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New Year's Traditions: The New Pillowcase, With Free Patterns and Directions

Updated on December 29, 2016
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish offers 25+ years successful experience in medicine, psychology, STEM courses, and aerospace education (CAP).

Old wooden beds with new pillows and pillowcases.
Old wooden beds with new pillows and pillowcases. | Source

Pillowcases on New Year's Day

When I was in elementary school, my father sewed new pillowcases on each New Year's Day in order to bring good fortune and positive events.

At the time, he related that his mother did this on every New Year's Day on the farm in eastern Ohio. He felt thaty it was a British Tradition from his father's side oif the family. I have found no writings about such a tradition anywhere yet; however, the paternal side of the family came from Englans and also lived in Ireland and Scotland as well. When they came to America, they went from Ireland to London in order to set sail.

My father did not know any of the symbolism behind the new pillow cases. It could have to do with having a fresh new place to dream on the first night of the year.

Source

Magic Pillowcases

In Northern Ireland, children hung pillowcases on the railings or bed posts at the foot of their beds for Santa Claus to fill with presents late on Christmas Eve after midnight services at church and a special meal was enjoyed with family and friends.

More Irish Traditions

An Irish Country Christmas: A Novel (Irish Country Books)
An Irish Country Christmas: A Novel (Irish Country Books)

Read more about the traditions of Christmas and New Years in Northern Ireland from the 1930s through the 1960s as Patrick Taylor tells stories from his time as a young doctor in a small village. Make friends with the endearing characters of the stories.

 

Other Legends

On the other hand, perhaps the Christmas Dinner turkey and hog carcasses went out of the house in pillow cases, which then needed to be replaced. Washing would not clean out all the grease.

I don't know all the answers, but I watched my father sew these new pillow cases each January First for about 10 years. The he said the family had enough pillow cases! His mother had made pillowcases every New Year's Day for several years and she taught him to sew, using an old treadle machine that he kept until the 1980.

If the story behind the pillow cases had been passed down with the tradition of the sewing, perhaps it would have been more fun to have made them over a greater number of years.

As an adult, I made them once and could not grasp the meaning of the tradition, so I am still searching, but gaining a lot of information.

Source

Needle Arts and Pillowcases

I learned to embroider pillowcases as a child and to crochet lace for the pillowcase edgings. That proved to be a lot more fun for me as I continued to do so for some years.

If anyone has the story behind making new pillowcases on New Year's Day, I would be glad to hear it and so would many readers. Please share any experiences you have in the Comments section below.

Thread Count

When choosing pillowcases, select thread counts of 200 to 400. Above 400, the main difference is usually found in higher price. Below 200 and the fabric sometimes shreds.

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Natural fibers are often more comfortable than man-made products in pillowcases.

The New Year's Pillow Case

Free Embroidery Designs

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How to Sew A New Pillowcase for New Year's

Requirements:

Fabric will be 44/45" wide and you will need one yard of it for a standard bed pillow. Choose a natural fiber such as cotton or a cotton blend - or even bamboo. Natural fibers are more restful than artificial fibers.

Fabric will be cut across the grain.

DIRECTIONS

First, wash the yard of fabric in warm water to make sure it is shrunk as much as it can be. Otherwise, it will not fit the pillow after its first washing!

Sew all seams a standard 1/4 inch wide. Many seams are 3/8" wide, but use 1/4 inch as your standard on a pillowcase to annoying reduce bulk. Next:

  • Cut a single 28" by 44/45" strip for the pillowcase
  • Cut a single 2 1/2" by 44/45" strip for a pillowcase trim piece by the opening.
  • Cut a single 9 1/2" by 44/45" strip for a pillowcase border.
  • Fold the trim piece and the border piece of the pillowcase in half lengthwise with the right sides outside.
  • The trim will be 1 1/4" by 44/45" and the border will be 4 3/4" x 44/45" after folding.
  • Iron the fold lightly with a warm iron.
  • Put the folded trim piece on top of the folded border piece, being careful to have the raw edges of each piece lined up straight.
  • Sew pieces together. Don't worry if the ends don't line up; you will trim them off later.

Free Embroidery Pattern
Free Embroidery Pattern | Source
  • With the trim piece side down, put the border & trim together on top of the right side of a 44/45" side edge of the large pillowcase fabric
  • Be sure to line up the raw edges, and then sew together with a 1/4 inch seam. Using a serge or zig-zag stitch, finish the raw edges by sewing them together.
  • Iron the seams flat toward the body of the pillowcase.
  • Trim off selvages and excess fabric hanging over edges.
  • Now, fold the pillowcase in half with right sides together, matching edge of border and seam between the pillowcase body and the trim/border piece.
  • Pin pieces together and sew the side seam starting at the folded edge of the border.
  • Finally, sew the seam across the end of the pillowcase. Be sure to back stitch these two seams to prevent unraveling of threads and finish off the seams with a serge or zig-zag method.

Turn your new pillowcase inside out (right side out) and enjoy a new First Night's sound sleep.

© 2007 Patty Inglish

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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 8 months ago from North America

      Now, that is a good story about the pillowcase! it has been a more popular tradition that many realize. Thanks for sharing this one!

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      angl 8 months ago

      I have been making a pillow case for 41 years. It started with my ex husbands mom and grandmother. You have to hand sew the 1st one. And while sewing the pillow case, You give thanks for all the good things that happened this year. Example: food to eat, health and family etc.

      They called it a Bag of plenty. That night you put a denomination of money in it. You sleep on it. The next morning you take the money out and spend it. They said it had been a family tradition that was brought over with relatives from the Mayflower.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 20 months ago from North America

      @Debbie - Happy New Year! I am delighted to have you share your pillowcase story here. I did not know about the big stitches/losing money aspect and I enjoy learning more about this tradition from readers! Congratulate your daughter for me, on her first pillowcase sewing. :)

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      Debbie 20 months ago

      I still sew pillowcases every New Year's Eve. According to my mom and grandma we sew them to hold all of your money for the next year. Sew poorly...i.e... Big loops/holes between stitches and you will lose money throughout the year. We've never been rich or hit the lottery but have also never been deep in debt. My girls sewed their first one this year. If nothing else it's fun and you never run out of pillowcases!

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      BlorBlaturn 2 years ago

      Heya i am for the first time here. I found this board and I find It truly helpful & it helped me out much. I am hoping to offer something back and help others such as you aided me.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 4 years ago from North America

      Thanks to EVERYONE who has posted their experiences or emailed me what they know about pillowcases being made on New Year's Day or New Year's Eve. It's interesting to know more about traditions from the old countries in and around the UK and what they mean.

      I think many irish families settled into the eastern portions of Ohio from east of Columbus all the way to Zanesville and to the border (actually, the other way around); and, they brought their pillowcase and food traditions with them. it's fantastic to hear all about it!

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      Karen M. 4 years ago

      My pillow cases are done for this year. My Mother and her Mother both make/made pillow cases. Her family were Pennsylvania Dutch/Quaker and from southern Indiana. I always thought it was a Hoosier tradition, but have never found anyone who heard of it. Thanks for the posting. My Mom has always told me that the cases are made "so that you have somewhere to put your money." I consider it hope for prosperity in the New Year.

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      JJ 4 years ago

      My mom and grandmother always made pillowcases. They would by fabric that was made for them, with the printed border. I still have some of those pillowcases.

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      Deb (Lacey) Armstrong, OH 4 years ago

      Born and raised in Ohio (Newark) of Irish/English Mother. She sewed pillow cases every New Years Eve. We draped them over the back of the couch with the tops open. She said it was for Good Luck and to keep all our Money in for the coming year. I don't sew, so I buy them for all the Families each year with instructions to put them on the back of the couch New Years Eve....leave them out all New Years Day to catch the Good Luck Vibes. I've been doing this as a Family Traditions for over 40 Years.

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      Suzanna 4 years ago

      My great grandmother always sewed a new set of pilow cases each new year. My mother told me about it tonight. Even though I never got to know her, I plan on continuing her tradition.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 5 years ago from North America

      It must be for prosperity; I've heard of this once or twice.

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      linda nihiser 5 years ago

      I bought a beautiful pillowcase at a church rummage sale-it is embmbrodered and had a dime sewed in the hem-I get the cabbage-but what is the dime all about?I live in Ohio and have never heard of this

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 5 years ago from North America

      So happy to be finding other people who have done this! It was quite a widespread tradition at one time. Our house never had to purchase pillowcases.

      My father's family settled in Cambridge and Zanesville and some smaller towns there.

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      Gayle Masonbrink 5 years ago

      I love this! I am from rural mid eastern Ohio and my grandmother made pillow cases every new years day too!

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      Danny Hazle/Everett 5 years ago

      In our family we have a new year tradition, we do the conga, naked, well, just me and my little brothers Terry and Tony.

    • Sun Pen 50 profile image

      Sun Pen 50 6 years ago from Srilanka

      In Srilanka old traditions required people to replace lot of old stuff. Includes pots and pans (clay), pillowcases, new coat of whitewash for the walls, re thatching the Cadjan roofs, reflooring etc.

    • winter52 profile image

      winter52 7 years ago

      What an incredible tradition! My husband was born in England... must ask him if he has ever heard of it. I can't sew, but I'm suddenly thinking that I just might give it a try. I would love to pass something like this down to the next generation!

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      dregirl 7 years ago

      My family always made pillowcases on new years day, and we as well have irish ancestory and live in Ohio! For some reason we always sew a dime in the hem of the pillowcase....

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 7 years ago from North America

      Hi Marie - I'm going to contact the historical societies around Easter, Ohio and see what they have on the subject. I've seen form geneaologial websites that a lot of Irish and Scottish lived in Ohio, also that many passed on through to the West. It will be interesting to see what there is on pillowcases. Maybe it also had something to do with the farms. Thanks for commenting!

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      Martie Rozkydal 7 years ago

      I looked on line to see if I could find anything about the pillowcases on New Year's Day -- it was the day when we made them. My mother did it, but the tradition came from my father's family. Dad and his mother were both born in Ohio, his mother's ancestry was Irish or Scottish. She was an orphan with no knowledge of her family, but somewhere along the line she learned about the pillowcases.

      Mother died in 1960, Dad continued the tradition until he died 10 years ago.

      I did it for a few years but never wanted to be like my mother who suddenly rushed to make them at 11:30 at night. My husband picked up the black-eyed peas thing from southerners when he was in the service many years ago. I have never been eager to carry on that one, but he challenged me about the pillowcases this morning and I began to wonder where and why.

      The common thread seems to be Ohio as I read these posts.

    • profile image

      jess 7 years ago

      I learned about this tradition from my grandmother, who in turn learned it from her grandmother, who I believe was English. I've started making mine on New Year's Eve since I go to bed after the ball drops, it is technically the first night of the New Year!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 7 years ago from North America

      I'd bet it would count if you purchased one and embroidered a pattern on the edge or a flower in the center!

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      Sue 7 years ago

      I was wondering if purchasing new pillowcases count...I don't own a sewing machine...does anyone have an answer?

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 8 years ago from North America

      You can leave it as is, which is not attractive in my opinion, but you can turn that 2-inches worth back up behind and into the pillow case and hem-stitch it in place. There might be other options as well.

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      Judy 8 years ago

      Hi Had a question that some of you might be able to help me. I bought a pillow case to embroider and it has the holes in it to attach a lace. Below the holes is a couple of inches of material. What do I do with this material after I attach the lace.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 8 years ago from North America

      Linda W! -- Thanks so much for sharing this with us! Pillowcases on New Year's Day is a more widespread tradition than we'd imagined and quyite often in Ohio. I hope we learn more about it. Best wishes!

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      Linda W 8 years ago

      My grandmother who was born in Ohio taught me to make pillow cases on New Years Day when I was old enough to thread a needle (about 5 years old I believe). Her explanation was that you needed new pillowcases to keep good fortune and money for the coming year. She was very superstitious about not making pillow cases and I remember her sewing them by hand.

      There have been times when I was worried about finances but something always came through just in time to keep me from being "broke". This is my 55th year to make pillow cases as I am reluctant to break the chain and tempt fate.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 8 years ago from North America

      Pamela! - Many thanks for giving us this fascinating information-- Now I can recall that my father would cook either cabbage and/or saurkraut after he made the pillowcase. We're really connecting up the tradition of the pillowcase on Hubpages and it's fun.

      My father's great grandfather and great uncles settled in Cambridge and out towards Zanesville after coming through Ellis Island from ireland and Liverpool, and on to Pennsylvania, but one person went all the way out West to Colorado; another, possibly to California. Another section of the relatives stayed in Virginia and were directly from England. They also made pillowcases.

      Let's see who else has a memory of the Pillowcase.

      Happy New Year!

    • profile image

      PAMELA DUPRE' 8 years ago

      I AM ORIGINALLY FROM CHILLICOTHE, OHIO, BUT MY FAMILY AND I MOVED TO TEXAS IN 1968. MY MOTHER (A NATIVE-BORN TEXAN) WOULD TOO MAKE A PILLOWCASE TRADITIONALLY FOR NEW YEARS AND WOULD COOK A POT OF CABBAGE, BOTH OF WHICH SHE SAID WERE YANKEE TRADITIONS, BUT I WONDER IF POSSIBLY, ITS MORE OF AN irish TRADITION, AS MY FATHER'S FAMILY WERE IRISH. HERE IN TEXAS, IT IS A POT OF BLACK-EYED PEAS THAT IS SAID TO BRING GOOD LUCK, AND THAT IS HOW WE START OFF OUR NEW YEARS.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 8 years ago from North America

      Jerilee - It sounds like a very memorable tradition, family or otherwise - it may be cultural. So much gets lost sometimes! The aprons sound like fine gifts, though and I'm glad you told us about them!

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 8 years ago from United States

      How interesting, and it does make you wonder. My grandmother used to make aprons and give them as gifts. She always sewed a pocket on each of them and stuffed them with copied prayers and poems. I've always wondered if that too was some sort of tradition.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 8 years ago from North America

      Thanks for all the comments!

      Brawhman - please do let us know what the pillowcase making means in Austria.

      Happy New Year!

    • profile image

      Brawhman 8 years ago

      He interesting post. My Oma has been making pillowcases on New Years as long as I can remember and probably way before that. She is full blooded Austrian. I will ask her when the tradition began for her. Ill let you know what she says. Happy Holidays to All and peace be on the world.

    • Lissie profile image

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 8 years ago from New Zealand

      We used to use pillow cases instead of christmas stockings but Ive not hearsd ot them being associated with New Year. A pillow case was the first thing I ever made with a sewing machine a very long time ago!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from North America

      Yes ripplemake, it took a lot of searching. I found it on a nursing blog, of all places. The irish and the folks who migrated there sure were secretive about their rmoney, eh?

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 9 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Hi Patty, you found it! I'm grinning from ear to ear. So it is an irish tradition after all. So now you can sleep and dream knowing its meaning. hahaha good find! To a bright new year ahead! And to more pillows to come.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from North America

      THANK YOU THANK YOU! You give us more to add to the tradition. In Korea, such a pillow make would be deemed a Living National Treasure, issued a certificate and official number and be supported by the government to the end of his days.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from North America

      I finally found it - it's IRISH in tradition-

      Eat cabbage and make 2 pillow cases because the cabbage represents all the money you'll receive in the New Year and the 2 pillow cases are for holding the money!!

      [My father's family DID hide money instead of using banks in the 19th & 20th century. hahaha]

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from North America

      O, I think I will wear red underwear on new year's to honor my Italian friends!

      Stacie - thanks very much. I wondered if anyone else had heard of this.

      It could be that on the farm at the turn of the century, people used one set of sheets and pillow cases all year and then made new one's each New Year's for a fresh start. There was not money enough probably for more than one set at a time.

      This has been an interesting thread. Thanks to Everyone!

      Happy new Year!

    • Stacie Naczelnik profile image

      Stacie Naczelnik 9 years ago from Seattle

      This is such a neat idea. I had never heard of this before.

    • gabriella05 profile image

      gabriella05 9 years ago from Oldham

      Great information Patty in Italy the tradition for new year is to wear red underwear

      lol great hub

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from North America

      The Food editor of the New York times published this: I've heard of people who break out new pillowcases rather than Champagne on New Year's Eve...but no other info.

      In Frankfurt Germany, children sometimes wear a pillowcase on their heads to remind them to dream of life as they wish it as an adult.

      On Chinsese New Year's, the new pillowcases and sheets are put onto the beads just before midnight. So, it must be more of a Chinese tradition.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from North America

      I've seen some pillow case crafts for parties today:

      "Inspired by the dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., students can decorate pillowcases to remind them of their own aspirations. For each dream pillowcase, you'll need a plain white pillowcase, fabric paint or markers. Discuss Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with your students and share hi "I Have a Dream" speech. Ask them to think about their own dreams."

      Maybe it IS about dreams coming true. That sounds like the part of the family that went to Ireland and then the USA.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from North America

      I did this for a few years as an adult, then stopped. Too many pillow cases!

    • Mark Knowles profile image

      Mark Knowles 9 years ago

      I had never heard of this. Do you do this every year?

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from North America

      I made pillowcases until I had too many as well. I suppose I could begin to make them again and donate them to the needy as I do other items.

      ripplemakeer, you have a good idea on what I could cause them to mean.

      Meanwhile, I will continue to keep one eye open for the meaning of the pillowcases.

      Thanks to everyone that commented!

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 9 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      Great HUB Patty!

      regards Zsuzsy

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 9 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Ms Patty I was intruiged by the story. Guess what? If nobody could find the "reason" behind this "tradition" you could make your own reason. Hmmm something meaningful for you and your family. Pillows could signify that all of you would always find rest and peace amidst whatever situations you are in. It could signify softness which could be a good reminder to be compassionate. Something like that. What do you think? :-)

    • MrMarmalade profile image

      MrMarmalade 9 years ago from Sydney

      I have never heard of that ceremony

      It was great story.

      Thank you

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 9 years ago from Georgia

      I've never herad of new pillowcases to start the new year. Very interesting. Do you continue the tradition of your father even without the meaning?

      My father llikes to start the new year off every year with a clean face. He shaves his facial hair off completely every Jan 1st, and just trims throughout the year.

    • profile image

      Deborah  9 years ago

      Well, now I'm curious as well! Let us know if you find the answer or more info on the tradition! Sounds interesting and I'd be willing to sew new pillow cases if I knew!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image
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      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from North America

      Thanks to you! I do hope that I can learn what the pillowcase means.

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      Abhinaya 9 years ago

      Great hub Patty.The traditions always bring joy to any happy event.Thanks for the great information and pillow sewing tips too.