Spooky Quilt Pillow: A DIY for Beginners
It’s October, which means the craft stores are bursting with fabulous décor! In addition to the glittering bats and feathery ravens, they’re also rolling out those tempting Halloween fabrics. If you know how to sew, you’re probably already up to your DIY elbows in fat quarters…but what do you do if you’re still learning to sew?
One answer is a simple quilted pillow. This project is perfect for anyone who’s just starting out on the machine, but also great for a more advanced sewer who just wants to whip up something that is low-stress and quick.
Once you master this, there will be no more longing stares at the fabric aisle. You’ll be in the thick of it. Even Colleen Atwood had to start somewhere, right?
The duration of The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
- A fat quarter* of each chosen fabric (or half a yard, if they aren’t selling fat quarters). Basic cotton is best for this project. (Don’t go with anything stretchy!)
- Half a yard of plain muslin (or plain cotton, if muslin is not available)
- Brown paper or thin posterboard
*NOTE: You might want to consider going with a half yard instead of a fat quarter if you end up with a very big pattern like the Vlad fabric I’m using for this project. For most patterns, though, the fat quarter will suffice.
- A sewing machine
- A ruler
- A pencil
- A needle
- A seam ripper
- An iron and ironing board
Step One: Patterning
This sounds daunting, but I promise you it’s simple. If you can draw a square, you can draw this pattern, because this pattern is literally a square. (Ok, TWO squares.)
Decide how big you want your squares to be. Mine are 5”x 5” because I wanted to get the whole Vlad in there, plus a nice dose of that sweet battage he’s got surrounding him. Take your ruler and your paper and draw a square.
Now that you have your square, you’re going to want to draw a half-inch border around the square. That half inch is your seam allowance. When you run this through the machine you’re going to be sewing half an inch from the edge of the fabric.
Ok, now you need your second square, which is going to be a big fellow. Since I’m using 5”x 5” squares and doing three squares across, that means my big square is going to be 15”x15”. Draw out your big square and, once again, add that half inch border and you’re good to go.
You’ve made a pattern! Cut out your paper pattern pieces and get ready for the net step.
Step Two: Cutting
Time to decide what you want your quilt to look like. I’m doing 9 squares on each face, which means I need to cut 18 squares total. I have three glorious fabrics I’ve chosen for this project, so I’m going to be cutting six squares of each.
(In case you’re wondering where in the hell I found fabric with Vlad Dracula and Black Phillip on it, I got it from Spoonflower, where artists can upload their own designs and then they print the fabric for you on demand. It’s like Etsy but for custom printed fabric.)
You’re also going to cut two big squares of your muslin. This is going to serve as a backing. More on that later. Set the big squares aside for now.
Once you have your little squares all cut, lay them out and decide which square you want where.
Step Three: Sewing
Now that you have your pillow laid out, it’s time to sew. We’re going to go row by row. Grab up your first two squares and pin them together so that the sides you want showing are facing each other.
Because this is a Very Beginner Tutorial, I’m going to pause for a moment to remind you to always, always, always make sure your presser foot is down before you hit the pedal. Bad things will happen if the presser foot isn’t down. Not tantalizing Pandora’s Box or King in Yellow type things. Just, like, a solid ten minutes of ripping out a rat’s nest of knotted thread.
Using your machine, with the presser foot firmly DOWN, carefully stitch a straight line half an inch from the edge. Once your two squares are attached, pin and stitch the third square down using the same technique. You’ll now have a row of three squares.
Repeat these steps for the rest of your rows. You’ll end up with three for the front and three for the back.
Once your rows are stitched, it’s a good idea to iron your seams so that they’re flat. It’ll make life much easier in the long run.
Now you’re going to pin the bottom of your top row to the top of your middle row. Once again, you want the pretty side of the fabric facing in. When you pin these rows together, make sure you line up the seams so that your squares are all centered. Stitch a straight line down the row (once again, half an inch from the edge). Repeat these steps, attaching the top of the bottom row to the bottom of the middle row.
Do exactly the same thing for the rows for the back piece and then, once again, press all your seams flat.
Step Four: Backing
Now it’s time to add the backing. By putting a backing on our quilted pieces we’re going to help protect the raw edges of the fabric. It’s just better to have them sealed away. These muslin pieces will also strengthen the pillow.
Pin the first quilted piece you sewed to one of the big squares of muslin you cut earlier. This time you’re going to pin it so the pretty side is facing upward. Once everything is pinned down, sew around the edges, going all the way around.
(NOTE FOR FIRST TIMERS: Start off in one corner and go straight down the edge. When you get to half an inch from the edge, stop, lift your presser foot, and turn your fabric 90 degrees so the needle is staring down the next side. Put the presser foot back down and continue on. This is how you do a sharp corner.)
Repeat these steps with your other quilted piece and large muslin square.
Step Five: Combining
Ok, we’re almost there. Place your two pieces so that the pretty sides are facing each other. You’re going to sew around the edges, but not all the way. This time you’re going to leave a gap in your sewing in the center of the bottom edge of the pillow. Essentially you’re leaving one square along the edge open.
Why are we leaving a hole in the pillow? Because we gotta stuff it.
As a note, when you’re sewing, keep a little bit inside the sewing line you made when you stitched the quilted piece to the muslin. If you go outside that line, then once you flip the pillow right-side-out you’re going to be able to see the stitching. If it helps, instead of sticking to half an inch from the edge this time, try 5/8ths.
Step Six: Stuffing
Flip your pillow. You might have to fight the corners a little bit. There is a special technique for making the corners super sharp involving clipping excess fabric off the edges very close to the seam and using a special little tool to really pop out the corner (though my costuming adviser used to use the eraser end of a regular old pencil, so make of that what you will), but if you’re ok with your corners being slightly soft and rounded, go right ahead and stick your finger in there to pop the corner out as much as possible. Once you’re satisfied, get stuffing until your pillow is nice and plump.
Now you just have to seal up that hole. You’re going to do that with some hand sewing. Carefully slip stitch the hole closed and you’re done.
Congratulations on your new throw pillow! Keep practicing and next thing you know you’ll be making yourself a bustle gown.
All images via E.K. Leimkuhler