The fabulous thing about this simple, quilt as you go, patchwork cushion or pillow project is that you don’t have to worry about quilting (the cushion top quilts itself as you sew it together) or colours (because the cushion looks best if you work from a very limited colour palette. I have used wonderfully classic Liberty lawn prints for this project, which is backed with Essex yarn-dyed linen. The fabrics work wonderfully together, and the Liberty lawn gives the pillow a wonderfully silky feel, whilst being surprisingly hard-wearing and easy to wash.
Introduction and pattern overview
If you haven’t done patchwork before, this is quite a straightforward first project because it doesn’t involve any matching of seams. You can also be pretty relaxed about your seam allowances, because cushion pads are forgiving things, and you will be able to trim the finished cushion top to a nice rectangle, even if things have gone a bit wonky. The cushion is backed with a simple overlap of two pieces of solid fabric (usually called an envelope back), so you also don’t have to worry about zips.
There are three main stages to this pattern. The first step is to create the patchwork cushion top by sewing six long rows of 5 blocks each. Whilst joining these 6 rows together you will also be (and here’s the clever bit!) sewing them to a piece of wadding to create a lovely quilted effect, without having to do any actual quilting. The second stage will be binding the 2 back and lining sections with a little more Liberty lawn. Finally all the sections are sewn together to create the cushion.
If you want to print these instructions, here’s a downloadable pdf for you.
You will need:
For the patchwork cushion top:
- Thirty pieces (3 each from 10 different prints) of Liberty Tana Lawn cut in rectangles measuring 6″ x 3.25″. Packs of precut Liberty lawn blocks plus Liberty fabric for binding the back sections are available in my shop.
- 20″ x 30″ piece of quilt wadding of your choice.
- 20″ x 30″ lining fabric (any inexpensive cotton fabric is fine for this – although it is better if it is a light shade so there is no chance of colour run when washing the cushion cover).
- 2 pieces of backing fabric of your choice (I used yarn-dyed Essex linen in Flax which always looks brilliant with Liberty lawn): one measuring 15″ x 17″ and one measuring 14.5″ x 17″
- 2 pieces of fusible fleece (I used Vilene H640 which is widely available) cut to the same size as backing fabric pieces
- 2 pieces of lining fabric cut to the same size as backing fabric pieces
- 2 pieces coordinating Liberty lawn (or other fabric of your choice) measuring 5.5″ x 17 ” for binding the edge of the back pieces
40cm x 60cm cushion pad
Besides your basic sewing kit and iron plus ironing board, it is good to have:
- long quilting ruler (18″)
- rotary cutter
- fabric marking pens
- A fine needle is best for use with Liberty Lawn, but you will need a bit of heft to get through the Lawn plus the wadding, so I would recommend an 75/11 needle for this project.
Stage 1: The cushion top
Take your 30 patches and lay them out to create a random effect. I divide mine into 3 groups of 10 (10 different prints in each group) and lay them out in this pattern, which ensures no blocks of the same print are too close to each other.
It’s really important that you have a way of remembering your layout whilst you sew the cushion top (you think you’ll remember, but believe me, you wont!). A very quick and easy way to do this is to take a photo on your phone/tablet/camera that you can refer back to. Alternatively you can number the actual blocks with a fabric marking pen – or you can work out your own method. Here’s the photo I used:
Starting with the bottom row, using a 1/4″ seam allowance, stitch the first two patches together:
Continue sewing the patches to create the first row – if I can, when I’m done with each row, I like to put it back with the other patches (anything to feel in control!):
Repeat for each of the rows – when you’re finished, you should have something like this:
Now press each row very thoroughly, so the seams are nice and crisp. On the wrong side of the row, the seam allowances should be pressed to one side (it doesn’t matter which for this project), like this:
This ironing stage is another top time to get your rows muddled – try and keep them order, but you can always refer back to your photo.
Now take 20″ x 30″ piece of lining fabric and place it, wrong side facing you, on a flat surface, with the long edges at the bottom and top. Next take the large piece of quilt wadding and place it on top of the lining fabric, with edges aligned. Hopefully this picture shows what you are aiming for:
Place few pins or safety pins through the lining and the wadding here and there to secure them together (or use some spray baste if you have some lying around). Remember to remove any wadding/lining pins gradually as you pin your rows into position – you don’t want to accidentally hit a pin you have forgotten about!
Place the bottom row of the patchwork right side facing up, centrally at the bottom of the long edge of the wadding.
Make sure that the top edge of the patchwork row is nice and straight (this is where a long quilting ruler is really useful), and pin in place, making sure that the pins go through the wadding and the lining fabric (remember you will be stitching the rows to the wadding and lining at the same time as stitching the rows together), positioning the pins in the middle of the patchwork blocks.
Contrary to what you might be expecting, don’t sew anything yet!
(An aside: I’m now going to take you step by step through the process of creating the brick wall arrangement of the patchwork rows. If you are happy to stagger the rows in your own way, then feel free not to bother with all my measuring and marking.)
Take a ruler and measure 3.5″ in from the left edge of the first row. Make a mark above the row at this point – I used a pin because the wadding I used wasn’t keen on my fabric marking pens.
Take the second row of patchwork blocks and place it right sides together with the first row, aligning the bottom edge of the second row with the top edge of the first row (do check to make sure – you don’t want your rows the wrong way up!). The second row should be positioned so that the seam between its first two patches is aligned with the mark that you’ve just made – see the seam lined up with the pin?
Part of the second row will be off the edge of the wadding, don’t worry about this!
The dotted line shows where you will be stitching. Pin the two rows of patchwork together very thoroughly, with the pins at right angles to the line which you will stitch, and making sure that you have pinned through the 2 rows of patchwork, AND through the wadding and lining fabric. The excess wadding and lining fabric above the rows can really get in your way whilst you are stitching, so it’s a good idea to roll up the excess and put a pin through it to hold it in place, like this:
Take all this to your sewing machine an stitch the two rows together with a 1/4″ seam.
Try not to pull on the fabrics as you stitch and just guide everything underneath the presser foot. If you find that the fabric is humping up (not a technical term…!) in front of the presser foot as you sew, just pull out the pins as you go – a little fabric creep wont matter too much with this project.
When you’ve finished the row, fold the second row of patchwork up so that the right side is facing, and press flat, keeping all the seams nice and straight, and the short seams between the patches at a 90 degree angle (or as close as you can make them) to the long seam between the rows.
Next mark the position for the third row. Make a mark 1″ to the right of the seam between the first two blocks of the second row:
Take your third row of patchwork and lay it right sides together with the second row, the bottom edge of the third row should be aligned with the top edge of the second row, and the seam between the first 2 blocks in the third row needs to be aligned with the mark you just made, like this:
Here’s a closer view:
Stitch into position with a 1/4″ seam, then press the third row up so that the right side is facing. Your first three rows should look something like this (trust me, it’s the camera rather than my sewing that makes this look all wonky!):
The 4th row should be placed in the same position as the first – use a ruler to get the position and line up the seams:
Then continue with the fifth and sixth rows, which should be placed in the same position as the second and third rows, respectively.
The trick is to keep the long edges as straight as you can when you are pinning and stitching, and press thoroughly after completing each line of stitching. Here’s my finished cushion top before trimming:
When you’re happy you’ve got everything just right, trim to create a rectangle measuring 17″ high and 25.5″ wide (don’t worry if your measurements come a 1/4″ or so under, as long as you create a nice neat rectangle). Make sure you trim equal amounts off all the sides to get to the right measurements, otherwise you will lose the nice symmetry of the brick effect.
Stage 2: Creating the back of the cushion
The back consists of 2 sections, which will overlap when sewn to the cushion top – one section is a little larger than the other – try not to get your matching fabrics and fleece mixed up!
First fuse the 2 pieces of fusible fleece to their respective pieces of outer backing fabric, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Fold the 2 pieces of binding fabric in half lengthways, wrong sides together, and press.
Take the smaller piece of lining fabric and place on your work surface, wrong side facing upwards. Position the smaller backing fabric/fleece combination on top of the lining fabric, right side facing upwards (i.e. with fusible fleece side against the wrong side of the lining fabric), making sure all the edges are aligned. Pin together to hold in place. You should have a fabric sandwich with the right side of the lining fabric facing outwards one one side, fusible fleece in the middle, and the right side of the backing fabric facing outwards on the other side.
Now place one piece of the Liberty binding with the folded raw edges aligned with one of the 17″ edges of the backing fabric/fleece/lining fabric sandwich, on the backing fabric side:
Pin in place and then mark a line 7/8″ from the top edge (the raw edges). Machine stitch along this line.
Fold the binding piece up and over the seam you have just sewn and press. This is what it should look like from the front:
This is how it should look on the back (on the lining side), with the top of the binding peeping over the lining fabric:
Fold the binding down so that it comes down over the line of stitching you have just made.
If it doesn’t quite stretch, feel free to trim a little bit off the raw edges you are enclosing in the binding (but only a little bit!). Hand stitch the binding into place on the lining side with a slip stitch, or, you can machine stitch this binding on.
Repeat this binding process for the other larger backing section.
Stage 3: Constructing the cushion
Place the patchwork cushion top face up on your work surface. Place the larger backing section piece face down on top with the patchwork aligned with the right edge of the cushion top like this. Hopefully you can see here that the lining side is facing you:
Then place the smaller backing section, again face down, aligned with the opposite edge of the cushion. The bound edges of two backing sections will overlap in the middle.
Pin all round the edge. Sew the edges of the cushion, sewing each edge separately, rather than dashing round in a square – it is MUCH easier to keep everything in its place this way. The long edges should be sewn with a seam allowance of 3/8″ and the short edges should have a seam allowance of 5/8″. Reverse stitch at the end of each row of stitching about 1/2-1/4″ from the corner. If you find that your 75/11 needle is struggling, you might want to try an 80/12 or even a 90/14.
I like to round off my corners (you don’t have to!), so I use a smallish cotton reel as a template to trace a line to stitch. In this picture you can see the straight corners (with reverse stitching to give extra strength) and the curved line of stitching. Even if I am planning to round off the corners, I always stitch straight corners first. That way I can be sure that all my seams are straight and my fabrics haven’t got out of alignment:
At this stage turn your cushion through and make sure everything looks right before you finish the inner seams. It’s tricky to correct things after this stage. You can even try the cushion pad to make sure you are happy with the fit – if you prefer a plumper fit, you can shave a little bit off the seams if you like.
When you are happy that all is ok, trim the seam allowance to 3/8″ all round (cut diagonally across the corners, not too close to the stitching if you decided on right angled corners). Obviously, this should only mean trimming the short edges, but you might want to trim off any wobbly bits, fraying threads and the like on the long edges too. Neaten the seam allowances by sewing them together with a zig-zag stitch very close to the edge.
Turn your completed cushion right side out, press it thoroughly and enjoy a great sense of pride!
Finally put your completed cushion on your favourite armchair and have a lovely snooze to recover….. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.