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We are always a little startled by how expensive simple pillows can be to purchase. Browsing online or in stores for style and embellishment options is a great way to grab an idea you can make your own! For this bold beauty, we delved into the category of Word Pillows… a perennial favorite at the trendiest boutiques; it’s a style we saw multiple times in our high-end searching.

The first order of business is to find a typeface that lends itself to the appliqué process, then to come up with a single word or a very short phrase that can be large and in charge on your pillow front. We provide a free downloadable template for our nautical-themed “Ahoy!” script, but there are a few billion other words out there to use. For fonts, you can check what’s available within your own computer’s word processing program or search online for free and paid font options.

In addition, just as you’d need a smooth, clean surface for handwritten calligraphy, your Word Pillow also needs a good foundation. We’re using a 20″ x 20″ Home Elegance™ insert from Fairfield. It has a dense softness that provides the perfect finish for what we want our pillow to say. Your fun fact for the day: Alexander Graham Bell preferred those answering his invention do so with the word, “Ahoy.” The first telephone operators actually used this term.

We used top quality, brand new components for this pillow… didn’t dip into the ol’ stash box even once! Yet we still came in well under $50, saving $100+ over similar pillows at retail. See our pillow inspiration below.

When browsing for fonts, look for a bold, simple letter shape that will be easy to cut out and stitch down. Avoid letters with a lot curves, flourishes or small lines (serifs). We used wool felt for our letters (no raveling, no need to finish the edges after you cut) and a straight stitch appliqué technique. If you are new to appliqué, check out our full, step-by-step appliqué tutorial

This pillow features a back envelope closure with buttons, a technique that works on virtually any pillow size and shape, and it allows you to easily remove the pillow form to launder the cover or to re-use the pillow form.

We also used the closure’s elements to add a few extra dashes of color to our overall neutral palette. The topstitching, buttonholes and button stitching are all done in a contrasting red thread, and the buttons themselves are a deep navy blue.

The finishing touch is a soft rope cording for the trim to complete the nautical red, white, and blue theme. Below is the pillow collection that inspired out “knock off.”

Our pillow finishes at approximately 20″ x 20″, excluding the rope trim.

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

  • ¾ yard of 45″+ wide décor weight fabric for the pillow front and back; we originally used a 60″ bottom-weight denim in natural
  • ¼ yard of 45″+ wide wool felt or similar; we originally used a 35% wool felt in red
  • THREE 1″ buttons; we used navy blue four-hole plastic buttons -– the four-hole design allows for a pretty “X” accent when stitched in place with contrasting thread
  • 2⅓ yards of soft twisted rope trim or similar cording, we used a cotton twisted rope style in natural
  • One 20″ x 20″ pillow form
  • Fusible web to adhere appliqué
    NOTE: This is optional – if you use a wool felt as we did, it is quite stable and kind of grips itself to the base fabric; but if you are new to appliqué, it’s best to use a fusible web to keep your letters from shifting. 
  • All-purpose thread to match fabrics (both for pillow and appliqué)
  • All-purpose thread to contrast with fabric for back topstitching and button sewing; optional – we used red to match the front lettering
  • See-through ruler
  • Fabric pen or pencil
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Small sharp scissors or a razor blade; optional for cutting the appliqué
  • Seam gauge
  • Seam ripper
  • Straight pins

Getting Started and Appliqué Template Download

  1. Download and print the AHOY! Word Template Part 1 and Word Template Part 2, which have been bundled into ONE PDF to make the download easier.
    IMPORTANT: Each template 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 the page to confirm your printout is to scale. 
  2. Cut out the template along the solid lines.
  3. Place the fabric for the letters (red wool felt in our sample) right side up and flat on your work surface. Place the letters on your fabric. Pin to secure.
  4. The cutting takes a bit of patience. Small, sharp scissors and/or a razor blade can be helpful.
  5. Carefully cut out the three sections: “A”, “hoy” and “!”.

    NOTE: As mentioned above, you can use a fusible web. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, but in essence, you’re just adding a couple steps: first trace the letters on the web backing, then adhere the web to the fabric, then cut out the letters. When done, you peel away the backing so the letter sections can be stuck to the pillow front fabric. As mentioned above, if you are brand new to appliqué, take a look at our full tutorial prior to starting the project.
  6. From the fabric for the main pillow, cut the following:
    ONE 20″ x 20″ square for the front
    TWO 20″ high x 15″ wide rectangles for the back panels.
  7. Leave the trim as one length.

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

Pillow front

  1. Find the 20″ x 20″ front panel.
  2. Place the letters on the panel, assembling the three parts, using the spacing diagram on the template itself.
  3. The whole word should be centered side-to-side on the panel. There is 8½” from the top of the “O” to the top raw edge of the pillow.
  4. And, 8½” from the bottom of the “O” to the bottom raw edge of the pillow.
  5. Pin in place or press to adhere the fusible web.
  6. Re-thread the machine with the thread to match the appliqué fabric in the top and bobbin. We used a bright red.
  7. Because we used a wool felt, there was no problem with raveling along the cut edges. We used a straight, raw-edge appliqué to stitch our letters in place.

    NOTE: Remember, if you are new to appliqué, check out our tutorial. This article shows you other techniques should you choose an appliqué fabric that does fray and so would need a finished edge. The main things to remember: slow, steady, and even wins the race.
  8. Find the length of trim (twisted rope cording in our sample).
  9. Starting in the middle of the bottom edge, pin the cording to the right side of the front piece, aligning the raw edges of the cording’s insertion tape with the raw edges of the fabric.
  10. Clip into the cording tape at the corners to allow the cording to curve nicely around the corners.
  11. Pin in place.
  12. Overlap the ends at the bottom as shown, trimming away any excess.
  13. Attach your Zipper foot.
  14. Re-thread the machine with thread to match the trim in the top and bobbin.
  15. Machine baste the trim in place around all four sides.
  16. Set aside the completed front.

Pillow back

  1. Find the two back panels.
  2. Along one inside edge on one panel, make a 2″ double turn hem. To do this, fold back the raw edge 2″ and press. Fold back an additional 2″ and press again. Pin in place.
  3. Along one inside edge of the other panel, repeat to make a 1½” double turn hem.
  4. Re-thread the machine with the contrasting thread in the top and bobbin. Slightly lengthen the stitch.
    NOTE: Remember, the contrasting thread is optional as a decorative effect; you could certainly stick with matching thread.
  5. Topstitch along the inside fold of each panel. Use the guidelines on your needle plate, draw a line to follow with a fabric pen or pencil, or use the edge of a strip of painter’s tape, as shown below, to keep your seam super straight.
  6. Run a second line of topstitching approximately 3/16″ from the opposite fold of each panel.
  7. On the back panel with the 2″ hem, mark for three centered 1″ buttonholes. We spaced our buttonholes 5″ apart on center.
  8. Following the instructions for your machine, and still using the contrasting thread, make three buttonholes.
  9. When you cut the buttonholes open, cut in a little from each edge towards the center. This is better than trying to cut them open with one action, which often leads to cutting into the buttonhole stitching.
  10. Place the plain panel right side up on your work surface. Overlap it with the buttonhole panel – also right side up. Make sure the finished overlapped width is 20″.
  11. Place a pin at the exact center point of each buttonhole. Make a mark on the opposite panel at this pin point. These points are where you should sew on the buttons.
  12. Stitch the buttons in place using the same contrasting thread you used for the topstitching and buttonholes. If you used the recommended four-hole buttons, stitch each in place with a “X pattern.”
  13. Button the two panels together.
  14. Re-thread your machine with thread to match the fabric in the top and bobbin.
  15. Working as close to the raw edges as possible, tack the overlap together at the top and bottom, staying very close to the raw edges, 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 to finish

  1. Find your front panel with the cording stitched in place and your back panel with the two pieces tacked together to act as one.
  2. Un-button the back panel.
  3. Place the finished back panel on your work surface right side facing up.
  4. Place your finished front panel on top, right side facing down. Your piping is sandwiched in between the layers.
  5. Carefully align all the raw edges and pin in place.
  6. Using your Zipper foot, stitch together through all layers around all four sides, using an approximate ½” seam allowance. We say “approximate’ because the goal is simply to stitch as close to the piping as possible. Go slowly and make sure your layers stay flat. With the heavier décor weight fabric, you are stitching through a lot of thicker layers, especially at the back panel overlaps.
  7. When your seam is complete, trim all the corners at a diagonal and grade the seam allowances at the back panel overlaps.
  8. Turn the pillow cover right side out through the back button opening. Push out the cording all around. Use a long, blunt-end tool, such as a knitting needle, chopstick or point turner, to smooth out the corners.
  9. Insert the pillow form through the opening and fluff it out into the corners.
  10. Button the pillow closed.


Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Aimee McGaffey

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5 years ago

Not only do I love the Ahoy!

Not only do I love the Ahoy! word, but I’d like more sea-going words, too, to match!  Would you share the name of the font you used in this project?  Thanks!

Please ignore above – I found the font – Lobster 2 – I knew it looked familiar!  It’s now my summer sewing fun font!

5 years ago

Hi,  I don’t see the link for

Hi,  I don’t see the link for the “Ahoy” templates. Looking at the picture above fabric and supplies, I think there was a slight hiccup

5 years ago

Good go go now. I can’t say

Good go go now. I can’t say that I blame it 🙂

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