DIY Burlap Pillow

It’s a new year with a new DIY tutorial!

This one combines a few of my favorite things: burlap, throw pillows, and Photoshop. I made this pillow pictured above for my mother for Christmas, and she loved it (at least, that’s what she tells me)! So here we go with the steps:

  1. Create your stencil.

I use Photoshop on a regular basis for my job, so I opted to make my own stencil for this pillow. I had seen similar pillows like this one below (from Pinterest) in antique stores and online:


My mother is a native of Alabama and has always been a little nostalgic for her home state, having lived in Georgia for the past couple of decades. She remarked that these pillows were cute on day while we were out antiquing together, but most of the pillows we saw ranged somewhere around $40-$50. My first thought was, naturally, “This is way too much for a burlap pillow. I can make that cheaper!”

Without ever having made a pillow before, I set out to create one. I looked at some examples online to get a feel for what I wanted it to look like. I knew that I wanted the state outline with the words “Sweet home Alabama” inside, and I wanted the font to be a handwritten, script-like font. I scrolled through fonts for quite a while before selecting one called Tamoro Script Regular. I liked it because it was, in fact, a script font, but without looking TOO fancy or too difficult to read.


After selecting my font and creating the state outline, I simply created the stencil on a 20×20″ Photoshop canvas (since I wanted a 20×20″ pillow) and printed it out. If you don’t have any Photoshop skills, those steps are probably going to be more difficult than I made them sound, to be honest with you. Other options would be to simply invest in a stencil (that you can use over and over again if you want) or to have an artsy friend create one for you.

I created the state outline, centered it on the canvas, and resized to dimensions I thought would look good on an actual pillow, taking into consideration the fact that a pillow will curve, so I didn’t want to make the state outline TOO big on the canvas. A lot of this was simple guesstimating and eyeing the design. I decided to have my font going horizontal for the first two words and diagonal for the last, but this part is completely up to you! Do whatever you think looks best.

2. Print your stencil

Printing the stencil was somewhat difficult for me, since I didn’t have a special printer that could print onto stencil material or anything like that. In fact, believe it or not, I used simple cardstock for this project. It actually works great! Admittedly, my stencil was a little ghetto since the cardstock sheets weren’t large enough to fit the entire stencil on one piece, and I ended up cutting and taping several pieces together in order to make a legal-sized piece of cardstock to send through the printer. Talk about thinking outside the box. It was tedious and time-consuming, but it worked! And I didn’t pay a dime!

3. Cut out your stencil

FAIR WARNING: Cutting out a stencil is NOT a quick process. In fact, the whole process so far from selecting a font to creating the stencil to printing and cutting it out is by far the most time-consuming part of this project. That’s the bad news. The good news is that if you print your stencil on cardstock (or, you know, something even more durable), you have a stencil that can be used again and again. (So far, I’ve used my cardstock stencil 3 times, and it’s still holding up fine.)

The process is fairly simple: after printing your stencil, you want to take an Exacto knife, place something underneath your stencil so that you don’t ruin any surfaces, and start cutting away at your letters. I do NOT recommend using a box cutter in the absence of an Exacto knife, which is what I did (pictured above) when I got impatient. Keep in mind that the more script-y your font is, the more difficult it will be to cut out. This is a rather tedious process, but it’s also a pretty mindless one, so I actually enjoyed it.

One other tip: on letters like “o,” “g,” and “e” that have space in the middle of a circle that needs to remain intact, be sure NOT to cut all the way around the letter. Leaving part of the circle connected to the rest of the letter will enable you to keep that space inside the “o,” for example, when actually stenciling. If you mess up and do cut out the entire middle of the letter, don’t sweat it. You can use tiny strips of Scotch tape to attach the middles back to the letters.


Notice that I have taped my state outline in several places to maintain the shape of the stencil, and I will do the same thing for the inside of the “o” in “home” and the bottom of the “s” in “sweet.” (I got impatient with the “e”s and just decided to leave the space out of those.) If you use tape, make sure you tape on the front and the back so that you don’t have your stencil sticking to the surface underneath.

It may take several tries to get all of this right. You may want to play around with making the stencil, printing the stencil, and cutting out the stencil. That’s completely fine! In fact, I recommend spendingĀ most of your time on this part of the process so that your end result looks as good as possible.

4. Create your pillow

Ok, I’m going to be honest with you. While sewing a 20×20″ pillow is not the hardest project in the world, I have zero sewing skills. Luckily for me, my fashion design sister does, and she stepped in to help me out with this step. I simply bought a yard of natural-colored burlap at the fabric store, along with an invisible zipper whose color matched the burlap as closely as possible. She created the actual pillowcase and inserted the zipper into one edge so that I could then stuff the pillow insert inside and zip it closed.

Since I didn’t actually do the sewing for this step, I’m afraid I can’t break it down for you. However, there are lots of new sew or easy sewing tutorials for pillowcases available on Pinterest, some of which use a flap closure instead of a zippered closure on the pillow to make it even easier to create. Admittedly, the invisible zipper does make the pillow feel higher quality and give it a professionally-made appearance, so if the zipper is non-negotiable, you may consider paying the $10 to have a sewing friend help you out. Trust me, it’ll still be cheaper than buying one!

5. Stencil your pillowcase

This is the fun part. Take your flat, finished pillowcase and stick a cardboard insert inside to keep paint from bleeding through to the other side of the pillow. Place your stencil in the direct center of the pillowcase (you may want to actually get out a ruler and measure this to be exact). Decide what color paint you want to use (usually, people either stencil white or black acrylic paint onto burlap. In my experience, white paint tends to bleed a bit more, while black produces the best results). You can buy some black acrylic paint from any craft store for about $1. I happened to have mine on hand since I craft/paint a lot anyway.

Using a firm, flat-bristled round brush or a sponge brush, dip it directly into the black paint and then dab off the excess. Dab the brush directly down onto the stencil and repeat that vertical motion to apply an even, thorough coat of paint all over. Do NOT use regular, horizontal brush strokes to paint your pillowcase, since pulling the paint like this across the canvas will cause the paint to bleed. One coat of paint should be enough:


Though I have stenciled onto burlap on previous projects, I was really anal about not messing this one up, so I did a practice run on a scrap piece of burlap to make sure that my stencil was going to hold up before painting on the real deal. I was really delighted with the result, so after making sure my stencil and cardboard insert were completely dry, I went for it! After you are certain that you have given the stencil a thorough coating of paint, pull it directly up off of the pillowcase very slowly and carefully without disturbing the paint underneath.

If you have letters like “o”s whose middles were still attached to the letter, this is the part where you will now go back in and freehandedly fill in those parts that were serving as connector pieces. Again, you want to do this by dabbing straight up and down, not by pulling the brush across the canvas.

When you’re finished, it should look something like this:


6. Finish your pillow

After the stencil is done, all you have to do is wait for it to dry. The acrylic paint dries fairly quickly, but just to be safe, I didn’t move mine and let it sit overnight. Once it is completely dry, remove the cardboard insert and put your actual pillow insert inside (I get mine from Amazon for about $7). The cool thing about buying pillow inserts is that you can then purchase or make lots of different kinds of pillowcases and change them out whenever you want. (My mom does this for every season.)

Zip it closed, and voila! You have a store-quality pillow with a fantastic rustic, shabby chic appeal.

Here’s a final breakdown of all my expenses:

1 yard burlap + invisible zipper: $9

Pillow insert: $7

Paint, paper, brushes, etc.: already had on hand

Stencil: free on cardstock

Sister manual labor: free (thanks, Em!)

Total: I spent about $16 on this project, which is WAY better than the $40 pillows I was seeing on the Internet and in stores. It was also way more fun because I got to create the pillow EXACTLY how I wanted it to look. Admittedly, if you don’t have design or sewing skills and don’t particularly have a ton of time to work on this tedious project, it may not be one you want to pursue. But if you do, I think you’ll find it’s well worth it.

Look how romantic it looks on my mom’s couch!

Processed with VSCOcam with acg preset

Processed with VSCOcam with acg preset

Processed with VSCOcam with hb1 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with hb1 preset

Until next time, happy crafting!


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