Saturday, 7 July 2012

Rosy Pillow Cases

Rosy cushion, rosy jam, now rosy pillow cases! OK, OK I have a rosy obsession at the moment! Call it "a midsummer night's dream" rather than "twelfth night", but still "what you will"!

In the July issue of "Country Living" there is a rather tempting offer on some beautiful, rose splashed bed-linen. Anyone else been tempted by this? I think it's summer personified.

I say "offer" because it is  - bed-linen on offer at substantially reduced prices. But still a double set  comes in at between £40 and £50. Which is not so much of a bargain if one doesn't really need any new bed-linen. But the rose theme is very beguiling and I have a hankering for some rose-covered pillow slips, at the very least. And what do you know? in my fabric stash there is just the thing for making some. Here it is!

Very rosy and perfect for the job in view, I think. There is one snag. A big snag, as it turns out. There is not very much of it. It was an end of season, end of roll bargain. There is just over a metre of it, 1 metre and 21.5 cm to be precise! Enough for a pair of pillow slips? Surely, there must be! Sadly, when I got to draw out the pattern with that treacherous deep turning to contain the pillow end,  I found that this was rather too optimistic. By the time one has allowed for boring old seam allowances, let alone the turnings that make up the functionality of the thing, a pillow slip clearly uses more fabric than it looks as though it does, (or than I think it reasonably ought to!)

Between meetings yesterday afternoon, I pondered obsessively whether, having cut one pillow slip I couldn't hodge* together enough from the remaining fabric to make a pair, despite all the evidence pointing emphatically in the opposite direction. Inspiration then struck in the form of extending what I had with the addition of a bit of this bright pink quilting fabric, bought just because I loved the colour.

Let this be a lesson to you, Mrs T: those bargain bin end pieces of fabric that you think you ought not to buy "because you can't see an immediate use for them" are in fact the ones that will one day rescue a creative dream from the slag heap! Nota bene!

* Hodge - a technical(!) term meaning "cut corners and see if you can get away with what you shouldn't be able to, by splicing, merging or otherwise sticking together random bits and pieces"!!

And voilĂ , I cut two top pieces intact from the rosy fabric, and I had enough to cut six slim panels from the leftovers which can be mixed with the plain, bright pink to make two backing sides for each pillow slip. It was touch and go, mind you - this is all that I had left over!

Of course what I failed to do was to think about the arrangement of the panels as the pillow slip would look when finished so my nice even distribution of the two fabrics is not "nice and even" at all on the finished article but never mind! It's only the underside and I am so pleased at getting a pair of pillow slips rather than just one. Much more useful.

I am very happy with this little frugal effort! Far more so than if I could have cut both sides of each pillow slip from the original fabric without a murmur, which is a bit crazy I know!

And of course once the pillow slips are deployed, nobody will see the underside anyway!

Anyone else go to these kinds of lengths to achieve what is really unachievable but un-give-uppable?!

If I were paid for my time, which I'm not, it would probably have been far more economical to buy the whole set of bed-linen but my frugally, eked-out pillow slips give me rosy joy of heart and set summer bells a-tinkling and a-jingling in the rain! So go on, dig out that piece of beautiful fabric that isn't quite big enough to create what you want - think laterally, refuse to give in and you'll find a way to put roses all over your door, metaphorically speaking!

I am sure there are pillow slip-making tutorials out there on the Internet although I haven't actually had time to look today and they will probably be more sophisticated and professional than my method but this is very simple and very quick so in case any of you would like to run one up to brighten a rainy July afternoon, here's what I did and you can do too:

Ideally, for making a pair of pillow slips without piecing bits together, you need 2 m (2 and a quarter yards) of fabric But you can get away with less, as I did!

For each pillow slip you need two rectangles of fabric; one longer than the other. I am afraid I tend to sew in imperial measures so apologies to all you more up-to-date UK metric sewers for my old-fashioned imperial dimensions.

For mine, I used a bigger rectangle of 35.5" by 20" and a smaller rectangle of 32" by 20". This produced a finished standard UK pillow case size of 28" by 19". I allowed half an inch seam allowances.

On the bigger rectangle, fold over one end by 7" to the inside and press. This flap is going to make the envelope style pocket to contain the pillow at the open end of the pillow slip. Open out the flap again and press under 1/4" turning on the raw edge. Fold the pressed edge over again to the inside in another turning of about 1/2". Press. The raw edge is now neatly enclosed inside the turning. Keeping the flap opened out and separate from the rest of the rectangle, machine stitch all the way along the pressed edge. Press. Fold the flap back to the inside as you originally pressed it and re-press if necessary.  Pin at the sides to secure temporarily in position. This rectangle will be the top of my pillow case. If you are making a pair of pillow cases, repeat the process for the second.
Flap end of bigger rectangle showing where the pressed turning creases are.
Now take the slightly smaller rectangle and fold over one end by 3.5" to the inside and press. Open out the flap again, exactly as you did before, and press under 1/4" turning. Fold the flap back in position and stitch it in place through all the layers of fabric along the pressed edge. Press. This rectangle will make the bottom of my pillow case. Repeat the process, if you are making a pair.
Flap end of smaller rectangle showing where pressed turning creases are.
Now pair your rectangles off, top rectangles with bottom ones. You should find that each pair is now exactly the same size ie 28.5" by 20".

Pin the rectangles together, right sides and raw edges together, making sure that the flaps of your top pieces are lying nice and flat in their pressed position (remove those temporary securing pins or your sewing machine will eat them!) and check that all the edges are pinned so that they will be secured in the side seams. The flaps of your bottom pieces of course are already stitched down so you don't need to worry about these.

Stitch the rectangles together along the long sides and the end which still has raw edges, in a continuous seam with a 1/2" seam allowance. Do not, of course, sew the end where the pressed flaps are or you will have nowhere to insert your pillow! Clip diagonally across the seam allowances at the corners and turn the right way out.

That's it!

Insert your pillow(s) and prepare to sleep on a bed of roses!

If, like me, you are short of fabric, you can get away with piecing together the off-cuts of a smaller piece with some additional toning or contrasting fabric. I had half a metre of the bright pink quilting cotton to make the four panels I interspersed with my rosy off-cuts and I had a bit of the pink left over, but not much, so I guess a total of 1.7 metres of fabric is about the minimum you can get away with, unless any of your fabrics are wider than the standard 112-115 cm.

How you do it will depend on the precise amount of fabric you have and how you want the finished pieced panel to look. It may also be affected by the way the patterning on your focus fabric works. Florals generally, but not always, are good tempered about being turned through 90 or even 180 degrees enabling you to use every off-cut to maximum effect, but an obvious pattern repeat or stripes, say, may need more considered handling.

Remember that the more pieces that you stitch together, the more fabric you will lose in seam allowances so ideally go for the minimum number of seams in any pieced panel. And however big or small your pieces are, remember always to cut them along the horizontal or vertical grain of the fabric, never across it on the diagonal, or they won't lie flat when you stitch them together! Once you've stitched your pieces together, press all the seam allowances open and flat and proceed to make up as above.

For what it's worth, I would recommend choosing a relatively plain foil to your focus fabric. Either go neutral or pick up an accent colour from your focus fabric. But there is nothing to stop you using more than one toning fabric or even simply using a different fabric for the back rather than fiddling about, piecing off-cuts together. Try to make sure that whatever fabric you use, (whether pieced or not), is the same composition and weight as your main fabric.

Some of the prettiest fabrics, unfortunately, can also be the most expensive. But a small quantity of even a very expensive fabric can be a more affordable outlay for a project so this approach may free you to make something to show off a pricey fabric you love but which you don't want to spend the earth on. Or, like me, you may have a remnant of something not particularly expensive but very pretty, which at first sight looks too small to achieve what you want with. Plain fabrics to mix with more showy ones can be picked up very cheaply. Keep your eyes peeled for bin end neutrals or plains to fit flexibly with whatever show-stopper fabric fires your imagination and makes your heart skip a beat! Or is it only me who reacts to fabulous fabric this way?! Please tell me it's not!


  1. you've made a lovely job of these - the rosy fabric is beautiful, I can understand your frustration at not having enough. You have chosen well in your contrast fabric though - stunning work. x

  2. I love these - they are gorgeous. I have totally fallen in love with some vintage fabric (grey check with roses, probably from the 1950s-ish) and although I managed to walk away without buying any, I am now thinking about it so much that I shall have to give in and buy some (unless it has been sold). This would be a lovely project for it (and relatively do-able with my minimal sewing skills). You are not alone with your love of roses and I noticed that bedlinen in the magazine too. Yes, your pillow cases probably cost more in labour than the bedlinen, but the end result has huge advantages - you can feel proud of your skills and they will always delight you because you made them!
    Huge congratulations.
    Best wishes

  3. Hello TT!
    Oh, roses are so lovely on fabric. I love Cabbages and Roses (is that what that company is called?)
    Your work here is very lovely!

  4. When making things by hand the resultant joy far outweighs the less-than-perfect outcome. Some people just don't understand the pure joy of creating something by yourself, particularly if you've managed to make the best of limited resources. I've never thought of making pillowcases before so the tutorial's been really useful - thank-you. Tomorrow I'm going to be finishing my first-ever log cabin patchwork cushion, and the amount of pleasure and satisfaction I feel from looking at it is ten times higher than anything I would experience from just buying something perfect from a shop! Judy.

  5. I have been eyeing up that lovely bed set in Country Living too, but sadly cannot afford it at the moment! Your pillow cases are very pretty and you must be feeling very pleased with yourself for making good use of the fabric. Such a shame that you did not have enough to put into a bed cover too! Thank you for sharing your project.

  6. I love that fabric! Those pillowcases are beautiful. Well done! Rachel x

  7. I just bought some sale fabric today for the very same reasons -- I like it and somewhere down the road I'll find a use for it. Your pillows are lovely, and right now it is not that easy for me to find pretty floral fabric, so I'm glad you had some in your stash. I have often wondered if I were able to buy everything that I wanted wouldn't it take away so much pleasure? So much of life's enjoyment is in making something, or cooking something, or doing whatever it is within limited resources. I don't spend a lot of time worrying though, I'm pretty confident that is a problem that I won't have to face ;)

  8. Hello! Thanks for stopping by My House and your kind thoughts about my battle with bronchitis! Thankfully I'm well and truly on the mend now! I LOVE your pillowcases so well done you! It's so much more rewarding making these things than buying new (altho that offer does look very tempting)! I'm a huge fan of florals (all things chintz) but sadly DH does not share my flowery fantasies! Still, they have crept into our home in one or two places and I'm sensing a couple of pillow cases may be added to the collection! Thanks for the tutorial! lol x

  9. They are gorgeous. I fudge patterns all the time to squeeze things out of the too small fabric lengths I've bought.

  10. These are beautiful! I like the patchwork effect. That fabric is seriously lovely, so summery and bright. Do you think we can will summer to come with our sewing/baking/decorating choices? I am hoping so! I also buy expensive fabrics sparingly and make them last for as long as absolutely possible. It makes me feel less guilty! x

  11. I enjoyed reading how you made your small pieces work for this project. I love rose fabric, too, although everyone else here in the US seems to like plain minimilistic, modern design at present. (I'm sticking to my traditional decorating, though). I might get inspired and make some pillowcases, too.

  12. I am in awe of this post. The rose obssession? Yes, I plead guilty to that too. Mulling over a solution to a crafty problem all day long? Again yes. You found your solution and the result is delightful. What really impresses me the most is your thorough approach to writing this wonderful tutorial down to share with your readers.

    May your dreams be scented with rose petals.



Thank you so much for taking the time to visit me at Mrs TT's and comment. I love to read what you write.