National Sewing Month – Heritage Bolster Pillow Project

  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate
National Sewing Month – Heritage Bolster Pillow Project

I remember a little over 20 years ago walking through the estate sale in my great-grandmother's house after she died.

My mother and her sisters walked through, picking up items and recalling the memories from their childhood. Some of the items in the house held obvious monetary value yet others seemed insignificant. Regardless of the inability of these less impressive items to bring in big bucks or attention from the throng of people who came in search of treasures, some of those items were just as valuable to my family. They were a connection to the love they had received from their grandma.

While each of my great-grandmother's grandchildren had a sentimental connection to different items, one thing everyone agreed on was the great value of her handmade quilts. Any of us who have childhood memories of an adult in our lives who sewed understands this. As a child, watching someone spend countless hours constructing something useful from a pile of fabrics leaves you in awe. And if the something they were making was for you, the feeling the anticipation was almost as exciting as receiving the gift.

When I was pregnant with our youngest son, one of my best friends gave me a stuffed dog as a shower gift. Much to my surprise, it did not find its way to the obligatory stuffed animal box at our first purge-the-toys yard sale. It didn't land in the second sale, either. In fact, 8 years later, Doggy still holds a prominent place atop my son's bed.

Bed time is a treasured time in our home. Each night we read, we talk about values and virtues associated with situations from our day, and each night closes with a hug. Doggy has always been a part of my son's night time routine and I suspect it's the reason he's still so loved.
A few months ago, Doggy was joined by Mr. Fluffy. Mr. Fluffy is a stuffed rabbit my grandma grabbed off the shelf of a dollar store so she would have a little just-because gift to give to my son. He quickly fit in to our nightly routine and sits with Doggy on the bed each day.
We're redecorating my son's bedroom and I thought it would be fun to add a pillow to keep Doggy and Mr. Fluffy comfortable during the day. The pillow will fill a need now as part of my son's collection of comfort items. And one day I will pack it away with Doggy and Mr. Fluffy.
Gifts we put our time and love into sewing for another person have great potential for becoming heirlooms, especially if what we make has unique qualities to it. For example, a doll made for a little girl can be made extra special by adding a dress that matches her own.
To make Doggy and Mr. Fluffy's pillow a unique one, and likely to be considered special, I decided to make it a bolster pillow. My son can use it when he's lying on the floor watching TV and he thinks it's awesome because the shape is different. Adding a little heirloom insurance to the project, I took my son with me to pick out the fabrics. How fortunate we were that our local fabric store had a bolt with dog bones on it and a bolt with little bunnies on it!

bolster pillow 1

Another way to make your gift special is to ask the child to help make it. They don't have to be involved from start to finish. They just need to be able to look at the item and recall some part they played in its construction. The idea of handing a young child a pair of sewing scissors or rotary cutter or pushing material through a sewing machine may leave you thinking there aren't many ways for them to help. If you're making something that is constructed of small squares of fabric, allowing them to cut the pieces with a paper trimmer is a safe process and almost guaranteed to be successful. The cutting rail and paper clamping bar hold the fabric, preventing it from moving as the child cuts. The smudge guard and blade carriage keep their fingers away from the blade as it cuts. And the blade carriage being attached to the cutting rail assures them a straight cut.
All seam allowances are 1/2 inch.

bolster pillow 2

Begin by cutting a fabric panel, 25.75 inches long x 22.25 inches high in this example, to create the cylindrical shape of the pillow. If you have a template you'll be using for your circles on the side panels and don't know what size to cut your panel to match the circumference of the pillow, take the diameter of your circle x 3.14 (pi) and add one inch. The finished length of my pillow is 24.75 inches long with a circumference of 21.25 inches. My fabric panel for this step, after stitching together a variety of fabrics, was 25.75 inches long x 22.25 inches high. If you stitch together fabrics to create this panel, allow an extra 1/2 inch on each side of each piece for seam allowances. You can this on the back side of the fabric panel in this photo.

bolster pillow 3

Match the long edges of the fabric panel with the fabric right-sides together. Stitch in from each side toward the center of the panel 3.25 inches, backstitching at the start and finish. The opening between these seams will be used to fill the pillow.

bolster pillow 4

If you want to add decorative piping, do it at this point. I made my piping by cutting 2 strips of fabric 22.25 inches long by 1.5 high, folding a 21.25 inch length of 1/4 inch piping cord in the center of it (wrong sides together) and stitching the length of the strip using my zipper foot pressed tightly against the piping cord. After stitching it to the right side of the fabric cylinder, again using the zipper foot, clip around the entire circumference, taking care not to snip the seam you just stitched.

bolster pillow 5

You'll need 2 fabric circles for the ends of the pillow. I used the 6.75 inch Super Sized Circles Shape Template and my favorite scissors, the SoftgripÆ Razor-edge Scissors to cut mine.

bolster pillow 7

Pin the fabric circles to the openings in the ends of the pillow. The snips you made in the seam allowance will allow the material to stretch around the curves of the circle. Place the circle side down in your sewing machine and stitch the layers together, removing the pins as you approach them. Using your zipper foot will allow you to press up against the piping creating a more accurate seam.

bolster pillow 6

If using a zipper, insert it at this point. If not, skip to the next step. Turn the cover right-side out. Close the zipper and match the pull end up in the pillow cover opening, pinning the end of the zipper in place on both sides of the zipper. Matching the folded edge of one side of the pillow opening against the teeth of the zipper, pin one side of the zipper in to the pillow cover. When you reach the end of the zipper, pin the end in place and unzip the zipper. Pin the other side of the zipper. When finished, it should look like this photo. Turn the pillow cover inside out. Using the zipper foot and starting in the middle of the zipper, sew it in place, making sure the foot is pressed against the zipper as you sew. Stitch slowly around the ends for nice, neat stitching as it will show on the outside of the finished pillow. If you need to move the zipper pull to sew around it, first make sure the needle is down in the fabric and the presser foot raised.

bolster pillow 8

The pillow can be filled with a variety of materials. I used a full-sized roll of quilt batting I found on clearance for $5. I knew my son would like a softer pillow and it was the exact size I needed to fill my pillow cover so this worked out great for me. If you want a firm pillow, typical of bolster pillows, you can buy a bolster pillow form or roll up a sheet of foam. I even saw an online tutorial where old towels were rolled up and used as filling. If you inserted a zipper insert your stuffing, zip it closed, and you're finished. If you didn't use a zipper, you'll need to hand stitch the opening closed.
Doggy will never find himself in a yard sale or thrift store pile. While he wouldn't fetch 50 cents in my estate sale, he's invaluable to my son. I know he'll have wonderful memories of Doggy and Mr. Fluffy and I hope one day when he pulls them out of the box I save them in, he also has wonderful memories of this pillow when he pulls it out of the box.

Supply List

Fabrics (1) 25.75 inches long x 22.25 inches high pane

(2) 6.75 inch circles in this example)


Zipper (optional)

Piping cording (optional)