Sunday, October 20, 2013

Experimental Sewing

On my last trip to Oregon, my grandma unpacked a large bin of small quilts she's made and offered them to my mom, aunts, and me. My grandma has a great eye for color combinations, and even in her 80s, she experiments with new techniques. Which leads to many of these little quilts - "quilt-lets.":)

I use a couple for place mats:

One still needs a home but will probably end up as a wall hanging:

(Yes, I will iron it first...)

And for this one, I had a little something special in mind...

This quilt-let measures about 18 inches by 21 inches and has a cute little button detail in the middle of the orange star.

I have a 16" x 16" pillow that needed a new pillow cover, and I thought I could turn this into a little quilted pillow.

I was feeling a little nervous about messing up my grandma's quilt, because this was definitely experimental sewing on my part (I hope you're not cringing, Grandma). The only real sewing tutelage I've had was when my grandma taught me how to make hair scrunchies... back in 1992. But I'm a logical thinker, and I've watched enough episodes of Project Runway to get the main idea.

So I started by measuring the pillow with my flexible measuring tape (I'm sure it has a name, but I don't know it). I decided to leave enough fabric on each side for a generous seam allowance - in case of mess-ups.

Then I cut two 20" x 20" fabric squares for the back side of the pillow. I'm not sure why I cut two squares, since I only needed one for the back of the pillow. I was scratching my head about what to do with the extra square when I had a great idea!

Of course I needed a way to get the pillow into the case once it was complete, and I didn't really want to mess with trying to sew the pillow in. With two 20" squares I realized I could fold each in half and use them as two sides of an envelope opening. Yes!

So here's where the experimental part starts....

I folded my two fabric squares in half and ironed the seams to make them sharp. Then I put my quilt on the floor, right side up, and pinned the open end of one folded square to the long edge of the quilt. The quilt was barely wide enough to cover the front of the 16" pillow, so I knew I had to sew the fabrics together right at the edge.

Once I pinned the two sides, I was ready to start sewing.

To figure out my seam allowance, I used the "very precise" method of pulling the sides of the quilt around the pillow and eyeballing where I should stitch. I decided about 1/4" was all I could spare.

By the way, here is my little sewing space that I just set up. The table is from an antique store, though I don't think it's actually an antique. One of these days I'm going to paint it and change out the drawer handles. (Things are looking pretty beige in there, aren't they?)

Once I had sewed the two sides of the back to the quilt, this is what I had:

I laid my pillow in the middle and wrapped it up like a burrito, right sides in:

Here's where watching hours of Project Runway came in handy. I've seen the designers on that show fit their dresses to their models by putting the dresses on inside-out. Then they pin the seams of the dress right up against the model's body to get a perfect, customized fit. I basically did the same thing with the two open sides of my pillow:

As you can see, there was plenty of extra fabric on these two ends. There was no way I was going to cut my grandma's quilt, though, so I just left the extra fabric once it was all pinned.

Finally, I carefully removed the pillow through the envelope opening and sewed up the two sides, following the pins I had just put in. It was not the perfect stitch-job. The fabric bunched up in a couple places, but in the end I got two pretty straight seams...

This was the moment of truth:  turning my pillowcase right-side-out and seeing if it fit my pillow...

And it did!

Now I have a cute little quilted pillow for my sewing room. I love it! The back side opens up for removal of the pillow. For my next project I may try putting a button in the middle of the flap, just to give it a more finished look.

Thanks for the cute little quilt-lets, Grandma! I hope you don't mind that I altered one just a little. :)


  1. Sweeet! I'm sure your grandma is proud of your intuitive (and project runway) sewing skills! What a lovely way to honor her :-)

  2. Great job, Mac! Even Grandmother couldn't have done a better job!