Thursday, January 6, 2011

Memory Tree Pillow: a Tutorial

As mentioned in my pillow backing tutorial, I've discovered a new found love for throw pillow covers! They're an excellent way to spruce up a room without having to store dozens of seasonal pillows.
This memory tree pillow is special in a few different ways.
First, it's an awesome scrap buster. I have an entire laundry basket of various scraps in lots of sizes, and this uses up even the tiniest of scraps! (Yes, I keep fabric that's only 1" square. What of it?)
Second, the nature of a scrap busting project is recycling. You're using fabric that would otherwise be tossed or unused, and you are not purchasing additional fabrics. What does that mean? FREE! Well, hopefully. I decided to dig through my stash and only use existing fabrics.
Third, the reason it's called the Memory Tree Pillow is because of how many different memories various fabrics evoke. I had a blast as I was sorting through scraps, remembering which quilt or project this fabric belonged to, remembering who wore this outfit, etc.  Represented in this quilt are numerous friends (the leaves), my husband (the linen background), my son (the swing seat), and my gentle and giving late Aunt Nan, who is represented by the quiet beauty of the wind.

My entire pillow is created from existing fabrics, and all were recycled with the exception of the minky dot backing - but that was already in my stash, so while it's not recycled, it was existing and so my project was still free!

To start, you need this:

We're going to need to fuse all the varying scraps to Wonder Under, following manufacturer instructions. This includes pieces for your leaves and your tree trunk, so make sure you've got a large scrap of brown!

The end result is a nice big chunk of wonder under with loads of pretty fabrics on it! I've already cut my tree shape from the brown- to cut your shape, just freehand sketch out a tree image onto the back of your wonder under while attached to the brown fabric, then cut and peel! Don't worry about perfection, your leaves will cover up any weird looking limbs and branches!
Next, we're going to cut up those scraps.... might want to pop in a chick flick for this part. :)
Start by cutting your scraps off the sheet you've created so they're back to original size, but now have the wonder under fused to them. Grab a pencil and draw out your leaf shapes - remember to vary the sizes!

I hope you picked a long movie... get to cutting out those shapes!

O. M. G.
That's 275. Um... you don't need nearly that many, I promise. I used about 100 on a 20x20 pillow.

By now, your movie's probably over. Grab another one. ;)

Time to peel! My wonder under trick of the day: wait a day between these steps. Wonder under peels off much much better if you've allowed it to fully cool - I like to iron on, trace, and cut my shapes one night, then peel the next.
Peeling is just what it sounds like - pull that paper backing off your leaves! Two bowls and a dumb comedy ought to make it go quickly.

Now, we've got all our applique parts set aside! Time to prepare your pillow front!
Cut a piece of base fabric (mine is linen... a shirt the husband wore). Make sure it's about 2" bigger than you need - between trimming and seams, it'll come down to size.
Interfacing makes applique go much easier. With floppy fabrics like quilting cottons and this linen, you're liable to get some puckering when you stitch around your shapes. A great way to prevent this is some interfacing, but remember, I'm using all existing fabrics. I didn't have any interfacing, so I made my own version! I fused a piece of not-so-pretty cotton to the back of my linen using heavy-duty wonder under. It did the trick quite well - provided stability!

Now that the pillow front fabric is prepared and stable, we're going to set up our tree where we want it.

If you've got any marks on your fabrics that won't disappear, cover 'em on up!

Iron your piece down when you're satisfied with the location, and bust out your best zig zag stitch! You're going to want a medium width and a short length... this will prevent any frayed edges of your tree trunk. Stitch all the way around so your stitch looks like so:
Now's the time to add any embellishments you desire. I chose to add a tree swing. This is, after all, a memory tree pillow, and I recall a perfectly lovely wooden swing hanging from a tree on a farm in Maine when I was a kid, so my swing lives on, in the form of a pillow. For the ropes, I used twine and a zig zag stitch over to keep it in place. The seat of the swing is a square cut out of my two-year-old's corduroy pants. (They were already ripped!)

Now that our tree and embellishments are in place, it's time to decide on leaf placement! This took a few tries, but I finally settled! Once you've decided you like your layout, iron all the leaves into place. Make sure the wonder-under side is facing downward, or you'll have a fun time removing leaves from your iron. Not that I found that out or anything...
Now, it's time to get to stitching! 100 leaves... are you crying yet?
This part is easier than you think. One of my all-time favorite applique techniques involves a raggy edge. Wonder under doesn't hold forever, so a straight stitch just inside of the edge of your applique will hold the leaf down, but allow the edges to fray. With a tree applique, this is perfect - leaves have texture, no?! Bust out your darning foot and free-hand your way from leaf to leaf.
I admit I cheat a little here - between each leaf, I simply lift my presser foot and move myself to the next leaf, without snipping threads. It uses less thread between each leaf, and takes a whole lot less time.

Once you've stitched all those leaves into place, this is what you're looking at:
Grab your snips and cut all those threads!

 The remainder of the pillow is fairly basic. As a lining, grab something ugly - you'll never see the inside of it. Got some old sheets or a pillowcase that's been outgrown? A shirt that you never really liked? Use it as your lining! You're going to baste your lining and your pillow front together with a layer of batting in between. You may quilt as you desire for this part. On my pillow, I simply went around the tree trunk once, and quilted some "wind" lines into the leaves flying off the tree:

Finish your pillow according to the pillow back tutorial here, and place on your couch for a little mid-winter perk!


katie@stvital said...

I love it! Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...



I am so making this! I need some whimsey in my house!!!

NaptimeCraftMommy said...

Am I crazy, or would this just look adorable, in a scaled down version, on the front of a little girl's plain jumper or linen dress?
As always, great job Bree!

Bree said...

It totally would! Too bad I don't have a girl. Hmm... Think the husband would freak if I made a linen dress for the boy-child? :)

liz said...


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