Learn How to Sew Patchwork Pillows

Learn how to sew patchwork pillow patterns including the "eight-point star" and "robbing peter to pay paul."

| January/February 1982

Some chilly evening this winter — after you've put the chores to bed and are casting about for a pastime that will fulfill your creative urges and turn out a functional item — ransack your scrap bag, brush up on your needlework skill and try piecing together a couple of colorful patchwork pillows.
These cozy cushions don't cost much to make (after all, you'll be using supplies that, for the most part, are probably already lying around the house), are easily assembled in an evening or two (by hand or by sewing machine) and can even provide a source of extra income (should you decide to peddle your creations at flea markets or craft fairs). What's more, after you've mastered the technique, you'll probably have gained enough confidence to make the transition from pillow art to full-fledged quilt-making.
In the step-by-step directions that follow, I'll outline how to piece two traditional designs — the "Eight-Pointed Star" and "Robbing Peter to Pay Paul" — and then I'll tell you how to transform the geometric blocks into custom-crafted cushions.

Organizing Materials for a Patchwork Pillow

To begin with, rustle up a few supplies and tools: an 8-by-11-inch sheet of cardboard, scissors, a ruler, a hard-lead pencil, pins, needles, an iron and ironing board (for pressing seams open), some medium-weight woven cotton fabric (either sewing scraps or castoff clothing will work well), thread, half a yard of muslin and some cotton or polyester filling.

Piping is an option that, when applied to the outer edges of the patchwork, will give your pillow a more finished look. The trim can be purchased, in a variety of shades, at fabric shops or, if your sewing know-how is above par, you can make your own from cotton cording and hand cut bias strips of cloth (consult a good sewing manual for directions).

When you start collecting the fabric for your cushions-to-be, go ahead and "take a walk on the wild side." The use of textiles that are too similar in appearance and pattern can detract from the effect of the patchwork design. You'll likely find that the best combinations are, surprisingly, those that seem at first glance as if they would never go together!

Before you glance ahead at my directions for pillow construction, let me point out a few ground rules: Try to cut your patchwork pieces with the grain (or weave) of the material, be sure that the individual components are as uniform as possible (even tiny inconsistencies can add up, sometimes causing lopsided blocks), always group the sections you're working with before you sew any seams (one seemingly endless session of ripping apart tiny stitches after you've mismatched the segments will convince you of the wisdom of this warning) and press open each seam as you progress.

Making a Eight-Pointer Star Pillow

First select three fabrics. Then measure and cut out, from your cardboard, a 3-1/2-inch square and a right triangle whose equal sides, adjacent to the right angle, each measure 3-3/4-inch (the triangle's hypotenuse — or longest side — will span about 5-3/8 inches). Use the cardboard template to trace and cut out eight triangles from each of the two fabrics that will form the star motif in the patchwork's center. Next, snip out another eight triangles and four squares, which will become the star's background, from the third material.

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