Saturday, April 9, 2011

tutorial - basic pillow

As you know, I love making pillows.  They are a fun way to display your favorite fabrics, add a splash of color to a room, or try out a new pattern/technique.  They also make a really nice gift.  Today I have a fun tutorial for you!   It is actually a two-for-one kinda thing.  I have two things to share with you:

1 - the basics on how to make a quilted patchwork pillow with an envelope enclosure (18" pillow).
2 - a quick and easy way to repurpose old fabrics for your pillow (think curtains, sheets, etc).

- Cut (36) 3.5" squares.  I used leftover fabrics from an old quilt.
- After finding a pleasing arrangement, sew them into 6 rows of 6 squares.  Press the seams in opposite directions (row 1 to the right, row 2 to the left, row 3 to the right, etc). 
- Sew the six rows into one big, 18.5" square, and press seams (I pressed open at this point in order to reduce bulk when quilting).

- Baste (I used spray here) your patchwork square onto a slightly larger piece of batting.
- Quilt in your desired design.
- Trim batting down so that your patchwork square is 18.5".  Your pillow top is done!

Now comes the fun, repurposing part.  When I was shopping for my daughter's nursery, I found these beautiful pink and white curtains.  They only had one size available, and they were huge!  I cut and hemmed the four panels, then tucked away the rest for later use (each panel had almost a yard of fabric leftover).

The great thing about repurposing these kind of fabrics- the work is already done for you!  The edges are already hemmed so nicely.  You can see them in the next picture.  These edges are what I used for the envelope backing.  Rather than hemming myself (which I don't really enjoy), I used these finished pieces.  You can do this with sheets also, they work great (both new and vintage).  If I notice a pretty flat sheet on sale, I love to grab them.  They make a lovely pillow or quilt backing.

- Grab your backing fabric (I'm using hemmed curtains).
- Layer and/or fold fabric so that the TWO hemmed pieces are stack and the finished hems are aligned at the bottom of your work area.  You will cut through both layers at once.
- Lay your patwork square on top.  You will be using this as guideline when cutting the backing fabrics.   As you can see in the pictures, I lined the backing up with the fourth seam down on the pillow top.

- Using the pillow top as the guideline, cut out your 2 pillow backing pieces with a ruler and rotary cutter.
- You will now have two pieces of backing that are equally sized and already hemmed! 

- Cut an 18.5" square out of muslin or repurposed fabric for your pillow lining.

Note: I like to put a liner on the inside of my pillows.  When you look inside the finished pillow, this covers the quilted batting.  The liner makes it easier to slide the cover over the pillow form.  I generally use muslin, but for this pillow, I had so much curtain left, I just used that!

- Time to layer your pillow! Starting at the bottom:

1- pillow liner right side DOWN
2- quilted pillow top right side UP
3- backing piece 1 right side DOWN (align raw edges with those of pillow top)
4- backing piece 2 right side DOWN (align raw edges with those of pillow top)

When making an envelope enclosure, the two backing pieces should always overlap in the center by at least  4" inches.

- Pin your layers together.

- Sew pillow together.  I use my walking foot here, so it is close to a 3/8" seam allowance.  Be sure to backstitch a couple times over the ends of the backing pieces.  They need to be extra durable since they will be pulled on quite a bit when the pillow form is taken in and out.
- Clip corners.

- Use a zigzag stitch to finish your inside edges. This holds the threads in and creates a nice clean finish. 

That is it!  Turn your pillow right side out, and poke out the corners.  Above is a look inside the finished pillow cover, and below is a shot of the hemmed envelope backing.

There you go!  Quick and easy.

I don't always have fabrics to repurpose for backing, and I often make my own. 
To make the backing out of regular fabric, cut two backing pieces at 15" x 18.5". 
Do the following steps on each piece:
- Fold down one of the 18.5" sides down half inch and press.
- Fold down another half inch and press.  Raw edges are now enclosed.
- Topstitch along the edge of both folds.

One of my most frequently asked questions is how to make a pillow, so I hope that this tutorial helps.  As always, feel free to email me if you have any specific questions.

xoxo Angela


  1. Thanks for this tutorial! I've been wanting to make some!!

  2. i love all of the pillows you make and want to start making some of my own. this looks so simple to make and the opening in the back will make it easy to change pillows for different looks. thanks for sharing...

  3. This is a great idea. I sent the link to my daughter this would be a great project for her:0

    Ann Flowers

  4. Curtains are a great idea! I have a pillow on my list of things to finish. I think I'll combine this with your pom pom tutorial.

  5. I really love the simplicity of this pillow and that the fabrics you've chosen really make it something special!

  6. Excellent tute Angela, nice and clear and great photos! Pillows/cushions don't always need to be fussy and complicated! Just found your site via a friend and I'm really enjoying exploring it.

  7. I wish I would have seen your fab tutorial before I made my pillow :/ Thanks so much, this will make my next one much easier!

  8. I am working on your pillow out of Pretty Patchwork Holidays -- my first time doing reverse applique. And it is so cute! My only question is about the piping around the edges. I'm having a hard time understanding the directions at this point. Is there more information on how to do this somewhere else? Thank you!

  9. Very nice tutorial, thank you.