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Pleats and tucks are one of the most versatile sewing embellishments. S4H offers several step-by-step tutorials on some of our favorites: Box Pleats, Knife Pleats, and for this pretty pillow: Wave Tucks. Clever folding and stitching with two contrasting fabrics creates a wonderfully textural effect. We’ve used it here on a pillow front; bet you can think of lots of other projects that need some rippling waves. 

To get the strongest serpentine effect, it’s important to choose colors that coordinate with one another yet also have a strong contrast.

You can use a print and a solid as we did or mix two solids. Two prints is also an option, but be careful with this combination as it can quickly become too busy and reduce the appearance of the undulating waves.

Our pillow finishes at approximately 18″ x 18″.

If you enjoy wave tucking this pillow, you may also like our Preppy Wave Tuck Handbag.

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

NOTE: Supplies listed are for an 18″ x 18″ pillow.

  • ¾ yard of 44″+ cotton fabric with a print design; we originally used Sultan Crowns in Indigo from the Facets collection by Andover Fabrics
  • ½ yard of 44″+ wide cotton fabric in a solid to coordinate with the print above: we originally used Kona Cotton by Robert Kaufman Fabrics in Butterscotch
    NOTE: As mentioned above, to get the most dramatic look to your wave tuck pick a print and solid with a good contrast. If the two hues are too close in tone, the wave effect will be difficult to see.
  • 1½ yards of 20″ mid to heavy-weight fusible interfacing; we used Pellon’s Fusible Midweight
  • THREE ¾” – 1″ buttons; we used three ⅞” buttons with a faux mother-of-pearl finish
  • ONE 18″ x 18″ pillow form
  • All purpose thread to coordinate with fabrics
  • See-through ruler
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Fabric pen or pencil
  • Seam gauge
  • Seam ripper
  • Straight pins
  • Hand sewing needle

Getting Started

  1. From the print fabric (Sultan Crowns in our sample), cut the following:
    ONE 4¼” x 19″ strip for the beginning panel
    ONE 4¾” x 19″ strip for the ending panel
    ELEVEN 2″ x 19″ strips for the pleats
    TWO 13″ wide x 19″ high rectangles for the pillow back
  2. From the solid fabric (Butterscotch Kona Cotton in our sample), cut TWELVE 1″ x 19″ strips for the pleats.
  3. From the fusible interfacing, cut the following:
    TWO 13″ x 19″ rectangles
    ONE 19″ x 19″ square

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

Create the contrasting strip panel for the pillow front

  1. Find all the 19″ strips. Lay them out on your work surface in order. Start with the 4¼” print strip, then alternate solid strips and print strips. The final strip in the pattern should be the 4¾” print strip.
  2. Place the first two pieces right sides together. Pin along one 19″ side.
  3. Stitch together, using a ¼” seam allowance. We used our Janome Quarter Inch Seam foot.
  4. Repeat to add the remaining strips in the proper order. Press all the seams toward the dark color (the print in our sample).
  5. The drawing below shows you a representation of all the strips sewn together just prior to folding into the final pleats.
  6. With all the strips in place, pinch and fold along each print/solid seam to create a pleat.
  7. Pin all pleats to the left so the solid strips disappear from view. Secure the pleats with pins along the top and bottom. Press the pleats in place. Your finished panel should now have reduced down to 19″ wide, and is still 19″ high.
  8. Find the 19″ x 19″ interfacing panel. Lay the pleated and pinned panel on top of the interfacing (fusible side against the wrong side of the fabric). Lightly pin the two panels together.
  9. Measure 5″ from the top raw edge and mark a horizontal line.
  10. The line runs over the top of the folded and pressed pleats.
  11. Thread the machine with thread to match the print fabric in the top and bobbin.
  12. Stitch along the drawn line.
  13. Remove the pins along the top and fold the pleats to the left. Pin the folded-over pleats in place along the top.
    NOTE: You can actually fold the pleats either all to the left or all to the right. Without a directional print, it doesn’t really matter. Just be sure your folds all go in in the same direction to create the proper look of the wave.
  14. Edgestitch the pleats in place along the top raw edge.
  15. Repeat to create matching pleats along the bottom of the pillow front panel. Your stitching line is 5″ up from the bottom raw edge.
  16. Draw a final horizontal guideline through the exact center of the pillow panel (9½” from both the top and bottom).
  17. Before stitching along the guideline, fold each pleat to the left to match the top and bottom “waves” and then re-pin in place.
  18. We re-drew the guide line once all the pleats were folded into place.
  19. Stitch along the guideline to secure the center of the wave.

    NOTE: We wanted our stitching line to show and so stayed with the Indigo thread. For a subtler look, switch to thread to match the solid fabric. 
  20. Following manufacturer’s instructions, do a final press from the wrong side to firmly adhere the interfacing to the pillow front panel.
    NOTE: If you are new to this technique, we have a full Wave Tuck Tutorial

Pillow back

  1. Again following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse the interfacing pieces to the wrong side of each 13″ x 19″ back rectangle.
  2. With overlapping buttoned panels, the two panel edges are handled differently. The button panel is pressed into place. The buttonhole panel is stitched into place.
  3. On one panel, fold back one edge (what will be the inner edge) ½” and press.
  4. Fold an additional 2″ and press again. No stitching is required, just pressing. This will become the right side of the opening for the buttons.
  5. On the remaining panel, fold back its 19″ inner raw edge ¼” and press, then fold over an additional ¼” and press again, forming a narrow hem. Stitch this hem in place, running the seam close to the inner fold.
  6. Fold the hemmed edge back an additional 2″ and stitch the hemmed edge in place, again staying very close to the inner folded edge. This will become the left side of the opening for the buttonholes.
  7. Following your machine’s instruction manual, create three vertical buttonholes within the hemmed edge of the left back panel. One button hole should be at the exact center point top to bottom, the other two are 3½” above and 3½” below the center buttonhole.
    NOTE: Your buttonhole placement may be slightly different depending on the size of your buttons.
  8. Overlap the two panels, with the left buttonhole panel on top, so the finished width and height are both 19″. Pin in place at the top and bottom. Mark the exact center through each buttonhole, creating a mark on the bottom button panel for button sewing placement.
  9. Hand stitch each button in place on the right button panel.
  10. Overlap the back layers once again, but do not button the panel. The overlapped panels should measure 19″ x 19″ to match the 19″ x 19″ pleated front panel.
  11. Place the front and back panels right sides together and pin in place around all four sides.
    NOTE: If you are new to sewing pillows, you can baste the back panels together at the top and bottom of the button/buttonhole panels, running the short seams approximately ⅜” from the raw edge. This allows you to work with the back as one piece instead of two and is easier for beginners.
  12. Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch around all four sides of the pillow, pivoting at all the corners. Clip the corners.
  13. When your seam is complete. Turn the pillow cover right side out through the back button opening. Use a long, blunt-end tool, such as a knitting needle or chopstick, to gently push out the corners so they are nice and sharp.
  14. Insert your pillow form through the envelope opening and fluff it out into the corners.
  15. Button the pillow closed.


Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation: Debbie Guild

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