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Super Cute Animal Appliqué Pillows

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Our pretty piped pillow tutorial offers downloadable patterns for a friendly elephant and a graceful giraffe. If you are clever with paper and pen, you can draw additional shapes and expand your zoo to include a whole host of critters. For easiest appliquéing, keep curves large and smooth and avoid tiny points. With a nod to Laura Elizabeth Richards, we have to share the poem that inspired our cute appliqué shapes. It's one my sister and I have had firmly stuck in our heads for years: "Once there was an elephant, who tried to use the telephant. No! No! I mean an elephone, who tried to use the telephone." Click to read the full Eletelephony poem. HA! Now it will be stuck in your head for years.

We have excellent step-by-step photos below, showing how we made and attached the piping. We don't always go into such detail, since we also have a great piping tutorial, but every now and then, we like to remind you just how easy it is to create your own binding and piping. 

You can certainly buy pre-packaged trim, but making it yourself gives you optimum flexibility in your fabric choice as well as a broader choice of widths. As we like to say, "Want it? Make it!"

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

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NOTE: Supplies shown below are for TWO coordinating pillows, because the giraffe and the elephant are best friends and prefer not to be separated.

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  • ½ yard of 44-45" wide solid fabric for the pillow fronts: we used Cotton Couture in Soft White by Michael Miller Fabrics
  • ½ yard of 44-45" wide print fabric for the back of the elephant pillow AND the elephant appliqué: we used Gray Huevos by Michael Miller Fabrics, which is no longer available, but Gray Adorable Dots by Michael Miller Fabrics is similar 
  • ½ yard of 44-45" wide print fabric for the back of the giraffe pillow: we used Citron Huevos by Michael Miller Fabrics
  • 2 yards of 44-45" wide print fabric for the accent piping on both pillows: we used Citron Tiny Gingham by Michael Miller Fabrics 
  • ½ yard or scrap (you need a piece at least 8½" x 11", 16" x 16" is better so you can best center the design) of 44-45" wide print fabric for the giraffe appliqué: we used Citron Dot 'n' Square by Michael Miller Fabrics, which is no longer available, but Citron Dim Dots by Michael Miller Fabrics is similar 
  • 4 yards ¼" diameter cotton cording
  • ½ yard of lightweight fusible interfacing
  • Two 16" x 16" pillow forms
  • All purpose thread
  • See-through ruler
  • Fabric pen or pencil
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Tape measure
  • Straight pins

Getting Started

  1. Download and print the Elephant Template and the Giraffe Template.
    IMPORTANT: These two PDF files are both one 8½" x 11" sheet. You must print each file at 100%. DO NOT SCALE to fit the page.
  2. Cut out the templates along the solid lines.
  3. From the fabric for the pillow fronts (white cotton sheeting in our sample), cut TWO 16" x 16" squares.
  4. From the fabric for the elephant pillow back and the elephant appliqué (Gray Huevos in our sample), cut the following:
    ONE 16" x 16" square
    ONE 12" wide x 16" high rectangle (the Overlap Panel)
    ONE 14" wide x 16" high rectangle (the Underlap Panel)
  5. From the fabric for giraffe pillow back (Citron Huevos in our sample), cut the following:
    ONE 12" wide x 16" high rectangle (the Overlap Panel)
    ONE 14" wide x 16" high rectangle (the Underlap Panel)
  6. From the fabric for the giraffe appliqué (Citron Dot 'n' Square in our sample), cut ONE 16" x 16" square.
  7. From the lightweight fusible interfacing, cut TWO 16" x 16" squares.
  8. Cut TWO 72" lengths from the cording.

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

Animal appliqué

  1. Following the manufacturer's directions, fuse a 16" x 16" interfacing square to the WRONG side of the 16" x 16" elephant appliqué fabric (Gray Huevos in our sample) and the WRONG side of the 16" x 16" giraffe appliqué fabric (Citron Dot 'n' Square in our sample).
  2. Flip both interfaced squares to their right sides.
  3. Pin the elephant template to one fabric square (we used Grey Huevos); pin the giraffe template to the other fabric square (we used Citron Dot 'n' Square). Cut out the two animal shapes.
    Click to Enlarge
  4. Center each of the animal cutouts in the center of each pillow front square.
  5. Appliqué the animal shapes in place using a short length zig zag stitch (sometimes called a "satin stitch") all around the outer edge of the animal.
  6. Be sure the center of the zig zag stitch is directly over the cut edge of the animal template. Also be sure the zig zag stitch length is very short - almost like a buttonhole.
    NOTE: If you are new to appliqué, check out our Appliqué Tutorial for hints and tips. 

Hem and assemble the back panels

  1. On each Overlap Panel, fold and press one 16" edge ½", then fold and press an additional 3". Edgestitch in place along the inside folded edge to create a 3½" clean finished hem.
    NOTE: If you are new to hemming, check out our technique tutorial: How To Make A Simple Hem.
  2. On each Underlap Panel, fold and press one 16" edge ½", then fold and press an additional 2". Edgestitch in place along the inside folded edge to create a 2½" clean finished hem.
    Click to Enlarge
  3. Take both pieces and overlap the hems to yield the correct finished height (16" in our sample). The opening should be centered along the back of the pillow. Pin the hems together at the top and bottom edges.
  4. Working as close to the edges as possible, stitch the sides of hems together to secure and create one piece. It's easier to work with one piece to stitch front to back.

Round all the corners

  1. On each of the raw edge corners of the Overlap Panels, the Underlap Panels, and the four raw edge corners of the two front animal appliqué panels, cut the corners into a curve.
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  2. You can draw your curve onto a piece of paper and pin it to each corner, or you can trace around an object that has a similarly-sized curve (a small drinking glass, for example).

Cut and join the bias strips for the piping

  1. On your cutting surface, lay out flat the fabric you've chosen for the piping (Citron Tiny Gingham in our sample). It should be right side up with the selvage running along one side.
  2. The selvage is the woven edge of your fabric where it was originally attached to the loom. The fabric's pattern does not continue onto the selvage, but there is likely to be some information printed there that identifies the manufacturer or designer.
  3. Fold the fabric back diagonally so a straight edge is parallel to the selvage.
  4. Press the fold and use this crease as a guide to mark your parallel lines.
  5. Use a straight edge to make parallel lines 1½" apart.
  6. Cut along these lines with good, sharp shears or a rotary cutter and straight edge.
  7. You need 72" of piping to go around each pillow. You will likely need to join strips to make one a final strip that is the required 72" long. To do this, take two of your strips and place them right sides together at right angels to one another.
  8. Stitch straight across with a ½" seam allowance.
  9. Lay flat, press the seam open and trim off the overlapping edges.
  10. Add strips in this manner as necessary until you have one long fabric strip that is at least 72" length. If you are using new fabric cuts, you should only have to stitch together two pieces.
  11. Repeat as needed to yeild two strips, each 72" long x 1½" wide.

Insert the cording

  1. Place one 72" bias strip right side down on a large flat surface.
  2. Lay one 72" length of cord in the center of the strip.
  3. Fold the fabric over the cord, keeping the cord centered and matching the raw edges of the fabric.
  4. Pin to hold in place.
  5. Carefully move to your sewing machine and adjust the piping so the raw edges line up on your seam allowance marking, and the cord extends to the left of your foot.
  6. Using a Zipper foot or Narrow Base Zipper foot, stitch slowly staying very close to the cord and keeping your seam allowance as consistent as possible. Remember to remove any pins as you go.
  7. Cut one end of the cording close to the raw edge, so it has a sharp, flat end.

Stitch the piping to each pillow back

  1. Pin the piping around all four sides on the RIGHT side of each back panel (the envelope back overlaps you edgestitched together above). The 72" length should be enough to go all the way around and to leave an approximate 1" - 2" tail free at the end.
  2. Start at the middle of the bottom edge, and pin around all four edges until you return to the start.
  3. Clip the seam allowance to make the fabric lay flat. Go up to the line of stitching, but not through it. Clip as you go, making as many clips as you need to create a smooth curve. This is called "easing" - the little cuts give the otherwise rigid line the flexibility to curve.
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  4. Start stitching about ¼" - ½" from the raw end of the piping (to facilitate the clean finish outlined below). In other words, make sure you have a tail free at the start.
  5. Using a Zipper foot or Narrow Base Zipper foot, stitch along the ½" seam allowance, removing the pins as you go. Remember, you are stitching around a curve, so you'll need to gently ease the fabric as you go. This means it might ripple slightly. That's okay

Finishing the piping ends

  1. Continue sewing your piping in place until you are back to where you started. Using that "tail" you accounted for at the beginning, cut off any excess piping so you have about an 1" to work with.
  2. With a seam ripper, peel back the fabric to expose the cording underneath.
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  3. Trim the end of cording tail so it exactly meets the end of the sewn-down cording. Fold under the end of the loose fabric to create a clean edge, adjusting and wrapping this folded end under and around the loose piping tail so it overlaps by about ½".
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  4. Stitch in place, matching your seam line.
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    NOTE: If you are new to piping, we have a great Piping Tutorial you can review

Finishing the pillows

  1. Place your pillow back piece and your pillow front piece right sides together, matching the raw edges all around.
  2. Using a Zipper foot or Narrow Base Zipper foot, stitch a ½" seam around all four edges of the pillow, staying as close to the piping as your foot will allow.
  3. You can also backstitch around each corner to reinforce.
    Click to Enlarge
  4. Using the envelope opening on the back, turn the pillow covers right side out. Push out the corners from the inside to make nice, rounded corners on the outside. Use your finger or a blunt-edge tool, like a large knitting needle or chopstick.
  5. Insert the pillow form through the envelope closure and fluff out the corners of the pillow covering evenly.


Project Concept: Alicia Thommas 
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Gregory Dickson


Comments (9)

Ayexa Marina Abreu Matute said:
Ayexa Marina Abreu Matute's picture

Excelente su Explicación, tenia dudas en Cuanto al remate de El Cordón; Ya Me fuerón aclaradas las dudas. Este Proyecto tambien PUEDE aplicarse un Vestidos de niñas, bolsos, y los muchas Otras Cosas .¡gracias¡

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

@ Ayexa - Thanks! So glad you liked the project and found all the steps easy to understand!

Janet O said:
Janet O's picture

These are awesome I think I could use the Brother Scan and cut for this project.

Nora said:
Nora's picture

LOVE the colours! Very beautiful project!

Is there a tutorial for the wonderful matching blanket as well?

JeannieZ said:
JeannieZ's picture

Love this project. The pillows are adorable and the instructions so easy to follow. Thank you!

Jacquie said:
Jacquie's picture

Very cute, my grand daughter will love them.  

But....... I have read, and reread the instructions and can't work out why I am shown how to cut the two animal templates from the centre of a 16" square.  Even if that is the smallest piece of fabric I could buy, why wouldn't I cut the shape as near to one side as possible, (and I only need to interface the fabric behind the animal,)  leaving myself fabric scraps big enough for other uses.

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

@ Jacquie - You can certainly do it as you describe. Because we are always working to insure our projects can be done by all levels of sewers... even those just beginning, we sometimes super-simplify steps to insure the easiest/best resultes. In this case, using a full block makes it foolproof to get a straight and beautiful appliqué cut out - and allows for a perfect fussy cut of the motif. But of course, you can achieve the same look with less fabric.