quilting & piping

I have been using our throw pillows as small studies in the fabric arts. They’ve enabled experiments in knife pleats and kissing pleats and smocking so far. I’ve had a terrible time with some stubborn ruffles on a piece which may never recover, though I’m going to see if a few rosettes will save the thing. I’ve been warming up my quilting skills on another placemat and then on a cushion, before taking on the large quilts, and decided to throw in a small lesson in piping, while I was at it. I’ve never tried piping, very exciting.

quilted & piped pillow © elisa rathje 2011

I used a wide bowl and some tailor’s chalk to draw out the pattern. If you like things to be very precise you could mark out lines first, but I’m both impatient and fond of a handmade sort of drift and wiggle. I’ve simply cut a piece of cotton quilting batting and pinned it in several spots behind the linen.

quilted & piped pillow © elisa rathje 2011

Come into my dim and grainy evening studio for a bit. I bought piping cord a whole year ago with good intentions. You’ll need to make or buy some very wide bias tape, as it needs to stretch round the corners of the pillow without puckering. Cut it long enough to overlap generously. Fold it around the cord and pin the cord into place along the fold.

quilted & piped pillow © elisa rathje 2011

This would be a good moment to switch to a piping foot or a zipper foot, to allow the needle to move along snugly beside the cord. I confess, having neither for my vintage machine, and not quite having the patience (hmmmm) to wait for dear friends to post me one (thank you!) I went ahead and sewed the piping anyway, with the foot moving along on top of the piping and the needle dropping in beside. I know. It did work, happily!

quilted & piped pillow © elisa rathje 2011

Pin the piping round the cover, raw edges together, easing the corners and then notching them with little triangle cut outs to help things stay smooth. Fold one edge of the piping, and when you get back around to it, tuck the raw edge inside it so that they overlap cleanly, and trim. There are some good resources for how to do this bit. Stitch round, as close to the piping as you can get.

quilted & piped pillow © elisa rathje 2011

I chose a slightly rougher, slightly darker linen for the back. I pinned the back of the cushion cover on to the front, right sides together, sandwiching the piping, and then sewed around again following the first line of sewing precisely, and stopping with enough space left to both turn the cover right side out, and stuff the pillow form into it. Best to choose what kind of closure you want in advance – I’m happy just to handstitch it closed and toss it in the wash if it encounters some messy little hands.

quilted & piped pillow © elisa rathje 2011

Quilted and piped!

crocheted coaster

First some messy experiments, watching little videos, browsing through patterns, trying different hooks and yarns, and now my studies in crochet are taking shape. I’m determined to crochet a granny square throw, and I’ve been developing my skills as I sort out what motif I’ll use. I’ve been carrying around some beautiful linen yarn and a hook, and when I catch a moment I work on a pattern for one motif or another. Learning the language of crochet patterns was one of the first steps. One of the motifs I fell in love with is the wonderful Yvonne Eijkenduijn‘s very romantic flower crochet pattern.

crocheted coaster © elisa rathje 2011

I attempted it first using a larger hook with a doubled strand, and then using a single strand with a little hook, 3.25mm. I’m getting better at it.

crocheted coaster © elisa rathje 2011

These little motifs are quite nice for tucking under our teacups. A crocheted coaster, or a coaster of any kind, is definitely something I railed against until I abruptly changed my mind, now that I have antique waxed surfaces to protect! If the coasters are pretty my little girls are also more likely to get them out. I’ll be making more of these. And then a colourful throw!


p>update: I fell thoroughly in love with these linen motifs, and use them all over the cottage. You can get all kinds of motifs to use as coasters and doilies, in shades of linen, in my little studio shop.

shirred cushion

Another cushion. This time an experiment with smocking a coarse, unbleached linen.


Very casual. Little girl’s sundress meets sculpture. I’ve never used shirring elastic before and wanted to try it out.

chalked © elisa rathje 2011

Like the knife pleat pillow, I measured lines with tailor’s chalk. This time I began marking in the middle of a length of fabric that could wrap round the pillow plus about six inches longer, to make an envelope.

shirring © elisa rathje 2011

I wrapped a bobbin with shirring elastic, and sewed along the lines, right-side up. Then folded the hemmed ends of the long piece in, to make the envelope style closure, and sewed up the sides.

shirring © elisa rathje 2011

Spray it with water, and the fabric scrunches right up as it dries. I like the irregular texture of a shirred cushion so much. Especially paired with the kissing pleat pillow.

knife pleat pillow

There’s something about desaturated colour and the textures of fabric that I’m so drawn to. The intricacies of textured fabrics are fascinating, heart-quickeningly so, and I’m able to rest in the quieter shades, like a happy Taoist in the open spaces of a drawing. Therefore when I began to sew things for our home to make it softer, warmer, comfortable, I began to work with un-dyed natural fibres, wool, linen, cottons, to draw out their textural capacities. I long to do the same in clay. Soon.


Like the kissing pleat pillow, simple pleats were ideal for creating a sculptural effect with some stiff, heavy linen. I’m experimenting now, learning to sew as I try different techniques. A very basic one, then, the knife pleat. I began by marking out my linen with tailors chalk and a quilting ruler.


I followed some clear directions to press and sew and press and sew pleat after pleat. Best to use a very hot, steaming iron, and to first set the seam closed as it was sewn, then flip the fabric, so that the pleat lies in the direction you’d like it to face, and press the seam open from underneath.


I cleaned up the edges, the rotary cutter is my best tool for this. Then I turned it wrong side out, hemmed the edges, and sewed the pillow form in. I will likely regret this, an envelope pillow case is my next study.


Quite content with a knife pleat pillow. Well, I am dying to learn how to reupholster the sofa, but otherwise content. I’ve begun the next cushion experiment today, using shirring elastic. A sort of training for frocks. What happened to skirts and frocks and quilts? Soon – soon!

kissing pleat pillow

There’s something about having a whirlwind of vibrant children and all of their colourful things in a house that makes me love peaceful shades of linen and white. I’ve been thinking about sewing with texture, and starting to play with old techniques like pleating and pintucks. This pillow is an astonishingly easy pattern; the kissing pleats are made by knotting on the back of the linen. Now that autumn rains are falling I’ll make some variations.