How To Make a Pillow From Vintage Linens

I LOVE parts and pieces of vintage linens! Most of us have doilies, embroideries, old quilt parts and various linens from our mothers, grandmothers, aunts and maybe just found treasures from long ago. I’ll take you on a “how to” journey so that you might be able to bring those pieces out of their drawers and make them into something usable and memorable. Let’s go!

This particular piece began with an unfinished block of applique. I was given a bag of treasures from a friend, who felt that I would be the best ‘keeper’ of her grandmothers’ linens. I would guess these fabrics to be from the 1930’s or 40’s. Baskets with flowers have long been a popular pattern for quilters. When I find a one block wonder, it makes me think the maker made one and then said, “boy I’ll never do that again!” LOL!!

This block is about 20″ square. It was relatively clean so there was no need to give it a bath. If a piece has stains, I like to give it a soak in Retro Clean. You can see from my work table that I am NOT a tidy girl. I usually have multiple projects going at the same time! Plus, I like to pull out everything that might work with a piece.

The first thing I knew for sure, was that I wanted to use a bag of reproduction fabrics I had picked up at a garage sale. Yes, 5o cents for all this!!


I always like to share the back of a piece because you see the real work of the original maker.

I started by cutting 4 strips that are 1 1/2″ wide. I wanted a simple border using colors from the appliqued flowers. These are not the same fabrics, but they blend nicely.

I also wanted to bring in some of the hundreds of doilies I own. Who has doilies?? I’m guessing LOTS of you! Seems our ancestors loved to crochet, tat, and do all sorts of lace work. I will be the first to admit that I will never use them all in my lifetime, but I do admire them and the hours of work that someone put into making them!

I put them around the perimeter of the block and cut them, yes, I cut them. Trust me, it’s OK! Lightening will not strike you 😉

I sprayed each doily with some 505 temporary baste spray. This way they would stay where I placed them until I could get them sewn onto the block.


With right sides together, I stitched the border to the block, catching in the doilies.

Working around the piece, I stitched each strip to make a frame around the block and envelope the doilies.

I put a total of three small borders to frame this piece. I ditch stitched them on my domestic machine and then put the piece on my longarm to do the quilting. Any of this work can be done on a domestic or longarm machine, but I wanted to try out my new, notched rulers, so I worked on the longarm to finish this piece. These rulers are ONLY for use on the longarm because the hopping foot nestles in the notch of the ruler and gives complete control around the applique shapes.


Before I start to free motion quilt anything, I stabilize the entire piece by outlining each and every applique and embroidered line. This gives definition to the block. Now I’m ready for the fun, quilting!

This photo shows the definition created when the outlining is finished. While I outlined, I also went into a few of the flower centers and leaves. I always to try to work in an area while I’m there, that way there are less starts and stops and I am able to do a continuous stitch line.

Here are a few technical details of this piece. I quilt on a Handi Quilter Fusion, longarm machine. I used a layer of Hobbs Heirloom 80/20 batting and my thread is Glide, 60 wt, color Cream, by Fil-Tec.

At this point, I changed to the Glide foot. This may be my most used tool! It glides over crochet, applique, anything that is not flat on the surface. A few other machine brands have their version of this foot. Check with your dealer to see if your machine has one! Even on my Bernina, I have a disc type foot that I think they call an echo foot. This can be used with great ease over doilies and embroideries.

I used my favorite pebble, spiral mix and when the entire piece was finished, I added a few pearls and glass beads to pull down the trim edges. I rarely stitch down an edge as I like to save that for embellishing.

When I make the back of a pillow, I also use batting to give the finished pillow a sturdy structure.

I put together a few pieces of fabric, sandwiched with batting and a piece of muslin for the backing, then quilted on my domestic machine with a random wave. I think it makes a great texture and is super simple!

I’ve made an envelope pillow with this one. If you’ve not seen that done, check YouTube for a tutorial. They are super easy and go together almost quicker than a regular pillow. Put the right sides together and then stitch around the perimeter.

Turn inside out and there you have it! A usable, beautiful, heirloom pillow, with possibly a lot of sentimental value if you’ve used your family treasures!


 I used a Hobbs pillow form for a very quick fill!


I hope this inspires you to pull some things out of your drawers and closets and create something to use from your parts and pieces of vintage linens. There is a challenge and a thrill that come from these creations. More than anything else, HAVE FUN!


  1. Leave a Reply

    October 1, 2017

    I have found that I prefer to disassemble/remake the pillow forms making them flatter and softer so that the pillow displays a bit better. I use unbleached muslin and my serger and do a very soft/minimal stuffing. It takes only moments to make and I love the Hobbs “PolyDown” fill!

    • Leave a Reply

      Jacqueline Lee Lambie
      January 27, 2019

      I like your method to make the form less stiff and fat. A creative thrifty way to creat a display pillow. And one could creat differing sizes too. 😊

  2. Leave a Reply

    Millie sargent
    October 1, 2017

    Love love love it! Thanks for the tutorial,it is definitely a inspiration!!

  3. Leave a Reply

    October 1, 2017

    Thank you! That was very inspiring and you made it seem very doable. I have so may doilies and this gives me ideas as I really would like to get them out of the drawer and do something with them that my daughters would like.

    • Leave a Reply

      [email protected]
      October 1, 2017

      Great! I hope you do and it really is quite simple. Just follow the process. Sometimes when I see a finished piece I think, how did they do that? When you break it down, it makes it real!

  4. Leave a Reply

    October 1, 2017

    OMG OMG OMG!!!! that is so beautiful! I love it! and no lightening cutting a doily????? OMG! I’m blown away by the whole process!

  5. Leave a Reply

    Nancy Morneault
    October 1, 2017

    The maker of this vintage piece could not have imagined how beautiful it would finish. You are one amazing stitcher. Great creativity.

  6. Leave a Reply

    October 1, 2017

    I love the starting point but your mad skills mad it even better! Gawgeous!

  7. Leave a Reply

    October 1, 2017

    Kelly, this is absolutely BEAUTIFUL!! I have a lot of vintage doilies that were my grandmother’s. You are so inspiring! Thank you for sharing your talent with us!

  8. Leave a Reply

    Janice Holton
    October 1, 2017

    I am fascinated by this reuse of vintage linens. Keep up the great work! This piece is fabulous! So what do you do with your creations? Sell them? Give them as gifts? Hang them all on the wall? 😀

    • Leave a Reply

      [email protected]
      October 3, 2017

      Thanks Janice! All kinds of things. Currently I travel and teach, so I bring them for a trunk show of ideas! I have only sold one piece. I love to give them as gifts, frame them, make them into pillows, hang on a wall, make into a quilt, etc. The list is endless really 🙂

  9. Leave a Reply

    Denise Nash
    October 2, 2017

    Thanks for this inspiring tutorial!

  10. Leave a Reply

    October 2, 2017

    I have been following you for about 2 years and I love everything you do, so inspirational. As a longarm quilter of 8 years I am finally finding time to do some quilting of my own. I don’t have any doilies from family so I went to my local opportunity shop and found some lovely ones to work with. Thanks again for sharing your skills.

    • Leave a Reply

      [email protected]
      October 3, 2017

      Thank you Kay! Thrift/op shops are fabulous for good finds, as are antique stores. My stash reminds me of this!!

  11. Leave a Reply

    Maria Gardner
    October 2, 2017

    Absolutely love your work and great ideas. Don’t have a long arm, but am enjoying ruler work with my domestic machine. You are such an inspiration. Will definitely make a few pillows using your ideas. Thanks.

  12. Leave a Reply

    Karen S Brown
    October 8, 2017

    I just accepted an old top from a friend. It was her grandmother’s aunt…and my friend is 70. Not precious but sentimental. Thanks for all the tips.

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