Recycle Shirts Into Pillow Covers

Reuse old shirts from the closet easily when you recycle shirts into pillow covers. Includes instructions on how to construct shirt pillow covers.
By Patricia Sterling
July/August 1985
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I finally did come up with a use for the retired garments . . . as washable, easy-on, easy-off covers for the frazzled old pillows on our family-room couch.
PHOTO: FOTOLIA/WANG HSIU-HUA


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Recycle shirts into pillow covers easily with these step-by-step instructions. 

Recycle Shirts Into Pillow Covers

Speaking of trivia (and who isn't these days?), do you remember those slippery polyester knit shirts in glaring designs that were (for some, at least) the thing a decade or so ago? Are there a few of them still hanging around in the back of a closet in your house, too good to throw out but too passe to wear?

My sons left a bunch of these flashy numbers behind as they matured and transitioned to muted cottons and three-piece suits, and my wear-it-out-and-use-it-up upbringing forbade me to throw them out (as much as I would have loved to). Yet nobody else I knew wanted to be seen in them any more than my sons did-and I found the garish glad rags far too nonabsorbent to serve as cleaning cloths—so I closed the closet door on the problem, thinking that someday, some way, they'd come in handy.

Well, it took a while, but I finally did come up with a use for the retired garments . . . as washable, easy-on, easy-off covers for the frazzled old pillows on our family-room couch.

Here's the method: Button a shirt right up to the neck and turn it wrong side out. Spread it smoothly on the dining table or the kitchen floor, grab a yardstick and a pencil (or a piece of chalk, if you're working with dark fabric), and draw parallel lines across the shin. A few pins will keep the front and back from sliding about while you whisk the garment to your sewing machine and stitch along the marks.

Next, use scissors (pinking shears, if you have them) to cut the material a generous half-inch or so outside the two new seams, thus carving away the shin's tail and top portions.
(Don't fret about wasting the whacked-off portions; they make splendid quilt patches.) Unbutton the remaining rectangle of material, turn it right side out, slide your pillow in where the wearer's paunch used to go, and button the "torso" up again. Behold!

That's the two-seam approach; it's quickest and easiest, but doesn't necessarily produce a snug-fitting cover. To get a tailored fit, center almost any pillow—even a circular one—on an inside-out shin, chalk all the way around it (allowing a little leeway to accommodate the cushion's thickness), then stitch and cut the exact shape. This custom-fit technique still allows the convenience of a prefinished button-front opening—and if you've left a breast pocket intact, indulge your whimsy . . . tuck a handkerchief in it.

Nowhere is it written, of course, that you may use only polyester peacock prints for such a conversion; you can adapt a shirt of any fabric that accents your home's decor . . . an
out-at-the-elbows-but-otherwise-intact corduroy, for instance.

Who knows—this easy recycling trick may send you, as it did me, foraging at flea markets and garage sales for 10 cent pillow wear!


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