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As winter’s storms blast rain, wind, snow and ice across the country, we’re dreaming of sultry summer days on the balcony of a garden suite in the beautiful New Orleans French Quarter. To help bring these dreams to life, we created a trio of shabby chic pillows in a French style. Pretty pillow numéro un features a lovely pleated front embellished with thin belted accents and a sweet bow.

We summarize our pleating plan below, but also invite you to check out both of our full technique tutorials: Knife Pleats and Box Pleats.

Since there are no intricate angles or curves, a pillow is a great project to practice pleating. Master the fold-and-tuck method and you can use it to embellish all kinds of items.

This pillow and its companions fit into the shabby chic or cottage style category, which doesn’t really have a rigid definition but is more of a feeling – achieved through an elegant balance of old and new with a luxurious yet charming energy.

Other items in our French Pillow Trio include the Fleur-de-lis Appliqué Pillow and the Oui/Non (Yes/No) Appliquéd Pillow with Poms.

Our pillow finishes at approximately 12″ x 18″ and is designed with a loose fit to allow a “karate-choppable” softness.

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

  • 1 yard of 44″+ wide cotton fabric for the pillow front; we originally used 44″ Parisian Words in Pink from the Sausalito Cottage collection by Lakehouse Fabrics
    NOTE: Our chosen fabric had a large motif and we wanted a very specific fussy cut, so we did use a full yard to create our look. However, as you can see by the cutting specifications below, you need just a 19″ wide x 25″ high cut for the front pleated panel. If your fabric needs less precise fussy cutting, ¾-1 yard would allow you to make TWO pillow fronts.
  • ½ yard of 44″+ wide 7 oz canvas or similar for the pillow back; we originally used 54″ 7 oz Duck Canvas in White by James Thompson
  • ½ yard of 44″+ wide cotton accent fabric for the pillow belts and bow; we originally used 44″ Hollywood Sparkle Dots in Black Shimmer by Riley Blake Designs
  • ONE 12″ x 18″ pillow form
  • ½ yard of 20″+ wide lightweight fusible interfacing; we used Pellon ShirTailor
    NOTE: Our canvas fabric for the back panel didn’t require interfacing; if you use a lighter weight fabric, cut an 19″ x 13″ interfacing panel for the front and back. You would then need a full yard of interfacing.
  • All-purpose thread to match fabric
  • See-through ruler
  • Fabric pen or pencil in two colors for pleating marks
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Seam gauge
  • Seam ripper
  • Straight pins
  • Hand sewing needle

Getting Started

  1. From the pillow front fabric, fussy cut ONE 19″ wide x 25″ high rectangle. Center your fabric’s main motif from top to bottom and side to side.
  2. From the pillow back fabric, cut ONE 19″ wide x 13″ high rectangle.
  3. From the belt and bow fabric, fussy cut the following (we fussy cut to center one sparkling dot on the belts and several dots on the bow):
    FOUR 2¼” x 13″ strips for the belts
    ONE 5″ x 28″ strip for the bow
  4. From the interfacing, cut ONE 19″ x 13″ rectangle.
    NOTE: Cut TWO if interfacing both front and back.

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

Pillow front pleating

  1. Lay your pillow front panel right side up on your work surface. Our design has six 2″ pleats centered along the panel.
  2. For those of you familiar with pleating, our steps are summarized here. If you are brand new to this technique, you may want to first review our full, step-by-step tutorial on How to Make Knife Pleats.
  3. Working with fabric pens/pencils in two different colors (we used pink and white), you will mark six sets of three lines. Each set includes two tuck/stitching lines to either side of a fold/placement line. We used white for our stitching lines and pink for our placement lines.
    NOTE: You are working on the right side of the fabric, so make sure your fabric pens/pencils will easily wipe away or vanish with exposure to the air.
  4. Starting 1″ down from the top raw edge of the panel, draw the first stitching line (white in our sample). All your lines should be horizontal and parallel with the top cut edge of the fabric.
  5. Measure 1″ down from the first line, switch colors, and draw a second line. This is the first placement line (pink in our sample).
  6. Measure 1″ down from the second line, switch back to the first color, and draw a third line. This is the second stitching line (white in our sample). This completes your first set of three pleat lines.
  7. Measure 2″ down from the third line in this first set and repeat to create a second set of three.
  8. We also made tiny snips at the sides of each line for extra matching help when folding.
  9. Continue this pattern until you have SIX sets of three pleat lines. At the bottom edge you will have 2″ leftover to the bottom raw edge of the panel. The illustration below details the proper marking.
  10. Starting at the top trio of lines, fold along the center line wrong sides together.
  11. When you fold, the two stitching lines should match up as well.
  12. Press the fold and pin in place.
  13. Stitch along the stitching line (the paired white lines in our sample). Use thread to best match the fabric in the top and bobbin and lengthen your stitch.
  14. Repeat with each trio of lines, bringing the stitching lines together so the fabric tucks up between them. Fold and press along the center placement line.
  15. Stitch each pleat in place.
  16. When all six pleats are stitched in place, press all the pleats down towards the bottom edge of the panel. Your finished pleated panel should now measure 19″ wide x 13″ high.
  17. Find the interfacing panel. Place it on the wrong side of the pleated front panel, aligning all four sides. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place.

Make and attach the belts

  1. Find the four 2¼” x 13″ belt strips. Fold each strip in half lengthwise and pin in place.
  2. Re-thread the machine with thread to best match the belt fabric in the top and bobbin.
  3. Using a ¼” seam allowance, stitch down the side.
  4. Turn right side out through the open ends. Roll the seam to the back to center your motif at the front.We fussy cut to center one sparkling dot. Press flat.
  5. Find the pleated front panel. Place it right side up on your work surface.
  6. Place one belt on each side of the front panel. The outer edge of each belt should be 4½” in from the raw side edge of the panel. Pin each belt in place.
  7. Find the back panel. Place it right side up on your work surface. Pin the remaining two belts in place, matching the position of the front panel belts.
  8. Edgestitch along both sides of each belt on the front panel…
    NOTE: Stitch from the top to the bottom so the pleats stay flat and are easy to sew over.
  9. … and on the back panel.

Stitch front to back, insert pillow, attach bow

  1. Place the finished front and back panels right sides together. Carefully align the front and back belt placement. Pin in place all around, leaving an opening along the bottom between the belts.
  2. Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch around all four sides. Remember to pivot at the corners and to lock your seam at either side of the opening.
  3. Trim all four corners at a diagonal. For more about corner-cutting techniques, see our full tutorial.
  4. Turn the cover right side out through the opening and press flat, turning in the raw edges of the opening so they are flush with the sewn seam.
  5. Insert the pillow form through the opening. Gently fluff it into each corner, working from the farthest side out toward the opening. Pin the opening closed.
  6. Thread a hand-sewing needle with thread to best match the pillow, and slip stitch the opening closed. Use small stitches to keep your work as unnoticeable as possible.
  7. Find the remaining 5″ x 28″ bow strip. Fold the strip in half lengthwise and pin along both ends and down the side. Leave a 3″ opening in the center of the 28″ side for turning.
  8. Using a ¼” seam allowance stitch across both ends and down the side. Remember to pivot at the corners and to lock your seam at either side of the opening.
  9. Trim all four corners at a diagonal and turn right side out.
  10. Press flat, pressing in the raw edges of the opening so they are flush with the sewn seam.
  11. Thread a hand-sewing needle with thread to best match the bow, and slip stitch the opening closed.
  12. Tie the strip into a bow and securely hand stitch in place behind the bow’s knot onto the left belt near the top of the third pleat. Place so the bow lays flat.
    NOTE: Why is the bow stitched on now rather than when the pillow panel is flat? The curvature of the pillow can vary based on your chosen pillow form. It’s important the bow be placed so it lays flat. If your pillow form is more or less rounded, the exact position may vary. The only way to tell the best placement is to stitch the bow after the form is in place.


Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Debbie Guild

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