Crafts and upcycling go hand-in-hand. Whether it’s reupholstering a vintage chair, transforming a charity shop find, or simply altering some ill-fitting clothes. Being able to breathe new life into an old object, transforming it into something new, is awesome. It feels like a superpower! 🙂
If you’re just getting started with upcycling, then a good first project is to turn a shirt into a cushion cover. I gave this a try last month for my brother-in-law’s birthday. He’s in the Royal Navy and had a few old training shirts knocking around. I thought it’d be a great opportunity to use my trusty Singer to transform one into a keepsake cushion!
This project is part of my ongoing collaboration with Singer Sewing Company.
How to turn a shirt into a cushion cover
A few quick tips, before you begin…
Before cutting your shirt, spend a bit of time looking at it and figuring out where all of the seams are. Place it flat on the floor and see how it lies. Consider things like:
- Are there any pleats that may cause complications?
- What shape is the body (is it rectangular, or wider/thinner at the waist)?
- Does it have any rips or imperfections that you might want to cover up?
- Will the collar lie flat, or do you need to stitch it down?
- On your final cushion, how many buttons do you want done up?
- Are there any buttons that might get in the way of your sewing?
- Does it have epaulettes, like the one I’ve used in the photos?
Spending just 15 minutes thinking about these points might save you a lot of head-scratching in the long-run! When you’re confident in how you want your shirt cushion to look, it’s time to get crafting…
Supplies and tools
- An old shirt
- Cushion insert (this must be the width of the shoulders of the shirt, or a little larger).
- Sewing machine (I’m using the Singer 7285Q Patchwork)
- Fabric scissors
- Tailors chalk
- Lie the shirt flat on the ground. Using the cushion insert as a guide, cut off the excess fabric at the bottom/waist section of the shirt. You want to be left with a torso section that is a few inches longer than the top shoulder width. If in doubt, cut off LESS than you think! Keep the excess fabric that you’ve removed for later.
- Cut the arms off the shirt. Aim to cut approximately 1 inch out from the shoulder seam, so it leaves a very small length of arm left.
- Use a few pins to hold down the collar, then sew them in place to the body of the shirt. Sewing the collar down will help prevent it from flapping open, or getting caught. When you sew it down, try and sew along an existing line of stitching, so it looks neat.
- Collect the discarded piece of fabric you cut off earlier. Cut out a large rectangle, approximately 20cm x 20cm. This piece will be used to close the neck hole of the shirt, so make sure it’s large enough to cover the hole.
- Hem all four edges of the rectangle you cut out in the last step. To do this, fold the edge over once by approx 1cm. Fold it over again to hide the raw edge. Pin and sew in place. Don’t worry about making a perfect rectangle, with perfectly straight edges – the edges will all be hidden from view in the final cushion cover.
- Undo the buttons on the shirt and open it up. Place the fabric square (from the last two steps) and place it at the part of the shirt collar that would touch the back of your neck. It should overlap the collar hem by approximately 1cm, and protrude out of the top of the shirt.
- Pin the square in place along the bottom edge (so it’s held neatly against the existing hem on the collar).
- Flip the shirt over and sew along the existing collar hem, removing the pins as you go. This will fix the rectangle of fabric to the shirt to form a flap. That’s all you need to do to this fabric square, so we can forget about this for now.
- Close the buttons of the shirt again, then turn the whole thing inside out. Lay it flat on a table and pin it in place, so the front and back don’t slide about too much.
- Using tailors chalk and a ruler, draw a straight lines down either side of the shirt. Each one should begin at the shoulder, and end at the waist, skimming as close to the arm seams as possible (try not to draw the lines through the arm seams though!).
- Sew along these lines, removing the pins as you go. This will create straight side seams for your cushion.
- Turn the shirt back the right way and make sure the side seams are straight. If not, unpick the seam and repeat step 10-11.
- With the shirt the correct way around, fill it with your cushion insert. The cushion should be a nice, tight fit. At this stage, both sides will be sewn in place, and the collar will have a flap of fabric that will tuck in to cover the hole. The bottom will still be open.
- Push the cushion insert to the top of the shirt. Use this as a guide to mark at the bottom of the shirt where you will need to sew the bottom seam. Remove the cushion insert and turn the shirt inside out again.
- Use the mark you made in step 14 to draw a horizontal line along the open bottom edge. Pin the opening closed along this line, then sew in place (remove the pins as you go).
- Undo the buttons of the shirt (this might be a little tricky, as it’ll be inside out!). Turn the shirt back the right way around. Insert the cushion, fold the rectangular flap over to cover the hole, and button the shirt back up.
My brother-in-law loved this cushion when I gave it to him last month. And I loved making it! Upcycling crafts like this are probably some of the most rewarding crafts there are. After all, it’s better to have a handmade cushion knocking about, rather than some old shirts hidden in a cupboard. Don’t you think? 🙂
Have you got any upcycling projects you’d recommend? Drop me a comment in the box below. I’d love to hear! – Mike.
I’d love it if you’d share this project on Pinterest!