DIY Graduation pillow ….

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Picture of Ingrid Alteneder

Ingrid Alteneder

Hey there, I love fabric, sewing, quilting and most of all Foundation Paper Piecing. Welcome to my blog!

graduation T-Shirt pillow

with flying geese detail…

Make an easy DIY Graduation pillow with Amy Simmonds of @StitchedByStarlight

This time of year it seems like there is a gradation or two happening every week.  Universities, High Schools, 8th grade, Kindergarten and even Preschool!  

While every step of the educational journey is important, it is also important to remember that each part of the journey forms its own unique, important memories!   One beautiful way to commemorate these memories is with a T-shirt quilt.  T-shirt quilts tell a story about their owner, a story that is uniquely theirs!  Some quilts showcase experiences throughout an entire childhood right up through their senior year, like the quilt pictured below.  

t-shirt memory quilt

Other quilts can tell a more specific story of sports and personal achievements like this beautiful color coordinated quilt below. 

t-shirt quilt , memory quilt

T-Shirt Quilts made by @StitchedbyStarlight for Class of 2023 Graduates!

While a T-shirt quilt is a wonderful gift; not everyone has a stack of T-shirts they’ve saved over the years, so a quilt is not always an option, but don don’t let that stop you! 

Let’s make a DIY graduation pillow with one favorite T-Shirt: 

Supplies needed : 

  • T-shirt
  • Pillow Form
  • Fabric for Backing and/or Borders
  • Cotton Batting

You can still create a one of a kind gift using only a Single T-shirt!  Another option is a Cozy T-shirt Pillow made just for the Grad!   Since only one T-shirt is needed, you have a variety of ways you can choose to celebrate the Gradudate!  

  • Do you want to celebrate the many years of hard work in elementary, middle and High School?  Grab an old shirt with some school spirit from their closet!  
  • Do you want to celebrate the University or College they will be attending in the fall? Most school book stores will be happy to sell you an official Tee! 
  • Do you want to celebrate the career they’ve trained for while at University or Trade School?  Check online for a fun niche tee related their profession!
  • Do you want to celebrate the fun you had with them at a certain event?   You can use a Concert Tee, Race Tee, or even a Destination Tee!  

Any T-Shirt will work!

Regardless of what Tee you choose, a T-shirt Pillow is a unique gift that anyone with a sewing machine can make, and I’ll walk you through every step!

1. Calculate the Minimum Cutting Measurement (MCM)

Measuring the T-shirt design will help you determine what size pillow form you should use. 

Measure the design both horizontally and vertically.  Add at least 1” on each side of the design – Left, Right, Top and Bottom.  This will be the MCM and will ensure you have a seam allowance and some negative space around the image.  You will need to use a pillow form that is equal to or larger than the dimensions of the MCM.

Example:   The USU shirt below has an image that is 10”w x 7”h making the MCM 12”w x 9”h

measure your design to cut your pillow in size
measure your design to cut it in shape

2. Gather the Supplies

  • T-shirt
  • Pillow Form (MCM size or larger)
  • Cotton Batting Scrap (larger than the pillow form)
  • Backing Fabric (Width of pillow form + 1” x Height of pillow form + 5”)
  • Spray Adhesive (optional, but makes your life easier)
  • Tissue Paper
  • Pencil 
  • Chopstick (for turning inside out, and poking the corners easier)
  • Clear Quilters Ruler/ Cutting mat and rotary cutter
gather your supplies for the DIY graduation pillow

3. Make a Cutting Plan:  

Once the MCM is determined, and a Pillow Form is selected, you can choose how to make your pillow front.  You can simply use a single piece of T-shirt, or for smaller designs borders can be added.

  • For a pillow that features Only a T-shirt on the front:  plan to cut the T-shirt piece to the size of the pillow form + 1”, centering the design.  

Example:   For a 14” square pillow form, you will cut the T-shirt piece 15”w x 15”h.

  • For a pillow that will have a T-shirt design with borders around it, you will cut the design using the MCM then add borders to achieve the desired size. Keep in mind, once borders are added it needs to be equal the size of the pillow form + 1”. 

Example:  For a 17” square pillow, the T-shirt plus the borders around it will need to be 18”w x 18”h.

For my pillow, the T-shirt was cut 12”w x 9”h, after borders were added using a ½” seam allowance, the finished T-shirt size was 11”w x 8”h, with the total size including borders at 18” square.

the size of your pillow

4. Cut the T-shirt

Lay the T-shirt out flat on the cutting mat smoothing out any wrinkles, try not to stretch or distort the shirt.   Use your clear ruler and rotary cutter to cut out the image using the dimensions you have decided on in your cutting plan.

cut out the design for your DIY graduation pillow

5. Spray Baste T-shirt to Cotton Batting

Using a piece of batting that is larger than the pillow form, carefully align the T-shirt Piece on the batting, being careful to not stretch or distort the piece.  

If you’ll be adding borders later ensure you leave enough space on all sides for the borders.  

When the placement is good, fold half the T-shirt onto itself.  This allows you to spray in the space “behind” where that half of the T-shirt will go, while protecting the other half of the shirt front from the spray. 

Using this folding method also reduces the possibility of stretching or moving the position of the shirt on the batting.

*Tip:  Placing tissue paper on your table protects it from any overspray!  

spray baste the design

 T-shirt piece is aligned with ample space for borders on all four sides.

Bottom half is folded up, spray below, then unfold T-shirt piece, gently press to adhere.

Top half is folded down, spray above, then unfold T-shirt piece, gentry press to adhere.

5. Attach Borders (Optional)

Since T-shirts are so prone to stretching, borders are always added after spray basting the shirt onto the cotton batting.  This ensures the T-shirt piece stays square and things don’t get wonky.  

I used this super pretty Flying geese pattern.

Simply place the border piece atop the T-shirt, right sides together, and stitch with ½” seam allowance.  Using your iron, press the border away from the T-shirt.   Repeat with all borders.

Tip:  Use caution when ironing, many T-shirt fabrics or decals shouldn’t be ironed on directly or require lower heat settings.  You may need to pressing cloth to protect the shirt and your iron! You can always test using one of the T-shirt scraps leftover from cutting.

add flying geese
stitch flying geese in place

For my pillow, I chose to use flying geese for the horizontal borders, symbolizing how life is always moving forward.   (Flying Geese pattern available Here!)

6. Quilt T-shirt

Once the T-shirt has been spray basted, it’s much less likely to stretch and can be quilted easily.  On the T-shirt piece, I prefer to quilt around the design itself, keeping things simple and neat.  For my pillow, I chose to do some accent quilting in the borders to accentuate the flying geese. 

Tip:  A Hera Marker is a great way to mark quilting lines!

stitch along the design of your t-shirt

Quilting around the T-Shirt design.

quilting on your pillow top

Straight lines were marked in the borders using a Hera Marker.

finished pillow top
pillow top from the back

Quilting, front and back.

When quilting is finished, square the edges using your rotary cutter and clear ruler.

square up your pillow front

7. Making the Envelope Closure Back

For the pillow backing, cut a piece of fabric the following dimensions.  
Width:  Width of pillow form + 1”

Height:  Height of pillow form + 5”

Example:  For a 14” square pillow, cut 15”w x 19”h

Cut this piece in half, across the width.  

Example:  The 15”w x 19”h piece will now be 2 – 15”w x 9.5”h pieces

On the wrong side of each half, mark a line 1” from the edge, across the full width.  


Using your iron, press the fabric to the 1” marking.  Then fold on the 1” line and press again.  This will result in a ½” hemmed edge.  Do this for both backing pieces.


Stitch along the folded edge of the hem to secure.

8. Attaching Back to Pillow Front

Lay the two backing pieces on the pillow front, right sides together, with the hemmed edges overlapping in the center.  Top, bottom and sides should be aligned flush with the pillow front.  Use sewing clips or pins to secure and stitch a ½” seam around the perimeter of the pillow.

envelope backing for pillow
envelope backing for quilted pillow

Clip the corners, and zig zag the edges if desired to minimize fraying.

Turn the pillow cover, poking out corners using a chopstick or pencil.  

turn pillow inside out

Insert pillow form through the opening and gift the finished pillow to your favorite Graduate!

graduation T-Shirt pillow
DIY graduation pillow from back

                        Party in the front, easy access envelope closure in the back!

Tip:  Since the cover is removable, it’s machine washable too!   Just take the pillow form out first. 

PS: If you want to add some piping, check out this blog post.

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