What is the #1 beginner-friendly sewing project? A pillow! BUT – if you’ve crossed the basic square pillow off your list, and you’re ready to kick it up another notch, this pillow project shows you how to add patchwork, fussy cutting, piping, and more. All the things that can keep new and returning sewers inspired and motivated, and give you that“I made this!” success.
Our pillow design is based on a classic four-row grid that allows you to mix and match a wide variety of fabrics from within a favorite collection. There are so many great techniques to learn or practice, like fussy cutting tips to isolate and showcase a fabric’s motifs, basic piecing, how to make and attach bias piping, all the steps for an envelope back with a button and buttonhole closure plus a special side bar with steps for an alternate tie closure. Along the way, we sprinkle in other helpful tips and tricks that will take your sewing skills to the next level.
We made four different pillows to emphasize how mixing and matching fabric can give you a unique look each time.
The original sample pillow within the step-by-step instructions below is all about vintage elegance, using six prints from the Tim Holtz Foundations collection for FreeSpirit Fabrics plus one blender from Tim’s Worn Croc collection.
Sample pillow #2 features symphony of six soft and sweet fabrics from You Are Loved by Dawn Rosengren of Little Love Farm from Henry Glass & Co. And, rather than the buttons and buttonholes used on the others, we added three beautiful bows in the same polka dot fabric used for the perimeter piping.
The third sample pillow takes a “deep dive” into gorgeous color and design in five fabrics from the Deep Blue Sea collection by Geoff Allen for Studio E Fabrics plus one blender from Just Color! Basics in Denim for the piping.
Amp up your pillow power with this patchwork pillow project. The step-by-step instructions below are very detailed, so even if you are brand new to your sewing and quilting journey, this is a project you can do! This is also an excellent option if you’re teaching someone the joy and satisfaction of making things for themselves, their friends, their family.
The grid is the same for each of our samples, and you can use it to build your own look. All the pillows finish at approximately 18” x 18”.
For more information mixing and matching inspiration, take a look at our companion article: How One Design Works in Four Fabric Collections.
Sewing Tools You Need
- Sewing Machine and standard presser foot
- Quarter Inch Seam foot
- Zipper foot
- Buttonhole foot; optional if using the alternate tie closure
- Walking/Even Feed foot or engage your machine’s built-in fabric feeding system, such as the Janome AcuFeed™ Flex system
- Quilting Guide Bar; optional
Fabric and Other Supplies
- Our custom patchwork design uses up to SEVEN coordinated prints. We originally executed this design in four different collections.
- The main sample shown within the steps below, uses SIX prints from the Tim Holtz Eclectic Elements Foundations collection for FreeSpirit Fabrics plus one blender from Tim’s Worn Croc collection. The yardage amounts listed allow some extra for a nice fussy cut.
- The illustrations below show the front/back grids on which we based the patchwork for all FOUR pillow samples. As mentioned, our Tim Holtz pillow used seven different fabric options, however, by referring to the grids, you can determine the yardage changes necessary should you wish to include fewer or even more fabrics on your patchwork pillow.
- Our yardage recommendations are based on the specific fabric we chose with its particular motif directions and sizing. Should you choose a fabric collection with more random or smaller motifs, you may be able to get away with less fabric. Our goal is always to recommend more than enough, which means we usually round up to the next nearest standard yardage cut.
- Piping Fabric: ½ yard of 44″+ wide quilting weight fabric; we originally used Ticking in Neutral
- Fabric A (grid sections: 2,3,7 and 10): ¾ yard of 44″+ wide quilting weight fabric; we originally used Worn Croc in Bayou
- Fabric B (grid section 6): ⅜ yard of 44″+ wide quilting weight fabric; we originally used Tape Measures in Neutral
- Fabric C (grid sections 4 and 9): ⅝ yard of 44″+ wide quilting weight fabric; we originally used Rose Parcel in Multi
- Fabric D (grid section 1): ¼ yard of 44″+ wide quilting weight fabric; we originally used Botanical in Multi
- Fabric E (grid section 8): ⅜ yard of 44″+ wide quilting weight fabric; we originally used Melange in Neutral
- Fabric F (grid section 5): ⅛ yard of 44″+ wide quilting weight fabric; we originally used Cigar Box Labels in Multi
- ⅝ yard of 45”+ wide low loft, fusible fleece
- 2¼ yards of ¼” piping cord
- THREE 1” to 1¼” buttons
- ONE 18″ x 18″ pillow form
- All-purpose thread to match fabric
- See-through ruler
- Fabric pen or pencil
- Iron and ironing board
- Scissors and/or rotary cutter and mat
- Seam gauge
- Seam ripper
- Straight pins
- Hand sewing needle
- Safety pins for pin basting
NOTE: All cuts are based on a standard width x height motif pattern with width being WOF (width of fabric). If you use any directional prints, as we did, remember to pay close attention to their positioning within the patchwork to insure you cut the width and height dimensions correctly. In addition, all our pieces were fussy cut.
- From the piping fabric (Ticking in Neutral in our sample), cut enough 2” strips on the bias to equal 80”.
NOTE: If you are new to working with bias strips and/or making your own piping, take a look at our full tutorial on measuring, cutting, seaming, and more.
- From Fabric A (Worn Croc in Bayou in our sample), cut the following:
ONE 4¾” x 4¾” for grid section 2
ONE 6¾” x 4½” for grid section 3
ONE 3½” x 9¾” for grid section 7
ONE 6¼” x 19” for grid section 10 underlap panel
ONE 7¾” x 19” for grid section 10 overlap panel
- From Fabric B (Tape Measures in Neutral in our sample), cut ONE 6¾” x 9¾” for grid section 6.
- From Fabric C (Rose Parcel in Multi in our sample), cut the following:
ONE 12¾” x 4½ “ for grid section 4
TWO 7” x 19” for grid sections 9
- From Fabric D (Botanical in Multi in our sample), cut ONE 14¾” x 4¾” for grid section 1.
- From Fabric E (Melange in Neutral in our sample), cut ONE 9¾” x 9 ¾” for grid section 8.
- From Fabric F (Cigar Box Labels in Multi in our sample), cut ONE 19” x 1½” for grid section 5.
NOTE: For this long, skinny strip, we were extra careful to fussy cut Tim’s collage design so the printed “seams/lines” between the motifs would align with the actual seams of the patchwork grid above and below.
- From the fusible fleece, cut the following:
ONE 18” x 18”
ONE 11” x 18”
ONE 10” x 18”
- From the piping cord, cut ONE 80” length.
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
NOTE: All the front and back patchwork uses a ¼” seam allowance. The final perimeter seam uses a ½” seam allowance as does some construction within the envelope overlap.
Front patchwork assembly
- Layout all the pieces in order to match the front patchwork grid. As mentioned above, make sure all directional motifs are correct top to bottom and left to right.
- Start with the three pieces for the bottom row of the grid: 6, 7, and 8.
- Place pieces 6 and 7 right sides together. Pin together along their inside 9¾” edges.
- Attach a Quarter Inch Seam foot. If needed on your machine, adjust settings for both the stitch length and needle position for a ¼” seam allowance. Thread the machine with thread to best match your fabric in the top and bobbin. We used an ecru thread throughout.
- Using a ¼” seam allowance, stitch together.
- Find piece 8. This is a good example of a directional motif. We made sure it was positioned correctly prior to pinning.
- Pin piece 8 to the sewn 6/7 section, right sides together.
- Using a ¼” seam allowance, stitch together. This forms the bottom row.
- Press both seam allowances together and towards the center of the row.
- Find piece 5. It is a row in and of itself. As mentioned above, we were very careful with our fussy cutting to make sure the printed lines within our motif would align with the actual seams of the patchwork rows above and below. In the photo, you can see how the motif marked with the pin aligns with the seam.
- Pin the bottom raw edge of piece 5 across the top raw edge of section 6/7/8, right sides together.
- Using a ¼” seam allowance, stitch together.
- Find pieces 3 and 4, which will make up the next row.
- As you did above for the bottom row, first check to be sure any/all directional motifs are correctly positioned.
- Pin pieces 3 and 4, right sides together along their inner 4½” edges and stitch, using a ¼” seam allowance. Press the seam allowance together and toward piece 3.
- Pin this new row to the completed two row panel, right sides together. You are pinning the bottom raw edge of the 3/4 row to the remaining top raw edge of piece 5. Be extra careful to make sure the vertical seam in row 3/4 aligns with the vertical seam (pieces 6/7) in the bottom row.
- Stitch across, using a ¼” seam allowance.
- Press the seam allowance together and down towards piece 5.
- Finally, find the last two pieces: 1 and 2.
- Pin and seam them together in the same manner to complete this final top row. Press the seam allowance together and towards piece 2.
- Pin the bottom raw edge of row 1/2 right sides together with the remaining top raw edge of row 3/4.
- Stitch across, using a ¼” seam allowance. Press the seam allowance together and up towards row 1/2.
- Press the finished front panel flat from the right side.
- Find the 18” x 18” square of fusible fleece.
- Center the fleece on the wrong side of the completed front panel so there is ½” of fabric showing beyond the fleece on all four sides.
- Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse the fleece in place securely from both the front and back.
Quilting the front
- The quilting on the pillow front is simple straight lines spaced 1” apart. To make it more interesting, and to work within the patchwork design, some of the sections have quilting lines that run horizontally, some have lines that run vertically, and some have no quilting at all. The result is a very interesting textual finish.
- Our original Grid Drawings are repeated here so you to see the recommended direction of all our quilting lines.
- If necessary, re-thread your machine with the thread you wish to use for all your quilting. We recommend staying with one thread color in a neutral tone that best coordinates with all your fabrics. As with the construction, we used an ecru thread for the quilting.
- Attach a Walking/Even Feed foot or engage your machine’s built-in fabric feeding system (this was our choice).
- Re-set for a slightly lengthened straight stitch.
- There are two ways to set-up for perfectly spaced straight line quilting. The first is to use a Quilting Guide Bar that can be adjusted and set to a 1” increment.
- The first line of quilting in any section should start 1” from the nearest seam.
- Once this first line has been stitched, position the foot so the quilt bar runs along the previous line to stitch the next line in the sequence. We stitched the vertical lines first.
- Start and stop each line of quilting at the seam line. Do not cross the seam line. If it is a feature on your machine, we recommend using a lock stitch for the neatest start and finish. If you do not have this feature, leave your thread tails long at the start and end of each line of quilting. When done, use a hand sewing needle to pull the threads through to the back, then hand knot to secure.
- Stitch the horizontal lines in the same manner.
- If you don’t have access to a Quilting Guide Bar, you can measure and mark parallel lines with your ruler and a fabric pen or pencil.
NOTE: Remember, any time you are working on the right side of your fabric, make sure your marking tool is one that will easily wipe away or will vanish with exposure to the air or the heat of an iron.
- Again starting from the nearest seam, measure and mark in 1” increments across the section.
- Stitch along the drawn lines.
NOTE: We are stitching through just TWO layers: the top patchwork panel and the layer of fusible fleece. Often when quilting, you have a three-layer quilt sandwich with an additional thin layer of backing. This backing can make it easier for the panel to move across the needle plate. We had no trouble at all with our two layers, but if you find your machine is struggling or seems to be “grabbing” the fleece, try adding the additional layer of backing. You can use muslin or scrap cotton. Simply cut a 18” x 18” panel and layer it with your top/fleece panel. Add a few large safety pins through the center to help hold the layers, positioning these pins within the sections that do not have lines of quilting.
- Set aside the finished front panel.
Back patchwork assembly and quilting
- Find all the elements for the back panels: overlap piece 10, underlap piece 10, the two pieces for the #9 grid sections, and the two remaining fusible fleece rectangles.
- On the overlap piece 10, make a wide hem along the inner edge.
NOTE: The fabric we used for our #10 pieces is non-directional, so either side could have been the inner edge. We simply picked one. If you have a directional fabric, make sure you are hemming what will be the finished inner edge that will overlap at the center of the pillow.
- To make the wide overlap hem, fold back the raw edge ¼” and press.
- Fold back an additional 2½” and press again.
- On the underlap panel, you’ll make a narrow hem. Fold back the raw edge ¼” and then fold back just an additional ½”. Press well.
- Lightly pin the hems in place.
NOTE: IF YOU ARE PLANNING TO USE THE OPTIONAL TIE CLOSURE. THIS IS THE POINT AT WHICH YOU SHOULD STOP TO MAKE AND INSERT THE TIES. SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM OF THE INSTRUCTIONS FOR THESE ALTERNATE STEPS.
- Pin a hemmed panel right sides together with each of the #9 pieces. You are pinning the raw edge of the hemmed panel to the inside raw edge of outer panel. As always, make sure any directional motifs are correctly positioned so when the final button overlap is in place everything looks good top to bottom and left to right.
- Re-thread the machine if necessary with thread to best match the fabric in the top and bobbin (we continued to use the same ecru) and re-set for a standard stitch length.
- Using a ½” seam allowance (not the ¼” seam used above), stitch each pair of panels together.
- Press each seam allowance together and toward piece 10.
- Place each seamed panel wrong side up on your ironing surface. Unpin/unfold the hem so the crease lines are visible. Find the appropriate panel of fusible fleece (the 10” wide piece is for the overlap, the 11” for the underlap).
- Position the fleece on the wrong side of the fabric so the inner edge is aligned with the innermost crease line of the hem. On the other three sides, there should be ½” of fabric showing beyond the fleece.
- Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse each fleece panel in place.
- Re-fold each hem into position, which means it is now wrapping over the fused fleece. Press again so each panel is nice and flat.
- Re-thread the machine if necessary with thread to best match the overlapping panels in the top and bobbin. We did change out our thread this time to match the dark green of the Worn Croc fabric.
- Re-set for a slightly lengthened stitch and topstitch each hem in place, using the markings on your machine’s throat plate as a guide to run your topstitching seam along the inner fold of each hem.
- If necessary, re-thread the machine with the same thread you used for quilting on the front of the pillow. Keep a slightly lengthened straight stitch.
- Use the same method as above on the front panel to add 1” spaced vertical quilt lines within each grid section 9. Refer to the grid drawings above if needed. There is no quilting within the button overlap panels.
- Find the back panel that will be the overlap panel. It’s the slightly narrower panel with the wide hem.
- Mark for the three buttonholes. They should be evenly spaced. If you are using the same size button as recommended, one buttonhole should be 3½” down from the top raw edge, one 3½” up from the bottom raw edge, and the third in the center – 9½” down the the top raw edge.
- For all three, they are then centered side to side within the wide hem of the #10 overlap panel.
- Use a button to confirm the top, bottom, and center point for each buttonhole.
- Referring to your manual, set up your machine to make a vertical buttonhole at each of the three marked points.
- When finished, run a line of seam sealant down the stitched buttonhole.
- Carefully cut open each buttonhole.
- With both back panels right side up, overlap the two panels (overlap on top, underlap on bottom) until the width of the overlapped panels equals 19”. Pin in place top and bottom. If desired, you could hand or machine baste at the top and bottom for additional security to keep these two panels together through the remainder of construction.
Make and place piping
- If this is your first time making piping, see our tutorial, How to Make and Attach Your Own Piping.
- If necessary, re-thread the machine with thread to best match the piping fabric in the top and bobbin. Re-set for a straight stitch. Attach a standard presser foot.
- Find all the 2” bias-cut strips.
- You’ll attach the strips end to end to equal your final 80” of needed length. To do this, place the strip lengths at right angles to one another.
- Stitch across, using a ¼” seam allowance.
- Repeat to stitch together as many bias-cut lengths as necessary to yield 80”.
- Press each tiny seam allowance open and flat.
- Press the completed strip flat.
- Place the flattened strip wrong side up on your work surface. Find the 80” length of piping cord. Lay the cord down the center of the strip on the wrong side.
- Wrap the fabric, right side out, around the cord. The raw edges of the strip should be flush. Lightly pin close to the cord to hold the fabric in place.
- Lengthen the stitch to its maximum for basting. Attach a Zipper foot.
- Stitch close to the cord to create your fabric covered piping.
- Find the front panel.
- Starting at the center bottom, pin the piping to the right side of the panel, aligning the raw edges of the piping fabric with the raw edge of the panel, and leaving about 2” free at both the head and tail.
- Continue pinning around the perimeter of the pillow. At each corner, you can clip into the piping to better allow it to curve around the corner. Be careful to not cut too deep; keep the snip below the basting.
- When you get back to your starting point, lay the piping against the fabric so it is flat and smooth. Slice the head of the cording so that end is straight.
- With a seam ripper, peel back the fabric on the tail to expose the cording underneath.
- Trim the end of cording tail so it exactly butts together with the head of the cording.
- Fold under the end of the loose fabric of the tail to create a clean edge. Trim away excess fabric if necessary prior to folding. Overlap the folded end to conceal the piping cord and create a clean joint. Pin in place. This joint should lay flat against the pillow panel.
- Still using a Zipper foot, and with the stitch still lengthened for machine basting, baste the piping in place around the entire panel. Run the seam as close to the piping cord as possible.
Assemble front to back and add buttons to finish
- Place the front panel right side up and flat on your work surface.
- Find the back panel; it should still be secured top and bottom within the seam allowance to hold the panels together. Working with the two panels as one unit makes it easier to stitch front and back together without shifting.
- Place the overlapped back panel right side down on the front panel, sandwiching the piping between the layers. The two layers are right sides together. Pin the layers together along all four sides.
- Re-set the stitch length to normal, but keep the Zipper foot in place.
- Stitch around all four sides, stopping to sharply pivot at each of the four corners. This seam allowance should be ½” but could be slightly wider or narrower; the goal is to stitch as close to the cord as possible.
- Clip each corner at the diagonal, being careful to not clip into the seam.
- Turn the cover right side out through the back overlap. Gently push out and smooth all four corners. A long, blunt tool works well for this, such as a knitting needle, chopstick or point turner. Press flat.
- Insert a fabric pen or pencil through the exact center of each buttonhole to mark the position for each button on the underlap panel below.
- Thread a hand sewing needle and hand stitch each button in place. We used a decorative “X” stitch for our four-hole buttons.
- Insert the pillow form through the overlap opening, fluff it out in the corners, and button closed.
Optional Tie Closure as shown on the Henry Glass You Are Loved Pillow
- From your selected tie fabric, cut three 2½” x 36″ strips. We used the You Are Loved pink dot fabric for both the piping and the ties on our sample pillow.
- Cut each strip in half to create two ties: 2½” x 18″. You should now have three sets of two 2½” x 18″ ties.
- Fold each tie in half (1¼” x 18″). Pin in place along the side and across one end. The opposite end remains raw.
- Using a ¼” seam allowance, stitch along the side and across the end, pivoting at the corner. Remember, the opposite end remains unsewn.
- Clip the corner diagonally. Be careful not to clip into your seam.
- Press open the seam allowance.
- Turn each sewn tie right side out through its open end.
NOTE: If you’re struggling with turning skinny tubes, check out our tutorial on our favorite method using a hemostat.
- Carefully reach in through the opening with a long blunt tool, such as a knitting needle, chopstick or point turner, and gently push out the corners so they are nice and sharp. Press flat.
- Find the two #9 back panels. Place them right side up and flat on your work surface.
- Position a tie along the inside edge of each panel. Align the raw edge of each tie with the raw edge of the panel.
- Just like the buttonhole option, the ties should be evenly spaced: one 3½” down from the top raw edge, one 3½” up from the bottom raw edge, and the third in the center – 9½” down the the top raw edge. Pin the end of each tie in place.
- Find the two hemmed #10 back panels. Pin a hemmed panel right sides together with each of the #9 pieces, sandwiching the ties between the layers. You are pinning the raw edge of the hemmed panel to the inside raw edge of outer panel.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch each pair of panels together. This seams secures the ties in place.
- From this point forward, follow the instructions above. You will, of course, skip the steps about making buttonholes and stitching buttons.
- When doing the final perimeter stitching, you may want to pin or loosely knot the ties at the center of the back panels to keep them out of the final perimeter seam.
- With your pillow form inserted, tie three beautiful bows.
Project Design: Anne Adams
Sample Creation: Debbie Guild