Sunday, March 09, 2014

Weekend Project: Ribbon Pillows

I'm currently in the process of reupholstering my antique loveseat for the living room. I had originally wanted the sofa to be a bright, bold accent piece. I was thinking of red, or red and white, possibly in a geometric pattern, but after working on the sofa, and realizing how old, beautiful, and well made it was, I decided not to go too crazy with it, and I chose a semi-traditional, but fun pattern in dark green and gold tones.

That said, I still wanted my bright pop of colour, so I chose to make bold throw pillows in a complementary red.

I saw some ribbon pillows a month or two ago on a few blogs, and I fell instantly (and madly) in love with them.

Pictured above: A house tour photo from a home featured on either Design*Sponge or Apartment Therapy (I can't remember), featuring a black ribbon pillow (from Target). The same pillow in orange (Target). Also in a similar style, but with a much more complicated pattern is the Adalyn Rug, in Navy from Lulu & Georgia.

I *HAD TO HAVE THEM*. After some internet searching, I found out that they are sold by Target, and referred to as "Grosgrain Toss Pillows". They cost 25$, come in several colours, and for whatever reason seem to have become completely unavailable. Several blogs refer to them as such, with a link to Target's website, but the links are dead, and they are nowhere to be found.

I found several other sites that sold similar pillows and pillow covers, but the prices were insane. One very fancy company had some for sale for over 300$ each.

Some more internet searching led me to a bunch of DIY tutorials. Based on those, I decided I could make these myself fairly easily. One tutorial mentioned using Heat-N-Bond to attach the ribbon, and I decided this might be the way to go.

One of the tutorials I looked at was this one:
How to Apply Greek Key Trim to a Pillow

I decided I would prefer to use a continuous piece of ribbon, rather than tediously measure, cut, and seal all the edges. I also decided to use a pattern (which is a method I have not seen elsewhere) to do mine. I hope you will all enjoy this little tutorial I've put together for you guys and gals!

- Pillow inserts (I used some wonderful second hand feather inserts from Value Village at 5$ each)
- Quality fabric (decorator or upholstery weight)*
- Satin or Grosgrain ribbon of your choosing (either a contrasting colour, black, or white)**
- Matching thread
- Heat-N-Bond
- Iron
- Pins, scissors, shears
- Cardboard
- Sewing machine
Optional: Bias tape

* For a single pillow, you will only need 1 yard, for 2 pillows get at least a yard and a half.
** Depending on the size of the pillow (or curtain, or duvet) you're doing, you may want to vary the width of the ribbon you are using. For these 18" x 18" pillows, I used 7/8" wide ribbon. I used about 10 feet of ribbon for this 14" x 14" grid pattern, and I chose satin over grosgrain.

For throw pillow covers, you will want to make your finished cover the same size as your insert, or just a hair smaller. For my pillows, they were 18" x 18", meaning that my finished cover needs to be this size. For the fabric, and the pattern, you'll need to add an inch to the width and height for your seam allowance. So 19" x 19" in this case.

Make your pattern. Mine was made from 2 cereal boxes taped together. For this pillow, I was using 7/8" ribbon, so I used this as the base for all my measurements. For the placement of the pattern, be sure not to start it too close to the edges. I wanted a good 2" of plain red border, so my ribbon started at 2 1/2" from my pattern edge (remember the 1/2" seam allowance). From there I started to mark out the lines. The small corner squares (inside the ribbon) are two ribbon widths, and the "prongs" (for a lack of a better term) are one ribbon width. The centre rectangles are whatever is left. This seemed to work out really well for this size pillow, combined with this size ribbon.

After I had all of this drawn out, I figured out that I would only need the external frame with the prongs to be able to do all my corners and joints. This was cut away with a craft knife and a metal ruler. The ribbon pattern ends up being 14" x 14" with the prongs starting at 3 1/2" from the outside edges, and being 2 5/8" long towards the centre.

With this pattern, I could do an unlimited number of identical pillows, including longer pillows like rectangular pillow cases (as Sarah did in her tutorial) and I would just need to vary the width in the "centre rectangles" to suit.

The added benefit of the cardboard pattern is that it was also used to trace the 19" x 19" squares onto my finished fabric for cutting (which saved time).

With the fabric ready, I pinned the cardboard pattern to the fabric and into a double sheet of corrugated cardboard over my table. You could also use a cork board.

For the ribbon, I prepped the back side with ironed-on lengths of 3/4" Heat-N-Bond. The first end gets cut square, and you burn the edge with a lighter to seal it. After this, it's just a matter of folding and pinning the ribbon in place all the way around.

One of the trickier areas to fold around are the "prongs". For these, fold at a 45 degree away from the direction you're headed, and then fold the ribbon back over itself:

Once everything is pinned and ready, remove the cardboard pattern (carefully). The last corner gets clipped square, burned, and folded under at a 45 degree.

Iron all the ribbon down carefully. You will note that this continuous ribbon method leaves loose triangles. This is normal and to be expected.

I had been hoping that I would be pretty much done with the ribbon grid by this point, and that I could just either glue, or hand-stitch the little triangle corners, but I was really not happy with the performance of the Heat-N-Bond. I either overheated it accidentally, or there wasn't enough of a glue film to work well with my textured canvas material. I decided I would prefer to top-stitch over everything on both edges for a nice flat, and permanent bond. If you're using a smoother fabric, or perhaps the stronger Heat-N-Bond Ultra (I was using the "Lite") then you may not need to do this step.

I pinned down all my corners to make sure nothing would come loose.

A quick run through the sewing machine (with little to no problems) left me with a nice flat ribbon design.

For the rest of the pillow, the design options are left to your imagination. You can have a piping, fringe, or flap around the edges, a zipper closure, a sewn-shut closure at the base, or an envelope back. I am not a fan of "stitched closed" pillows because I like the option of easily changing the covers, or being able to wash them. I am also not a fan of the zipper because the bottom tends to look bumpy if it's not done perfectly. This left me with a quick and easy envelope back. These are not the best due to their tendency to be "gappy" at the back, but I may add a button to help with this.

Originally, I wanted to minimize bulk (eliminate a double hem since my red fabric is quite thick) by using a matching bias tape. After I did the fist two interior flaps, I decided I didn't like the finished look. The colour was just slightly off, and they looked a bit crinkled. I left the interior flaps like this, but I did a single hem on the other two top flaps. One had the selvage edge, for the other I did a tight zig-zag stitch to prevent fraying. Then I ironed a half inch seam and did a double top stitch. You can see both options here:

Side note: for the envelope back, you can make your overlap as large as you want, however, the larger it is, the harder it is to put in your insert. Some can be as much as a 9" overlap, but 4" is more common.

Pin everything, sew 1/2" all around, being sure to reinforce the envelope flap seams. Clip the corners, and zig-zag stitch the raw edge if desired.

For fun, this was the inside edge of the ribbon stitching.

A quick zig-zag stitch on the interior seams (I hate loose threads):

Finished pillow case turned right-side out. Isn't that great!?

Back side:

Finished pillow(s):

I think they'll look great on the sofa.

For those who are curious, I started these yesterday afternoon, and finished them this morning. This included a few breaks, and a trip to get more ribbon (I had bought an 18 foot roll, but I didn't have enough for both pillows). All-in-all, I'd say these took about 5 hours(?) or less for the pair.

My fabric was around 12$/yard and it came up to 22$ with taxes (I got 1 1/2 yards and I have enough to do a third pillow), the ribbon was 2.50$ (x2 plus taxes), the thread and bias tape were around 4-5$, 10$ for both feather pillow inserts (new ones are around 12$ each). The Heat-N-Bond was under 5$ for a yard (with extra). So around 47$ for the two pillows, with some spare materials left. If I were to add-in shipping on flat-out buying the factory made Target ones (if they were available), it turned out to be just a bit cheaper to make them than buying them from Target, and I got pillows with feathers (better) and a higher quality fabric, so I think I did well.


  1. Hello JC,
    Very nice Mister! And making your own the template was very clever. The art on the walls adds so much warmth. Your Christmas table and tree was simply beautiful, well done.

  2. You did an outstanding job on the pillows, as you do on all of your home improvement projects. To get that quality, I think you'd have to pay about 2.5X your costs. I haven't seen the ones at Target but I find it hard to believe that the finishing is anywhere near as good. They are beautiful and am eager to see them on your finished loveseat. I'd call you a Renaissance man!

    1. Thanks so much for your comments! I suppose that the past 8 months as an upholsterer have improved my sewing skills by quite a bit. I think if I would have done this project a year ago, it wouldn't have turned out as nice.

      I really can't say much about the Target pillows, since I don't live near one, and I haven't seen any of their pillows up close. I would imagine that they are sewn (made in) China, and that they use a much thinner and cheaper material, but I would think that the sewing is still decent, since it's just straight lines, and they make thousands of them.

      I do appreciate the term "Renaissance man". I just looked it up, and I think it fits: cabinetmaker, clockmaker, painter, upholsterer, etc.

      As for seeing the pillows on the finished sofa, the sofa got done yesterday and I may be posting it tomorrow!

  3. Nicely done. Very professional looking. 8-)

    1. Thanks Sharon! I'll be posting the photos of the finished loveseat with the 2 ribbon pillows soon, so keep your eyes peeled!