Making Pillows out of Shirts and Sweaters

I can still remember when this brainchild of an idea first hit. We were meeting with our realtor in preparation for putting our house on the market. We were quite excited to show her all of the things we had done to improve the house in the short 2 1/2 years we lived there. She was blown away and offered only one surprising suggestion with regards to staging it.

Get more pillows!

Yes, you heard that correctly. That magical phrase that makes every wife go, “YAY” and every husband cringe. She followed it up by saying, “I mean a lot more! So many pillows on the beds that every man who comes will literally say, ‘that’s too many pillows’ and everyone woman will just feel the luxury of them.” Now, I’m paraphrasing from memory here, since this conversation took place several years ago, but I swear that’s what I heard. I was undeniably excited for the finished look in all of the bedrooms, but was more than a little uncomfortable about the price tag of them all.


I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but cringe when I see a $39.99 price tag on a tiny accent throw pillow. I just can’t bring myself to spend that. And now, here we were discussing spending that 5 times or more, per bed. I was seeing the dollar signs add up and fast. And then it hit me.

I can make them for a fraction of that.

Now, any crafter worth her weight in glitter has fallen pray, a time or two, to thinking, “I can make that for less”, only to waste countless hours and come in a few dollars under. And learning from my many past experiences like that, I was determined to not let that happen this time. So, I came up with a solid game plan. I started with gathering my supplies and my time saving tools that helped ensure that I could do this both affordably and quickly. And I have to say, it totally worked as planned!

I ended up with 10-15 pillows on each bed that cost me around $2.00 each and took about 10-20 minutes of my time! You just can’t beat that!

Today, I’m sharing with you how I made all of our pillows and where I shopped for my super affordable supplies. I’ll also share some invaluable tips I learned the first time around and how these pillows have held up over the years, as well as things I would change if I was to do it all again. And I have a bonus for you today, since its the first Sunday of the month, I’m also bringing you more bedroom ideas from some of our other favorite project sites.

Now, on to what supplies you’ll need:

Where to shop for your pillow supplies

If you know me at all you, you can probably guess where I found all of my starting shirts and sweaters. Yup, I went straight to the thrift store. Specifically, I went to my local Goodwill and I made sure to shop on a Sunday when all items marked with the color of the week are only $1.00. It’s the perfect pricepoint for repurposing! For more tips on how to best do this, check out my full article on How to Thrift Fabric where I cover ALL of the details.

Next, you’ll need your stuffing for inside of your pillow. The cheapest option, by far, is to buy a cheap bed pillow from Target or Walmart. Both of them have a standard pillow that sells for $2-$3.00 each. I know this seems wasteful, trust me, it does to me too, but you can buy these pillows even cheaper than buying a package of fiberfil from the craft store. And you can buy the exact quantity you need so you don’t have to store left over craft supplies. And, because this pillow is a standard bed pillow size, you can usually get enough stuffing for 2 1/2 to 3 throw pillows out of it.

In case you’re keeping track that’s $1.00 for starting fabric and $1.00 for pillow stuffing making each of these cost only $2.00! Much better than $39.99, I can now sleep at night.

$1.00 fabric + $1.00 stuffing = $2.00 THROW PILLOW

The other supplies I used allowed me to knock out each pillow in record time. Honestly, most of these pillows only took me 10 minutes from start to finish because of the following items. However, if you are trying to keep your costs down and don’t already own a sewing machine and rotary cutter, you could certainly use a needle and thread and a pair of sharp scissors.

My cutting mat, rotary cutter, and acrylic straight edge. I literally use these every time I work with fabric and I cannot believe how long I waited to add them to arsenal. Seriously, what was I thinking, I wasted SO MUCH time before I had these.

Next, is my sewing machine. I have a Brother and I absolutely love it. For years, I moved around my grandmothers old sewing machine claiming to myself that I had a sewing machine if I really needed one, but it was on its last leg and was just not user friendly, so I never used it. Finally, about 3 years ago, my mom gifted me this one for my birthday and it has changed everything.

If I’m being honest, it was a gift I did not receive well. I still remember unwrapping it and just staring at her with this puzzled, ‘what on earth our you thinking’ expression on my face. Let me explain, at the time, I was 3 days away from giving birth to our second child and was gearing up for having two kids under the age of two. I knew my time for crafting was going to be extremely limited and I, like most of us, remember all too well how long my childhood sewing machine projects took me. I just knew I would never have time to use it.

But in true form, my mother was totally right. Even after two kids, I’m amazed at how this still surprises me.

Mothers really do know everything.

I now routinely use this sewing machine several times a month and it actually saves me time. Months earlier, I had hand sewed my eldest child’s felt Princess Poppy costume for her first Halloween. Yes, it took me an hour to sew in the two side seams, but I was too stubborn to get out my grandmothers ancient sewing machine, so I just wasted my time by sewing it by hand. But no more! My time is way too valuable to be wasted in that way. I recently had a chance to help a dear friend sew a Christmas present for one of her sons and she had the same transformational ‘first time use’ reaction that I had. Sewing on a sewing machine really does come back to us like riding a bike and once you get over the fear of learning to thread the machine (which takes 30 seconds) you can do ANYTHING you want in mere minutes! Also, my brother has a quick picture with number steps on how to thread the machine or a new bobbin in seconds, just in case I ever forget again. Some of my favorite recent sewing projects include my linen star pillow with tassels, my daughters’ Elsa and Anna costumes, and my sourdough bread basket liner. But enough of about that, now lets move on to constructing our throw pillows.

How to cut your shirt or sweater for a throw pillow

Lay your shirt or sweater out flat and face up on your cutting mat. Make sure that all of the seams our straight and decide how big to make your pillow. Oftentimes, I found it easiest to cut the sleeves back or fully off to best lay out the body of the sweater for cutting.

The first time around I made my pillows all different sizes depending on the shirts, some were square but many were rectangular. My main goal was highlighting the design features of each garment. It’s one of the things I love most about working with thrifted fabric. If you want your pillow to have buttons down the front of it, buy a shirt with buttons. If you want a center seam down the front of it cut your pillow panels with the side seams running down the middle. Someone else already did the hard work for you and now you get to just enjoy these design features with almost no effort on your part. Here are a few of my favorite examples from my first pillow endeavor:

The best part about having working buttons down the front of your pillow is that you don’t have to hand finish any seams!

When I made my first batch of these, years ago, I wanted each of the pillows to be a different shape so they would each look like an expensive accent throw pillow. After spending years with them on our beds I would now choose a few, more uniform, sizes, but I’m not sure if that’s really an improvement or just my personal preference changing over the years. This time around I decided to make them each 16X16″ squares, which will me stuffed to measure about 18X18″ when complete.

You choose what works best for you.

Once you’ve decided how big to make your pillow and what features you want it to include, cut it out using your acrylic ruler as your straight edge guide to your rotary cutter and you’ll have your two pillow pieces in minutes.

How to cut a sweater

Working with sweaters offers a unique challenge as they have a nasty ability to stretch. This is where the rotary cutter really shines. Since you don’t have to lift the fabric off of its flat surface you can just position it so that its laying perfectly flat and unstretched and cut. However, if you are not working with a rotary cutter, you will need to spend a little more time here. I highly suggest turning your sweater inside out and marking where you want to cut with fabric chalk prior to cutting it. I also would cut each of the layers separately.

Won’t the cut sweater just fray?

Yes, a cut edge of a sweater will fray if you let it. This is why when you buy cording or elaborate trims, by the yard, the person cutting it always tapes where they are going to cut with masking tape before making the cut. I suppose, in theory you could always use this technique and tape along where you are going to cut on your sweater first, but this idea seemed far too time consuming. Since I was working with $1.00 in starting materials, I just decided to wing it and see what happened. I planned on more seam allowance, 1″ instead of my usual 1/2″, just in case, and just made my cuts. My rotary cutter was able to cut through two layers of even the thickest sweaters at one time.

Once my panels were cut, I just made sure to pin them and sew them the same day. If you don’t handle the cut pieces too much, you shouldn’t have any trouble with fraying before they are sewn. I did make a point to put in a second row of seam about halfway through my seam allowance. Meaning, I sewed my side seams (leaving a gap to turn and fill the pillow from) and then went back and sewed another side seem halfway through my seam allowance just in case. I doubt this step is really necessary, but in a house with young children, our collection of pillows is routinely used for fort building, pillow fighting, and even as the occasional sleigh to drag a sibling with. So, I needed to be sure I wasn’t going to have seem popping issues moving forward. And y’all, its been years without a single issue from any of them!

One thing I would highly suggest when cutting and sewing sweaters is to use a finished edge for the section you will leave open to turn from. In other words, don’t cut all four sides, plan to have one side of your pillow butt up to an already finished edge, like the hem of the sweater, which is what I did with this pillow.

This way you know the finished edge wont fray when you go to flip your pillow right side out, fill it with stuffing, and sew it shut. If you simply cannot do this, for design reasons, or otherwise, I would sew a single running stitch close to the edge of each pillow panel, around the section where you will be turning and filling the pillow from. This should keep it from fraying while you turn and fill your pillow before you have a chance to close the seam.

How to sew a throw pillow

Next, turn your two pillow panels around so the good sides of the fabric face each other, pin the four sides, decide which side seam section to leave unsewn to turn and fill from (this step is unnecessary if one of your pillow panels has working buttons) and sew! A good sewing machine is certainly a huge asset here but this can also be done by hand in a pinch.

You can even attach tassels, piping, or other trims during this phase.

For shirts and other material that won’t fray, one single seam is sufficient, but if you are working with a sweater I would add a second seam to ensure that you’ll have double the protection from any potential fraying in the future.

How to stuff a throw pillow

Next, trim excess seam allowance (optional) and turn your pillow right side out. Now, it’s ready to be filled.

When I made these years ago I exclusively used $2-3.00 pillows from Target or Walmart. To use these, you simply cut one end of the purchased pillow and pull fiberfill out of it to stuff into your newly sewn throw pillow. You could always use a box or bag of fiberfill instead, if you prefer. In my experience, these two fill options are essentially identical.

Can you use a pillow insert?

If you, however, want a more expensive final look to your throw pillow, say for a couch or for a bed, where you are only using a few pillows, you could always fill your pillow with a pillow insert instead. Since, I intend to use today’s sweater pillow on our couch, I decided to do just that. Amazon has a two pack of these down 18″ pillow inserts for around $20.00. And they come in just about every standard throw pillow size. Just note that if you will be using a pillow insert, you may want to leave a slightly larger gap in your side seams to fill from and you’ll want to go one size up with your pillow insert. For example, today’s finished sweater pillow is 16″ by 16″ so I will be filling it with an 18″ square down pillow insert.

How to finish your pillow

Now that your pillow is filled, all that is left is to sew up your side seam. If you used a shirt with buttons, you simply button it back up and you’re done, but, if you did not, you will have to use a few minutes to sew up the gap in your side seam.

To do this, you simply use a ladder stitch to create an invisible finished seam, knot your thread, and you’re done!

Now, play around with arranging your finished pillows and bask in your well earned luxury!

And, if you’re looking for more ways to improve your bedroom, check out these other great ideas from some of our other favorite projecting sites:

Cartoon image of arms reaching up holding different DIY tools and wearing different colored shirts with the title above that reads, "DIY Blog Hop, Join us the first Sunday of every month!"

Grandma’s House DIY – Painting the Master Bedroom and Chimney

Life as a Leo Wife – Free Printable Bedroom Wall Art


8 thoughts on “Making Pillows out of Shirts and Sweaters”

  1. What a great idea! I wish I could sew, but if I bring another craft item in this house it might explode. I think I’d have to go with hand sewing, which neve works lol. So I love Liquid Stitch! I have electric scissors which would be amazingly useful on cutting sweaters. This is such a helpful post! I’ll be on the lookout for fabric at the thrift store now. By the way, I love your headboard set up. My husand and I can’t even have wall art above the bed. The fans make them knock against the wall, then sometimes they end up on his head (which I find funny, but he does not lol). Now I have to longingly look at others’ bed setups haha! I’d love to have you come link up on my link parties, Happiness is Homemade (Sun-Thurs) & Crafty Creators (new, Thurs-Mon).
    Happy hopping with you!
    Niki ~ Life as a LEO Wife

    1. So good to know about liquid stitch, Niki! I may have to add in a new sew option using that soon. And I completely understand the feeling that your house might explode if you added one more craft item, I’m in the same boat here. Also, thanks for commenting on our head board decor; I have to say, I fully expected these items to fall down immediately, but we’ve had them up there for years now and so far no mishaps, yay!! And thanks for the invite to your link party, I’ll have to check it out this week. Thanks for stopping by today :)

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