Technique Tuesdays: Reverse Applique Pillow with Betz White

What do you get when you combine felt, hand and machine stitching, fabric piecing, and sari yarn on one fun pillow project? A vibrant accent piece that is sure to brighten any room! In this project tutorial from our March/April 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, designer Betz White will show you how to use reverse applique to create this stunning layered fabric mixed-media pillow with texture, depth and dimension. Because felt can be cut without fraying, you’ll stitch first, then trim away intricate details. Embellish your pillow further using embroidery stitches and colorful silk sari yarn. Finish it off with playful tassels, and this simply constructed pillow will be a colorful mixed-media accent you can proudly display in your home.

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Betz White’s reverse applique mixed media pillow. Step-out photos by Betz White and Jenn Guneratne

A Layered, Textured Pillow by Betz White

Materials List:

  • Quilting cotton, nine 2½” x 12″ strips in gradient colors for background
  • Fabric shears
  • Sewing machine
  • Iron and ironing surface
  • Thread, a variety of colors
  • Felt
    – 12″x 18″ piece for the pillow front (I used green.)
    – Two 12″ x 12″ pieces for the pillow back (I used blue.)
    – TIP: For best results, use a wool-blend felt, which is durable, less expensive than 100% wool, and comes in lots of great colors.
  • Quilter’s basting pins or straight pins
  • Disappearing ink pen or chalk liner (I used a Clover® Pen Style Chaco Liner.)
  • Ruler
  • Embroidery scissors
  • Silk sari yarn, approximately 22 yards
    – NOTE: Silk sari yarn is brightly colored yarn made from silk sari remnants in India. Each yarn is unique due to the mix of colored fabric scraps and the uneven yarn thickness.
  • Embroidery floss
  • Embroidery needle
  • Pillow form, 12″ x 16″
  • Cardboard, 5″ long x 2″ wide
  • Heavy-duty thread

How to Make It:

1. Arrange the fabric strips long-sides together in the order desired. Place the first 2 strips right sides together and sew 1 side with a 1/4″ seam allowance. Press the seam open. Sew a third strip to the second in the same manner. Repeat until all 9 strips have been sewn and pressed. Your pieced background should be approximately 18″ wide and 12″ high. (FIGURE 1)

TIP: For the fabric background, use 2½” pre-cut quilting cotton strips or leftover scraps from other projects.

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FIGURE 1

2. Layer the 12″ x 18″ felt on top of the right side of the pieced background and pin baste with quilter’s basting pins or straight pins spaced every few inches. Mark vertical lines every 2″ or so with a ruler along the 18″ width with a disappearing ink pen or chalk liner. These will be your stitching guides.

3. With contrasting thread, machine stitch wavy lines vertically across the felt, using the marked lines as a general guide, removing the pins as needed. Stitch multiple times, offsetting the lines and allowing them to crisscross each other. Change thread colors and experiment, adding more stitched lines. (FIGURE 2)

TIP: Make sure you leave enough open shapes between the stitched lines to cut out in the next step.

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FIGURE 2

4. Poke the tip of a blade of sharp embroidery scissors into just the felt layer of a stitched shape. Carefully trim away the felt shape, 2mm inside the stitched line, leaving the sewn fabric beneath the felt intact. Repeat, cutting away shapes randomly, exposing the background fabric as desired. (FIGURE 3)

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FIGURE 3

5. Embellish the curves with silk sari yarn by couching it along some of the stitched lines. Cut a 14″–15″ strand of yarn, lay it onto the felt, and pin it in place. Thread a needle with embroidery floss, and use a couching stitch to secure the yarn to the felt surface. Repeat several times across the pillow front. (FIGURE 4)

NOTE: A couching stitch captures fibers and allows them to curve and form shapes. After pinning the sari yarn in place, knot the embroidery thread, take the needle through the front from the back, and tack the fiber in place with a tiny stitch. Bring the needle up again a little bit away from the first stitch, and tack the fiber in place again. Repeat until the entire fiber is attached.

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FIGURE 4

6. Add even more detail with embroidered accents. Thread a needle with contrasting embroidery floss, then stitch around some of the cutouts, using a blanket stitch. (FIGURE 5) Continue to add hand-stitched details as desired. Square up the finished pillow front as needed.

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FIGURE 5

7. To create the envelope pillow back, fold over and sew a 1/2″ hem on one side of each of the pillow back pieces. With the pillow front right-side up, layer the pillow back pieces right sides down, with the hemmed edges overlapping approximately 6″. (FIGURE 6) Pin around the perimeter with straight pins, then sew the front to the back with a 1/4″ seam allowance.

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FIGURE 6

8. Clip the seam allowances at the corners, cutting points in the seam allowance at a 45-degree angle. (FIGURE 8) Turn the pillow cover right-side out through the envelope opening. Work out the seams, finger pressing the seams flat, and press the pillow with a warm iron from the back of the pillow. Insert the pillow form through the opening and fluff to distribute the form. (FIGURE 7)

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FIGURE 7
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FIGURE 8

9. Create tassels by wrapping sari yarn 12–15 times around the 5″ piece of cardboard. With a needle and heavy-duty thread, push the needle under the yarn at the top edge of the cardboard. Wrap the thread around the yarn a few times, and then tightly knot the thread, leaving long thread tails.

10. Slide a scissor blade under the yarn at the bottom edge of the cardboard and cut the yarn. Remove the cardboard, keeping the yarn closely bundled. Take an 8″ length of yarn and wrap it repeatedly around the bundle, about 1″ from the top. Double knot the end of the yarn and trim. Repeat to create 3 more tassels.

11. Attach the tassels at each corner of the pillow using the thread tails. (FIGURE 9) Thread a needle with a thread tail and pull it through the corner seam of the pillow. Repeat with the second tail. Double knot the ends of the thread tails together and trim.

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FIGURE 9

That’s all there is to it — your new mixed media pillow with reverse applique is ready to show off to the world! Be sure to also check out Cloth Paper Scissors editorial director Jeannine Stein’s Studio Saturdays: Layered Fabric post to see how she used this technique to create a new case for her sketchbook and supplies.


Betz White has built a career on thoughtful design, skilled craftsmanship, and a focus on earth-friendly materials. She graduated from the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, with a degree in fashion design, and is a former children’s wear designer. She is the author of WARM FUZZIES, SEWING GREEN, and PRESENT PERFECT: 25 GIFTS TO SEW & BESTOW. Betz has been featured on Martha Stewart’s television show and on numerous craft podcasts. Betz’s bold aesthetic, combined with her education in apparel design, results in a unique offering of patterns and projects for the modern sewer.

To learn more about Betz, visit betzwhite.com. Be sure to also check out our Studio Spotlight in the March/April 2017 issue for an inside look at Betz’ vibrant home studio, aka “her happy place!”


Ready for more? Find this reverse applique mixed media pillow project and more in the March/April 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors. Print and digital copies are available to purchase in our online shop.

March/April 2017

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