of your strips pinned, it’s time to sew them on.
Go slow here, because you will have about a bajillion pins to take out as you sew.

Sew down the pleats slightly to one side, then once you have finished that line, go down the same strip of pleats slightly to the other side, so you have two lines of sewing, spaced apart about 1/4-1/2′. This helps hold those pleats in, and helps give the pillow a finished look.
Unless, like me you can’t sew straight lines, then parts of the pillow look finished and parts look slightly…wonky. But hey, nobody looks that closely, right??

When sewing the straight strips of fabric, just sew down the middle, then slightly pull the ends to make them curl in on themselves. Cut off the excess fabric, and congratulate yourself on almost being finished!

Lastly, you just have to stuff the pillow cover.
If you have batting, go to town stuffing, making sure that the corners are nice and filled out and that you don’t get too much stuffing in there because your pillow will end up lumpy.
If you have a pillow form, just slide it into the cover and then fold the hemmed bottom part of the t-shirt up into the pillow cover, making sure it’s nice and straight. Iron it to get some creasing on there so you can follow the line when you sew.

You can pin this together as well, if you want.
After all of that pinning from the pleats, I didn’t really ever want to see a pin again so I just sewed it carefully, going back to correct any small pieces I missed. Sew across the bottom of the pillow, making sure to get both sides of the fabric.

 If you’re stuffing batting, you can sew part of the bottom when you sew the other three sides, just make sure to leave a hole big enough to get your whole hand into the pillow so you can arrange the batting nicely when you’re stuffing it. Then fold the hem under and sew either with a slipstitch by hand, or sew with your machine.

That’s it, you’re done! Hooray!

Now, go try out your new pillow!!

This post is shared at Frugally Sustainable.

2 thoughts on “Pleated T-Shirt Pillow Tutorial

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