We believe zombies actually enjoy being pincushions! It’s a nice way for them to relax; being the walking dead is kind of hard work. However, our zombie pair is friendly and not dangerous at all as they hold pins for you at your sewing or cutting table. You can tell by their tattered pink hearts that they aren’t out to do any harm! We worked with some plain cotton scraps from our stash, choosing the excellent Halloween colors of Mummy Wrap White for Zombie Odilia and Ghoulish Gravestone Gray for Zombie Cornelius. With just a few bits of floss, felt, and button accents, you can give your zombies their own unique personalities.
A free downloadable pattern is available below to use as the basic zombie shape. We’ve also printed out the placement for the stitching and other accents we used on Odilia and Cornelius should you wish to follow our exact design. Of course, you could also plan out your very own zombie style.
We suggest using a combination of lightweight stuffing plus ground walnut shells as the pincushion filler. The stuffing rims the edges for the best shape, then the walnut shells fill in the center for weight and density. Ground walnut shells are pretty inexpensive and easy to find at most pet stores as it is also often used for reptile bedding. Since it is quite popular as a pincushion filler, you can sometimes even find small bags of ground walnut shells at your local quilt shop.
Odilia and Cornelius were made in honor of Halloween, but zombies are out there year ‘round and are happy to work 24/7/365 – they rarely ask for time off.
As you’ll see below in the instructions, we recommend cutting out the exterior fabric and batting, basting together the layers, and then putting it all through the laundry. The washing and drying gives the fabric and batting a rumpled look that is soft and slightly spooky.
A bit of cotton twine around the neck and legs also helps give the pair their signature disheveled look.
The layers are sewn together with their seam allowances showing, allowing the fabric and batting to rag up nicely – especially after being laundered as suggested above.
Each zombie finishes at approximately 6” tall x 4½” wide, excluding the hair.
If you’re brand new to hand embroidery, we have a Guest Tutorial from our friends at Indygo Junction that shows some of the most popular stitches.
Sewing Tools You Need
- Sewing Machine and standard presser foot
- Walking or Even Feed foot; optional but best for tricky layers – or use your machine's built-in fabric feeding system, such as the Janome AcuFeed Flex™ system
Fabric and Other Supplies
- Scraps or ⅛ yard cuts of quilting weight weight cotton for the exterior
- Scraps or ⅛ yard cuts of low loft batting for the lining
- Scraps of embroidery floss, yarn, and felt to contrast with your exterior fabric for the face and body accents
- Small buttons (apx. ¼”) for the eye(s)
- Small bits of cotton twine to tie around the neck and legs
- A few handfuls of lightweight stuffing; we used a soft bamboo stuffing
- Approximately ¼ - ½ cup of ground walnut shells for each zombie
- All-purpose thread to match fabric
- See-through ruler
- Fabric pen or pencil
- Seam gauge
- Seam ripper
- Pinking shears; optional but they do create the best look along the outer raw edges
- Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
- Iron and ironing board
- Straight pins
- Hand sewing needle for the floss
Getting Started and Pattern Downloads
NOTE: We took photos while making both zombies, so the images below are a combination of their construction.
- Download and print out one or both zombie patterns. There is a separate pattern for Odilia and one for Cornelius. The outer shape is exactly the same, but the inside accent placement is unique.
IMPORTANT: Each pattern is ONE 8½" x 11" sheet. You must print the PDFs at 100%. DO NOT SCALE to fit the page. There is a guide rule on each sheet to confirm your printout is to scale.
- Cut out the pattern along the solid line.
- Layer the batting and exterior fabric.
- Using the pattern and your pinking shears, cut TWO from the layered fabric, giving you two exterior pieces and two batting pieces. Cut just outside the pattern line rather than right on top of the line in order to give you a bit more fabric to softly fray.
- If you’re using the same accents as we did for Odilia and Cornelius, you can cut out the small circle and heart from the paper pattern and use these as templates to cut shapes from your felt.
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
- Thread the machine with thread to best match the exterior fabric in the top and bobbin. Lengthen the stitch to its maximum for a basting stitch.
- With each exterior and batting pair still layered, machine baste around the exterior of each zombie shape.
- Toss the two basted pairs into the laundry to gently wash and dry.
- When dried, lightly press and remove the basting thread.
- Set one exterior/batting pair aside. The remaining pair is the one on which you’ll hand stitch your felt/floss/button accents.
- Add the felt accents first. Refer to the original pattern if you’d like to match our look.
- Thread a hand sewing needle with two strands of floss.
- The button eye on Cornelius secures the felt backing circle in place.
- On Odilia, her button eye is stitched in place first, then the floss eyelash accents are added around it.
- Simple running stitches form their mouths and Odilia's second eye. Cornelius's second eye is a simple X stitch. Keep your stitching small for the best control.
- You'll use a running stitch as well for the “surgical stitching” accents on their arms and legs and to stitch their hearts in place.
- Odilia’s pigtails are made from a dozen short lengths of yarn secured with a yarn wrap around one end.
- Baste the pigtails in place at the back of the top layer.
- Cornelius’ crew cut is formed from single strands of thicker yarn basted in place.
- Remember, don’t worry about what your stitching looks like on the back; it will never be seen. Concentrate on getting the best, most personality-packed look on the front.
- When the front exterior layer is completely finished, place the remaining back layered pair of cotton/batting wrong sides (batting sides) together with the front.
- Pin in place all around. Refer to the original paper pattern to place stop and start pins at either side of the opening you'll want to leave for stuffing and filling. This opening is at the top of the zombie’s right arm.
- Make sure the machine is still threaded with thread to best match the exterior fabric in the top and bobbin. Shorten the stitch length so you will have a nice tight stitch to contain the filling. A shorter stitch is also usually best for stitching curves.
- Stitch all the way around the perimeter of the zombie with a ¼” seam allowance. Remember to lock your seam at either side of the opening left for filling.
- Stuff first with the lightweight filler (we used bamboo stuffing). Pull apart the fibers of the stuffing so it has maximum loft. You just need a small amount in each foot and hand as well as around the outer edge of the head. A long knitting needle or chopstick can help you gently push the stuffing into position.
- Insert a tiny funnel into the opening. We actually used a large cake decorating tip.
- Fill up the zombie the rest of the way with the ground walnut shells. Add just a bit at a time, shaking it down into position. You want the zombie to be pretty firmly filled, especially the head and belly.
- When you have the density you like, add just a tiny bit more of the stuffing right at the opening. This helps cover the ground shells and keep them from spilling out.
- Pin closed the opening.
- Machine stitch the opening in place. Make sure you start and stop this final seam so it is in line with and just slightly overlapping your original seam’s starting and stopping points. Make sure your machine is still sent for the smaller stitch length.
NOTE: The pincushion should not be so tightly filled that you can’t gently push the shells and stuffing to one side in order to give you enough room for your presser foot to stitch.
- Tie a length of cotton twine around the top of each leg.
- Clip the tails of the twine close to the knot.
- Tie a final length of cotton twine around the neck in the same manner.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Debbie Guild