Looking for simple tips on how to dye pillows? Here’s how I transformed these old pillows into dyed painted leaf pillows for the front porch.


My grandmother never threw anything away.

Not a thing.

She kept drawers full of sheets of old tin foil and washed out her plastic bags and cut her towels into smaller towels and re-grated soap to make new soap.  She could stretch a dollar and a aluminum pie plate farther than anyone else I knew.

She grew up during the Great Depression when every piece of every thing had to be recycled.  That’s what they did.  That’s how they made it.

I wish I had more of her inside me.  I toss everything.  If something is worn or tired or holey, I’m the first one to wish it well and escort it to the trash.

But this weekend I did something a little different.

I went all my grandmother on myself and saved a pillow.


On my front porch I have an old church pew I got at a yard sale for $12.

I found these burlap pillow covers earlier this year at IKEA.  They were having a clearance sale and they were only $4.00 each.  They really are cute.  They’re burlap with a black zipper in the back and nice and long and four of them covered the church pew from end to end.  Perfect decorating solution.


Until the weather happened.

The porch is covered, but somehow the pillows faded and got brown spots all over them and spots and started looking generally dilapidated.

I rolled my eyes at them and asked them why they couldn’t behave and was about to send them packing when those drawers of tin foil and washed plastic bags started swirling about in my head.

Maybe I could save them.


Yes, Virginia, I could.

Here’s how I dyed them.


How to dye pillows


Rit Dye

pillow cover

washing machine

  1. Put the pillow cover into the washing machine.
  2. Put the orange dye in the washing machine with the pillow cover.
  3. Follow the directions on the bottle and let the dye dissolve in the water.
  4. Wash the cover.
  5. Check your color.
  6. If the color needs to be darker repeat the dye process and dye again.


And about an hour later they looked like this.

I wasn’t sure about the color of the dye because it was bright orange on the bottle.  I used the color Tangerine.

But instead of bright orange, it turned this absolutely lovely shade of fallmazingness.

(total aside:  you can see the zippers on the back in this photo.  Aren’t they cute?  What was I thinking about almost throwing them away?)


The dye helped with the fadedness, but there were still several places that needed to be covered.

What’s a reformed pillow throwerawayer supposed to do then?

Paint leaves of course.

I started with leaves from the yard.


Then I traced around them with a Sharpie like this.


And added a few more leaves like this.

Then I was ready to paint.

I just used simple acrylic paint.  You can add fabric medium directly to the paint or you can buy fabric paint at any craft store.

I didn’t over think it.

I just started with orange and yellow and red and brown and when I was done, the leaves looked like this.


Here are a few leaf painting tips.

1. Outline the leaves in a darker color.


2. Then take a complimentary color and blur the edges and combine the two colors.

3. Let that layer dry.


4.  Next add in highlights.  The more highlights you add, the more the leaves show up on the burlap.

5.  Add a little brown to the base of the leaf for the stem.



None of these leaves are perfect.

Each has a little bit of their own style and personality.

I didn’t overthink it.  I just painted.

And in the end?  It was an afternoon well spent.

I’m so happy I didn’t toss the pillows.  I’m so happy I took a moment to re-think and re-purpose and re-use and re-imagine what I had into something so much better.

My grandmother would be proud. 🙂

disclosure: affiliates were used in this post.

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  1. Image for Yvonne Shafer Yvonne Shafer

    Absolutely adorable! Your grandmother would be proud of you! My grandma was the same way. Sometimes the old ways are the best!

  2. Image for Terry Ellen Terry Ellen

    Oh I had a great-grandmother like that, her name was Lydia DeVoe Walker and she made beautiful rugs on a loom in a tiny shed behind her house. She came through the Depression as well and I was amazed at what she could create out of next to nothing. Even in the kitchen, she would take dried navy beans and a bit of bacon and a few worn out looking potatoes (that yes, I would have tossed out!) and make a delicious meal for literally pennies. Agatha says she LOVES your pillows and thank you sweet KariAnne for the beautiful beautiful post & for reminding me of my "Grandma Liddie".

  3. Image for Teresa George Teresa George

    I love these pillows! Makes me wish I had a church pew. And a porch to put it on. And fall leaves to trace. (I'm in Miami.) You're amazing, KariAnne!

  4. Image for Gina Gina

    Those look great! I cannot believe you found a church pew for $12! I want one so badly! Can never find one for less than $100 and they're falling apart too.

  5. Image for Carole @ Garden Up Green Carole @ Garden Up Green

    Fantastic save - these pillows need to be show cased - the detail is fantastic and very impressionistic. I agree your grandmother would be proud and isn't it a treat to have that connection with someone who survived a recording of history such as the Great depression? My grandma raised her family then as well and I remember her saying things like, "We'll save this for later, we may need it." I remember her using an old light bulb to darn our socks, this help out my parents budget. That was just one little tip, there were so many and probably my favorite is air drying the laundry outdoors. It's pretty neat because my blog was inspired by all the time I spent with her growing up. It was a time that was truly treasured and made me a better person because even though I don't hold onto much stuff I don't take anything for granted. Enjoyed!!

  6. Image for Vicki Vicki

    Beautiful! Thank you! I love all of your pillow ideas! These turned out gorgeous! And even more special than they already were!

  7. Image for Rowena Philbeck Rowena Philbeck

    Good for you!! I did more of that recycling then I do now. I need to get back to that for sure. I love your pillows they look wonderful and so glad you saved them. I have saved jean strips for a long time into balls and wanted to make a rug..still haven't but I do have the ball of jeans. When I was first married we didn't have much money and for Christmas we took old ball ornaments and spray painted them and added glitter etc for a new ornament for the tree. Fun times!!! Thanks for sharing.

  8. Image for Leslie Leslie

    Fallmazingness...my new favorite word. And I am absolutely mesmerized by your wonderful instructions to the most amazing salvaged pillows ever!! Thank you! I'm off to rescue a few green covers myself! Thanking your grandmother for sure. ;-)

  9. Image for Linda Linda

    I'm probably a little older than most of your followers, hence, growing up all the "saving" information was engrained in my brain by my Mom and great grandmothers. Consequently, I'm a re-user, re-thinker, re-modeler, re-whatever! I enjoyed a 25 year career as an Interior Designer living by that motto. My customers loved the fact that I was willing and able to work well within a budget and deliver so much for their money. Point is, I'm so glad to see this way of doing is at the forefront again. Push on girls!!!

  10. Image for Toni Toni

    Beautiful and fun! We all could learn from your Grandmother! During the Great Depression curtains became women's clothing, which when worn out became aprons, which when worn out were cut into squares or strips and became cleaning rags or mops, Everything was used and used up! I have a little of your grandma in me!

    1. Image for Toni Toni

      Forgot....between the aprons and mops were bed quilts that were sewn from whatever fabric could be salvaged from the aprons.

  11. Image for Becky Becky

    Just perfect for your fall porch! Yes, grandma and all women who grew up during that time would be proud. It just goes to show you, at least in this case, they were right when they kept all those things and up cycled or repaired them.

  12. Image for Debbie Debbie

    Oh my goodness, the pillows turned out beautiful!!! Great save and wonderful idea. Thanks for sharing. Your grandmother would be SO proud.

  13. Image for Heather Braun Heather Braun

    My grandma Pearl was the same way! It did rub off on me and I wash my plastic bags and foil. I save onion skins and celery and carrot ends and kale stems in the freezer for soup. I try to reuse or repurpose anything I can. I love those pillows, I have leftover burlap from another project that I am thinking of making pillows with now. Thank you so much for the great idea...love, love, love it!

  14. Image for Monica Monica

    They turned out great!!!!! I am a saver, just like your grandmother was :-). I wash my ziplock bags....because they're so dang expensive to just use once and then throw them away!! My kids even do that now :-). I save a lot of those styrofoam bases that the meat is on when you buy it. I wash them with very hot soapy water and have used them when I'm painting. I just pitch them when done....no messy pan to clean!!! I reuse ribbon from presents...especially the pretty satin ones.....if someone is going to throw them away, I grab them. I can go on and on....I guess I get carried away sometimes, but if I can save money this way, I'll have money to buy more craft supplies :-)

  15. Image for Michelle Michelle

    You are a creative genius! How adorable are these? I love this idea. They look better than they did before. I love fall and we're just finally getting a taste of it now in Atlanta. Thanks for the great idea !!

  16. Image for cherie cherie

    Karianne, those look fabulous!!! I am not one to take on too many crafty projects, but those are totally worth it! And if I am giving kudos to a crafty project, that is saying a lot! You did a beautiful job and they look stunning on the black bench!

  17. Image for Shelley MacMillan Shelley MacMillan

    I absolutely love your orange fall pillows! Just perfect! My grandmother was the same way, once I asked her what it was like during the depression. She said it didn't affect them that much-- they lived on a farm and raised their own food. I love the heritage of self reliance!

  18. Image for Jeanne Jeanne

    Oh my so cute. From the initial photos, I didn't think the pillow cases could be saved...I was so wrong. Love the carefree freedom leaves...So Very Fall. Perfect.

  19. Image for Randi Randi

    Oh fun! I had no idea that burlap could be dyed! I have a bunch in my fabric stash, just sitting and waiting to be used. Thanks for the fun idea!!! I am a tosser too...but trying to reform. Now that I am in a smaller house it's harder to hold onto things. But I have this shed out in my backyard and I just need to put some shelves in it. I do love the idea of reduce, reuse, recycle! And old concept come back to life! :)

  20. Image for Nancy @ Slightly Coastal Nancy @ Slightly Coastal

    Ha! I love it. I think they are waaaay cuter now than generic Ikea pillows. They are a one of a kind, karianne original and that's worth way more than $4.00. Funny thing is...we returned home yesterday after Hurricane Matthew and as we pulled up I saw all the downed branches and I had a "karianne" moment. You can click on over to see what I created with dead branches...it was a true Thistlewood inspired day. Have a great one my friend!

  21. Image for Belinda Belinda

    Oh my goodness! These are Beautiful! You are one talented Gal! I am in the progress of making pompoms for the pompom pillow you posted earlier! I've gotta get my buns in gear and finish it up so that I can move on to this new burlap pillow you've posted. Winter ideas are swirling, snow flakes would be gorgeous in this application of dyes and painting...I've gotta get busy! Have a wonderful day Karianne!

  22. Image for Michelle Michelle

    Wow...they're absolutely gorgeous! And no one would have known you'd taken on the project to 'save' the pillows. Unless you'd shared the story, we all would have thought...at least I would...that you'd planned this brilliant Fall decorating hand-painted pillow project all along. The background story just makes your project even more impressive! Coming from a long line of dollar-stretchers, I know they would be impressed too. But don't sell yourself short, Karianne. You're kind of a combination tosser and a saver. After all, you give new life to many things other people have tossed, like the church pew you mention, for instance. You're just a tosser/saver with a discriminating eye for a treasure. I know you're going to use these pillows for many years to come and I'm sure they're very grateful. ;-)

  23. Image for Dale Deacon Dale Deacon

    What a sweet way to honor your grandma and you're so right about that generation that lived through the depression being thrifty, creative and so grounded by their life experiences and I never tired listening to their stories. Of course this generation is just about gone on both sides of my family, but I have memories of family gatherings and as the stars would begin to light up the skies at night when visiting Hawai'i, all of the cousins would be on the floor and listen quietly to the family "talk story", with quiet murmurs or laughter of days gone by. With my mom gone, I kept all of her old kitchen ware and utensils and always brings up fond memories of her when I use one and just last week, baking with my granddaughter, I shared one of my mom's stories and we both laughed as made cupcakes. Passing on stories to the next generation. The pillows are delightful. Love that you have the pattern of leaves with the mix of the right autumn hues, gaily blowing across all the pillows, welcoming all to the changes of the seasons. A favorite season for most of us, after a hot summer, long strolls with the dogs showered by the falling leaves, and my pup Anela, dancing in pure joy amongst them. Happy fall Karianne!

  24. Image for Linda Linda

    I love the pillows....the leaves are great ! I was just wondering about the washer ...doesn't the dye Change the color of the inside of the washer ? I would love to dye some things but Iam thinking it Will ruin my washer

  25. Image for Bonnie Bonnie

    Those pillows are so cute. I love the color and the painted leaves and they look so "fallish" on your church pew. They're even better than when they were plain burlap and I'm a big fan of burlap.

  26. Image for Ellen Ellen

    Pillowtastic!! You have reached the peak of perfection with this amazing project. The leaves are beautiful on those adorable and noble burlap pillows. I am a saver too- taught by my Gram and Mother long, long ago. I have passed it on to my children as well. I think you already are a credit to your Grandmother with all of your wonderful makeovers. Thank-you for this lovely post showcasing your artistic talent.

  27. Image for Cecilia Cecilia

    So cute! I'm glad you didn't toss them either...they look amazing all dyed and leaf painted! Glad you channeled your grandmother's thriftiness! It pays to rethink things. :o)

  28. Image for Loryl Loryl

    My grandma was just like what you described. She'd have thought your recycle to be too frivolous unless you dyed them from some veggie skins or spice. Not me! I LOVE those "new" orange pillows. I've been trying to be more aware of what I have and try to recycle items to other rooms.

  29. Image for Michele Riggsbee Michele Riggsbee

    What a beautiful idea! My blessed Gram was the same way! Totally loved your new word: fallmazingness! I have some old pillows I could try painting on. As always, thank you for such a sweet post. I know your grandma was smiling at you from heaven!

  30. Image for laura {not a trophy wife} laura {not a trophy wife}

    Dang! This is why you 1 billion followers and I have 3! I would have painted the leaves one color and called it good! Your pillows look amazing! My grandmother was the same way. My mother still wraps food in foil. 1/2 a muffin gets a sheet of foil! KariAnne have a great week! laura

  31. Image for Marty W. Marty W.

    Love, love, love. Please tell more about how to use the dye in a front loading washer. I am worried about ruining it. Could you let us know more about that process? I have old jeans that I'd like to darken with navy dye, but I am hesitant.

  32. Image for Karen gimson Karen gimson

    My wonderful mother in law is like your grandmother- nothing is wasted. Shirt collars used to be turned. Sheets worn in the middle would be cut in half and re sown back together. And when I take her flowers from the garden each week, see even saves the twine and returns it to me neatly wound. I have learned such a lot from her. Thanks for sharing your gorgeous project. I am thinking that idea would work as a table runner for our autumn celebration meals. All the best- Karen


    KariAnne, the dyed burlap pillows with those painted fall leaves are just so beautiful! Such a great idea! Also love your pew! Bless you!

  34. Image for Susan Susan

    Oh m'gosh...these are just too adorable, KariAnne...you really are a whirlwind of creativity! You're also quite the artist...your leaves look very realistic...if you sold these, I would buy 'em! Gotta LOVE that invigorating shot of orange, too! These are just perfect...I'm glad you shared them with us!

  35. Image for Rebecca K Rebecca K

    Beautiful! OK...what's next? I can hardly wait from one post to the next. You inspire me. Now, all I have to do is get off the computer and get to work!!!! Thank you for taking the time to share with all of us.

  36. Image for Theresa Theresa

    Now you have me wanting to dye some of my burlap. I love how your fall project turned out. Thanks for sharing at the #InspirationSpotlight Party Pinned & shared.

  37. Image for Pamela A Pamela A

    KariAnne - You always bring a smile to my face. We just moved so I have found myself needing to get better in letting things go. One of the things that we did move was an old church pew that I was able to re-purpose on our new front porch. I knew it would look great (it does) but the hubs wasn't so easily swayed. But now that it's in place he's now in agreement - don't you ever want to ask "why would you doubt"? Thank you for your fabulous projects, I love them all and you are truly an inspiration...why would you doubt??

  38. Image for Mimi Mimi

    Your grandmother would be proud of you for sure . My grandmother has been gone for 44 years and I still miss her so much. Unconditional love, grandchildren feel that and never forget it. I try hard to be like my wonderful, creative, grandmother to my grandchildren. Love the pillows, they are just great!

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