African-Print Applique Pillow

Learn how to turn pillow-making into an art form with this African-print applique pillow project.
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Here's a project that uses a pillow as a frame for a beautiful piece of art.

Materials and Tools:

three 4-inch strips of 3 coordinating print fabrics
small bag of scrap fabrics
12-inch-wide khaki fabric (medium/heavy weight)
8½-by-11-inch sheet of white paper
permanent marker
scissors
glue stick
straight pins
ruler
rotary cutter
cutting mat with measurements
threaded sewing machine
polyester stuffing
needle and thread
bright lamp

Steps:

1. Measure and cut two 12-inch squares of khaki fabric using a rotary cutter and a cutting mat.

2. Cut three strips of 4-by-12-inch coordinating fabrics.

3. Place the strips right sides up on the 12-inch khaki square, overlapping each other by about a quarter-inch.

4. Secure the pieces of fabric to the background fabric with a glue stick. Run the glue down the center back of each strip. Avoid applying glue too close to the edge where the fabric will be sewn.

5. Regulate the sewing machine to the zigzag-stitch setting, with stitch width set at medium (or 3) and a very tight stitch length of 0 or 1. Stitch along the edge of each strip with white thread. The strips will provide the background for the front of the pillow.

6. Draw a design of a woman wearing a long, flowing dress and playing a saxophone. The drawing can be freehand or traced from a book. Cut out the individual pieces of the design: the three parts of the dress, the saxophone, the hair, the face, and the arm.

7. Place the cut-out paper pattern pieces on scraps of fabrics, selecting appropriate designs to suit the patterns. Cut out the fabric pieces following the paper patterns. Here are some fabric suggestions:

  • African-print fabric for the dress pieces
  • Flesh-tone fabric for the face and arm
  • Dark brown fabric for the hair
  • Gold-print fabric for the saxophone


8. Place the applique fabric pieces right sides up on the front of the pillow, layering the fabric to create a three-dimensional effect. Secure the center back of the pieces with a glue stick while sewing.

9. With the sewing machine on the zigzag stitch-setting, the stitch width at medium and the stitch length at 0 or 1, stitch around the edges of each applique pattern piece with white thread.

10. To stitch the curls in the hair, switch the sewing machine to the embroidery setting, lower the feed dog and set the pressure of the presser foot to light to allow free-motion sewing. Position the hair under the needle and hold the fabric with one hand on each side of the hair. Start stitching with white thread, guiding the fabric with both hands to create the stitched swirls of the hair. Switch to straight stitch and go back to free-motion sewing to stitch swirls to resemble strands of hair.

11. After you've completed the design, cut all excess threads on the right and wrong sides of the front of the pillow.

12. Cut four 2-by-12-inch strips of a print fabric for the borders. Place a strip, right side up, along each of the four sides of the front of the pillow and zigzag along the inner edge of each strip. Trim excess fabric to the original 12-inch size of the khaki square.

13. Stitch the front of the pillow to the back by placing right sides together and pinning to keep the fabrics secure. On the bottom, start stitching a third of the way from one edge using a straight stitch and a half-inch seam allowance, stitch around the side, top, the other side and a third of the bottom on the other side, leaving a 6-inch opening at the bottom for stuffing.

14. Turn the pillow right side out. Stuff it with polyester stuffing into the corners first and work your way to the middle until the pillow is firm.

15. Sew the opening closed by hand or by machine.

Zigzag Sewing Tips

  • Practice zigzag stitching on a scrap of fabric until you get the desired stitch.
  • Zigzag-stitch the outside pieces first and work your way in.
  • Don't worry about cutting threads when you sew.
  • Finish the detail work after you've completed your sewing.
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