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Silk Color Block Pillows - Standing Crane: Cascading Bottom Pleats with Bow Accent

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Did anyone ever try to teach you origami? I'll wager a paper crane was your first, and maybe your only, project. So here's your little known fact for the day: origami is Japanese paper folding; its predecessor is the Chinese paper art called zhe zhi. The graceful crane is revered in China as the symbol for longevity. Although often depicted in flight, the four pleats of our Standing Crane Pillow, the last project in our Silk Color Block Pillows week, simulates the beautiful folded wings of a crane at rest. While you are resting, ponder today's Chinese proverb: 
Better the cottage where one is merry, than the palace where one weeps.

Thanks to the great folks at Fabric.com for providing all of the beautiful silk dupioni for our silk pillows as well as the unique buttons. Take a look at our Sewing With Silk article for some fun history tidbits as well as helpful tips and techniques for pinning, cutting, sewing and caring for silk.

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

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Getting Started

  1. From the fabric for the top sections of the pillow (Ivory in our sample), cut TWO 4-7/8" high x 13" wide rectangles. These are the Upper Pillow Panels.
  2. From the fabric for the pleated sections of the pillow (Iridescent Berry Jade in our sample), cut TWO 17-1/8" high x 13" wide rectangles. These are the Lower Pillow Panels.
    NOTE: For all of the above cuts, if you're using silk dupioni, make sure the 'slubs' (those kind of bumpy lines) in the silk are running parallel to the height of the shapes, ie. vertically.
  3. From the fabric or scrap for the pillow ties (Iridescent Platinum in our sample), cut TWO strips 1¾" x 21". For this cut, if you're using silk dupioni, the slubs should be running horizontally.

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

  1. On EACH of the Lower Pillow Panels, mark the following points with a pin, fabric marker or tailor's chalk along both the left and right sides of the panel. These marks represent the folding locations for the pleats. All points should be measured from the top raw edge down.
    Point A: 2-1/8"  
    Point B: 4-1/8" 
    Point C: 5-3/4"
    Point D: 7-3/4" 
    Point E: 9-3/8"
    Point F: 11-3/8" 
    Point G: 13"
    Point H: 15"
  2. Using both hands, pinch the fabric at the left and right side (at your marked points) then fold DOWN from one point to the next to create four horizontal pleats on each of the Lower Pillow Panels.
  3. Pinch, fold and press in the following order:
    Down from point A to match point B
    Down from point C to match point D
    Down from point E to match point F
    Down from point G to match point H
  4. Pin the pleats in place along both the left and right sides of the panel.
  5. Sew a line of vertical staystitching approximately ¼" from the raw edge across all the pleats on both sides to hold them in place.
  6. With the right sides together, pin the bottom edge of each Upper Pillow Panel to the top edge of each pleated Lower Pillow Panel.
  7. Stitch together, using a ½" seam allowance.
  8. Press the seam allowances up toward the Upper Pillow Panel.

Create the skinny ties

  1. On each of the Pillow Ties, fold and press one end back ½".
  2. Fold each Pillow Tie in half lengthwise, and stitch a ½" seam along the raw edge. Trim the seam allowance back to ¼" from the stitching.
  3. Using a loop turner or, our fave - a hemostat (check out our tutorial on this technique).
  4. Center the raw end of each tie at the left and right edge of the horizontal seam on the right side of the completed pillow front. The tails of the ties should hang to the inside of the pillow.
  5. Machine baste the tie ends in place close to the raw edge with a short vertical seam.
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  6. Still working on the right side of the pillow front, measure in 6¼" from both the left and right sides along the horizontal pillow seam, and pin each of the ties.
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  7. Using a length of your same grey thread and a hand sewing needle, tack the ties in place at the pins. Don't cut your thread yet. Simply bring the needle and thread through to the front of the pillow in between the tacked ties.
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  8. Tie a bow at the center of the pillow. Our bow is about 7" across.
  9. Using your same needle and thread, tack the center of the bow in place.
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Adding the zipper and finishing the pillow

  1. We inserted an invisible zipper into the bottom seam of the pillow. With invisible zippers, it's best to work with the front and back of your pillow BEFORE you sew them together.
  2. If you're new to this technique, the instructions that come with an invisible zipper are actually pretty good (as packaged instructions go). We also have a tutorial: Invisible Zippers Are Your Friends.
  3. Once you have your zipper in place, open it up (if you forget to open the zipper, you won't be able to turn the pillow right side out; invisible zippers are REALLY hard - if not downright impossible - to unzip from the back side).
  4. With the zipper in place and right sides together, stitch the remaining three sides of the pillow using a ½" seam allowance.
  5. Clip all four corners and turn the pillow right side out through the zipper opening. Use a blunt end tool, like a large knitting needle or a chopstick, to help push out the corners so they are nice and square.
  6. Stuff the pillow insert into the pillow casing through the zipper opening, making sure to fluff out the corners, and close the zipper.
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Hints and Tips

How to do a 'String Turn' with a tiny tube

A third tube-turning option, if you don't have a loop turner and/or your hemostats are too big for these super tiny ties, is to do what I call a "string turn." I learned this way back when for garment sewing; it's great for spaghetti straps. Recently, an alert Sew4Home visitor (thanks "gardenmeister") reminded me about it, and it's a handy idea for this project.

  1. Cut the rectangular piece needed for the tube, then cut a piece of heavy string or light weight cording 4" longer than the fabric strip.
  2. For this project, that would be your TWO 1¾" x 21" strips and a piece of string about 25" long.
  3. Fold the strip in half lengthwise, right sides together, as if to sew the seam. As shown above, remember to fold back one end ½" first. You only need to do this if one of your tie ends is going to show. If both ends will be sewn into a seam (such as with my spaghetti straps example), you can skip this step.
  4. Lay the cording/string inside the folded fabric. The string should run along, but not tight up against, the fold.
  5. Stitch the long edge of the strip as usual, but also stitch across the folded end where the string extends through, catching it in the stitching.
  6. After sewing, carefully pull the string (from the raw, open end) to turn the tube inside out. It may take a moment to get it started, but after that it should turn nicely.
  7. After turning, open the stitches along the short, folded edge with a seam ripper to release the string. If your strip is a bit longer than you need and both ends of the tie will be sewn into a seam (as noted above), you can simply cut the end to release the string.

STILL afraid of zippers - you can create this pillow with an envelope back

You shouldn't be, because as we've mentioned, "

For the back: from the top fabric, cut ONE 8-3/8" high x 13" wide piece and from the pleat fabric, cut ONE 12-5/8" high x 13" wide piece. These sizes are based on a standard 2" hem and a 2" overlap.

Hem the inside edges of each piece and overlap to create an envelope closure. The overlap should finish in line with the pillow's front seam.

Take a look at these tutorials if you are new to envelope closures:

Organic Cotton Box-Pleat Pillows

Festive Fall Ruffled Pillows

Stylish Baby Nursery: Super Simple Throw Pillows


Project Concept: Alicia Thommas

Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Gregory Dickson

Other machines suitable for this project include the Singer Fashion Mate 7256 and the Brother CD-4000.



Comments (3)

Rita Jacobs said:
Rita Jacobs's picture
This is my first time on this site and what a wonderful experience. I shall find some beautiful fabric and make a few of these pillows for gifts. Your directions are very easy to follow and greatly appreciated. Keep up the beautiful work, loved it!
Anne Oozman said:
Anne Oozman's picture
What an inspiring creations! Thank you so much Liz for sharing this detailed and clear step-by-step procedure in making such beautiful pillows. More power!

Cassandra said:
Cassandra's picture
That is such a great Chinese proverb! And the pillows are absolutely gorgeous!

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