Make a Four Leaf Pillow Cover With Piping!

Yes, even a beginner can make this pieced four leaf pillow cover! Trust me, it’s not as hard as it looks. Two words: no zippers. And there are no painful pillow* sacrifices required, because the cover comes right off again when you want to switch it! My kind of project.

*If you are covering existing pillows be aware that a strong color or pattern might show through your new cover, so choose darker colors or thicker fabrics.

Before you start you will need to gather the following:

  • Existing 18 inch pillow (with no piping or foo foo stuff on it) OR 18 inch pillow insert
  • 1 yard of mid-weight or decor weight solid cotton fabric for the background color and envelope back
  • Midweight or decor weight scraps of colored cotton solids for pieced applique
  • 1 package of ready made piping (2.5 yards)
  • Aleene’s Tacky Glue, *the magic ingredient*
  • Disappearing marker
  • This template for the leaf applique
  • Coordinating sewing thread and all the usual stuff you have within reach for sewing (scissors, iron, pins, sewing machine, coffee with cream and sugar, plus some chocolate wouldn’t hurt). A note about thread color: I choose a thread that blends in with
    the background color of the pillow, and then I just use it for the whole
    project, including the applique. No thread changing necessary.

1) Press the fabric. Don’t skip that! ‘Wrinkly fabric doth a wonky pillow make’, you know. Isn’t that a saying? Pretty sure it is.

2) Measure and cut one 19 inch square piece of fabric for the front, then two 19×15 inch pieces for the envelope back. It’s very handy to make a paper pattern for the square and envelope pieces, especially if you are going to be making more than one pillow cover. That way you don’t have to measure and square each time. You can make a paper pattern that is half the size needed (example: 19 x 9.5 for the square) and then cut with it lined up with the fold of the fabric, OR you can make a pattern that is the actual size
and cut it on the flat.

3) Now you will sew what is called a narrow hem on one long edge of both the envelope pieces. It’s easy.

Press over 1/2 inch of fabric toward the wrong side. This you can totally eyeball as long as it is close to 1/2 inch. It’s more important to make it consistently wide all the way across so it looks neat. Then tuck under half of that and press again so that you have a 1/4 inch hem. Ish. Pin and sew it close to the folded edge so that you have a nice, neatly finished hem. Now repeat the narrow hem on one long side of the other envelope piece.

4) Time to assemble the leaves! For each leaf, you will need two 3.5 x 10.5 inch contrasting pieces of fabric. Please don’t sweat cutting perfect 3.5 x 10.5 inch pieces. Each piece just needs to be big enough and have at least one long side that is cut straight on the grain (because that’s the side you’ll be pinning and sewing). I made a quick pattern piece for the size needed, rough cut around it and then trimmed one side straight.

Pin the four sets of pieces right sides together on the straight long edges. Sew 1/4 inch seam.

Press the seams open. I press from both sides, first the wrong side holding the seam open with my fingers as I go, and then again on the right side for a crisp, straight edge between the two fabrics.

5) Now’s the fun part. No, really. Print the leaf template at actual size (no scaling) on card stock. Cut it out. Punch a hole where it says. Now align the points of the template on the seam of the right side of the pieced fabric. Note: The leaf is not symmetrical from point to point. The inside point is…well…pointier. So, if you want a nice pinwheel effect with the color of your leaves, be sure to trace them so the dark side of the leaf is consistently to the left of the pointier end. Or the right. But be consistent.

Trace the leaf shape with the marker. Mark a dot through the hole on the template with the disappearing marker so you can tell which end goes inside. Cut it out carefully. Repeat three more times for the other leaves. Ooh. Leaves. Pretty! See. That’s fun.

6) With a long ruler (yardstick works great, but any straight edge will do) and the disappearing marker, draw an X on the right side of the square piece of fabric.

7) Put small dots of glue all around the edges and down the center on the wrong side of a leaf. Align the pointier end that has the dot at the middle of the X you drew, and the dotless end toward the corner of the square. Smooth it down. Repeat three more times until all four leaves are glued on.

Um. In the photo, ignore the fact that I have interfacing on the back of half of the leaf, will you? There is glue on that half too, you just can’t see it very well. Sorry. I ended up using interfacing because the magenta fabric is pretty flimsy. Just pretend you didn’t see it.

After they are all in place, press. Make sure they are nicely adhered. Now you are ready to sew those babies on.

8) Starting at a point of a leaf, sew a zig zag stitch around each leaf with the outside of the zig falling just beyond the edge of the leaf. Use a pretty short stitch length. On my machine (a Kenmore) the stitch length is 1 and the width is 4, and it looks like the photo below. For neatly turned corners, always end with the needle on the outside edge of the leaf, swivel the fabric, and continue sewing.

You can be all fancy and pull the top threads through to the back to knot them when you finish a leaf, but since it’s less noticeable at the point I just backstitch a couple times to secure and trim the threads.

9) Now to add the piping to the square piece. With glue! Professional seamstresses may well look at this step and cringe, but it totally works for me. Much faster than basting. Your piping should be 1/2 inch away from the edges. Add dots of glue (actually I used a bit more glue than shown here for a satisfactory hold) all along the edge of the fabric about 1/4 inch away from the edge. Lay down the piping so the flange is in the glue and the actual piping (the part with the nice cording) is 1/2 inch away from the edge of the fabric. You can see the flange of my piping is not quite as wide as the seam allowance, so there’s some fabric showing at the edges.

Snip the flange of the piping as you turn the corner (don’t snip the piping stitching), and continue to add dots of glue and snip at the corners until you go all the way around the square. Overlap the piping and trim the excess. Use the iron to press all along the edges to set the glue.

I’m always shocked at how wrinkly my hands look in photographs. I promise I am not related to ET.

10) Now layer it all together for sewing! Can you feel the excitement building? You are so close to finishing. The rest is a piece of cake.

First lay down the square with the piping, right side up.

Then lay down one envelope piece right side down and aligned with the top edge. Notice the hemmed edge is the one cutting across the pillow. Use the glue to baste it together all around the edges, making the sure
the raw edges of the fabric line up. Press the iron along the edges to
set the glue.

Then lay down the other envelope piece right side down and aligned with the bottom edge this time, hemmed edge cutting across. The envelope pieces will overlap. Glue baste it all around the edges and set with the iron.

11) Dig out the zipper foot that came with your machine and put it on. Alert! Be sure to switch your stitch setting back to a normal straight stitch, not zig zag. You can do some damage to your needle if you forget and try to zig zag stitch through your zipper foot. It’s a good thing nobody I know around here would do something so goofy. (Nose visibly growing)

Starting in the middle of one side, sew all the way around, as close to the piping as the zipper foot allows you to get. See how the piping is all snuggled under the zipper foot cutout thingy? Yes, that is the technical term. As you sew, your job will be to constantly keep that piping close to the needle. Watch your fingers. Please don’t sew them.

Because a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll just refer you to this photo for the corner with the overlapped piping. See how I did it? Once you’ve sewn all the way around, backstitch a few times to secure.

12) Use pinking shears to trim the seam allowance to 1/4 inch and snip each corner.

13) Now turn it right side out through the envelope back. Gently poke out the corners with your finger. Wow! You did it. With the piecing, the applique and the fancy piping and everything! (high five. low five. chest thump)

14) All that’s left to do is stuff it with the pillow. So go ahead and do that. Open the envelope back and stuff that baby in there. Snake a hand inside and grab each pillow corner and guide it to fit into the corners of the cover. Squish and tuck until you have a good, smooth fit. Tada!

If you make a pillow cover with this tutorial, I’d love to see it. Can you post it here, in my flickr group?

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