From Tee to Cushion (With Fungi)

I have a dear relative whose life’s work has revolved around fungi.  You can imagine, then, how thrilled I was to find this in a shop last fall:

I’d been looking for “mushroom fabric” for quite a while, but everything was too kitschy, or cutesy, or just plain horrible.  I didn’t have any specific project in mind, and the pickings were so dismal, it looked as if nothing inspiring would ever turn up.  Then, when I least expected it, I stumbled across this:  not only beautifully reproduced mushrooms, but mushrooms with their Latin names appended!

There was one problem.  This is a tee shirt.  My relative does not “do” tee shirts. What, then?  The best idea seemed to be to turn this tee into a cushion.  Not, however, a pillow of the stuff-the-tee-shirt-and-call-it-done variety.  That fungi graphic needed some respect.  I went looking for loamy corduroy, and found a nice mid-wale in the right shade of brown.

I measured like mad, decided on the dimensions, and cut the tee shirt apart.  (I would have liked to have dumped the “mushrooms” text at the bottom; it worked on the tee shirt, but not so much on the cushion.  I couldn’t, though, without sacrificing important fungi labelling.)

I framed the knit on either side by cutting strips of corduroy carefully along the wale, and then pinning in the ditch where the knit attaches to the corduroy.  The precise cut allowed the seam guide on my presser foot to keep an exact distance from the “ditch” that the needle traveled while sewing the pieces together:

Corduroy has always been a favorite fabric of mine, and I used to wear it quite a bit.  I’m a bit picky about wales, and I really wanted the seam between the knit and the cord to follow the line of the corduroy wales perfectly.  This kind of persnickety requires mad basting, or, in my case, precise pinning, and that fine, fine accessory foot.

See what a beautiful edge this made?  The seam follows the wale perfectly:

I wanted this pillow to have a removable cover, so that it could be washed, if necessary, so I cut the back in two pieces, and inserted a zipper under a flap.  Then I used the technique described above to attach the back to the front sides, so that the seams would be just as smooth there as on the front of the pillow.

Here are the front and back, assembled, but without the pillow form:

The usable dimensions of the tee shirt had determined the size of the cushion, so I couldn’t use a store-bought form.  Instead, I whipped up a liner of muslin, filled it with the nicest poly stuffing I could find, and stitched it closed.  Then I popped it into the newly made slipcover, and this is what I had:

There’s a bit of a fish-eye affect going here, but you get the idea.  An alternative method would be to put a gusset all around the pillow — that would keep the shape more obviously square — but I wanted a slightly more informal cushion, and one that would be more scrunchable.

Corduroy was a good choice for the ancillary fabric; it gives the cushion a little gravitas, which I hoped would allow it to fit into my relative’s rather nice living room.

Tee shirts, it turns out, might be well worth mining for the kind of quirky or idiosyncratic fabric themes that are so lacking elsewhere, whether you think of them as apparel or not.  If you’re lucky enough to stumble across that one-in-a-million wonderful tee shirt, but can’t bring yourself to wear it, this might be just the trick to enjoying it anyway.

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8 Responses to From Tee to Cushion (With Fungi)

  1. What a great gift! The print on that tee is rather remarkable, and it transformed well into a cushion.

    • Noile says:

      Seeing this excellent graphic really made me re-think this kind of tee shirt, Trena. I’ve always ignored them in the past, but think I’ll be taking a closer look in the future. There could be a lot of possibilities lurking unexpectedly i piles of printed tees!

  2. Annette says:

    What a great pillow and how thoughtful of you. Love it.

  3. ElleC says:

    I love it and you did a beautiful job, but you forgot one thing! What did the recipient think of their new cushion?

    • Noile says:

      The recipient was very pleased, ElleC, and even more so when she realized I’d made it myself. Selfish would not approve, but, just once in a while, sewing for someone else results in warm, fuzzy glows all around!

  4. Shams says:

    What a fabulous, thoughtful gift, Noile!!! I agree, mushroom fabric tends to the cutesy, gnome-like variety, which is great for Waldorf kids. 😉 I adore that corduroy you found! Both the wide wales and the rich color. Can I ask where you found it?

    • Noile says:

      At JoAnn. No kidding! They had two shades of brown, and I was able to get exactly the right one for the fungi. It’s very hit-or-miss, though, and that was several months ago. JoAnn has been stocking huge quantities of hideous print pinwale, and that’s clearly where their attention is.

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