Art Quilted Pillows...A Tutorial (Part 1)by Andrea Kelter on 03/17/15
Over the last few months, I've been playing with art quilted pillows, turning fabric into art that looks painted, or resembles aged signs...and inside the social media groups I participate in, they've received a lot of really positive feedback, and a number of questions about how I make them.
I promised a tutorial...and am working on it now. It's going to be fairly detailed, so thought I'd start today with information on why I choose the fabrics I do, and what works (for me) and what doesn't when selecting fabrics for this technique.
To give you a better idea of how they look finished, here are some photos of two recent pillows done using this technique.
Choosing & Preparing Your Fabric
I think the most important step in the entire process is choosing your fabrics. Art fabric panels work well, so do certain types of prints - Amy Butler's "Meadow Blooms" from her Violette collection is one I'm drooling to try. The fabrics in the pillows above are a "Cosmos" panel by Michael Miller, and "Catch of the Day" panels from Windham Fabrics. I also have a large collection of Kaffe Fassett florals at home, all waiting to be turned into art pillows.
For the best results, I do not pre-wash these fabrics. I starch them very heavily using a technique Carrie Nelson posted about on Moda's Cutting Table blog recently. I dampen the fabrics really well with starch (both sides if its a light fabric, just the back side if its a dark one - this avoids any pale starch residue marks on the fabric). Then I hang them to dry overnight. Next day, I iron them really well with a hot iron and lots of steam. They come up crisp, perfectly pressed and ready to cut!
The next step: trim fabric to size ready for quilting. My go-to pillow insert sizes are 20 x 20, 21 x 21, 18 x 18, 24 x 24, 12 x 20 and 12 x 25. Many other sizes exist, so please don't limit yourself based on my favourite sizes. I have tried many pillow inserts, and have found that for nice even fill, good consistent quality, lots of size options and good price - inserts from "Pile of Pillows" over at Amazon.com (or Amazon.ca) are my preferred option. They offer multipacks and singles, and if you spend $35 or more, SHIPPING IS FREE! That's a fantastic deal...because pillow inserts need surprisingly big boxes.
Cutting the Fabric.
Quilting shrinks fabric, and pillow covers have to fit correctly, or you end up with lumps and bumps...and an unprofessional looking end result. I cut my fabrics with 1-1/2 inches overage in total (on average). So, if the pillow insert is 20 x 20, then my fabric cut is 21-1/2 x 21-1/2. (I like my pillows full and puffy, but if you prefer a looser fill, add another inch to both sides of your cut). For my largest pillows, 24 x 24 inserts, I cut 1-3/4" overage in total. So my fabric cut for this size is 25-3/4 x 25-3/4.
Setting the Fabric up for Quilting.
I back all of my pillow fronts with natural muslin (which I iron and starch the same was as the front fabrics), although any good quality solid fabric would work well. I have used Kona White and Natural often. Basically, you treat the front side of your pillow like a quilt. My batting of choice for art pillows varies. If I want a lot of definition in the quilting (as in the two pillows above), I use Quilter's Dream Puff batting. For a bit less definition (on a fabric like a Kaffe Fassett floral which is a busier fabric), I will use Quilter's Dream Blend 80/20. I also used the Dream Blend on the Cosmos pillows.
I pin baste these fabrics very carefully, and with a bit of stretch, all around the edges. (Just a tiny bit of tension...or you will pull the bias edges out of shape). Once all the edges are pinned, I pin some more...avoiding the areas I will be quilting first.
Below is a photo of the Cosmos #2 pillow, pin basted and ready for quilting.
Setting your Machine up for the Quilting.
I always start with a new needle for these projects, and my go-to needle is a 90/14 size because it bends less with direction changes, will stay sharp longer and has the durability I need to ensure all the changes of direction don't continually break either needles or thread. You must use an open toe quilting foot or darning foot, or any other free motion foot you like to use. A walking foot does not work for this technique. The only thread I do this technique with is Aurifil 50-Wt. cotton, although any 50-Wt. thread you like to use would work equally well. The weight is the key. You want the quilting to be there to add texture and release the movement in the fabric - you don't want to see a lot of quilting stitches. I always use thread that blends into the element I am quilting. And yes, that does mean a lot of thread colour changes.
Here's a photo of the back of Cosmos 2 - showing the quilting and all the thread colours this pillow required.
So, we've chosen our fabrics, prepared them, layered and basted them and prepared our machine for quilting. That's it for today's tutorial...Part 2 will be posted next Tuesday.
For now, I think we deserve a coffee and a baked treat...or maybe a glass of wine! Cheers!
And have a wonderful day...