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Xtra EZ Nine-Patch Pillow: Learn to Sew!

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We're often asked for more projects that can be done by beginners or used as projects to help teach someone to sew - especially a child. Wish granted. We have three wonderful pillow projects we've dubbed Xtra EZ. Not only are the steps themselves just that: extra easy, we've also made sure there are specific techniques that help build a beginner's sewing tool box. This pillow shows the tools and tricks to create a simple patchwork design and illustrates the most basic of pillow closures: the envelope back. You'll also find links below for the coordinating ponytail bolster and the perky pom-pom pillow, both of which have other fun, Xtra EZ tips to learn.

For more great information on getting started with quilting, check out our five-part series on Quilting Basics that begins here with Tools, Notions and Other Stuff You Need to Start.

This pillow finishes at 18" x 18".

Try the Tufted Pom Pillow to learn to apply simple pom pom trim and sew a center button. Or, try the Pony Tail Bolster to learn how to add professional topstitching and create a super skinny tie. 

We originally used fabric from the Love & Joy collection by Dena Designs for FreeSpirit Fabrics. This is an older collection that is no longer readily available. We found another pretty aqua combination in Retro Florals by Michael Miller at Hawthorne Threads. It's a popular fabric and we show two other colorways to consider. 

Sewing Tools You Need

The feet we used:


Fabric and Other Supplies

NOTE: For the very best look, all your pieces should be carefully fussy cut; we show you how below. The yardage shown allows extra for this purpose.

Getting Started

  1. When you have the right tools, every project is easier.... and more precise. This is especially true for beginners, but is really great advice for us all. We recommend all cutting be done with a rotary cutter, cutting mat, and a see-through quilter's ruler (we used a 12" x 6" Quilter's Rulter for this project). 
  2. Find the ¾ yard cut of main fabric. Fold the cut in half so the selvedges match. Fold again so the selvedge is parallel with the center fold and the fabric is smooth and even. Place the folded fabric on the cutting mat so the center fold is aligned with a gridline on the cutting mat.
  3. Next, you will "square" the fabric. To do this, align the ruler with a vertical gridline close to one side. Using the rotary cutter, trim away this ragged edge.  
  4. Place the ruler 6½" from the trimmed end of the fabric, using your cutting mat's gridlines as your guide. Align the ruler to the appropriate gridline at the 6½" point. 
  5. Cut with the rotary cutter. 
  6. Unfold the 6½" strip you just created so it is just two layers with the selvedges flush.
  7. Lay the strip on your cutting mat so one long side is aligned with a gridline (in our photo, it's the bottom). Place the ruler along a vertical gridline and trim away the selvedge. 
  8. As you did above, place the ruler 6½" from the trimmed end of the fabric, using your cutting mat's gridlines as your guide. Align the ruler to the appropriate gridline at the 6½" point. Cut with the rotary cutter.
  9. Make a second cut 6½" to the left of your first cut. You now have FOUR perfect 6½" x 6½" squares.
  10. From the remaining fabric, cut a strip 18½" wide. To do this, Place the ruler 18½" from the trimmed end of the fabric, using your cutting mat's gridlines as your guide. Align the ruler to the appropriate gridline at the 18½" point. 
  11. Cut with the rotary cutter. 
  12. Cut this 18½" strip into two rectangles, one 12¾" wide and one 13¾" wide. The photo below shows you how we used the gridlines on the cutting mat and the gridlines of the ruler to position a ¾" cut.
  13. Find the ½ yard cut of accent fabric. Place the fabric right side up on your cutting mat. Using a square-up ruler, fussy cut five 6½" x 6½" squares, centering the bird motif. 
  14. Two different styles of square-up rulers are shown. The first ruler is a 6½" square marked with concentric squares and diagonal lines. The concentric lines help center the motif so it is evenly placed within the square; the diagonal lines aide in positioning the ruler. You simply center your motif, then cut around the square with a rotary cutter.
  15. The second style of square-up ruler has a center window. The ruler shown in our sample has, of course, a 6½" square window. Notice it has teardrop slices at each corner. These allow the rotary cutter to easily cut into the corners. Center the motif in the window, then cut along the inside edges with a rotary cutter.
  16. The result is the same with either tool: a perfectly fussy cut 6½" x 6½" accent square. Repeat to cut four additional squares, each with a centered motif.
  17. From the batting, cut one 20" x 20" square.

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

Create the front patchwork

  1. Place the squares into a classic Nine Patch arrangement: three rows of three squares, alternating the two fabrics.
  2. Place the squares of the third column right sides together with the squares of the middle column, aligning all the raw edges. 
  3. If possible, switch to a Quarter Inch Seam foot. This specialty foot, which is standard on many models, makes it much easier to sew a consistent ¼" seam, the standard seam allowance used in patchwork. Adjust the stitch length down to 1.8 mm.
  4. Chain stitch the three pairs together. Chain stitching is the term quilters use for sewing multiple pairs together without taking time to stop between each pair.
  5. At the ironing board, press each pair so the seam is pressed toward the accent print. Snip the thread between the pairs to separate them.
  6. Place a sewn pair along side each the remaining three squares of the first column. Flip each sewn pair so it is right sides together together with a plain square. Align the raw edges. In the photo below, the bottom row has been flipped into position and the top two rows are in position, waiting to be flipped.
  7. As above, chain stitch together. Clip apart, and press the seams toward the accent print.
  8. Arrange the three sewn rows on your cutting mat. Our photo is of the wrong side, allowing you to see how pressing the seam allowances toward the accent print produces an alternating pattern. 
  9. This is just what you want; it will make it easier in the next step to sew the rows together with perfectly matching seams.
  10. Place row one and row two right sides together, aligning all the seams. Pin in place.
  11. Stitch together with a ¼" seam allowance, making sure the seams butt against each other to create a perfect match. 
  12. Place the sewn rows right sides together with row three. Pin together and then stitch together in the same manner. Press the seam allowances down toward the lower edge of the nine patch. 
  13. Flip over and press from the front, admiring your perfectly matched corners: often called "perfect points."

Quilt the patchwork front to the batting

  1. Find the 20" x 20" square of batting. Place it flat on your cutting mat. Lay the patchwork front panel right side up on the batting, centering the panel within the batting square. Pin along the outer edges to keep the layers together.
  2. if possible, attach a Walking or Even Feed foot to the machine. A Walking or Even Feed foot has its own built-in feed dogs that work in combination with the machine's feed dogs to feed multiple layers of fabric and batting precisely and evenly. 
  3. Adjust the stitch length to 2.8 mm. 
  4. Stitch in the ditch along each of the patchwork seam lines: both down and across. This means your quilting seam lines are running right on top of the existing patchworking seams. 
  5. When the stitching-in-the-ditch is completed, stitch around the outer edge of the patchworked panel, staying close to the edge. You want this outer stitching to be within what will be the ¼" seam allowance, so you will be very close to the edge.
  6. Place the quilted front on the cutting mat, and using the ruler and rotary cutter, trim away the excess batting so the batting and patchwork panel are flush.

Creating the back panels

  1. Find the two back rectangles. 
  2. On the 13¾" wide panel, make a ¼" double fold hem. To do this, using your seam gauge, fold back the inner 18½" raw edge ¼" and press.

    NOTE: If you are using a non-directional fabric as we did, either 18½" side can be the inner edge. If you have a directional fabric, you will have a definite inner edge - the edge at the center when the motif is right side up. 
  3. Fold an additional ¼" and press again. The raw edge is now completed enclosed.
  4. Pin in place. 
  5. Switch back to a Standard presser foot
  6. Edgestitch in place, close to the fold.
  7. On the 12¾" panel, make a 2½" hem along the inner edge. To do this, fold back the inner 18½" raw edge ½" and press. 
  8. Fold an additional 2" and press again. 
  9. Pin in place.
  10. Edgestitch along both the inner and outer folds to create a placket.

    NOTE: For more on hemming, see our tutorial on How To Make a Simple Hem.

Layering to finish

  1. Place the patchworked front panel right side up on your cutting mat.
  2. Place the back placket panel right side down on the front panel, align the three raw edges of the back panel with the front panel's raw edges. Pin in place.
  3. Place the narrow-hemmed panel right side down on the front panel, overlapping the placket panel. Again, align the top, side and bottom raw edges of the back panel with the front panel. Pin in place.
  4. Using a ¼" seam allowance, stitch together through all the layers around all four sides. Go slowly and make sure your layers stay flat. Remember to pivot at all the corners.
  5. Clip the corners diagonally. Be careful not to clip into your seam. 
  6. Turn right side out through the back opening.
  7. Gently push out the corners from the inside using a long, blunt-end tool, such as a knitting needle or chopstick.
  8. Insert your pillow form through the back opening (called an envelope opening) and fluff it out into the corners.


Project Design: Alicia Thommas      
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Michele Mishler


Comments (14)

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ sushiliz - yes - that is correct as long as you stay with the 1/4" seams. Good job on the math!

Kristi B. said:
Kristi B.'s picture

I am very new to cutting fabric and quilting.  I've managed so far to be able to cut all of the 6 1/2" pieces as your pictures and directions were great!.  However, can you please explain to me how to cut the 18 1/2" piece into the other two pieces?  I'm just not understanding.  Thanks!! 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Kristi - This particular tutorial contains a lot of information about how to "square up" your pieces. I don't really have any additional steps to add on how that's done other than what's above, but the other way to look at it is to know that you need two pieces for the back: one at 18-1/2" high x 13-3/4" wide and one at 18-1/2" high x 12-3/4" wide. Simply cut these two pieces from a single layer of flat fabric if that seems easier. Keep your edges square and your corners at 90˚. You can even cut your own "patterns" out of lightweight/semi-transparent paper:  one at 18-1/2" high x 13-3/4" wide and one at 18-1/2" high x 12-3/4" wide - then pin these patterns onto your fabric, keeping your fabric's design straight (perpendicular and parallel with the pattern's sides) -- keeping things straight is why it's good to have paper you can see through.

Kristi B. said:
Kristi B.'s picture

It was when I was supposed to cut the 18 1/2 into the other two pieces, the math just didn't add up in my brain (12 plus 13 is way more than 18 is where my thinking was!).  However, I'm pretty sure I understand now.  Guess I'll find out when I get home tonight.  Thank you so much for the quick response!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Kristi - Excellent - let us know how it all turns out for you!

Kristi B. said:
Kristi B.'s picture

I was able to figure out cutting the two pieces and have sewn all of my pillow top squares together.  Now comes the batting.  I bought low loft craft polyester batting instead of the cotton.  Will this still work?  Or should I really be using the cotton batting?  Sorry for all the questions! 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Kristi - the batting you purchased will be fine. Cotton is a personal preference, but the job of the batting for this pillow is to simply smooth the top with all its seams. You are dandy!

Katie B said:
Katie B's picture

I'm making my first pillow this week, I think I'll do one like this! Thank you so much for giving me the confidence to tackle something which is difficult for me, but simple to others. I can't wait to try it out!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Katie B - we are SO happy to be your inspiration. Sent us an email with a picture and let us know hoe your pillow turns out!

Mary H. said:
Mary H.'s picture

I just finished a quilt and have some squares left.  Now I can make a matching pillow with your directions!  Thanks so much!!

helen-sews said:
helen-sews's picture

This is a GREAT tutorial for beginning sewists or those just thinking about trying to quilt and haven't made the leap.  The steps are explained well and the pictures are wonderful.  Thanks for this one!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ helen-sews - thanks! Let us know who use help to make that leap