This custom felt appliqué pillow features more twists and turns than a James Patterson mystery. We created a beautiful abstract flower design with a bit of a whimsical feel – perfect to render in the soft texture of a quality wool blend felt. If you are a beginner when it comes to appliqué, felt is the most forgiving of substrates. It’s easier to cut out, easier to place and fuse, and easier to stitch in place. So even with all those curves, you can do it!
Although we kept our thread colors a match to the felt, we chose two very bold stitches. The resulting appliqué stitching adds both texture and dimension even within the monochromatic palette. As we always suggest when approaching an appliqué project, test your stitches first on a practice panel with scraps of your actual fabrics. Play around, adjusting your stitch length and width – even the tension until you get everything just the way you want it.
We combined a standard all purpose thread in the bobbin with a 40wt in the top. We used the Janome MC6700P for this project, which has its tension dial on the front (this is sometimes referred to as a “beehive” tension setting), making it very easy to access and adjust. When you are working with different thread weights, it’s important to be able to fine tune all these adjustments in order to maintain the professional control you need for the best finished look.
For fabric, we chose a rich gray linen blend. You definitely want to stick with a neutral solid in order to not distract from the beauty of the appliqué, and the slightly heavier weight of a linen blend provides a crisper platform than a standard quilting cotton. We also show how to layer your front panel with batting and lining to provide a wonderfully stable base while stitching and an extra smooth appearance when done.
The back panels overlap so you can remove the cover to launder it and/or to re-use the form when it’s time for a new pillow. The overlap is held closed with four ties fashioned into two generous bows.
There is quite a bit of detail within the instructions for how we achieved the pretty look of our appliqué stitching. But, if you’re brand new to appliqué, check out our full step-by-step tutorial. It details several appliqué techniques.
Our Fancy Felt Appliqué Pillow finishes at, and the template design is sized for, 14” x 14”.
Sewing Tools You Need
- Sewing Machine and standard presser foot
- Open Toe Satin Stitch foot or Appliqué foot for appliqué work
- 90/14 topstitching needle for appliquéing with the heavier thread
Fabric and Other Supplies
- 1 yard of 44”+ wide linen blend or similar for the pillow front and back panels; we used Robert Kaufman’s Essex Linen Blend in Pewter
- ½ yard of 44”+ wide quilting weight cotton for the pillow lining - you need just one 16” square; we used Robert Kaufman’s Kona Cotton in Steel
- TWO 9" x 12" sheets of quality wool or wool/blend felt (or ¼ yard of felt yardage) in the main color; we used a mustard yellow
- ONE 9" x 12" sheet of quality wool or wool/blend felt (or ¼ yard of felt yardage) in the accent color; we used a baby pink
- ½ yard of 20”+ wide low loft batting, you need just one 16” square
- ONE 14” x 14” pillow insert
- All-purpose thread to match fabric and felt
- 40wt thread to match felt
- One sheet of transfer paper, we used Dritz Wax Free Tracing Paper
- Fusible web on a roll or 8.5 x 11 sheets; you need enough to trace the two one-page felt pattern sheets (see below); we used Pellon Wonder Under
- Tear away stabilizer as recommended by your machine; you need just one approximate 16” square
- Pencil or stylist to trace the appliqué outline; we used a pencil
- See-through ruler
- Fabric pen or pencil
- Seam gauge
- Seam ripper
- Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
- Iron and ironing board
- Straight pins
- Hand sewing needle; we used a self threading needle
Getting Started & Pattern Downloads
- DOWNLOAD AND PRINT: the four-page appliqué tracing template, the two one-page felt pattern sheets, and the one-page color break-out guide. These seven pages have been bundled into ONE PDF to make the download easier.
IMPORTANT: This pattern download consists of SEVEN 8½" x 11" sheets. You must print the PDF file at 100%. DO NOT SCALE to fit the page. There is a guide rule on each page to make sure your printout is to scale.
- On the four pages that make up the appliqué tracing template, cut out each page along the red square.
- Using the diagram on the A Page, butt together (do not overalp) the four squares to create one finished 14” x 14” square. Tape together.
- From the main fabric (the linen blend in our sample), cut the following:
ONE 15” x 15” square for the front panel
TWO 10½” wide x 15” high rectangles for the back panels
FOUR 2” x 13” strips for the back ties
- From the lining fabric, cut ONE 16” x 16” square.
- From the batting, cut ONE 16” x 16” square.
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
Setting up for the Appliqué
- Find the 15” x 15” front panel square (the Pewter linen in our sample) and the assemble appliqué tracing template.
- Place the fabric square right side up and flat on your work surface.
- Center the template on the fabric square. There should be ½” of fabric extending beyond the paper template on all four sides.
- Pin the pattern in place along one side. Lift up the pattern and slip a sheet of transfer paper between the layers, making sure the transfer side is facing down against the right side of the fabric panel. Lightly pin along the edge of the transfer paper to prevent slipping.
- Trace the appliqué design onto the fabric square using a pencil or stylist and firm pressure. Lift the pattern and shift the transfer paper as necessary to complete the entire design.
- Remove the paper template and the transfer paper to reveal your design outline.
- Check all sections of the design
- You may find you need to replace the template and tracing paper and trace over the drawing more than once to get a clear outline.
- Locate the two felt pattern sheets: the Main Flower and the Small Flower & Foliage. Cut a piece of fusible web that completely covers the patterns and trace the elements of the design onto the paper side of the fusible web. Mark the pieces identified as pink with a "P", and number the leaves. This will help you identify the correct pieces of the design when it’s time to fuse everything in place.
- Trim loosely around the individual pattern pieces and separate them into two piles, one for the Pink felt and the remaining pieces for the Mustard felt.
- Arrange the pieces on each color of felt. Iron in place, following the manufacturer's instructions, to activate the fusing. Because these are small pieces, they can get a little "curly" along the edges. If you're having trouble getting all the pieces to stay in place, lightly touch each with the iron to just get it to flatten, then fully fuse per instructions.
- Once completely fused, trim out each pattern piece along its proper outline.
- Cut a 3" x 12" strip of fusible web and apply it to the remaining piece of felt in your main color (the Mustard in our sample).
- When completely fused, slice four ¼" x 12” strips from the web-backed section of felt. Theses strips are the stems and curlicues of the appliqué design.
- In the next photos for the placement and fusing, we are working on our actual main front panel of fabric, which you can certainly do. However, if you are new to appliquéing, we recommend you cut a few extra pieces from both the felt and the fabric so you can practice first on scraps.
Actual placement and appliqué
- Gather up all your felt pieces.
- Place the main front panel, with its traced outline in place, right side up and flat on your work surface.
- Peel away the paper from each piece prior to placing it. You'll start by placing just the stems and curlicues.
- Felt is quite flexible and can be easily coaxed into a curve with an iron as it is fused to the background linen. This is what we did, following along in the outlines of our design to place our stems and curlicues.
- As you practice, if your felt is not being as cooperative as you’d like, you can baste a line of hand stitches along one side of the strip and gather it slightly until the desired curve is achieved. Leave a long tail on the gathering thread so it can be removed after the curlicue is fused in place.
- Fuse the strip following the manufacturer's instructions. Remember to monitor the temperature of the iron to prevent melting of the felt if it has any acrylic content.
- Once flat and fully fused, remove any basting thread.
- Continue placing all the stems and curlicues, following the outlines traced onto your main fabric panel. Fuse in place as you go, being sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions for the best results. Consider covering the felt with a pressing cloth to prevent any melting or distortion.
- Once all the stems and curlicues are completely fused into position, place the front panel over a square of tear away stabilizer. Pin in place at the corners.
- Thread the machine with all purpose thread to match the felt in the bobbin and a 40wt thread to match the felt in the top. Change to the 90/14 topstitching needle. Attach an Open Toe Satin Stitch foot or Appliqué foot.
- Select a decorative stitch suitable for appliqué/couching in a width that will span the full stem.
- Practice first with your scrap of linen on which you tested the stem placement. Don’t forget to add the tear away stabilizer.
- Test the selected stitch, adjusting the stitch width to 6.5 -7.0 mm and the stitch length to 2.0 to 2.5 mm. You can also adjust the tension on the machine if necessary.
- As you test sew your selection, look for the pivot points. For our stitch, we found we got the smoothest curves by stopping the machine with the needle down in either the far left position or the far right position, lifting the foot and adjusting the fabric so the stitching continued to follow the curve.
- Once the test sew is complete, you are ready to stitch the stems and curlicues on your actual front panel. Use the needle up/down function to bring the bobbin thread up and pull the threads to the back. Start stitching, with the stitch straddling the strip of felt, pivoting as necessary to maintain a smooth curve.
- Leave your thread tails long at the beginning and end. Then, when the stitching is complete, use a hand sewing needle to pull the threads to the back and hand tie to secure. As mentioned above, we used a self-threading needle for this step.
- Once the stems and curlicues are complete, fuse the remaining pattern pieces in place following your traced placement lines, overlapping the stems and curlicues as shown in the photo below (and on the original design). If the lines have faded, you can also use the original assembled pattern for reference to guide the placement.
- At the machine, select a decorative stitch for the remaining appliqué. Our choice was a blanket stitch with the width set to 4.0 mm, length at 4.0 mm, and tension at 3. For this stitch, our pivot points were with the needle in the far right position.
- Pull up the bobbin thread as you start stitching. Appliqué all the main color felt pieces first.
- Sew along the outer edge of each appliqué piece. You’ll finish each section, as above, by pulling the threads to the back and knotting by hand to secure.
- Re-thread the bobbin and top for the accent color. Remember, you are using all purpose thread in the bobbin and 40wt thread in the top. The stitch set-up remains exactly the same for the second color.
- Note that the points of the petals do overlap the stem.
- When stitching is complete, remove the excess tear away stabilizer and press.
- Re-thread the machine with all purpose thread to best match the main fabric in the bobbin and the top. Select a straight stitch and re-set the stitch length and tension to standard. Attach a standard presser foot.
- Place the 16" lining square wrong side up and flat on your work surface. Place the 16” batting square on top of the lining. Finally, center the completed appliqué on top of the first two layers.
- Lengthen to a full basting stitch.
- Pin in place and baste around the outer edges within the ½" seam allowance. In other words, about ⅜” in from the raw edge of the main front panel. You can also simply use the width of the presser foot as a guide.
- Trim the layers flush into a 15" square. This is the pillow front.
- Find the two 10½" x 15" panels of the main fabric.
- On each panel, along one 15" side, fold back the raw edge ½” and press well.
- Fold back an additional ½” and press again to create a narrow double fold hem.
- Re-set for a standard, slightly lengthened stitch and edgestitch each hem in place, staying close to the inner fold.
- On just ONE of the two hemmed panels, fold back the hemmed edge an additional 2”. Simply pin this additional fold in place.
Create and place the ties
- Find the four 2" x 13" strips. Fold each strip in half lengthwise and press to set a center crease line. Unfold wrong side up so the crease line is visible. Fold back each end ½" and press.
- Fold in each low raw edge so they meet at the center crease and press.
- Re-fold along the original center crease line. All folded edges should be flush. Still using the same slightly lengthened stitch, edgestitch across both ends and down the folded side, pivoting at the corners.
- Overlap the two hemmed panels. Both pieces should be right sides up. The panel on which you added the extra 2” fold should be on top. Adjust the overlap until the two panels create a 15” x 15” square. Pin together at the top and bottom along the overlap.
- Find two of the finished ties. Place one tie 4” up from the bottom raw edge and the the other tie 4” down from the top raw edge. The end of the tie should overlap onto the top panel 1”. The edgestitched edge of each tie should be facing down towards the bottom of the overlapped panels. Pin these two ties in place through just the top panel.
- Mark the overlap point on the bottom panel and then separate the layers.
- Unfold and flatten the 2" fold.
- Still using the slightly lengthen stitch, secure each of these first two ties, using a 1” x ½” open box stitch.
- Re-fold the wide hem and press well.
- Overlap the panels once again just to confirm the lap point on the bottom layer. We added a pin at the top and bottom to mark the overlap.
- Pull apart the layers and pin the remaining two ties in place. The ends of these two ties should sit 1” beyond the panel lap point as shown in the photo below. Pin both of the remaining ties in place and secure both with the same 1” x ½” open box stitch.
NOTE: If you are brand new to Box and X Box stitching, check out our full tutorial.
Layer and stitch to finish
- With the ties in place, once again overlap the panels to make a perfect 15” x 15” square. Pin together at the top and bottom of the overlap. Gather up the ties at the center of the panels so they will be out of the way of the final perimeter seam. Lightly pin or tape in place to keep them secured.
- Place the appliquéd pillow front right side down on the overlapped back panels. The raw edges of both the front and back panels should be flush all around. Pin in place.
- Re-set the stitch length to standard. Sew around the entire outer perimeter of the square, using a ½" seam allowance. This means your seam will run just slightly to the left of the lining's original basting seam. Remember to pivot at each corner.
- Trim the corners.
- Turn the cover right side out through the back overlap opening. Use a long, blunt tool, like a knitting needle, chopstick or point turner to gently push out the corners. Press flat.
- Insert the pillow form through the back opening and fluff out into the corners.
- Fashion each pair of ties into a pretty bow to close.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Michele Mishler