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 that $5 in about 15 minutes. If you don’t learn to sew anything else, I urge you to learn to sew a zippered throw pillow case. And this is an adorable one to start with.
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 umph! And that’s where this appliqued pillow comes in.
If appliqueing a 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!
- Computer, printer and paper
- Piece of Heat ‘n’ Bond Lite (iron-on adhesive), big enough for your appliques
- Marker or pen
- 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 throw pillows that you can unzip the cover, toss and use the form.
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 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.
Okay, now that we’ve gathered materials, onto the making the pillows. 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.
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!
I then decide I want to add a heart to my pillow, too. So I head over to The Noun Project (my favorite spot to get free icons) and start navigating their heart section.
I end up picking a funky, hand-drawn heart. I download the graphic file, and place it in my document with my word.
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.
Voila! A backwards applique template.
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.
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.
Now, take a pen or marker, and trace around the lines of the template onto the papery side of the Heat ‘n’ Bond.
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.
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.
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:
If you’re doing another applique, repeat the process.
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?
Once you’ve cut it all out, you should have this on one side:
And the papery backing still on the flip side:
Now, we’ll attach the applique to the pillow case 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).
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.
Once you’ve found a placement you’re happy with, iron that sucker down!
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.
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.
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?
Once you’re finished, tie the loose threads together, and clip them off. The front doesn’t end up looking much different:
But you can see all that hard work on the back:
Now the hard part is over (seriously, that was the hard part), it’s time to put this pillow case 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.
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.
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.
Once you’ve got that sew on, open up the seam, and iron it flat.
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.
Line up the bottom of the back panel with the bottom of the zipper. Pin all the way across.
Now, you’re going to repeat the same process of sewing on the zipper. Usually, at this point, I flip the entire pillow case over, so I can see the zipper better on the sewing machine.
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!
Go ahead and unzip your zipper about half way. This is so you can turn the pillow case right-side out later.
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.
When you get to the zipper, fold it in half, and pin it down, too.
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.
Once you get around those three sides, your pillow case is done! But inside out.
Stick a hand inside, and pull the right side out.
Make sure to push out the corners. Ahhhh, pretty!
Give it one last go under the iron before it goes on the pillow form.
Stuff in the pillow form. Now, the pillow case 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!
Zip ‘er up. And admire your handiwork.
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 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 pillow case in about 10 minutes.
So can we agree that there is absolutely no reason to pay $65 (!!!) for an applique word pillow? I promise you can make your own!