DIY Sew a Memory or Keepsake Pillow Tutorial

DIY Sew a Memory or Keepsake Pillow Tutorial

Memory or Keepsake Pillow to Sew


   Christmas is coming :) Here is a great gift to consider for a family member; a Memory or Keepsake Pillow. Both terms are for the same type of craft but come from different angles. Typically a “Memory Pillow” refers to someone or something from the past. Perhaps a family member has died. This project is a nice way to honor that person by using an article of clothing or other textile they once owned and used. Maybe you have one of Grandpa’s favorite fishing shirts or Great Aunt Bessie’s famous Thanksgiving Apron. It could be you want to save a section of a relative’s antique wedding dress or tattered heirloom quilt.
A “Keepsake Pillow” is a usually a way to preserve something often connected to an event. Items such as a sports jersey, Scout’s uniform, band jacket, beloved baby blankie or epic concert t-shirt can be used to make a pillow. It could also be a combination of pieces or graphics from several items in a patchwork design to accommodate more than one sports jersey or concert t-shirt.
The possibilities are endless. Lots of themes, patterns, designs, color-matching may be involved. Upcycle a garment or several, into a fun accent pillow !










   Today’s post will address the simple version; a pillow made from a shirt. You can use a single shirt or use two; one for the back and the other for the front fabric. I’ll be showing one single shirt. As the first photo shows, I literally took this one from the closet and started cutting :) This tutorial is for a closed, stuffed pillow, not a pillowcase or pillow cover. There is no zipper (no one wants to cuddle up with a zipper !). You will be sewing the seams closed. The button placket will be sewn closed.

Materials needed:

paper to make a pattern
lightweight fusible non-woven interfacing
sewing machine
needle and thread
fiberfill stuffing
pins and patience :)

Here are the basic steps…

1~ Decide what size pillow you want to end up with; how much of the shirt do you wish to incorporate ? It may depend on the placement of a graphic or logo you want to keep. It will also depend on the shirt’s size. A mens XL can yield an 18″ square pillow. A ladies medium may end up being more like12 or 14″ depending on the cut of the garment and fabric content. For this example, I am using a freshly laundered, mens XL woven cotton shirt. It is a heavier weight than chambray; more like a linen fabric. Since I’m working with a used, Vintage item, there will naturally be some fading and worn areas. Sometimes you’ll come across a small hole or a stain; all part of the ‘patina’ of the item :)

2~ If the shirt has buttons, button this closed now. Measure across the front of the shirt, keeping in mind what features you want to include. I chose to use the chest area and keep the pockets. The largest square area is what you will be able to use. This shirt yielded an 18″ square area. Using wrapping paper, butcher paper or even a newspaper, cut out your large square area. I made an 18″ square out of butcher paper; this became my “pattern piece”. Good news- There is only one pattern piece needed !

3~ Lay the pattern piece on the area you want to use. Keep in mind you don’t want any graphics very near an edge; the edge will have a seam. Pay attention to the shirt fabric; if it has lines, checks or graphics, try to keep things aligned straight across :) Pin the pattern piece in place with just a couple pins then keep peeking under it to make sure any lines or graphics are indeed straight. Allow about 1/2″ space around the inside of the pattern piece which will be the seam allowance; keep logos away from that space. When you are satisfied with the pattern piece placement, add enough pins to hold it. If you are using thick paper, you may draw the outline of the pattern. Before cutting the square, smooth out the fabric to get rid of any wrinkles. If the shirt does NOT have gathers or pleats in the back, you can cut both the top and back layers at the same time. If the shirt DOES have gathers or pleats in the back, you’ll want to cut the top layer first and then cut the back layer separately. It might help to iron the shirt first as well~

4~ Cut out your squares; one from the front and one from the back. Notice that I used the button placket as the dead-center of the pillow. There’s also enough room on the outside edges of the pockets to sew the side seams and not sew through a pocket. There will be nice hunks of fabric left. Maybe make beanbags, a pincushion, mini pillows/bowl fillers or whatever you can think of.


 5~ Let’s talk about the buttons.. I was able to sew along the edge of the placket using a zipper foot to scoot by the existing buttons and sew the placket shut. You can sew right next to or on the line of stitching there. I think it helps to use a slightly bigger stitch length at this point. If you cannot sew next to the buttons, pin or baste the placket seam, then remove the buttons (carefully snip the threads only). After sewing the placket seam, replace the buttons, sewing them back in place. Button placement TIP: I ended up with a button close to the bottom edge seam allowance. No problem, after the center seam/button placket was stitched shut, I simply removed the bottom button. You don’t want to risk sewing over a button :)




You will need to decide if you want the pockets to be sewn shut at this stage. I choose to leave them open and useful. If this is for a gift, the recipient may want to add a hankie or the owner’s photo in a pocket :)

6~ Plug in your iron now. Using the paper pattern piece or the actual fabric squares as a pattern, cut out two squares from the lightweight fusible interfacing. The bumpy/rougher side of the interfacing has the gummy element on it. You want to lay the bumpy side down onto the WRONG side of your fabric squares. Iron the interfacing on at the back (wrong) side of each square. This adds strength to the older fabrics; helps preserve and protect any tiny rip, hole or snag. The lightweight interfacing does not leave the fabric stiff, it just gives it a slightly crisp and wrinkle-free  appearance but the fabric remains soft.

7~ Now take your two shirt squares and layer them right sides together, lining up edges. Stitch about 1/2″ seam allowance, going around the square; leave a 4 or 5″ opening so you can stuff the shirt. Cut a tiny triangle off each corner, about 1/4″ from the stitching.

8~ Turn your shirt square right side out. You can use a spoon handle or something similar to help push the corners.

9~ Stuff, stuff, stuff ! I start by adding a golf ball sized hunk in to each corner. Then add larger hunks until you get the right ‘feel’ to it. I like a pillow that sits up by itself and feels firm but has some ‘give’ and bounce to it, too :) Use your own judgement. Fold in the edges of the pillow opening to the inside, crease by pinching the fold and running your fingers across it. Ladder stitch or slip stitch the opening shut. You’re DONE !

Here’s the finished pillow, ready to accent the couch or keep company on the bed~


I would love to see a photo of your Memory or Keepsake Pillow if you feel like sharing :)     Happy Crafting, All !

*P.S. If you are pressed for time and would like to order a custom pillow, you can do that here:
Mail me your garment and I will transform it into a pillow for you :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *