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Black & White Pillow Pile: Lovely Pleated Lumbar

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Patty thought pleats were pleasing and so put plenty on her projects. I think pleats are one of the coolest ways to add a bit o' pizazz. I still have to pause and really think them through every time I start, but as soon as they're pinned in place, I look again and it's like, 'Duh! That was easy.' So don't you be put off by pleats. We have easy step-by-step directions, and throw in a few diagrams and plenty of pictures for good measure. The combination of the pleats with the natural linen and Michael Miller's bold black and white accent fabric makes a very elegant statement. I think the statement would be, 'Good gracious that's a lovely pillow. I think I'll make one for me.'

Our project calls for an invisible zipper, and we do have a great tutorial on this technique. However, if you just don't feel you're ready, you could omit the zipper, and simply leave a opening to turn the pillow right side out and hand stitch the opening closed. It makes laundering a challenge, but you're neat and tidy... right?

Our thanks to Michael Miller Fabrics for providing us with an awesome selection of fabrics from their brand new Black and White Collection. Look for it in stores or online for your Spring sewing, including from our friends at Fat Quarter Shop.

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

  • 3/8 yard of 44-45" wide fabric for pillow accent side panels: we used Michael Miller's Reeds in Ebony.
  • ¾ yard of 54" wide fabric for pillow center front and pillow back: we used a lightweight linen in oatmeal
  • All purpose thread to match fabrics
  • See-through ruler
  • Fabric pen, pencil or chalk: we used chalk because our fabric (the linen) was so light in color
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Straight pins
  • 9" invisible zipper: we used off white
  • 24" x 12" pillow form or polyester fiber fill to stuff
  • ½ yard of muslin (optional)
  • Scrap of lightweight fusible interfacing (optional)

Getting Started

  1. From the fabric for the pillow center front and back (oatmeal linen in our sample), cut one 42" x 27" piece.
    NOTE: After this big piece is pleated, you will trim the width and height to create the two final pieces needed to construct the pillow.
  2. From the fabric for the pillow accent side panels (Ebony Reeds in our sample), cut two 7" x 13" pieces. Set these aside for now.
    NOTE: Because of the direction of our print, we cut one 7" piece across the width of the fabric, and then cut two 13" pieces from that.

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

Marking the pleats

  1. Fold the 42" x 27" piece piece in half lengthwise (that means you're matching the 27" sides). Press a crease along the fold, this will now be the center mark from which you will mark lines left and right to create the pleats.
  2. Using a see-through ruler and fabric marking chalk, draw a parallel line 1" to the right of the center crease. Draw a second parallel line 1" to the left of the center crease. This will become the center pleat.
  3. Here's where it gets a little tricky... but not real tricky; you just gotta do a little math in your head. Remember that story problem from Mrs. Henderson's fourth grade math class, the one about the two trains leaving the station? That's where we're headed. Hang on.
  4. We need to create seven 1" pleats (but a 1" pleat starts out at 2" before it's folded and sewn). And, we want ½" in between each pleat when the pleat is pressed to one side. Those are our parameters. Grab your chalk.
  5. Working first to the right, from the 1" line you marked to the right of the center crease, draw your next line 1½" from this line. In other words, at this point, you should have one line drawn 1" to the left of the center crease and two lines to the right of the center crease - one at 1" from the crease and one at 1½" from the 1" line. Hang in there, that train's pickin' up speed.
  6. Still working to the right, draw your next line 2" from the previously marked line. So, you should now have a line drawn 1" from the fold, a line 1½" from the 1" line, and a line 2" from the 1½" line. You're doing great!
  7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 two more times, continuing to work to the right of the center crease. You should end up with a total of three 1½" sections and three 2" sections to the right of the center crease.
  8. Now repeat everything you just did on the right, but work to the left of the center crease. Start from the line you marked 1" to the left of that crease.
    NOTE: The space between the 2" lines becomes the pleats, and the space between the 1½" lines becomes the space between the pleats.

Making the pleats

  1. To create the pleats, begin in the center and bring together the two 1" lines to either side of the center crease, folding the fabric wrong sides together. Place a pin at the line to hold the pleat in place.
    NOTE: To make sure you're staying straight, look at the opposite side of the pleat and see if the pin is coming through the other side at the opposite line marking.
  2. Bring together the lines of the first 2" section to create your next pleat.
  3. Repeat to pleat (hey... that rhymes!) the remaining two 2" sections. You now have a center pinned pleat and three pinned pleats to the right.
  4. Repeat to fold and pin the three pleats to the left.
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  5. Press the pleats along the folded edges to set in place.
  6. Take the pinned and pleated fabric to your machine and stitch each pleat in place, 1" from the fold.
    NOTE: Sew from the leftmost pleat and work, one by one, to the right. As you complete each one, turn the pleat (like a page in a book) to sew the next pleat.
    Click to Enlarge
  7. Press all the pleats in one direction toward the right.
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Cutting the final pieces

  1. Lay the pleated piece on a flat surface with the pleats horizontal to you. Cut the piece in half at the center (widthwise), cutting across the pleats. Set one half aside.
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  2. Rotate one pleated half so the pleats are now running vertical to you. Trim each end equally so the piece measures 13" wide. This will be the pillow's center front piece. We recommend finding the exact center of your pleats and measuring out 6½" in each direction.
    Click to Enlarge
  3. Now that you have 13" in width, trim the height to measure 13".
  4. Lay the remaining pleated half on your work surface, and trim it to 25" in width x 13" in height to create the pillow back. Again, measure from the center point of the pleats to make sure the back pleats will also be correctly centered. In this case, you should measure 12½" from the center of the pleats in each direction.
  5. Here are all your final cut pieces
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  1. Pin a 7" x 13" accent fabric piece (Ebony Reeds in our sample), right sides together, to each side of the pleated center front piece.
  2. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch both sides in place.
  3. OPTIONAL: To prepare one side seam for the invisible zipper, we recommend ironing on a ½" strip of lightweight fusible interfacing along the two short raw edges.
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Invisible Zipper

  1. Using a concealed zipper foot, install an invisible zipper along one short side of the pillow. If this is your first time sewing an invisible zipper, check out our step-by-step tutorial: Invisible Zippers Are Your Friends.
  2. Open the finished zipper about half way.
  3. Fold front to back right sides together, and using a ½" seam allowance, sew the remaining three sides of the pillow.
  4. Trim all the corners. Turn right side out through the zipper opening.
  5. Insert a pillow form or stuff with fiber fill. Zip closed.
    Click to Enlarge

Hints and Tips

Make your own pillow forms

We made this lumbar pillow a little larger than the standard lumbar pillow form you can purchase. When this happens, it’s real easy to make your own pillow form to whatever size and shape you need.

Cut muslin pieces (as if you were going to make a pillow out of it) about a ½” larger than your actual pillow size. Sew around the edges with a ½” seam allowance, leaving an opening for turning right side out. Stuff with polyester fiber fill, or your favorite filler, to your desired plumpness and slip stitch the opening to complete. Insert as you would a regular store-bought pillow form.

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



Comments (5)

Rita Jacobs said:
Rita Jacobs's picture
I have just bought four of these facbrics for a black and white quilt in MS. I will make this pillow and the pleated pillow I just saw for this bed. Thank you so much!!
Janeth Moshi - from Arusha, Tanzania....East Africa!! said:
Janeth Moshi - from Arusha, Tanzania....East Africa!!'s picture
I have learnt so much in this site in the past two days i have been visiting and am very very happy and looking forward to try a number of projects i have seen here.

You are all welcome to the Land of Serengeti and Mt. Kilimanjaro! Tanzania......!
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hi Gloria E -- I saw several comments from you as you had fun wandering the site. We're so glad you are finding inspiration. And, we're always glad to know our tutorials make it easy. Thanks!
Gloria E said:
Gloria E's picture
Another great design. Your directions for all your pillows are some of the best I've seen. Thank you.
jodieth said:
jodieth's picture
I really like this pillow too. Michael Millers black and white prints seem bigger than just just looking at swatches on line. I am defininately order some for these pillows. Thanks again for sharing.