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Patchwork Lumbar Pillow with Free-Motion Quilting

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Jennifer Paganelli’s fabric collections are known for their gorgeous colors – the kind of rich, vivid tones that reach right out and grab you. One of her newer collections is the vibrant, Color Brigade which recently caught our eye. We selected seven fabrics from the collection to weave together into a beautiful strip-patchwork pillow. Wavy line free-motion quilting adds extra linear love across the front panel. 

Having grown up in the Virgin Islands, Jennifer has always embraced the world of mismatched patterns. They were a dominant part of the world around her, showing up in layers of different cloth as well as the distinctive head wraps of her homeland’s Cruzan culture. Textiles played a huge role in her early aesthetic development and are the foundation for her designs and their signature saturated colors.

As Jennifer explains it, “Built of florals, a huge Fleur de Lis, a wonderful check, two-tone wood cuts, and rhythmic lines; this collection works together effortlessly and allows the color harmonies to impart a strong island vibe.” 

The overlapping vertical lines that make up the front panel’s quilting are done in free-motion fashion. If you've never tried this quilting technique, our pillow is actually a great project to start with. The lines are repetitive and really just a modified version of standard straight line quilting. In free motion, you drop your machine’s feed dogs so you, not the machine, control the movement of the fabric under the needle. 

This patchwork pillow is also an excellent exercise in colorful mixing and matching. To learn more about the techniques you can use to build a perfect combination, take a look at our tutorial: Top Ten Designer Tips for Blending Colors and Prints.

Piping rims the edge of the pillow, creating a colorful framework for the beautiful free-motion quilting. If you're new to making your own piping, we have a full tutorial on the piping process.

You can find Color Brigade in stock now at Hawthorne Threads and

Our pillow finishes at approximately 14” x 28”, excluding the piping.

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

  • Our design uses SEVEN coordinating fabrics from the Color Brigade collection by Jennifer Paganelli for FreeSpirit Fabrics. The color key below shows you exact fabrics we used. 

    NOTE: The yardages listed below are based on the most efficient cuts. If you want to fussy cut the front strips and have a fabric with a strong vertical motif, you may need additional yardage. Since each strip is 15”, purchase ½ yard to insure a full vertical cut is possible. ALSO: you’ll notice that several of our thinner pairs of strips are exact matches to one another. So, although an ⅛ yard of fabric is enough for random prints, if you have a very distinct motif, plan on getting ¼ yard in order to be able to fussy cut the matching strips. 
  • ¼ yard of fabric 1: strips 1 and 13 and back overlap panel: McLisa in Cypress
  • ⅛ yard of fabric 2: strips 2 and 12: Jamie in Cypress
  • ⅛ yard of fabric 3: strips 3 and 11: Stephanie in Citrine
  • ½ yard of fabric 4: strips 4 and 10 and back underlap panel: Gretchen in Cypress
  • ⅛ yard of fabric 5: strips 5 and 9: Stephanie in Maroon
  • ¼ yard of fabric 6: strips 6 and 8 and the piping: Gretchen in Citrine
  • ⅛ yard of fabric 7: strip 7: Rachel in Maroon
  • ⅝ yard of 44”+ wide solid quilting cotton for the quilt backing of the front panel; we used Designer Essentials Solid Broadcloth in Cream by FreeSpirit Fabrics
  • ⅝ yard of 44”+ wide low loft batting
  • 3 yards of ⅜” piping cord 
  • 1 yard of 20"+ wide lightweight fusible interfacing; we used 20" Pellon ShirTailor
  • ONE 14” x 28” pillow insert
  • THREE ¾” - 1” buttons; we used ¾"
  • All-purpose thread to match fabric
  • All-purpose thread in a slightly contrasting color for the free-motion quilting; we used tan
  • See-through ruler
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Seam gauge
  • Seam ripper
  • Straight pins
  • Hand sewing needle

Getting Started

  1. From fabric 1 (McLisa in Cypress in our sample), cut the following: 
    TWO 2¾” x 15” strips
    ONE 8” x 15” rectangle for the back overlap panel; if fussy cutting this piece should be 8” wide x 15” high
  2. From fabric 2 (Jamie in Cypress in our sample), cut TWO 1½” x 15” strips.
  3. From fabric 3 (Stephanie in Citrine in our sample), cut TWO 2½” x 15” strips.
  4. From fabric 4 (Gretchen in Cypress in our sample), cut the following: 
    TWO 3½” x 15” strips
    ONE 27” x 15” rectangle for the back underlap panel; if fussy cutting this piece should be 27” wide x 15” high
  5. From fabric 5 (Stephanie in Maroon in our sample), cut TWO 1½” x 15” strips.
  6. From fabric 6 (Gretchen in Citrine in our sample), cut the following: 
    TWO 3½” x 15” strips
    TWO 1¾” x WOF strips for the piping
  7. From fabric 7 (Rachel in Maroon in our sample), cut ONE 4½” x 15” strip.
  8. From the solid backing fabric, cut ONE 30” x 18” rectangle.
  9. From the batting, cut ONE 30” x 18” rectangle.
  10. From the interfacing, cut the following:
    ONE 8” x 15” rectangle for the back overlap panel
    ONE 27” x 15” rectangle for the back overlap panel
  11. Keep the piping cord as one length.

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

Prepare the front patchwork

  1. Collect the 13 strips that make up the front patchwork panel. Place them in order following the diagram above.The strips lay out as follows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. If working with a directional motif, make sure all the strips are positioned in the same direction from top to bottom.
  2. Working in order from left to right, pin the first two strips right sides together along one 15” edge.
  3. Stitch together, using a ¼” seam allowance.
  4. Continue in this same manner to stitch together all 13 strips.
  5. You can stitch one strip at a time or you can first stitch the strips into pairs, and then assemble the pairs to create the full panel.
  6. Sometimes, it’s easier to work with smaller units – like building blocks, assembling strips into pairs, then pairs into quads, etc. 
  7. When the full panel is complete, press flat, pressing the seam allowances toward the outer side edges.

Layer and quilt

  1. Place the back panel right side down on your work surface. Center the batting panel on top of the backing panel. Then, center the patchwork front panel right side up on top of the batting, making a “quilt sandwich” of three layers. 
  2. Pin around the edges as well as through the center. We used straight pins, you could also use quilting safety pins or even thread baste through your layers. 
  3. If necessary, trim the backing and batting back so only about 1” is extending beyond the top panel on all sides. 
  4. Our pretty wavy lines are done with free motion quilting. If you are new to this technique, it is likely your sewing machine manual will have specific steps for setting up the machine. In general, you need to attach a free-motion foot (sometimes simply called a darning foot) and you’ll need to drop the machine’s feed dogs, giving you control of the fabric’s movement under the needle. 
  5. Re-thread the machine with the slightly contrasting thread in the top and bobbin (we used a light tan), and lengthen the stitch. 
  6. Because the lines are meant to be wavy and random, it is your choice to stitch from left to right across the panel or from the center out to each side. We chose to stitch from the center out. The lines should be approximately ¼” - ½” apart. Allow the lines to wave and to cross over one another a bit. If you are brand new to free-motion quilting, you may find yourself quickly addicted to this control-it-yourself stitching. 
  7. A simple Google search on the topic will yield hundreds of articles and video tutorials if you’d like to learn more. If you are a just not interested in taking the free-motion step at this time, you can certainly stick with traditional straight line quilting without lowering the feed dogs. 
  8. When the entire panel is quilted, trim the batting and backing flush with the top panel. 
  9. Take one more look. The great thing about random lines is that you can even add a few more lines after your initial pass to achieve the best finish.

Create and attach the piping

  1. If this is your first time making piping, see our tutorial, How To Make And Attach Your Own Piping. We are summarizing the steps below.
  2. Re-thread the machine with thread to best match the piping fabric in the top and bobbin. Re-attach the standard presser foot and re-set for a standard straight stitch. 
  3. Find the two 1¾“ x WOF strips. Attach the strips as you would multiple lengths of binding. Place the strip lengths at right angles to one another. Pin in place. Stitch along the drawn line. Trim back the seam allowance to approximately ¼” and press open.
  4. Find the piping cord. Cut a length to match the sewn fabric strip. Place the piping down the center of the wrong side of the strip. 
  5. Wrap the fabric, right side out, around the cord. Pin close to the cord to hold it in place.
  6. Lengthen the stitch for basting.
  7. Attach a Zipper foot and stitch close to the cord to create your fabric covered piping. You can also use a standard foot as we did and set the needle position to the extreme left. 
  8. Find the quilted front panel. 
  9. Starting at the bottom center of the rectangle, pin the piping to the right side of the panel, aligning the raw edges of the piping with the raw edge of the panel, and leaving about 2" free at the head and tail. Trim away and discard any excess.
  10. At the joint, lay the piping against the fabric so it is flat and smooth. 
  11. With a seam ripper, peel back the fabric on the 1" head and tail to expose the cording underneath.
  12. Trim the end of cording tail so it will exactly butt together with the head of the cording. 
  13. Fold under the end of the loose fabric to create a clean edge, again trimming away excess fabric if necessary. Overlap the folded end to conceal the piping cord. Pin in place to create an uninterrupted rim of piping.
  14. The stitch should still be lengthened. Using a Zipper foot (or your standard foot with the needle position all the way to left), baste the piping in place around the entire panel. Run the seam as close to the piping cord as possible.

Prepare the back panels

  1. Find the overlap and underlap panels for the back of the pillow and the matching pieces of interfacing. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse interfacing to the wrong side of each back panel. 
  2. Re-thread the machine with thread to best match the fabric in the top and bobbin. Keep a slightly lengthened stitch, but not as long as the previous basting stitch. Try 2.8 - 3. Re-attach the standard presser foot.
  3. On the 27” x 8” back overlap panel, create a 2½” double-fold hem along one 15” edge. If using a directional fabric, this should be the inner or left hand edge. To do this, fold in ½” and press. We’re using our Clover Hot Hemmer
  4. Fold an additional 2” and press again. Pin in place.
  5. Topstitch close to the inner fold to secure. 
  6. On the 27” x 15” back underlap panel, create a 1” double-fold hem along one 15” edge. If using a directional fabric, this should be the inner or right hand edge. To do this, fold in ½” and press, then fold an additional ½” and press again. Pin in place. 
  7. Topstitch close to the inner fold to secure. 
    NOTE: If necessary, take the time to re-thread for the best match to your fabric for each panel.
  8. Measure and mark for three buttonholes on the overlap panel. Ours are centered on the panel with the centerpoint of each buttonhole 3” apart. 
  9. Following your machine’s manual, create three vertical buttonholes. 
  10. We also have a general tutorial on machine buttonholes
  11. Carefully cut open each buttonhole. 
  12. Overlap the the panels so their finished width is 29”. With right sides facing up, make sure the buttonhole layer is on top of the button layer. Pin the layers in place. 
  13. Machine baste just across the center overlap to secure the layers. It’s easier to stitch front to back when you are working with the back panels as a single unit. Keep the stitching within the ½” seam allowance.
  14. Stick a pin through the center of each buttonhole to mark the button sewing point on the underlap panel below. 
  15. Hand stitch each of the three buttons in place. 

Layer and stitch to finish

  1. Place the front and back panels right sides together. Pin the layers together. Make sure the back panels are unbuttoned.
  2. Re-set the stitch length to normal. 
  3. Using a Zipper foot, stitch close to the piping cord around all four sides, pivoting at the corners.
  4. Turn the cover right side out through the back opening. Use a long, blunt tool, like a knitting needle or chopstick, to gently smooth out the piping all around. Press flat.
  5. Remove any visible basting stitches.
  6. Insert the pillow form through the back opening and fluff out into the corners. Button closed. 


Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Debbie Guild


Comments (6)

Diane Beavers said:
Diane Beavers's picture

I just had to go out and find a walking foot to fit my 2nd machine. The wavy lines do give a cool boost to that lumbar pillow. Thank you.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Diane - Thanks! It seemed like the perfect finishing touch against Jennifer's beautiful fabrics.

Jane Coombs said:
Jane Coombs's picture

Such a pretty lumbar pillow. You make free motion quilting look easy. It has a learning curve to get all the stitches the same length. An alternative approach could be a walking foot with a cross hatch design. Aesthetically I prefer yours, my idea reeks of Vera Bradley, just sayin'.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Jane - Thanks! And, a good thought to include the Walking foot option. 

scootertn said:
scootertn's picture

I have never tried free motion quilting.  Jennifer's vibrant fabrics and this cute pillow make me want to try my hand at it.  I have the darning foot just haven't been brave enough to try this.  I will look at a few You Tube demonstrations and see what happens!  Thank you for showing!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@scootertn - Thanks. You should definitely try it. Let us know how it turns out.