Pillows are known for enhancing our homes with pattern and color, but they can also bring comfort to our surroundings. Some provide more than the cushy kind by going to a deeper level.

This was the case for five pillows from Maureen Donohue Krauss, one for herself and one for each of her four siblings for Christmas: Tracy Donohue, Patty Donohue Ebach, Dan Donohue and Gary Donohue. They were sewn by Maureen’s mother-in-law and sister-in-law from plaid flannel shirts that belonged to her father.

The Donohue clan recently lost their parents and this was their first Christmas without their father. “Bill loved his plaids,” says Maureen’s sister, Tracy, who paired her flannel pillow with a hand-crocheted pillow that belonged to her mom.

They adorn an antique chair in Tracy’s foyer, a gift from her mother on what would be her last Christmas.

The center front button placket remains on the pillow, making the flannel shirt cover removable for easy cleaning.

“I have the mom and dad pillows with a more contemporary solid red pillow for a nice mix,” says Tracy, general manager of the Clothing Studio at The Henry Ford, which handles period clothing, costumes, uniforms and textiles for Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum.

“I think patterned fabric can look great framed as wall decor,” says Tracy, who has framed fabric in her office. “You can even coordinate with a matching throw pillow.”

Though the siblings haven’t made anything from their mother’s clothing yet, Tracy saved a few pieces with the intention of doing so at some point. “Our mom had a very classic, preppy style, but definitely enjoyed her cute, seasonal-themed clothing items,” she says.

“I have a bright floral linen blouse and, yes, a tasteful Christmas sweater of our mom’s that I’d like to see reinvented either as pillows or framed as a wall hanging in my house.”

For those who are contemplating a similar project, she says, “When you lose your parents or a loved one you’ll always carry them in your heart and memories, but it’s also nice to have tangible items you can look at every day to remind you they are still with you.”

When asked what her dad would think of the flannel pillows, she says, “While our dad was not someone who liked a lot of attention, he loved his plaids and an afternoon nap on the couch. How could he not like them?”

The unique gifts were a favorite among his children. “Our parents passed away 17 months apart and it was our first Christmas without both of them and that weighed heavily on all of us,” Tracy says.

“While there were definitely tears when my sister handed out the pillows on Christmas Eve, we are a big, close, fun-loving family and all five of the siblings have our parents’ resiliency and sense of humor, so, gratefully, the tears didn’t last long,” she says. “Our parents wouldn’t want it at a family holiday party.”

Jeanine Matlow is a Metro Detroit interior decorator turned freelance writer specializing in stories about interior design. You can reach her at

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