Growing up, we had a very special Little Golden Book® that only appeared during the Christmas season. It was called Santa’s Toy Shop. It had a thin plot line, but we loved it. Santa was sad because he never had time to play with the toys he made. So Mrs. Claus convinced him to stop at the last house on his route. There, he would take the time to sit down, have a cookie, and play with some toys before turning the reindeer back home. There was a question at the end of the book, one that kept us hanging on the edge of our seats each Christmas Eve. Would our house be Santa’s last stop this year? We never were able to stay awake long enough to find out! This project falls right in line with that sweet holiday tradition. These adorable pillows are made from panel fabric. Normally used for quick and easy quilts, we knew there had to be some other fun ways to use these pretty panel blocks, like a Santa Letter Pocket Pillow, because surely he’s stopping at your house this year!
There are two pockets; tuck a letter to Santa in one and a special treat for him in the other. Then, leave the pillow out overnight, and check in the morning to see what Santa has returned. Perhaps a letter back and another special treat!
We originally used Ia Dr. Suess® holiday panel that may no longer be available, but there are lots of options when it comes to panel fabric designs. You can easily personalize a pillow for each person on Santa’s list. The individual panels are cut to create the pockets as well as to use for appliqué accents on the front and back. We made two pillows from just one panel plus some coordinating prints for the backing.
Panel blocks vary in size and shape. You should adjust your layout as well as the pocket and appliqué measurements to best fit your fabric and pillow size. And, while panels work great for this project, and are very economical, you could also fussy cut blocks from standard yardage. Select a festive print with larger motifs. Our sizing is based on approximate 7″ x 7″ motifs.
This would be a fun new tradition for the little ones that takes “milk and cookies” to a more personal level. Our sample pillows finish at 16″ x 16″ each.
Sewing Tools You Need
Fabric and Other Supplies
NOTE: Amounts shown below are for TWO coordinating Santa pillows.
- ONE printed panel with at least 10 approximately 7″ x 7″ blocks for the pockets and appliqués
- ⅝ yard of 44-45″ wide quilting weight cotton for the front of Pillow A and the back of Pillow B
- ⅝ yard of 44-45″ wide quilting weight cotton for the front of Pillow B and the back of Pillow A
- ¼ yard of 44-45″ wide quilting weight cotton for the pocket linings
- 2½ yards of mini pom poms for EACH pillow (5 yards total)
- 1 yard of fusible web for appliqués
- 1 yard of tear away stabilizer also for the appliqué proces
- TWO 16″ x 16″ pillow inserts
- 40 wt. decorative thread for appliqué; we used both red and green
- See-through ruler
- Fabric pen or pencil
- Seam gauge
- Seam ripper
- Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
- Iron and ironing board
- Straight pins
- Spray starch; optional
- From the panel fabric, carefully cut out FIVE squares for EACH pillow. Choose the blocks to best fit the design. Two of the blocks will be used for the secret pockets and the other three will be trimmed into a circle for appliqué. Square up the blocks and press with spray starch.
NOTE: If you use a different panel fabric without any circle options, don’t worry, all the shapes can be squares, but it is nice if three can be a bit smaller than the two squares.
- From EACH of the coordinating cottons, cut the following:
ONE 17″ x 17″ square for the pillow fonts
ONE 17″ high x 14½” wide rectangle for the pillow back underlaps
ONE 17″ high x 12″ wide rectangle for the pillow back overlaps
FOUR 1¼” x 12″ strips for the back ties
NOTE: It can be faster and easier to do sub-cuts when you have similar heights as we recommend above. For example, cut ONE 17″ x width of fabric (WOF) strip, then sub-cut that strip into the 17″ x 17″ square, the 17″ x 14½” rectangle and the 17″ x 12″ rectangle. The ties can be cut in the same manner with a 1¼” x WOF strip sub-cut into four 12″ lengths.
- The pocket linings, poms, fusible web and tear-away stabilizer will all be cut during construction.
- Download and print out our Circle Template.
IMPORTANT: This pattern is ONE 8½” x 11″ sheet. You must print the PDF file at 100%. DO NOT SCALE to fit the page. There is a guide rule on each page so you can confirm your final printout is to scale. Again, as mentioned above, if you are not using circles, you don’t need the template.
- Cut out the circle along the solid line. Set aside.
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
NOTE: Our photos show the construction of Pillow A of our pillow pair. The two pillows are constructed in exactly the same manner. The differences are as follows: the fabrics for front and back are reversed, the color of the poms are different, and all five panel blocks are unique for each pillow.
- Find the two panel blocks you chose as the pillow’s secret pockets. Use each block as a pattern to cut a matching block of white pocket lining.
- Cut a length of poms to fit one side of each lining block (two lengths total). Pin one length in place on each block. The base of the poms themselves should be positioned ¼” from the raw edge to allow for a ¼” seam allowance.
- On one block, the pom side will become the TOP edge of the pocket. On the other block, the pom side will become the inside edge (the right edge) of the pocket.
- Stitch the poms in place, using a ¼” seam allowance. A Zipper foot helps with this process.
- Match each block to its lining, orienting the blocks appropriately so one pocket has poms along the upper edge and one block has poms along the right edge.
- Place the block and the lining right sides together, sandwiching the poms between the layers. Again, double check that the motif direction of your block is correct. Pin in place, leaving an approximate 2″ opening opposite the side with poms.
- Switch back to a Standard foot or continue using your Zipper foot. Using a ¼” seam allowance, stitch around each block. Remember to pivot at all four the corners and to lock the seam on either side of the 2″ opening.
- When you reach the side with the poms, your new ¼” seam line should follow right on top of the ¼” seam you used to attach the poms.
- Clip the corners and turn right side out through the opening. Press flat, pressing in the raw edges of the opening so they are flush with the sewn seam.
- Cut squares of fusible web to match the size of each of the three remaining blocks.
- Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse the web to the wrong side of each block.
- Find the 6½” circle template. Center each block’s motif within the circle. Cut the circle out of the block. Remove the paper back from the fusible web.
NOTE: If you use a different panel fabric, you may need to adjust the size of your circle appliqué to best fit your motifs. As mentioned, you can also use a smaller square.
- Find the front square. Place it right side up and flat on your work surface. Position TWO of the circles on the 17″ x 17″ square. One goes in the upper left corner and the other in the lower right corner. The outer edge of each circle should be 1¼” away from the raw edges of the fabric square. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse the circles in place.
- Find the 17″ x 12″ pillow back panel. Position the remaining circle on this panel in the lower right corner. As above, the outer edge of the circle should be 1¼” away from the raw edges of the fabric. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse the circle in place.
- Thread the machine with decorative thread in the top and bobbin thread in the bobbin. The thread color will depend on the colors in your block; we used red thread to appliqué some circles and green thread for others (check out the large images in the introduction to see which is which). Select a tight zig zag stitch. We used a 3.5 mm width and a 0.40 mm length.
- Cut a square of tear-away stabilizer big enough the cover each circle (three squares total).
- Layer the square of stabilizer under the fabric, then slide both layers under the presser foot. Align the presser foot with the edge of the first circle and satin stitch around the entire outer perimeter.
- When the stitching is complete, tear away the stabilizer. Press the pieces from the wrong side of the fabric.
NOTE: If you are new to this technique, check out our Appliqué Tutorial.
- Place the front square, with appliqués in place, right side up and flat on your work surface.
- Position the finished pockets in the upper right (poms along the top) and lower left (poms along the side) corners. The outer edges of the pockets should be 1″ from the raw edges of the square. Pin the pockets in place.
- Re-thread the machine with thread to match the pockets in the top and bobbin. Edgestitch each pocket in place around three sides, leaving the side with the poms open. Remember to pivot at each corner.
- Cut a length of poms to fit around the entire perimeter of the front square plus about 1″ for an overlap.
- Staring in the middle of the bottom edge, pin the poms around the entire perimeter. The base of the poms should be positioned ½” from the raw edge to allow for a ½” seam allowance. Overlap the ends in a kind of a “X” so the tails are hidden within the seam allowance and the poms appear continuous.
- Stitch in place all around. We used our Standard foot, which worked almost as well as a Zipper foot, but if you are new to the process, a Zipper foot may be your best bet.
Pillow back and ties
- Find the four 1¼” x 12″ strips
- Fold back each end ¼” and press.
- Fold each strip in half lengthwise, wrong sides together. Press to set a crease.
- Unfold so the center crease in visible. Fold in each long raw edge to the middle so the two raw edges meet in the center. Press each side.
- Fold in half again along the original crease, encasing the raw edges. Press and pin in place.
- Edgestitch the length of the strip to secure.
- Find the two pillow back pieces.
- On both, make a 2″ hem along the inside 17″ edge (if your fabric is not directional, simply pick one edge to be your inside edge). To do this, fold under the raw edge 1″ and press. Fold under an additional 1″ and press again.
- Edgestitch along the inside folded edge to make a clean double turn hem.
- Place the 17″ x 12″ overlap panel right side up and flat on your work surface.
- Place one tie 4½” down from the top raw edge of the panel. Place the second tie 4½” up from the bottom raw edge.
- Fold under one end of each tie and position this folded edge against the exposed hem line. Stitch each end of each tie in place with a ¾” X Box Stitch.
- Place the 17″ high x 14½” underlap panel right side up and flat on your work surface. Place the 17″ high x 12″ overlap panel on top, also right side up. With the top and bottom raw edges aligned, overlap the hems to yield the correct finished width of 17″.
- Working as close to the raw edges as possible, tack the overlap together at the top and bottom to secure and create one piece. It will be easier to work with one piece instead of two when you stitch front to back.
Assembling the layers
- Find the finished front and back panels.
- Carefully fold up and pin the ties on the back so they do not get caught in the stitching. It also helps to pin the envelope opening closed so it lays flat.
- Place the front panel on your work surface right side facing up. Place your back/tie piece on top, right side facing down.
- Carefully align all the raw edges and pin in place.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch together through all the layers around all four sides. It helps to sew with the front panel facing up so you can follow along in the previous pom stitching line. Go slowly and make sure your layers stay flat. We used our standard presser foot; you could also use a Zipper foot.
- Clip the corners diagonally. Be careful not to clip into your seam or the pom trim.
- Turn right side out through the back opening.
- Gently push out the corners from the inside using a long, blunt-end tool, such as a knitting needle or chopstick.
- Place the pillow cover back side up and flat on your work surface. Using the same manner as above, pin the remaining two ties in position on the underlap directly opposite the overlap ties. The folded-under end of this set of ties should be approximately 1½” from the folded outer edge of the overlap’s hem.
- Secure each tie in place with a ¾” box stitch.
- Insert your pillow form through the back opening and fluff it out into the corners.
- Tie two neat bows on the back.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Michele Mishler