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When I was a teenager, I figured out how to French braid my hair all by myself behind my head. For those of you who’ve never attempted this, it’s a little like weaving linguini with a blindfold on. But, once mastered, the interlacing rows are quite stunning. So it is with our Braided Jelly Roll pillow. The braiding technique takes a bit of brain power to keep track of the strips, but the result is still… quite stunning. And, there are no bobby pins or hairspray required.

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When I was a teenager, I figured out how to French braid my hair all by myself behind my head. For those of you who’ve never attempted this, it’s a little like weaving linguini with a blindfold on. But, once mastered, the interlacing rows are quite stunning. So it is with our Braided Jelly Roll pillow. The braiding technique takes a bit of brain power to keep track of the strips, but the result is still… quite stunning. And, there are no bobby pins or hairspray required.

If this is your first ‘quilting’ kind of project, you may want to take a look at our tutorial: Quilting Basics Part 1: Tools, Cutting & Piecing.

The majority of our Fresh Linens projects start with pre-cuts, thanks to our friends at Moda Fabrics who provided us with a full set of all the pre-cuts available for Joanna Figueroa’s beautiful Fresh Cottons Collection.

This collection of fabric has a softly nostalgic feel, but there’s nothing old-fashioned about it. That’s one of the magical things about Joanna’s designs; she pulls in wonderfully vintage themes and colors but the result is never dowdy or out-of date. In fact, they are always new and fresh and fun. To learn more about Fresh Cottons, pre-cuts and our nine Fresh Linens bedroom projects, read our article, Fresh Linens Liven up a Guest Bedroom with Crisp, Comfy Color.

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

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  • Jelly Roll (we used just seven of the forty 2½” x 44″ strips in the pack; if you choose not to use a Jelly Roll, you’ll need to cut seven 2½” x 44″ strips): we used Joanna Figueroa’s Fresh Cottons Jelly Roll by Fig Tree Quilts for Moda Fabrics
  • 1 yard of 44-45″ wide coordinating solid fabric: we used Moda’s Bella Solids in Ivory
  • All purpose thread to match fabrics: we used ivory
  • See-through ruler
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Straight pins
  • Tape measure
  • Fabric pen or pencil
  • Seven ¾” buttons
  • One 18″ x 18″ pillow form

Getting Started

You can either make the braid by selecting strips at random, or you can plan the order of the braid. We planned ours, rotating the seven strips in the same order as we built each braid.

  1. Begin by cutting TWO 2½” x 2½” squares from the first Jelly Roll strip. These are the pieces that will begin the braids.
  2. Cut the remainder of the Jelly Roll strips into 7″ lengths. You will need a total of 15 strips per braid.
  3. From the solid coordinating fabric (Bella Solids in Ivory in our sample), cut:
    ONE 2½” x 18½” strip for the center strip in pillow front.
    FOUR 4½” x 23″ strips for the flange.
    TWO 13½” x 18½” pieces for the envelope back.

At Your Sewing Machine

Creating the braided front

  1. To begin the braid, position one of the 2½” squares alongside a 7″ strip. The square should be positioned along one of the long sides of the strip at the end.
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  2. Pin in place, right sides together.
  3. Using a ¼” seam allowance, sew the square to the strip.
  4. Now sew the next strip onto the opposite side.
    NOTE: The braid is being sewn on the bias and has the potential to stretch out of shape. Handle your pieces carefully.
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  5. Continue in this same manner until you have 15 strips in your braid (plus, the starting square).
    NOTE: Don’t worry about the uneven ends of the strips; these will be trimmed away later. My picture doesn’t show all 15, I’m still buildin’.
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  6. Repeat to create a second braid, following the same pattern as above. Both strips should look identical.
  7. Using your ruler, mark a straight line down each side of the braid. This line should be ¼” in from the inner points.
  8. Repeat for the second braid.
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  9. Sew along all these marked lines, on either side of each braid. This is called ‘stay-stitching’ and helps with the stretching that we mentioned earlier.
  10. Draw a line across the top and bottom of the braid, as you did for the sides.
    NOTE: It’s a little more difficult to find the point at which to mark these top and bottom lines. Remember, you need to find a point where you can cut a straight line across, and you want your finished braid strip to be approximately 18½” in length when cut.
  11. Sew a line of stay-stitching along your top and bottom marked lines.
  12. Trim away the excess along the sides, top and bottom ¼” from the stay-stitching lines.
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  13. When finished and trimmed, your two braids should each measure approximately 8½” x 18½”.
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  14. Find the 2½” x 18½” solid strip.
  15. Place it right sides together along one 18½” side of one braid. Pin in place.
  16. Stitch together, using a ¼” seam allowance.
  17. In the same manner, pin the opposite side of the solid strip to one side of the remaining braid, right sides together.  
    NOTE: Before you sew, remember to check that your two braids are both running in the same direction.
  18. Stitch together, using a ¼” seam allowance.
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Creating the flange

  1. Find the four 4½” x 23″ solid strips. Fold each strip in half lengthwise and press to create a center crease.
    NOTE: The center crease lines will be important later in helping to create the mitered corners on the flange.
  2. Open up the strips with the fold facing down.
  3. Bring in each corner in to meet the center crease line at a 45° angle, creating a point at each end of the strip. Just like the first steps in making a paper airplane. Press the point in place.
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  4. Open the pressed points. Trim away the corners along the pressed fold lines, leaving a clean point.
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  5. Pin the points together, end to end, to make your ‘frame.’
    NOTE: Be sure not to twist the strips, they all need to be right sides together. Use the center crease lines to help you keep track of which are the right sides.
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  6. Using a ¼” seam allowance, sew each point. Start at one side of the corner, sew to the point, stop with the needle down in the crease line, pivot, then continue to sew down the opposite side of the corner.
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  7. To create the mitered corner, trim away the tip of the point, then pinch and pull the point in the opposite direction so you can see the seam. Press the seam open on both sides.
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  8. Turn right side out, folding the point back into the original center crease of the flange. Press in place.
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  9. Repeat these same steps for the remaining three corners of the flange.
  10. Place the flange right side together with the braided pillow front
  11. Starting in one corner, begin to pin the flange. You want the mitered seam of the flange to be aligned with the corner of the patchwork center. To do this, you will need to make two tiny pleats at each corner.  This will enable you to turn the corner smoothly when sewing.
  12. Pin all four corners first and then pin the layers together in between.
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  13. Using a ¼” seam allowance, sew the flange in place. At each corner, you will need to sew to the tiny pleat, pivot 45°, sew across the corner to the next pleat, stop with the needle down, and pivot 45˚ again to continue sewing along the next side.
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  14. Press flange toward pillow front’s center.

Creating the pillow back and finishing

  1. In order to sew the pillow back to the front, the flange needs to be out of the way of the seam. Pin the corners into a pleat so you do not accidentally sew them into the seam.
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  2. Find the two solid 13½” x 18½” pillow back pieces.
  3. Fold under and press ½” along one long side of each piece (the 18½” side).
  4. Fold and press again 2″ to create a simple hem.
  5. Sew the hem in place along the folded pressed edge on the wrong side of the pillow back pieces.
  6. Place the pillow back pieces on top of the pillow front piece, right sides together. The hemmed edges should be facing the center of the pillow front.
  7. Overlap the hemmed edges until the raw edges of the pillow back pieces are flush with the raw edges of the pillow front piece.
  8. Pin the pillow back pieces together within the seam line to hold this overlap.
  9. Machine baste, within the ½” seam allowance, across the raw edges to secure the overlap. This way you can treat the pillow back as one piece instead of two – less shifting when you sew.
  10. Match the pillow back and pillow front right sides together again, and pin in place all around.
  11. Using a ½” seam allowance, sew around the entire pillow.
  12. Turn the pillow right side out through the envelope back.
  13. Pull out the flange all around and push out all the corners with a blunt-end tool, like a long knitting needle or chopstick. Press.
  14. Using a fabric pen or pencil, mark the position of the buttons on the center ivory strip on the front. To evenly space, mark the center, which is approximately 9″ from the top. Then, place marks at 2½” intervals up and down from center. You need to mark for a total of 7 buttons – the center and three on either side.
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  15. Sew the buttons to the pillow front machine.
  16. Insert pillow form.


Project Design: Alicia Thommas 
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Jodi Kelly

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