DIY Pillow Inspired by Turkish Overdyed Patchwork Rugs

When I made DIY “Fortuny” fabric pillows a few months ago, I went on a CRAZY stenciling spree and made a bunch of samples. I ordered fabric swatches in different colors to see what looked best in our living room. I painted different colors on the fabrics to see what paint+fabric combo I liked best. All this testing helped to make faux Fortuny pillows that I LOVE. And I also loved the crazy mix of all the test patterns! They all kind of coordinated together:

Stenciling Spree Samples

They reminded me of Turkish overdyed patchwork rugs, like this one for sale from SukhiRugs Etsy store:

Turkish Overdyed Patchwork Rug from SukhiRugs Etsy Store

So, I sewed all the sample pieces together to make a long slim bolster pillow:

Patchwork Bolster Pillow

The pillow will go to India! Yes, I stuff stuff like this in our suitcases. It will likely be on a bed, surrounded by other patterns. Like here, you see some pattern from the beige and white silk saree I will hang as bedroom curtains, and the Moroccan star pattern I am painting on the wall as a “headboard:”

India pied-a-terre Master Bedroom Patterns

So here’s how to make a pillow like this …

First, wait for a silly cat high on catnip to clear out of the staging and sewing area:

Catnip Hangover

Then lay out your fabrics. You can use fabric that’s already printed with patterns. Like quilting fabrics. Or you can paint your own patterns on fabric with stencils. Cut them into rectangles. Mine were about 4″ by 8″. Lay them out in the order you want them. Here was my first layout:

Layout 1

Then I rearranged a few pieces to make the look less chaotic. I did this by keeping the orange pieces of fabric together and the neutral pieces of fabric together:

Layout 2

You might want to pick the the most prominent visual piece of fabric as a “focal point.” In my layout, the darkest piece of fabric draws the eye and that’s my focal point. Try to put the focal point a little off-center or toward the edge, not smack in the middle.

Next, sew the pieces together along the horizontal seams like the stitching diagram shows here:

Horizontal Stitching Lines

Sew with a 3/8″ seam.

Now, you don’t want a final piece with jagged, uneven edges like this. So, cut off the pieces that are sticking out and sew them on so you get a nice rectangular block of patchwork:

Rectangular Patchwork Layout

After you sew, press the seams open. I know it can be a pain to iron! But this makes the final result look MUCH better. It flattens the seams and makes the final result look professional. There’s a saying that you might spend more time with the iron than the sewing machine when you sew. This is sometimes true. But it’s worth it.

Ironing Seams Flat

Next is an optional step. I think it’s a small touch that adds visual interest. Because the Turkish patchwork rugs have visible decorative stitching, I sewed over the top of the seams with a decorative stitch:

Decorative Stitching

Now, stitch the vertical seams together. Sew with 3/8″ seams:

Iron the seams open.

Stitch with a decorative stitch over the top of the seams.

Now it’s time to sew up the sides and install either a zipper or overlapped opening on the back. I chose to install a zipper.

Rectangular Bolster Pillow

Zipper

After installing a zipper in the bottom of the pillow, I stitched up the sides and top, and added two long tassels found in the souks of Marrakech:

Finished Patchwork Pillow

It’s truly a global, nomadic decorating pillow:

  • Painted with patterns from around the world
  • Sewn in the style of a Turkish patchwork rug
  • Decorated with Moroccan tassels
  • Now lives in India with saree curtains and Chinese chest nightstands

Patchwork Pillow and Chinese Cabinet

Here it is in our apartment in India, a place which is still obviously a work in progress! There’s water damage on the wall behind the bed now, so that needs to be fixed before I can stencil on the wall:

Patchwork Pillow

Finally, you know how there may be no more truly unique ideas in this world? You could get an idea you’ve never seen anywhere before, and at the same exact moment, someone else on the other side of the planet is doing the same thing. The day I intended to sew this pillow together, I opened email and found the latest products from CRAFT by World Market. And THERE was a patchwork long slim bolster pillow!

CRAFT by World Market Patchwork Pillow

So if you don’t want to sew this, see if you can buy it from global decor stores like World Market! This also shows a good idea: you can use saree fabric remnants to sew a patchwork pillow.

 

DIY Project: Artwork with Thai Palm Leaf Script

Before the paper books that we know today, people in some Asian cultures wrote on thin strips of palm leaves. Then they strung the leaves together into long skinny books. They used wood planks as covers. This is what they look like:

pali-manuscript

You can find these palm leaf manuscript “books” in Myanmar, Thailand, India, Indonesia. You don’t have to travel to get them. You can sometimes find them on eBay. Just search “palm leaf manuscript” on eBay. There’s a wide range of prices. You may not want to disassemble a nice expensive antique, so look for cheaper ones.

We found a palm leaf book in Thailand. We didn’t pay a lot for ours. It was about US$30. That was back in 2001. We were told that Buddhist monks wrote on the palm leaves in Pali script, which is similar to Sanskrit from India. I have no idea what our book says, or how old it is. The palm leaves are hardy and can last hundreds of years, even in the steamy hot Thai climate. So it could be old.

I thought the long palm leaf strips could make a bold graphic statement. So I made big framed wall art for a nook area in our apartment in Chennai, India:

Palm Leaf Manuscript Wall Art

To make this, first, you need a background, I used wide, long canvas. I painted the canvas black. I wanted a lot of drama and a really dark background so the palm leaves would pop.

I thought the black background was too plain. So I stenciled over it with a lighter black paint to add a subtle pattern. I used the Majestic Medina Damask Wall Stencil and shimmery Black Frost Stencil Creme paint, both from Royal Design Studio.

Stenciling on Black Canvas

Here you see the Black Frost paint contrasts enough with the dark black paint in the background:

Black Paints

I first tested out how different stencil options would look:

Testing Different Stencil Looks

Sorry these photos are so grainy. I was working with 3 light bulbs in the whole place, at night! So these photos are brightened significantly so you can see.

After stenciling, I installed the palm leaves over the black background with metallic copper scrapbooking “brads.” Brads are tiny lightweight fasteners:

Installing Palm Leaves on Canvas

Each palm leaf had two holes that were used to string all the leaves together. I simply pushed the brads through those holes.

The original plan was to simply hang the canvas on the wall, using the original wood covers of the manuscript for the top and bottom (you can see these wood pieces in the photo above). But, it gets very dusty in our apartment in India. When we come back to the apartment after being away for a year, we must clean EVERYTHING. Like, we even must clean dust off the wire whisks in the kitchen drawers!! Yeah! Dust gets into the drawers and gets stuck on the thin wires! So that’s why our apartment will be minimally decorated (less stuff, less cleaning) and that’s why we framed this wall art behind glass.

We took the canvas to United Brothers on Bazullah Road in T Nagar, Chennai. Frame, matte non-reflective glass and labor cost US$60 total. (A bargain for those of us from the U.S. — this is a huge frame!) United Brothers has locations around Chennai. I tested different frames. I chose a very thin black frame instead of the wider gold frame. This is because I didn’t want a wide gold frame to visually “fight” with other elements in the niche area, like the palm leaves and the lantern’s shadows. I didn’t want the frame to be a focal point.

Frame Choices

The wall art makes a dramatic space in this little nook area:

Palm Leaf Manuscript Wall Art

Palm Leaf Manuscript Mounted and Framed

It’s visible from the entire foyer/living/dining/kitchen areas of the apartment because we have an American-style open floor plan in the apartment. What’s hiding under the counter and behind the drawers? Our clothes washing machine!

Practical and Pretty

It’s a great combo of practical and pretty.

 

DIY Project: Stenciled Coasters

This is a super short and sweet DIY project! Dress up your drinks with stenciled coasters. I made dramatic coasters with a mix of metallic and black paints:

DIY Stenciled Coasters

I made these stenciled coasters for our apartment in India. It’s hot and humid in South India. Drinks sweat. Drinks sweat A LOT. Humans sweat too. Which means we have to drink. And the drinks sweat. It’s a never-ending cycle of sweat.

We have nice wood and metal tables to protect. So I took coaster materials in our suitcases during our last trip to India:

Stenciled Coasters Supplies

I found these wood squares in the art section of Michael’s. There are also wood coasters in the woodcraft aisles. But they were thicker, and I liked the slim shape of these wood squares. I also found 4″ x 4″ cork at Michael’s.

To make coasters, simply glue the 4″ x 4″ cork to wood squares. I had wood glue with me, so I used that.

Then, paint base colors on the wood squares. Paint any color you want. I painted a mix of metallics — silver, bronze, gold and copper — with Stencil Cremes from Royal Design Studio.

Metallic Stenciled Coasters

Now, stencil shapes onto the wood squares. You can use stencils that fit within a 4″ x 4″ square. But you don’t have to be limited by that. You can use any size stencil — just stencil a small part of the design on a coaster.

I painted stencils with shimmery Frosted Black Stencil Creme. I took a bunch of stencils with me to India (also from Royal Design Studio), and chose a mix of stencil shapes that made an interesting combo on the coasters. You can see this design was bigger than the stencil so it ran off the edges, and that’s okay! It gives you more design ideas to play with:

Candlestick Table Top

I’m sorry I can’t provide step-by-step photos — I didn’t photograph the actual painting. I painted these really fast. My husband and I were chatting with our electrician and carpenter. They had helped us finish projects in our India apartment — a raised wood wall sconce and a silver leaf candlestick table. Both of those projects were painted with stencils, and they wondered how the heck I did that. They hadn’t seen things like this before. I said, it’s easy! They looked skeptical. I said, I’ll show you!

So I pulled out the coasters, which I had intended to paint anyway. While we were all sitting around the dining table and chatting, I painted and stenciled the coasters to show our electrician and carpenter how to do it. They were amazed.

I told them, I’d love to find a cooperative around Chennai and teach women how to stencil like this, and make products. Our electrician said he’d pay $10 for the coasters. He asked, how much did it cost to make them? I said, “uh, about $10!” We all laughed. No money to be made there! But I paid retail prices in the U.S. for materials. Our electrician said there’s free wood all over the place — he’s on job sites where lots of good wood, tiles and other materials are thrown out simply because the homeowners didn’t like them. Sometimes it’s new stuff that’s being ripped out!

Maybe some day I’ll do more with that idea of teaching other people in India to stencil. Meanwhile, these coasters are already doing their job, protecting our tables from the cold drinks:

Candlestick Table to Hold Drinks