Word Applique Throw Pillow Tutorial

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nursery futon pillow

I know there are a lot of horrible things in this world, but let me suspend my usual perspective for a bit and talk about a first-world problem—the price of throw pillows is ridiculous. I understand that sewing is a lost art, and most folks would rather toss money over the counter at HomeGoods than learn how to sew a throw pillow, but once you do know how easy it is (and how cheap), you’ll never be able to look at those pillow prices the same way again.  I can literally make you a throw pillow for $2 in 10 minutes. Heck, if you want to spring for the zipper and pillow form, I can make you a fancy, washable zippered one for less than $5 in about 15 minutes. If you don’t learn to sew anything else, I urge you to learn to sew a zippered throw pillowcase. And this is an adorable one to start with.

pillow

We have a hand-me-down futon in the nursery, and to make it a little more our style and up the comfy factor, I’m making a million throw pillows to go on it. It’s a cheap and easy way to really update an area. I’m planning on just making most of them pretty simple, with just some fun, patterned fabric. But I figure it’d be nice to mix it up a bit too with some pillows with a bit of oomph! And that’s where this appliqued throw pillow comes in.

pillow futon nursery

If appliqueing a throw pillow sounds hard, I promise you it isn’t. And it’s fun because it’s totally customizable. I chose to use the word “love” and a heart, because I’m incredibly twee, but you can easily make it say whatever you want. Put a name on it. Put initials on it. Put a place on it. Whatever! Actually, put “whatever” on it—that’d be awesome for a teenager’s room (or Cher Horowitz’s).

Let me show you how to make it!

Materials

  • Computer, printer and paper
  • Piece of Heat ‘n’ Bond Lite (iron-on adhesive), big enough for your appliques
  • Marker or pen
  • Scissors
  • Fabric scraps big enough for your appliques (fat quarters work, too)
  • Iron and ironing board
  • 2–13 1/2″ square pieces of fabric (fat quarters work for these, too)
  • Coordinating thread
  • Sewing machine
  • Straight pens
  • 1–14″ zipper
  • 1–14″ pillow form

A few notes about the materials: first up, the pillow forms. You can pick these up at any fabric store, and if you pay full price, you’re looking at upwards of $8 for one. But! These forms are almost always on sale for 50%+ off. And if they aren’t, most fabric stores offer printable coupons for 40% off or more on one item. Use it on your pillow form! There is no reason you should pay more than $5 for a pillow form. For an even cheaper option, you can also hit up the thrift store and look for a throw pillow that you can unzip the cover from, toss the cover, and use the form.

pillow materials

Please forgive how messy my sewing nook is. There are lots of sewing projects going on in there right now, so it’s pretty much just chaos. I’ll eventually get to spring cleaning it…eventually.

Secondly, you’ll notice an item on the materials list called “Heat ‘n’ Bond Lite.” This stuff is the bomb. I always have a giant roll of it kicking around, because I use it all the time. Basically, it’s a very thin heat-activated adhesive with a paper backing, and it works great for adhering two pieces of fabric together. You can find it at most fabric stores (and even some discount stores—I’ve seen it at both Target and Walmart in their crafting aisles). It comes in rolls, or, at most fabric stores, they also sell it by the yard on a bolt—which is a much better deal if you only plan on doing one or two appliques.

heat n bond lite

Okay, now that we’ve gathered materials, onto the making of the throw pillow. First things first, you gotta come up with the design you want! I usually design my appliques in Adobe Illustrator, but if you don’t have that, you can easily do the designs in Word or Photoshop. Since we’re using a 14″ pillow form, a letter piece of paper turned sideways (landscape) is about the width of the applique we want. I open up a document that size, and type out my word in big ole letters.

computer pillow

And then, I go font-hunting. I end up landing on a font called KG Always a Good Time. You can pick whatever makes your heart happy. Just keep in mind, you might want to avoid overly ornate or thin fonts—you’re going to be cutting and sewing along each and every line of the word. Chunky and bold are good!

pillow

I then decide I want to add a heart to my throw pillow, too. So I head over to The Noun Project (my favorite spot to get free icons) and start navigating their heart section.

noun project laptop

I end up picking a funky, hand-drawn heart. I download the graphic file, and place it in my document with my word.

pillow

The template is done! Now it’s time to print it out. But before you go printing it exactly as it displays, you have to mirror it. This setting is in a different spot for every operating system and every printer, but on my computer, it’s as simple as clicking the little check box next to “Flip horizontally” in the print dialog.

print laptop

Voila! A backwards applique template.

pillow applique

Now, it’s time to make the actual appliques. First up, we have to transfer the applique template to the Heat ‘n’ Bond. When you look at your Heat ‘n’ Bond, you’ll notice two sides—one is a slightly-sticky, shiny adhesive, and the other is paper.

heat n bond

Put the applique template down, and place the Heat ‘n’ Bond, adhesive side down, on top. The paper-y side should be up, and you should be able to see through the Heat ‘n’ Bond to the template.

heat n bond pillow

Now, take a pen or marker, and trace around the lines of the template onto the papery side of the Heat ‘n’ Bond.

heat n bond pillow

Once it’s all transferred, you can recycle your template. Go ahead and roughly cut out the shapes from the big sheet of Heat ‘n’ Bond—no need to cut close, we’ll do that later. You’re just looking to remove some of the bulk.

applique pillow

Now, take the fabric you want your applique in—I chose a solid black for the word, and a cute pink mini polka dot for the heart—iron it nice and flat, and then put the Heat ‘n’ Bond on it, adhesive side down to the wrong side of the fabric.

applique pillow

Take a hot iron, and run over the Heat ‘n’ Bond a few times, until it feels like it’s stuck. While it’s still warm, it might not feel very solid, but as soon as it cools, it’ll be stuck. See, stuck:

heat and bond

If you’re doing another applique, repeat the process.

applique pillow

And then grab your scissors and cut around the outline of the applique. This is where you want to get precise! Aren’t you glad you picked a simple, chunky, bold font?

cut applique

Once you’ve cut it all out, you should have this on one side:

applique

And the papery backing still on the flip side:

applique

Now, we’ll attach the applique to the pillowcase fabric. I used two pieces of the same fabric for both the front and back of the pillow, but you could use two different ones if that makes you happy. Grab one of the pieces, iron it well, and place it right-side up on your ironing board. Then, take one of your applique pieces, and peel off the paper backing. You’ll have the fabric side, and then a shiny, adhesive side (don’t worry, it’s not sticky until you apply heat).

pillow applique

Peel off the backing on all the applique pieces, and then arrange them on your pillow front. Keep in mind, you’ll lose about 1/2″ on all sides due to the seam allowance. Also, don’t forget, pillows curve! So you might want to give the applique some room to breathe around it.

pillow applique

Once you’ve found a placement you’re happy with, iron that sucker down!

iron pillow

It’s stuck! Don’t worry, if you end up not being happy with the placement, you can just heat it up again with your iron, and quickly peel off the applique and reposition it.

applique pillow

In theory, you could stop here with the applique. Honestly, the Heat ‘n’ Bond is strong stuff and probably won’t ever come undone—I know some folks even hem curtains with it! But I like to finish the edges of my applique with a zig-zag stitch. Not only does it really make sure the applique stays on, but I think it also helps make the edge look more finished. I chose to use matching thread to hide the stitches, but it’s also really cute to use contrasting thread and let the zig-zag stitch show—just depends on what look you’re going for.

sewing machine pillow

You’ll want to stitch around all the curves and holes—you’ll probably have to pick up your presser foot a few times and turn the piece of fabric. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to do almost the whole thing without stopping. Again, aren’t you glad you heeded my warning about a simple font?

sewing machine pillow

Once you’re finished, tie the loose threads together, and clip them off. The front doesn’t end up looking much different:

pillow

But you can see all that hard work on the back:

pillow

Now that the hard part is over (seriously, that was the hard part), it’s time to put this pillowcase together. Grab your zipper (you can use a coordinating or contrasting one – I had this pink one kicking around and it was too cute not to use) and line it up, right-side-down to the bottom of the front pillow panel.

pillow zipper

Basically, you want the business side of the zipper (the side that you can actually zip from) to be touching the business side of the pillow. Pin it in place all the way across.

pillow pin

Starting just inside of the zipper pull, sew along the outside edge of the zipper, removing your pins as you go. You’ll want to sew as close to the opening of the zipper as possible.

sewing machine zipper

Once you’ve got that sew on, open up the seam, and iron it flat.

iron pillow

Now, we attach the back of the pillow. With the zipper/front piece right-side-up, place the back piece on top, right-side-down. Again, we want the business ends to be touching.

pillow

Line up the bottom of the back panel with the bottom of the zipper. Pin all the way across.

pillow

Now, you’re going to repeat the same process of sewing on the zipper. Usually, at this point, I flip the entire pillowcase over, so I can see the zipper better on the sewing machine.

sewing machine pillow

Once you have that side sewn on, open up the case, iron down that seam, and you should have two pieces of fabric joined by a zipper. Hip-hip-hooray!

pillow

Go ahead and unzip your zipper about half way. This is so you can turn the pillowcase right-side out later.

zipper pillow

Alright, now we have one more sewing step to go before we’re finished. Go ahead and clamshell the pillow back together, putting the right-sides of the two fabric pieces together. Line up all the edges, and pin all along the sides.

pillow

When you get to the zipper, fold it in half, and pin it down, too.

pillow

Then, starting on one end of the zipper, sew all the way around the three open sides of the pillow—ending with the other end of the zipper. A word of warning: most zippers come with metal stops at the beginning and end of the zipper, and you really don’t want to sew over those, unless you’re a fan of flying needle shards. But you do want to sew all the way through the zipper on both ends, so just make sure those metal stops aren’t under where you’re sewing.

sewing pillow

Once you get around those three sides, your pillowcase is done! But inside out.

pillow

Stick a hand inside, and pull the right side out.

pillow case

Make sure to push out the corners. Ahhhh, pretty!

pillow

Give it one last go under the iron before it goes on the pillow form.

pillow case

Stuff in the pillow form. Now, the pillowcase ends up being about an inch smaller than the pillow form—that’s how I like ’em! It makes the case fill out nicely and makes sure there isn’t a lot of extra fabric. But that small size does mean it takes some squishing to get the pillow in there right. Squish away!

pillow form

Zip ‘er up. And admire your handiwork.

pillow

This same applique process can be applied to all kinds of things. I’ve made onesies, t-shirts, bags—tons of stuff with appliques on them. It’s such an easy and fun way to personalize a normally lackluster object. In fact, my plan is to custom-make Baby J a fun onesie for her coming home outfit!

And the same zippered throw pillow method can be used with any size pillow and any fabric. I’m not exaggerating when I say that, after you have the method down, you can make a pillowcase in about 10 minutes.

nursery futon pillow

So can we agree that there is absolutely no reason to pay $65 (!!!) for an applique word throw pillow? I promise you can make your own!

How to Sew a Word Applique Throw Pillow

Do you have any items that you refuse to pay full price for?

Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.
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