Monday, June 20, 2011

Button Down Rehab Day 1: Monogrammed Pillow

I'm so excited to be introducing a 2-week long series beginning today that showcases some awesome tutorials from myself and some other very talented ladies on how to take button down shirts from drab to fab.

Between now and July 1, I'll be posting tutorials every weekday to show you how to transform your old button down shirts.

To kick off the series is Krista from Thar She Sews! who made an awesome monogrammed pillow from a shirt that belonged to a loved one. Take it away Krista!

Hi there! I'm Krista. I've been blogging over at Thar She Sews! since March, when my maternity-leave restlessness got the better of me. I need to be busy, and yes, having two young boys does keep you busy. Most of the time. I fill the rest with sewing, writing about it (and other various things, like thrifting and my recent gallery wall project) and exploring the online handmade community. Check out my blog to read more about me, see some of my tutorials (my favorite is the Going-on-a-Walk Bag) or just say hi. I'd love to meet you.

I'm way excited to be here at My Own Road for my first guest tutorial! Jen, I hope by the end you're not thinking you were crazy to invite me. For the record, I have only been sewing since February 2010. Newbie? Yes, indeed. So when I thought about what to make for this challenge, my decided on two things. It needed to be easy. And it needed to get this worn-out shirt out of my husband's wardrobe rotation.

Dingy feel, holes in the collar, weird old-man cut -- check, check, check. Ugly, right? I thought so, too. Time to be reborn!

But when I told my husband my plans, he shared something I'd never known -- the ugly shirt I was turning my nose up at was his grandfather's. I can remember my husband tearing up when his grandfather -- the only grandfather he ever knew -- died back in 2000. It was the closest I've ever seen him come to crying (men, right?). He didn't mind me turning the pillow into something else, but he wanted to make sure it would somehow continue to honor his grandfather.

Wow, no pressure, right?

Well, here's what I came up with.

It's a monogrammed pillow with the letter and the entire back made from the hand-me-down shirt. And it has just a few special touches, enough to make it a great belated Father's Day gift! We ended up giving this one to my father-in-law. I hope he loves it.

OK, enough lead-in, let's make this thing!

Here's what you need:

-- A cut-up man's button-down shirt. Mine was a size L. Cut up both side seams and across the shoulder seams to get two pieces.
-- Contrasting fabric square 17 by 17. I used a thrifted sheet. Quilting-weight cotton would work fine!
-- 16-inch pillow form
-- Two yards of coordinating lip cord
-- Scrap of medium-weight interfacing
-- Scrap of tear-away stabilizer
-- Zipper foot
-- Sewing machine, and all the basic sewing supplies.
-- Optional: A computer, word processing program and printed to create your monogram template.

Let's get started.

Step one: Create your monogram template.

There are a number of ways you can do this. If you're handy at drawing, you could simply draw a letter in the size and style you prefer, cut it out and be on your way. I am terrible at drawing, so I turned to trusty old Microsoft.

First I downloaded a font from the Web site Kevin and Amanda. They are free to download and the instructions are simple. The one I picked is called Amazing Ruler. Once it was installed, I opened Microsoft Word, typed a "J" for our last name, and sized it to 500. I printed it out, cut it out (Since my font is a skinny one, I cut mine a little wider to give it more oomph), and had my monogram ready to go.

Make sure you place it on your square to be sure it's the size you want.

Step 2: Create the monogram for appliqueing.

Place your monogram on the right-side of a corner of the back of the shirt. Cut out a chunk around your monogram. Cut a similar sized scrap of medium-weight interfacing and follow the package instructions to iron it onto the wrong side of the fabric.

Now place the monogram template right-side down on the interfaced side of your fabric. You want the monogram to be backwards when you draw it on the wrong side, so when you flip it over it will be facing the right way. Make sense? Carefully trace the template onto your interfacing. I used a water-soluble fabric marker, but you could use a pencil, too. 

There she is, next to my wine glass, all outlined and ready for cutting. Cut it out!

Step 3: Stabilizing time!

Newbie note! This is my first time using tear-away stabilizer. I hope this isn't the blind leading the blind here. :) But I tried to do this applique once on my fabric without it and it was pucker city. That can happen when you're doing a satin stitch on a thinner fabric. So off I went to learn about stabilizers. I landed on Sulky Totally Stable Iron-On Tear Away Stabilizer. It did the job well enough, leading to significantly fewer puckers. Next time, I might use two sheets.

Place the stabilizer on your fabric where you plan to put your monogram. Follow the package instructions to iron the stabilizer on. Then pin the monogram in place.

Step 4: Applique on the monogram

You could applique your monogram on with a lot of different kind of stitches. I chose to go with a satin stitch effect. Here's how it looks when you're done.

To get this look, set your machine to a zig-zag  stitch. Now increase the width to something around a 5. That's as high as my machine goes. Reduce the length of the stitch down to almost 0. My machine actually clicks when it gets to zero -- I stopped just before the click. Whatever settings you pick, my advice is to play first on a scrap piece of fabric until you get the stitch the way you want it!

Once you're ready, get your needle set by sinking it into the fabric on the outside of the monogram in the right position. You want the needle to go back and forth over the edge of the fabric, encasing it in thread. Stat out with a few forward-then-backstitches to secure your thread.

To get nice, even stitches, go slowly and make sure not to tug the fabric through any faster than the machine feeds it. On curves, slow down even more. At times, you might need to leave the thread in the down position, lift the presser foot and rotate the fabric a bit to get headed in a new direction.

Certainly you'll have to do that at any corners, like this above picture. Be careful to watch closely that you're getting the thread in the monogram on one side and in the pillow fabric alone on the other. You want to make sure that edge is enclosed!

Then just keep on sewing until you reach the starting point. Back stitch! Now, your monogram is sewed on!

Carefully tear away the stabilizer -- it should come right off, as the needle has punctured it all the way around -- and admire your pretty monogram!

Step 5: Basting on the lip cord to the front of your pillow

If you're not interested in this, you could skip to step 6 and have a fine finished pillow. I just wanted a little extra something to make the pillow look special. It is going to my in-law's house, after all. Did I mention my mother-in-law is an interior designer, has impeccable taste and a very distinct style? No? Presssurreeee! So I wanted to punch my pillow up a little and give it a really polished look. Enter lip cord!

Another disclaimer: this is my first time working with lip cording! I'm silly right? But really, it was easy. Like using piping. I bought mine at a local high-end fabric store. I am sure you could find some online, too. It give the pillow this look when all finished.


And easy, too. Really!

I laid mine out with the intention to pin it on. Probably a good idea. But in the end, I couldn't find enough pins (I know, what the heck? I think my cat eats them. Seriously!) and decided to just carefully guide it through my machine. It worked fine. You just want the edge of the "lip" to align with the edge of your fabric. The cord should be toward the inside of your fabric square.

Pick a spot to start (I chose the bottom) and leave a good three inches of cord free when you begin to sew. You'll need this loose cord to work with when it comes time to join the two ends.

First, put your zipper foot on! This allows you to get right up and cozy with the cord. Then set your machine to use a basting stitch -- your machine set to its longest stitch-length, like a 5.

Baste all the way around, keeping as close as you can to the cord.

One recommendation for the corners: make it a bit easier on yourself and cut a gradual curve into your corners. Because this cord doesn't corner for squat! What I did was try to smoosh it down and lift my presser foot to pivot.

Kind of a mess, right? So cut rounded corners. Or be like me, and when you're done basting, turn the lip down and go back and inspect how close you stitched to the cord. In any poorly executed spots, just re-baste stitch closer to the cord. That worked for me.

When you get to the end comes the toughest part. Stop basting when you're about an inch from the beginning. You want to join the ends together so the cord looks seamless on the outside of your pillow. Here's what I did.

On the part you left loose at the beginning, separate the cord from the lip and unravel the cording. Try to keep the three pieces of cord from fraying. Better than I did anyway!

Then you will lay the bit of uncorded lip over the other end of lip, overlapping them. Fold the end of the cord over the two lips. And then weave the loose cords over the cords from the end, trying to mesh them together. This is tough to describe. I hope the pictures help. Really, it's one of those things that makes more sense when you try to do it. You're basically trying to fake it like the cord is one continuous cord. Play with it, and when you've got it where you like it, get your pressure foot down and baste away.

Here's how mine looks. Not perfect, but not bad, right?

I then trimmed the cord (I had a few inches left over).

Step 6: Assemble the pillow

The final step! And a fast one. You're almost done.

Place the front of your pillow right-side-down on your shirt front, which is right side up. Figure out where you want it arranged. Then pin the two sides together and cut your shirt down to size.

Or be like me and pin after your cut. :)  I'm bad, I know.

Once you're pinned, get back to the sewing machine. Change your length to something more "normal." I did a 2.5. Keep the zipper foot, because you're still trying to sew right up against that cording. In fact, try to sew right through your basting line.

I found keeping my finger on the basting line helped me ensure the cording stayed to the left and didn't creep over into my sewing line.

Like so! Just don't sew your finger. Ouch.

Back stitch at the beginning and end. Lift your foot and pivot at corners. Easy, peasy right?

With the built-in button closure, you don't have to worry about hand-sewing shut or creating an envelope back. Just slip your hand in the shirt and open the buttons up when you're all done and ready to stuff your pillow!

And that's it! A pretty monogram pillow.


Looks much better in this form than it did as a stinky-old shirt, right? And instead of Grandpa's old shirt coming out when my husband runs out of stuff to wear, now it's a reminder of him that my in-laws can have every day.

I hope you liked my tutorial! I will answer any questions you have in the comments. And I hope you'll come visit me a! Thanks for having me Jen!


Thanks Krista! I just love how she transformed a cherished old shirt into a keepsake. What a great way to remember someone special. Make sure you go visit Krista at Thar She Sews! She's always good for a laugh and some great projects.

Make sure you come back tomorrow for more Button Down Rehab projects! I can't wait to show you what I've been up to.

My Own Road


  1. Jen, thanks again for having me!

  2. This is great, Krista! I love the story behind it. And I love how you used the button closure as an opening for inserting a pillow form. I can't believe you've only been sewing for a little over a year. I've never had the courage to satin stitch an applique! Again, great tutorial!

  3. What a cute pillow! I love that the back has the buttons and pockets from the original shirt. =]


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