English Paper Piecing was a new technique for us when we designed these pretty pillows, but we now understand how it can quickly become rather addicting. We tested three sets of the Paper Piecing Shapes from Dritz Quilting: two sizes of Diamonds, two sizes of Hexagons, and two sizes of Tumblers. If you too are new to paper piecing, the first thing to understand is that it’s handwork, not machine stitching. Most people associate it with beautifully intricate quilt tops, but the precise, perfectly shaped pieces are wonderful for a variety of embellishing projects. We’ve used them as appliqués to create a pair of graphic pillows.
When exploring ideas to showcase the paper piecing templates, we wanted something that highlighted their clean, sharp edges; as well as a project that wasn’t as complex or time consuming as a full quilt. The steps for making the pieces are the same for any application, so it was fun to think outside the quilting box.
Because appliqué lends itself to precise shapes, it was our choice for this pair of modern pillows. The pillow fronts feature tone-on-tone, straight line quilting that provides a horizontal grid on which each design is laid out.
The Dritz templates feature a handy pre-drilled hole at the center. Insert the end of a crochet hook, pencil, or small scissors to lift out the paper without disturbing the tiny fabric folds you’ll make to wrap around the edges of each template.
We show the standard thread basting method in our instructions below. You can also try glue basting or even liquid starch basting.
Although our project uses a distinct decorator color palette, paper piecing is also a great way to use up small fabric scraps. You could even fussy-cut each shape to feature a special motif, adding yet another layer of creativity to your artful embellishment.
Downloadable templates are provided below for our Diamond and Hexagon designs and are sized to fit a standard 20″ x 20″ pillow form.
Sewing Tools You Need
- Sewing Machine and standard presser foot
- Walking or Even Feed foot with quilting bar; or engage your machine’s built-in fabric feeding system, such as the AcuFeed™ Flex system standard on many of our Janome studio machines
- Open Toe Satin Stitch foot or similar for appliqué
Fabric and Other Supplies
NOTE: Supplies shown are for TWO pillows: one with hexagons and one with diamonds. We link to the exact Dritz templates we used; you can choose another brand or make your own.
- ONE package of Dritz Quilting Paper Piecing Shapes: 1.5″ Hexagons
- ONE package of Dritz Quilting Paper Piecing Shapes: 2.5″ Diamonds
- 2½ yards of 44″+ wide quilting weight fabric in a solid color for the pillow front and back; we used Kona Cotton Solids by Robert Kaufman Fabrics in PFD Bleach White
- ¼ yard of 44″+ wide quilting weight fabric for accent color #1; we used Kona Cotton Solids by Robert Kaufman Fabrics in Glacier (the “teal”)
- ¼ yard of 44″+ wide quilting weight fabric for accent color #2; we used Kona Cotton Solids by Robert Kaufman Fabrics in Breakers (the “aqua”)
- ⅛ yard of 44″+ wide quilting weight fabric for the highlight color; we used Kona Cotton Solids by Robert Kaufman Fabrics in Chartreuse (the “lime green”)
- ¾ yard of 50″+ low loft batting (you need TWO 23″ x 23″ squares)
- TWO 20″ x 20″ pillow forms
- All purpose thread to match fabric; we used the darkest of the thread colors (the “teal”) as our appliqué thread color
- 50wt thread for the quilting on the main panels; we used Aurifil 50wt in Natural White
- See-through ruler
- Fabric pen or pencil
- Iron and ironing board
- Rotary cutter and mat
- Tape measure
- Seam gauge
- Seam ripper
- Straight pins
Getting Started & Template Downloads
Cuts shown are for TWO pillows: one with hexagons and one with diamonds.
- From the main fabric for the pillow front and back (Bleached White in our sample), cut the following:
FOUR 23″ x 23″ squares for the pillow fronts
FOUR 15″ x 21″ rectangles for the pillow backs
- FOR THE HEXAGONS
From accent color #1 (Glacier in our sample), cut ONE 3¼” x WOF (width of fabric) strip
From accent color #2 (Breakers in our sample), cut ONE 3¼” x WOF strip
From the highlight color (Chartreuse in our sample), cut ONE 3¼” x WOF strip, then sub-cut this strip in half.
- FOR THE DIAMONDS
From accent color #1 (Glacier in our sample), cut ONE 2¾” x WOF strip.
From accent color #2 (Breakers in our sample), cut ONE 2¾” x WOF strip
From the highlight color (Chartreuse in our sample), cut ONE 2¾” strip from the leftover 3¼” x 22″ strip you cut above
- From the batting, cut TWO 23″ x 23″ squares
- Below are images of our layout designs. You can work from the drawings on-screen or download and print the layouts for handy reference: Hexagon Layout and Diamond Layout.
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
Create the quilted front panels
- Find TWO 23″ x 23″ squares of the main cotton and ONE 23″ x 23″ square of batting.
- Fold one of the squares of cotton in half and press to sent a center crease line. This center crease line will mark the starting point for the quilting.
- Layer the squares to form a “quilt sandwich.” Place the plain square of cotton on the bottom (wrong side up), then the batting square, then the creased square of cotton, right side up.
- Set up the sewing machine for quilting. We used the 50wt thread in both the top and the bobbin. If possible, attach a Walking or Even Feed foot (we used the built-in Janome AcuFeed™ Flex system) and a quilt bar.
NOTE: If you do not have a quilt bar, you can use a ruler and fabric pen or pencil to draw in guidelines to follow. Make sure you use a marking product that will easily wipe away or vanish with exposure to air or the heat of an iron as you are working on the right side of the fabric. Draw the first line along the center crease with subsequent lines to the left and right of center 1½” apart.
- Place a tape measure under the foot with the starting end at the needle. Adjust the quilting bar to 1½”. Lengthen the stitch; we used 3.0 mm.
- Stitch the first line of quilting along the crease line through all three layers of the quilt sandwich.
- When this first line of quilting is complete, align the quilt bar with the finished line of stitching and sew the second row of quilting, running the quilting bar along the previous line of stitching across the entire pillow top.
- Continue to stitch additional lines, using the quilting bar to create evenly spaced rows (1½” apart) of quilting on both sides of the center line.
- When the quilting is complete, trim down the quilted block to a 21″ x 21″ square.
- Repeat to quilt a matching pillow top with the remaining cotton and batting squares.
NOTE: Be careful with your measurements on the two pillows. They are meant to sit side by side, so it’s important their lines of quilting match up nicely.
Create the pillow back panels
- Find TWO of the 21″ x 15″ panels for the pillow back. Press a 2″ double hem along one long side of each panel. To do this, fold back one 21″ edge of each panel 1″ and press. Then fold back an additional 1″ and press again.
- Edgestitch the hem in place, staying close to the inner fold.
- Repeat to hem a matching set of pillow back panels with the remaining cotton rectangles.
- Set aside all four back panels.
Create the paper-pieced hexagons
- Our layout design calls for 11 darker hexagons (accent color #1-Glacier in our sample), 11 lighter hexagons (accent color #2-Breakers in our sample) and 4 bright hexagons (highlight color-Chartreuse in our sample).
- Using the hexagon template itself as a pattern, cut each shape from the appropriate color strip, allowing a generous ¼” border around the template.
- Thread a hand sewing needle with a contrasting thread (this is basting; you need to be able to easily see it to more easily remove it). Knot the end.
- Center the paper piecing template. Fold the extra fabric over the first side of the hexagon. Use a large basting stitch to pierce the fabric and the paper template, and take a stitch or two.
- Fold the fabric for the next side of the hexagon, forming a neat corner. Baste in place.
- Continue this folding and basting pattern around all six sides of the hexagon. To tie off the basting, take an extra basting stitch in place.
- Use this method to complete all 26 hexagons needed for the pillow.
- Arrange the hexagons on your work surface according to our layout design (or create your own design).
- To join the hexagons, place two adjacent hexagons right sides together. Thread a hand sewing needle with matching thread and knot the end. Place the needle under the folded fabric (hiding the knot under the fold) at one corner to anchor the knot. Take your first stitch at that corner, picking up a tiny bite of fabric – just two or thread threads at the fold. This is called a “whip stitch.”
- Whip stitch the hexagons together, using stitches spaced less than ⅛” apart, catching just 2 to 3 threads from each hexagon within each stitch. Tie off the last stitch by taking an extra stitch in place, and bury the end of the thread between the fabric and paper template.
NOTE: If you are brand new to this particular type of hand stitching, we have a full tutorial on hand stitching basics..
- If the hexagons are different colors, use thread to match the lighter color hexagon.
- Continue joining the hexagons using this technique.
- When the layout design is complete, press all the hexagons with a steam iron to set the folds. The photos below show the process on a single hexagon – the process is the same for the stitched set of hexagons.
- Press flat from the front.
- Press flat from the back.
- Remove the basting threads.
- Remove the paper templates. The Dritz templates have a handy hole in the center, which makes popping out the paper super easy and doesn’t disturb the outer folds. Simply insert the end of a stylus, crochet hook or the point of a small pair of scissors, then lift the template up and out of the completed hexagon.
- Press once more for good measure.
Create the paper-pieced diamonds
- Our layout design calls for 7 darker diamonds (accent color #1-Glacier in our sample), 7 lighter diamonds (accent color #2-Breakers in our sample) and 5 bright diamonds (highlight color-Chartreuse in our sample).
- Cut each shape from the appropriate color strip, allowing a generous ¼” border around each diamond.
- Fold and baste along the four sides of the diamond as you did above around the six sides of the hexagon. The sharp points of the diamonds will take a bit more “futzing.” As shown in the photo below, you actually create a little “cone” to make the best point.
- Check from the front and the back to confirm you have a good look.
- Continue in this method to complete all 19 diamonds needed for the pillow.
- Arrange the diamonds on your work surface according to our layout design (or create your own design). In our design, the diamonds are overlapped to create segments of two or three diamonds. The point of the overlapping diamond should hit at the exact center of the overlapped diamond. Pin in place is sets of two or three.
- The diamonds are slip stitched together. The process is very similar to the whip stitching of the hexagons.The only real difference is that rather than working with two folded edges, you are working with one folded edge against a flat surface. The tiny stitches that pick up just 2 to 3 threads from each surface are the same as above. And, also as above, the stitches should be spaced less than ⅛” apart. Use thread that matches the top diamond.
- Press each diamond unit as above, from both the front and the back.
- Pop out the templates and press once more.
Layout the paper pieced templates on the quilted pillow tops
- Using our drawing as a guide (or creating your own design), place the completed arrangement of hexagons onto a quilted pillow front square. Your horizontal quilting lines act as a grid to align all the pieces. Pin in place.
- Repeat to place the completed arrangement of diamond units onto the second quilted square.
- Set up the sewing machine for a decorative appliqué stitch.
- Change the upper thread to the darkest of the three fabric colors (we used teal), but leave the 50wt thread in the bobbin. If possible, change to an Open-Toe Satin Stitch presser foot for the best visibility as you appliqué.
- Do some test stitching to figure out which stitch pattern and stitch settings work best for you. We decided on a small blanket stitch.
- Start at a corner and use the decorative stitch to sew the paper pieced segments in place on the quilted pillow top.
- Pivot at each corner, with the needle in the fabric.
- We stitched along the outer edges of the shapes only – not along any of the inner angles. This was our preference for the look we wanted. You could, of course, stitch completely around each shape if you prefer. If you are brand new to appliqué, we have a full tutorial you can review prior to starting.
Layer front to back to finish
- Place the two back panels right sides together over the quilted pillow top. Align all the raw edges and overlap the back panels as needed to create a perfect fit to the 21″ x 21″ square. Pin in place.
- Stitch around the entire perimeter of the pillow cover, using a ½” seam allowance.
- Turn the pillow covers right side out through the back overlapping envelope opening. Gently push out all the corners so they are nice and sharp.
- Insert your pillow form through the envelope opening and fluff it out into the corners.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Michele Mishler