Tutorial: Appliqué and patchwork boiled wool pillow

boiled-wool-applique-and-patchwork-cushion

I can’t tell you what a fun project this boiled wool appliqué and patchwork cushion is. The wool is so forgiving and doesn’t fray, and wonky machine stitching seems to just disappear… If it’s not a fabric you have experienced before (and it was new to me!), boiled wool is a bit like wool felt, but it has a cosy, fuzzy texture and a little bit of  drape and stretch. The stretch gives boiled wool the advantage of making it rather easy to match seams (the exact opposite of what I was expecting). It has been an absolute revelation to me as a glorious fabric to work with – you just have to follow a few simple rules.

Working with boiled wool:

  • If you have one, use a walking foot. I’m not entirely sure I’d attempt this project without one..!
  • Use a ball point machine needle. I used a 90/14, which coped really well with the thick layers, especially when I was sewing the whole cushion together.
  • Use a longer stitch than usual. I found a 3mm stitch was fine for this project.
  • Don’t pull the fabric through the presser foot from the back – let the feed dogs do the work for you, and make sure you are supporting the weight of the wool fabric so that it doesn’t have to be dragged up to the presser foot by the feed dogs – that’s a sure fire of causing the fabric to stretch out of shape.
  • When ironing the wool (e.g. when you are pressing the seams open), press incredibly gently on minimum heat and try not to press the front of your work at all.
  • Use 1/2in seams.

Dragonfly Fabrics - Designer Dressmaking Fabrics

Huge thanks to Dragonfly Fabrics, my sponsors, for provided me with the boiled wool and velveteen to make this cushion.

boiled-wool-applique-and-patchwork-cushion-close-up-3

You will need:

  • A selection of pieces of boiled wool – I used a selection from my sponsors at Dragonfly Fabrics – where you can buy in increments of 30cm (12in). It’s hard to be specific because it really depends on how many different colours you want to use. To give you an idea, you need a 6in by 12in piece to make one square, one flower section and one flower centre, and 3 cuts of 30cm each would certainly be enough if you used just 3 colours for the cushion (which would look great and would be far less confusing than my more scappy approach).
  • 30cm (12in) cut of stretch velveteen in a coordinating colour for the back of the cushion. You could also use more boiled wool, or some other sturdy fabric with a bit of stretch, for example, a stretch denim.
  • 16in square of cotton fabric to line the patchwork section
  • Stranded embroidery cotton or cotton thread to match the flowers and flower centres
  • 17/18in cushion pad – I used an 18in duck down cushion pad for my pillow and it is a really great fit
  • Freezer paper
  • Pattern templates
  • Both the boiled wool and the velveteen shed tiny fibres everywhere whilst you are cutting them. I highly recommend a lint roller to pick up all the bits.

Pattern notes:

  • Seams are 1/2in throughout.
  • Finished size is 15in square.

Cutting the fabrics:

From the wool felt cut:

  • Nine 6in squares for the background.
  • Nine 4 1/2in squares for the flower petals
  • Nine 2in squares (although you can probably just about get away with 1 3/4in squares) for the flower centres

From the velveteen cut:

  • 2 pieces measuring 10in by 16in

Preparing the flower pieces:

Download and print out the templates. Make sure you open them in Adobe Acrobat reader and untick/deselect the ‘fit to page’. You can use the little inch square to make sure the print out is the right size.

Trace the flower template onto a piece of freezer paper and cut out. Repeat for the circular flower centre.

Iron the freezer paper flower template onto a 4 1/2in square wool piece as shown (shiny side goes against the wool).

1-cutting-out-the-flower-with-freezer-paper

2-cut-out-boiled-wool-flower-for-applique

Cut out the flower, and then peel off the freezer paper. Cut out 8 more sets of petals in the same way. You should be able to use the same freezer paper template to cut all the flowers.

Iron the circle template onto a small piece of felt and cut out:

3-cutting-out-the-centre-circle-for-the-flowers

Repeat to make 8 more flower centres. Again, you should be able to use the same piece of freezer paper to cut all 9 pieces.

Making the flower units

Decide on the arrangement of squares, flowers and circles and lay them all out on your work surface, and then take a photo! You will forget, so it’s great to have this as a reference. Here’s the kind of thing I mean – although it’s a rubbish photo, and shows how I made my arrangement in a horribly disorganised way – but it’ll give you an idea:

arrangement

Pin all the flowers in their respective squares, and put the circles somewhere safe until you need them.

Take one strand of embroidery thread or use ordinary cotton sewing thread and stitch each flower in place. I used a simple whip stitch  – here’s a lovely clear overview of how to do this stitch by Alison Glass at Sew Mama Sew. Put the TV on, or the radio, or your favourite podcast and just enjoy the hand sewing. If you want to give the edge of your flowers more definition, and make the stitching more of a feature, you can use a larger whip stitch with more than 1 strand of embroidery thread, or you can use a blanket stitch. Customize away!

Once you’ve done all the flowers, check your photo again, then pin and stitch all the centre circles in place.

Making the patchwork

Take two squares and pin or clip together. Adjust your stitch length to 3mm, if you haven’t done it already and stitch with a 1/2in seam.

4-pinning-boiled-wool-squares-together

5-first-two-boiled-wool-squares-stitched-together

6-squares-stitched-together

Refer back to your photo, and complete this row. Stitch up the other 2 rows and then very gently press all the seams open. They won’t stay very flat, and please don’t try and get them to go flat because you will spoil your beautiful wool, but you should be able to press them enough so that they stay open. Don’t trim the seams.

Take two of the completed rows and clip/pin together matching the seams. I find it helpful to clip the seam allowances so that they stay open. I pin through the seams so that I get them really nicely lined up:

7-clipping-the-3-rows-together

Stitch the final row in the place to finish the patchwork, and then press the seams open – again, don’t trim the seams.

Lining and ‘quilting’ the patchwork top

Clip the lining piece and the patchwork top together, wrong sides together and clip round the edge. Pin through the centre of each block too, to keep the 2 layers together (sorry pins aren’t pictured):

8-lining-on-the-cushion-top

Make sure the wool patchwork seams are open (the lining will help keep them open) and lying flat.

9-quilting-in-the-ditch

Working on the right side of the patchwork, ‘quilt’ (officially I shouldn’t really say quilt if there aren’t three layers being stitched – don’t tell!) the two layers together, stitching in the ditch along the seam line, as shown. Repeat for the other 3 long seams.

Making the back section

Fold in 3/8in on one of the long edges of the velveteen pieces, and then fold again to make a double fold, hiding the raw edge. You can use an iron on a cool setting to help you make this fold – don’t press with too high a heat or you will destroy the lovely nap of the velveteen. Clip or pin this double fold as shown.

10-hemming-the-backing-pieces

As you can see, the backs of the clips are facing up in the picture – because you now need to flip the fabric right side up and stitch this fold closed on the right side of the fabric. I kept my stitch length at 3mm and continued with the ball point needle. Make the line of stitching a scant 3/8in from the folded edge to make sure you catch the fold with your stitching.

Repeat with other piece of velveteen. If this kind of thing bothers you, you will want to check that the nap will go in the same direction when the back pieces are in place before deciding which of the long edges to fold and sew on the second back piece.

11-hemmed-back-pieces

Finishing the cushion

Lay the cushion top, right side up, on your work surface. Place one of the cushion back pieces on top, right sides together as shown:

12-placing-back-pieces

Put the other cushion back piece on the other side, again right sides together with the cushion top, and so that the 2 folded edges overlap.

Pin or stitch together and stitch all round the edge of the cushion with a 1/2in seam. Trim the seam to a generous 3/8in and then use a zig zag stitch or overcast stitch on your sewing machine (or overlocker if you are lucky enough to have one) to finish the seam neatly (unlike the wool the velveteen will fray).

13-overcasting-the-edges

Turn the cushion through to finish, and push the corners out with the blunt end of a pencil or similar.

boiled-wool-applique-and-patchwork-cushion-close-up-2

boiled-wool-applique-and-patchwork-cushion-close-up

And that’s you all done. Enjoy your lovely cosy cushion!

14 thoughts on “Tutorial: Appliqué and patchwork boiled wool pillow

  1. What a beautiful cushion! I love reading your tutorials – great attention to detail and super photos – thank you Ali!

  2. Thank you for the instructions. I’ve got a couple boiled wool coats I was taking to the charity shop, but they’ve been removed from the bags ~ guess what they’re destined to become?

    1. Oooh, what a good idea! I have a couple of accidentally shrunken jumpers that I was wondering about using… sadly though they are both purple, need to shrink a jumper with a nice contrasting colour 😉

  3. Oh my goodness Ali what a fabulous cushion and thank you so much for this wonderfully clear tutorial. What I particularly love about it is the versatility of it. Cushions are fabulous for ringing the changes in any room, something I am doing at present- I have chosen lemon and soft grey as my spring palette so already I am planning my newest make.
    A fantastic post as always Ali you work so hard and your makes are beautiful- have a wonderful week.
    Dorothy xx

    1. Dorothy your colour choices sound fabulous. I love yellow and grey together, and contemplated making the cushion in that combination of colours, but I think Dragonfly were short of yellow at the time. I bet that is going to look great. Thanks for your kind words about the tutorial. Much appreciated.

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