How to Make a Duplicate Stitch Heart Pillow

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I love cozy sweater pillows. I’ve always wanted one, but I’m not willing the pay the hefty price tag to buy one. I had held onto an old grey sweater and saved it to make my own, and I finally got around to stitching it this week. I didn’t want a boring pillow and I needed it to be extra squishy. I decided it needed a big pink heart, just in time for Valentine’s Day!

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I used what’s called  a duplicate stitch to make the pink heart. The sweater that I used was an inexpensive acrylic blend that I had worn to keep me warm back when I did alterations in a very cold shop. It was a rib knit (knit one, purl one), but you could use a sweater with any kind of stitch you’d like to make one of these. A stockinette stitch (all knit on one side, all purl on the other) would be easiest, but I say dig thru your closet and use whatever is free!

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knitheartdetail3The yarn that I used gave it a wonderfully nubby and full appearance, even though the rib knit spaced out the knit lines a bit more than I would have liked.

knitheartsuppliesAs far as supplies, you’ll need:

  • An old, clean sweater
  • Yarn, that is a little bit heavier than the yarn used to knit your sweater
  • A pillow form (I didn’t have the right size so my pillow is currently stuffed with polyfill I had on hand)
  • Yarn needle or large tapestry needle
  • scissors
  • Sewing thread both to match your knit and one spool to contrast it
  • 1/2 yard of cotton in a matching or complimentary color to your sweater (you will need more if you make a bigger pillow cover)

The yarn that I used was Berroco Peruvian Quick (100% wool) that was leftover from a cardigan I knit. The cotton is a Kona cotton, which I can’t remember the exact color name for.

To start your sweater pillow, first lay out your sweater and use a sweater shaver on it if it needs it, and use a knit picker or a snag nab-it to hide any snags on the back of the sweater. Never cut them! Then, lay your sweater out flat on the table and decide how large you want your pillow to be. Take into consideration the length of your sweater from the hem to the armholes. You won’t want to put an armhole seam on your lovely pillow front, so you’ll need to choose a size that lets you have enough space to cut out your pillow plus seam allowance.

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I decided to make my pillow 16″ x 16″, and I gave myself 1/2″ of seam allowance all around, making my pillow front a square 17″ x 17″. I barely squeeked in under the armholes! Once you have decided your size, find the middle of your sweater and use your contrasting thread color to make a long basting stitch thru it. Baste around the perimeter of your pillow square as well, and plan on using the bottom hem of your sweater as a pillow edge. Don’t cut it and waste length and worry about unraveling if you don’t have to!

Speaking of cutting- DON’T CUT YET! You are going to make your design on your sweater before you cut it out, so don’t get ahead of yourself or you’ll run the risk of it unraveling or stretching apart. Find the very middle of your center basting line and place a pin there. Now you can think about your design!

knitheartplanI would recommend that you draw out your design on graph paper before you attempt it on your sweater. Creating a duplicate stitch won’t ruin your sweater in any way, and you can always start over, but if you plan out your design first you’ll save time. If you don’t have any graph paper handy, you can print off your own by clicking here. Plan for each square on your graph paper to be one knit stitch, or “V”, on your sweater.

The middle line of my heart was 20 boxes long. So from where I put  my pin on the middle of my basting line, I counted down ten knit V’s, and then started my duplicate stitch.

A duplicate stitch is an embroidery technique used in knitting. It’s done in such a way that allows you to add colored decorative detail without actually have to knit or know how! The stitch is worked over the top of already existing stitches. To start your stitch, bring your needle up to the top of your sweater from the back, at the bottom of the V. You can leave a long yarn tail hanging off the back of the work that you can knot off after you’re happy with your stitches.

Once you have your yarn on the right side of your work, place your needle under the two loops at the base of the stitch above the one your thread came out of. 

knitheartstep1Pull your yarn thru to cover the first half of your knit V.

knitheartstep2Place your needle back in the base of the lower stitch, and pull the yarn to the back of the sweater to complete one stitch.

knitheartstep3Bring your needle out of the next V on top and continue to make the next stitch.

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knitheartstep6When you are making these stitches, remember to leave them a bit loose. If you pull them too tight, the stitches will pucker the fabric. You want the original knit to keep it’s stretch. Keep working up the middle of your heart until you have the correct number of stitches completed, ending with your yarn tail pulled to the back of your work.

knitheartmiddleTurn your work over and tie off each yarn end with a basic knot. Don’t worry about it being very tight, and leave a little extra room for the yarn to pull. I have a knot in the middle of my stitching line because I ran out of yarn. Using a really long piece makes the yarn harder to work with and it’s fine to use shorter pieces if it’s easier for you.

knitheartknotsThis stitch is easiest when you work from right to left. Working from bottom to top is fine too, but it will be a bit more tedious to do from left to right. Of course, if you’re left handed, it might be simpler! Work out half of your design on one side of your basted middle stitch line. Once you have that done, you can remove your basting. I basted the second half of my heart after I was happy with the curves of the first half, to make sure I was starting and ending my stitches at the same point and making a perfect heart.

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Don’t leave a soft sweater laying alone for even two minutes to go get a glass of water. Some fuzzy jerk might steal your work space, and loudly protest when you move him…

knitheartduncanAnother option with the duplicate stitch is to only make half of one stitch. I did that on the top curve of my heart so that the curve wouldn’t have harsh points on it.

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Here is my sweater with the finished duplicate stitch heart. I did consider leave it and wearing the sweater like this for a juuuust a minute. But, I really wanted to cut it up so I could make a soft pillow!

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When you are done stitching and have knotted off all of your yarn tails, take your sweater over to your sewing machine. Using a walking foot, stitch about 1/4 of an inch in from where your basted cutting line is. This machine stitch will help to hold the sweater knit together once you cut it out.

knitheartbasteAWith your machine basting done, cut a square of cotton fabric to match the square size you want your pillow to be, and also cut your sweater (EEEkk!). The sweater might be a bit misshapen after you cut it out, but do your best to smooth it out while you pin it to your fabric. Once it’s pinned, baste the sweater knit and the cotton together, stitching over the same 1/4″ basting line.

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Since your sweater knit is now basted to the cotton, you can sew it up as you would any other pillow. I used the cotton on the back of mine, and made a lapped zipper going from side to side. I would have used sweater knit on the back as well, but my sweater was an open cardigan, so I didn’t have enough fabric.

knitheartcaseI have lots of different ideas brewing for how I could use this technique. Right now I think that buying an inexpensive sweater and using a duplicate stitch to make a fair isle neckline on it sounds awesome. Or, maybe a sweater with a giant cat face on it so I look crazy would be better?

knitheartdetail1Let me know if you make your own sweater pillow. I’d love to see it!

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  • joelle.stlaurent

    this is so fun! you get me all inspired…

    • http://reallyhandmade.com/ Amy Alan

      Aw- thanks! I have this thought in my head of making a pocket outline on a t-shirt using sewing thread and a duplicate stitch. I might go blind, but for some reason I still want to do it! Any ideas what you might use the stitch for?

  • Bonnie

    This is a FABulous technique!! Thank you for sharing. Great idea for embellishing purchased sweaters for wee ones. I have always thought it sad that so much work goes into hand-knitting sweaters for kids only to have the munchkins grow out of them in 35 minutes.

    • http://reallyhandmade.com/ Amy Alan

      Yaay! I’m glad you like it. Yes, I think it’d be great for embellishing sweaters. I have a few ideas for using it to add details to a few boring ones I have.

  • Pingback: Duplicate Stitch: Part 1 - A Crafty Tail

  • proudgrandma2twins

    You are so very clever, I love learning about this technique thank you so much for sharing your insight. :)

    • http://reallyhandmade.com/ Amy Alan

      You’re so welcome, and thank you! :)