September 5, 2013

liberty pillow challenge- a tutorial on improv. piecing

If you're popping over from sew mama sew, welcome!!! Pleased to have ya! If you're a regular reader of mine, heeeeeeeeeeey... how you doin'? :)

I had such a great time making a pillow for the Liberty Pillow Challenge that Sew Mama Sew and Liberty Lifestyle hosted. For this pillow, I settled on four gorgeous Liberty prints that are dominant in pink and blue. I then sorted through my stash of solids to find colors that I felt would compliment them.

I kept going back and forth on what pattern to use for my pillow but ultimately decided on improvisational piecing with a hexagon center! When non-sewing folks think of hexagons, they probably just think of a shape with six sides. Us sewing ladies and gents think "HEXIES!!!" English paper piecing, yo! Though I've yet to try my hand at English paper piecing (click here for a great tutorial from Sew Mama Sew), I knew that I wanted to use a hexagon as the center of my pillow as a nod to the Brits and their lovely hand pieced hexies.

I drew the wonkiest of all hexagons on some of the beautiful dark blue fabric and cut it out.

Then, I sewed it onto a 20"x20" piece of Warm & Natural batting (my pillow for this case is 18"x18").

I then cut the Liberty fabric in long strips, both 2" and 3" wide.

Most of my solids were in odd shapes since a lot of them were from my scrap bin. I just left those the sizes that they were and ironed them; the solids that were pretty big in size, I trimmed down to less than 5" wide.

Once I had all of my fabric cut and ironed, it was time to start piecing!

I placed a piece of fabric on the line where I stitched down the fabric that would be adjacent to it.

Using a quarter inch foot as my guide, I sewed the length of the material onto the batting, covering up the raw edge of the Liberty fabric that was there first.

I then flipped the solid pink piece of fabric over and ironed it.

From there, I just kept adding more fabrics!

Each time I added another strip, I made sure to line it up with the edge of the sewing line on the fabric it would be next to- as I did with that first pink strip. Remember when using prints to make sure that you are sewing with the right side of the fabric down so that when you flip it over, you are seeing the bright, vibrant side of the fabric and not the muted under side.

Once I had the fabric right side down and lined up with the fabric underneath it that had already been sewn down, I sewed it with the quarter inch seam allowance that I'd been using throughout. I flipped the fabric over once it had been sewn down and I ironed it. Bada bing, bada boom!

I continued to add fabric for a WHILE. The great thing about improv. piecing is that there is no wrong or right way to do it- you are the architect of the piece and there's no other like it. Keep layering fabric on top of fabric! Make fun angles! Go hog wild! Or don't. It is entirely up to you. :)

Once the batting is completely covered with fabric, flip it over.

Trim off all of those crazy little pieces that have gone past the edge of your pillow template. This is also a good time to square up the batting, if needed.

Now it's time to quilt! I am a big fan of straight line quilting for pillows; not only do I love the look of it in general, but it produces a very dense product if your stitches are close together. There's also so much you can do with straight line stitching- you can simply stitch in parallel lines or you can stitch in a pattern with lots of fun shapes and angles. It's up to you!

With the help of a chalk marker and a square template, I drew a 90 degree angle about 1/3 down the front of the pillow. My desire was to quilt along the first chalk line, from one end of the fabric to the center point where the two chalk lines meet above, then turn the pillow and stitch down the other chalk line. Does that make sense? I hope so.

I drew another chalk line to help me know where to make that 90 degree turn each time.

Then I started quilting! :) I used my walking foot to dictate the size of the spaces between the stitches.

As I started this quilting 1/3 of the way down the pillow, I had an area that hadn't yet been quilted. I decided I wanted to do something a little funkier up there. So I brought out my square template and chalk marker again and drew some lines with fun intersections.
And I quilted some more!

For the back, I made a simple envelope closure- click here for a tutorial from Freshly Picked on how to make one. Once I had the two pieces made for the envelope closure, I pinned them to the back of my pillow front, wrong sides together. I sewed around all four edges of the pillow with a 1/4" seam and then flipped it inside out, making a French seam, and sewed using a 1" seam allowance- just to make sure I had all those pesky little edges in there and secured.

The end result...


I love the way this pillow turned out! It's completely unique and has so many fun colors. I feel like the Liberty prints really shine next to the solids.

In this close up picture of the quilting, you can see the two different methods I used.

There you have it, one girl's path to improvisational piecing! A big thanks to Liberty Lifestyle and Sew Mama Sew for including me in this project; it was a lot of fun!

Do you have any Liberty in your stash? If not, it's your lucky day! Comment below before 11:00pm EST on Thursday, September 5, and you'll be in a drawing to win two Liberty fat quarters! The winner will be announced on Friday, September 6 so make sure to come back and see if you've won. International entries welcomed.

And may the odds be ever in your favor. :)

xo, Kara


  1. Love it Kara! I have a bit of liberty and just can't decide what to do. Think I might try a pillow or two!

  2. Love your tutorial! Sewing straight on the batting is genius! I have been drooling over Liberty for a while now but never taken the plunge.

  3. Kara, this is great - I'm definitely going to try it. Pillows have been calling to me lately.

  4. I've been wanting to try some improv like that but keep thinking a quilt is too big...don't know why I never thought of a pillow! And some LL? Yes please!

  5. Ooh lovely Liberty! What a fun improv block! I'm definitely going to make one! Cheers.

  6. liberty and improv piecing newbie here. love your pillow! i love doing pillow covers for testing out new techniques and test driving ideas before committing to an entire quilt.

  7. I like the different two different quilting versions on it.

  8. What a fun pillow for the Liberty pillow challenge. Your quilting is really nicely done.

  9. it looks fun !! I have to do an improve piece today and I turn on the computer and there you are... thanks


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