To ‘bolster' means to uphold or add support, as in, 'They bolstered morale by serving large pieces of free cake to everyone.' The etymology originates in the world of pillows (a very, cushy world), where a bolster is a long, narrow pillow, often used to support the back or neck. Our black, white and linen version finishes at over 30" long and makes a dramatic statement across a bed or against the back of a couch. The flanged ends are an intricate-looking detail, but our step-by-step instructions make them easy to create.
At several points in this project, you'll be sewing in a circle. We recommend using a machine with a free arm.
Our thanks to Michael Miller Fabrics for providing us with an awesome selection of fabrics from their brand new Black and White Collection. Look for it in stores or online for your Spring sewing, including from our friends at Fat Quarter Shop.
Sewing Tools You Need
- Any Sewing Machine (we recommend the Janome 2160DC)
Fabric and Other Supplies
- ½ yard of 44-45" fabric for center feature fabric: we used Michael Miller's Ring Dot in Black
- 1 yard of 54" wide coordinating fabric for ends: we used a lightweight linen in oatmeal
- All purpose thread to match fabrics
- See-through ruler
- Fabric pencil
- Iron and ironing board
- Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
- Straight pins
- Tape measure
- Hand sewing needle
- 1 large bag of polyester fiber fill
- Pressing ham (optional)
- From the coordinating fabric (oatmeal linen in our sample):
Cut two 12½" x 12½" squares
NOTE: Make sure your original squares are even and true; they will be used to create circles
Cut two 10" x 26¼" rectangles
- From the feature fabric (Black Ring Dot in our sample):
Cut one 16" x 26¼" rectangle
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
Creating the rounded ends
- Fold and press one 12½" x 12½" square in half and then in half again, creating intersecting crease marks.
- Lay the folded, pressed 6¼" square on your work surface so the center point is in the lower left corner of the square. Place a see-through ruler at the exact center of this lower left corner and swing the ruler from the top to the bottom of the square, like a pendulum, measuring and marking a dot at the 6" point in three to four spots. You are creating a semi-circle.
- Draw an arc to connect the marks. If you own a large compass, you could also use it to create your 6" arc.
- Cut on the arc, then unfold for a 12" circle.
NOTE: The original crease lines will be important in the construction process later, do NOT repress the circle after cutting.
- Repeat steps 1-4 with the other 12½" square to create the other 12" circle.
- Pair one circle with one 10" x 26¼" rectangle. You will use these two sets to make the ends of the bolster.
- Using a long straight stitch (a machine basting stitch), sew ½" around the raw edge of one of the circles. Because this is a basting stitch, do not back tack at the beginning or the end.
- Pull the bobbin thread to gather. Remember those creases you made when the circle was a square? Now is the time to use these to help you even out the gathers in each quadrant. If this is your first time gathering, check out our tutorial: Gathering & Ruffles Made Easy.
- Fold one 10" x 26¼" piece in half, right sides together, matching the short ends (the 10" ends). Pin. Stitch along the 10" side with a ½" seam allowance.
- You need to create creases in this 'tube' that will match up with the creases in the circle. To do this, you need to press the tube carefully. First, press the seam open. Then, gently pull the tube with the seam to the right, so you can press a fold directly opposite the seam. Now, gently pull the tube in the opposite direction, matching up the seam and the first crease, and press two additional creases at each side. The seam line and the three creases will match with the quadrant folds on the gathered circles.
- Place one gathered circle inside the pressed tube, matching the tube's seam line with one of the pressed fold lines on the gathered circle. Pin in place. Now, match up and pin the remaining creases with one another - circle to tube.
- Adjust gathers as needed within each quadrant. Pin around entire circle.
NOTE: Be sure you are pinning your circle and tube piece so the gathered circle will be on the bottom. It's much easier to sew a gathered piece when the gathers are against the feed dogs of your sewing machine.
- You are now going to stitch 'in the round'! This is unlike theater-in-the round, but is similar to how set-in sleeves are done. Place the pinned bolster end piece so the raw edge is flipped up a little under the sewing machine foot. This will make it easier to sew around the circle.
- Using a ½" seam allowance, sew around the circle end.
NOTE: That awesome clear guide you see in the picture above is the Cloth Guide for my Janome machine. This is an amazing tool that allows you to run your fabric along the little ‘wall' and so keep your seam perfectly straight. It's like a carpenter's fence on a table saw. Janome's Cloth Guide can be positioned at a number of seam allowance widths. This accessory is one of my favorites and comes standard on a number of Janome's higher-end models, including their brand new Horizon sewing and quilting dream machine.
- Turn the bolster end right side out. It should look like this.
Creating the flange
- Push the circle end back in on itself, into the tube, to create a 1½" folded edge. Pin and press in place.
- Take the pinned flange to your machine. Insert the inside of the end under the foot and position your needle to 'stitch in the ditch' - this means to stitch right along the previously sewn seam.
- Press the end again to smooth out linen. We recommend using a pressing ham.
- Repeat steps 1-3 to create the opposite end's flange.
Putting it all together
- Fold the 16" x 26¼" center piece (Black Ring Dot in our sample) in half, right sides together, matching the short ends (the 16" ends) to create another tube. Pin in place.
- Using a ½" seam allowance, partially sew the seam. Stitch either end, leaving an approximate 9" hole in the center for turning. Press seam allowances open.
- Insert the flanged end pieces into each end of the center tube, right sides together. Pin in place.
- Using a ½" seam allowance, sew around the ends.
NOTE: If your sewing machine has a free-arm, this is a great time to use it!
- Pull the ends out, keeping the bolster wrong side out for now. Press the end fabric (the linen in our sample) toward the center fabric.
- Turn the bolster right side out through the 9" opening.
- Here's where that free-arm comes in handy again. Slide the bolster onto the sewing machine, through the 9" opening in the seam.
- Position the bolster under the foot so you can top stitch about 3/8" from the center fabric seam into the coordinating fabric (the linen in our sample). We used matching thread; you could use a contrasting thread for a more dramatic effect.
- Repeat the same top stitching on the other side.
- Stuff generously with polyester fiber fill.
- Slip stitch the 9" opening closed.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation & Instructional Outline: Jodi Kelly