Oilcloth, that classic shiny fabric from grandma’s kitchen, is back in a big way. The bold designs and super bright colors are a perfect combo to add a blast o’ happy to any room. How could you look at giant red chili peppers against a field of sunshine yellow and not smile?! Plus, because oilcloth is water resistant with a wipe-clean surface, it’s ideal for patio living. With a few of our helpful tips and techniques, you’ll find sewing with oilcloth is easier than you might think. For one thing, there’s no edge finishing because it doesn’t ravel (yay!). Turn up the fun-o-meter to 10, and add a little happiness to your outdoor décor with these reversible pillows.
We used three different prints for each of our pillows, giving us the biggest blast of color and design, as well as to make them reversible. You could certainly use fewer, but when there are so many brilliant choices, why turn down the fun-o-meter?! Most oilcloth is 47” wide, so you can cut at least two fronts and backs from the yardages shown below. Get a bit more for additional ruffled edges and you’ll have a pile o’ pillows in no time.
Each of the pillows has an envelope back so your pillow insert can be removed if the cover gets too wet or dirty for standard spot cleaning with a sponge and towel. Although any pillow form can be used, take a look at the Fairfield Weather Soft pillow inserts, which are specially designed for outdoor use with a water repellent shell.
We’ve finished the envelope back with a generous overlap and a cute bow, another touch that makes our pillows reversible and gives you dozens of colorful mix and match options.
Our ruffled edges are done with a double layer. We chose this option, even though it made for a thicker edge that demanded pleating rather than true ruffling, to make sure the pillows looked great from either side. The extra layer also gave the ruffles the ability to fan out nicely around the pillow’s edge rather than hanging limply. You could use just one layer and try for standard ruffling with a presser foot or Ruffler foot, but bear in mind that the back of oilcloth is a canvas-like, white surface – not super attractive, so you’d want to forget about reversibility if you choose this single-layer option.
We have a full, step-by-step tutorial with lots of great tips and techniques for sewing with oilcloth, laminated cottons, and other “sticky stuff.” Take a look at this article prior to starting the project to learn about the best needles (16 Jeans is our favorite), the best way to hold layers in place (gotta love Wonder Clips), as well as stitch length, pressing, and more.
You’ll notice each of our pillows has four small eyelets along the edges. Because oilcloth is vinyl based, it doesn’t naturally allow air or moisture to pass through it. These eyelets allow the pillow to “breathe.”
I’m going to guess there are several of you out there shaking your heads because you can’t imagine why anyone would make a pillow out of oilcloth. “It will be too sticky,” you shout at the computer (remember, it’s not nice to shout at your computer). Actually, modern oilcloth is smoother and softer than you might think. And, these pillows are meant to be used as bright pops of color to decorate your outdoor furniture. We don’t believe anyone is going to be using them as extra bed pillows, nor would we recommend it. But they can enliven a plain chair or bench in a big way.
Our pillow trio finishes at 18” x 18”, 16” x 16” and 18” x 12” – each with a 3” ruffle all around.
Sewing Tools You Need
- Sewing Machine and standard presser foot
- UltraGlide foot or similar Teflon® style foot; optional but very helpful for sewing on the right side of the oilcloth
- Jeans or Denim Needle – Size 16
Fabric and Other Supplies
For the 18″ x 18″ pillow:
- ⅔ yard of 47″ wide oilcloth for the pillow front; we used Rainbow Parrots and Rabbits on Orange
- ⅔ yard of 47″ wide oilcloth for the pillow back: we used Gingham in Green
- 1 yard of 47″ wide oilcloth for the ruffle and ties: we used Juicy Oranges on White
For the 16″ x 16″ pillow:
- ½ yard of 47″ wide oilcloth for the pillow front: we used Strawberries on Blue
- ½ yard of 47″ wide oilcloth for the pillow back: we used Red Dots on White
- 1 yard of 47″ wide oilcloth for the ruffle and ties: we used Gingham in Black
For the 18″ x 12″ pillow:
- ½ yard of 47″ wide oilcloth for the pillow front: we used Hibiscus on Red
- ½ yard of 47″ wide oilcloth for the pillow back: we used Black and White Zebra Stripe
- 1 yard of 47″ wide oilcloth for the ruffle and ties: we used Red Chili Peppers on Yellow
For any/all pillows:
- Pillow insert(s) to MATCH each size you make (18″ x 18″, 16″ x 16″ and/or 18″ x 12″); we used Fairfield Weather Soft pillow inserts
- FOUR small eyelets for EACH pillow; we used Dritz 5/32” eyelets in nickel
- Sewer’s Aid; optional for smoother sewing on the oil cloth
NOTE: As mentioned above, check out our full tutorial about sewing on laminates, oilcloth, and vinyl for all our tips and techniques.
- All-purpose sewing thread in colors to match fabrics
- Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
- See-through ruler
- Tape measure
- Fabric pencil or pen
- Straight pins or clips; we used Wonder Clips
- Iron and ironing board; optional as we recommend just finger-pressing, but with a pressing cloth, you can lightly press from the back of the oilcloth
- Small hammer to set the eyelets
NOTE: We wanted our pillows nice and plump, and so are cutting them the same size as the pillow form rather than the traditional 1″ larger all around.
- From the front fabric(s), cut the following:
For the 18″ x 18″ pillow, cut ONE 18″ x 18″ square.
For the 16″ x 16″ pillow, cut ONE 16″ x 16″ square.
For the 18″ x 12″ pillow, cut ONE 18” x 12” rectangle.
- From the back fabric(s), cut the following:
NOTE: For these pillows, it looks best if the envelope opening on the back goes vertically. So, this is how the rectangles are represented.
For the 18″ x 18″ pillow, cut ONE 11½” wide x 18” high rectangle for the overlap and ONE 13” wide x 18” high rectangle for the underlap.
For the 16″ x 16″ pillow, cut cut ONE 10½” wide x 16” high rectangle for the overlap and ONE 12” wide x 16” high rectangle for the underlap
For the 18” x 12” pillow, cut cut ONE 11½” wide x 12” high rectangle for the overlap and ONE 13” wide x 12” high rectangle for the underlap
- From the ruffle/tie fabric(s), cut the following:
NOTE: We used the rule of thumb that says your ruffle needs to be approximately two to two-and-a-half times the length of the edge to which you’re applying the ruffle. Because we are actually pleating rather than gathering the thicker layers, we figured at approximately two times the length.
For the 18″ x 18″ pillow, cut enough 7″ strips to equal 146” (when sewn together end-to-end with ½” seam allowances) and TWO 1½” x 15” strips for the back envelope ties.
For the 16″ x 16″ pillow, cut enough 7″ strips to equal 130” (when sewn together end-to-end with ½” seam allowances) and TWO 1½” x 15” strips for the back envelope ties.
For the 18″ x 12″ pillow, cut enough 7″ strips to equal 122” (when sewn together end-to-end with ½” seam allowances) and TWO 1½” x 15” strips for the back envelope ties.
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
NOTE: The steps below are shown for the 18” x 18” pillow. They would be the same for the other two pillows. The only difference is the eyelets are placed top and bottom on the square pillows, but are along each 12” side on the rectangular pillow.
Insert the eyelets
- Find the front panel. Place it right side up and flat on your work surface.
- Find the exact center point along the top and bottom raw edges.
- Measure 1” down from the top raw edge and place two eyelets to either side of this center point. The eyelets should be about ¼” apart.
- Use a fabric pen to trace the inner circle of each eyelet as a cutting guide.
- Clip a small circle at each drawn point.
- Drop the eyelets through the opening from front to back.
- Place the setting post in position over the eyelet and the setting anvil underneath the eyelet. Firmly hammer each eyelet in place.
- Repeat to insert two eyelets along the bottom edge.
NOTE: As mentioned above, on the rectangular pillow, the eyelets go along each 12” side. If you are brand new to working with eyelets, you can check out our full tutorial on working with metal grommets and eyelets.
Ruffles (which are really little pleats)
- Sew all the 7″ strips together end-to-end to equal the finished length listed above. To do this, clip two strips right sides together along the 7″ edge.
- Stitch together, using a ½“ seam allowance. Repeat to create one long strip.
- Finger press all seams open. Vinyl products do not like the heat of any iron.
- Make a single fold-hem at each raw end of the strip. To do this, simply turn back the raw edge ¼” and topstitch in place.
- Fold this long ruffle piece in half lengthwise, wrong sides together, so it is now 3½”. Clip in place.
- Machine baste the layers together, running the stitching about ¼” from the raw edges, removing the clips as you go.
- Using a fabric pen, mark along the entire length of the strip at 1” increments. You are marking along the basted edge.
- In addition, we recommend making a small clip with your scissors at each 1” mark. Pen marks like to rub off the slick surface of the oilcloth.
- Make a pleat at each 1” mark. Pinch at the marked point…
- … then bring the folded edge down to meet the next marked point.
NOTE: If you are brand new to pleating, we have a step-by-step tutorial on How to Make Knife Pleats.
- Machine baste the pleats in place, running this seam on top of the previous basting line.
- You’ve created a lovely “faux ruffle” in the thick double layers. As mentioned above, if you prefer to use just one layer for your ruffle and not have the pillows be reversible, you can use a standard machine gathering stitch or a Ruffler attachment.
- Find the front panel, which should have the eyelets already in position. Place the panel right side up and flat on your work surface.
- Starting at the center of the bottom edge of the pillow, and with the fold of ruffle facing in toward the center of the pillow, clip the ruffle to the right side of the front panel. Align the raw edges of the ruffle with the raw edge of the fabric.
- Going around the corners will take a bit of futzing with these heavier layers. Come into the corner by folding the ruffle strip into a point to best fit, then clip into the raw edges of the ruffle strip at either side of this folded point to allow the strip to flatten and ease around the corner. We also used our Wonder Clips to secure the corner pleats to one another; this helps hold them flatter at the turn.
- When you get back around to the beginning, overlap the hemmed ends to finish.
NOTE: Make sure the right side of the ruffle is against the right side of the pillow. The only way to tell is by the hems; both finished sides of the hems should be against the right side of the pillow. This means you will be looking at the turned under side (the back side) of the hems when you are pinning the ruffle in place.
- Machine baste the ruffle in place around all four sides. Again, we recommend running this new basting seam on top of the previous basting seams.
- Take your time again around the corners. We recommend stitching all the way into the corner before stopping with your needle in the down position. Pivot, and continue down the next side.
Prepare the back panels
- Because oilcloth doesn’t fray, the underlap panel is used as-is. There’s no need for an additional hem along the raw edge.
- For the overlap panel, flip it over to the wrong side. Along the inside edge (if you have a directional fabric, this will be the right vertical edge), draw a line 3” in and parallel to the raw edge.
- Fold back the raw edge so it is flush with the drawn line. This gives you a 1½” hem. Finger press the fold.
- Flip the overlap panel to the right side and topstitch ½” in from the folded edge.
NOTE: If necessary, re-thread the machine with thread to best match the back panel fabric prior to topstitching and lengthen your stitch.
- Overlap the two panels to yield the correct finished width (18” or 16″ sides in our samples). Clip together at the top and bottom.
Create and place the ties
- Find the two 15” strips. Place them wrong side up on your work surface.
- Measure 1” in from one 15” side and draw a vertical line the length of the strip.
- Fold in the long side that is now 1″ away from the drawn line so it is flush with the drawn line. Clip in place.
- Fold in the opposite side, overlapping the first fold and creating a finished tie of about ½” in width. Clip in place.
- Topstitch down the center of the tie through all the layers. Run the seam close to the cut edge of the top overlap.
- Place the overlapped pillow back panels right side up on your work surface. Make sure they are laying nice and flat.
- Find the center point of the back panel top to bottom. Use a fabric pen to mark this center point at both sides of the overlap panel’s hem.
- Pin one tie flush with the exposed hem line and the other tie directly opposite it flush against the fold of the opening. The ties are placed right sides together with the back panel, so the overlap is facing up as you clip them in place.
- Unclip the two back panels so you can work with them independently to stitch the ties in place.
- Stitch each tie in place with a small X-Box of stitching.
NOTE: If you are new to this technique, we have a tutorial on How to Make an X-Box.
- Overlap the back panels again so they are their proper finished width again. Clip together again at the top and bottom.
- Working as close to the edge as possible, stitch across just the overlap at the top and bottom to create one piece. It’s easier to work with one piece to stitch front to back.
- Tie the ties into a bow or at least tape them at the center of the panel to keep them out of the way of the final seam.
Assemble front to back to finish
- Place the front and back panels right sides together, sandwiching the ruffle and ties between the layers. Make sure the ruffle is flat – especially at each corner. And, check again that the ties are at the center of the pillow and out of the way of the seam.
- Carefully align all the raw edges and clip in place along all four sides.
- Stitch together through all layers around all four sides, using a ½” seam allowance. Go slowly and make sure your layers stay flat. Remember to pivot at each corner.
- Clip all four corners.
- Turn the pillow cover right side out through the back envelope opening.
- Pull out the ruffle all around. If needed, pick out any stray basting stitches with your seam ripper.
- Insert your pillow form through the envelope opening and fluff it out into the corners.
- Tie a neat bow on the back. You can also use a simple square knot if you find a bow too hard to tie in the oilcloth. We had no trouble with our bows.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructions: Debbie Guild