Aloha Inspired Appliqué Pillow

By Kate Riley May 20, 2013

It was one of those weekends devoted entirely to family which was a good thing. We attended a birthday party for Matt’s Aunt’s 90th birthday, and it was a family reunion with everyone traveling far distances to celebrate. Seeing loved ones you haven’t seen in a long time is a reminder of how time marches on far so fast. The kids grow older so quickly, and we’re all getting older too, and it makes you realize how each days really is a precious gift.

I started clearing out closets on Sunday, minimizing clutter in my quest for a home that is simple and meaningful, and then spied a project I started a few weeks ago so I finished it.  When we visited Hawaii in March I was inspired by the motifs I saw in the traditional Hawaiian quilts that date back to the early 1800s, a technique brought over by missionaries. Funny, in previous years I’ve never been drawn to them but something about the intricate and handcrafted nature spoke to me on this recent visit.

I came up with an aloha inspired appliqué pillow cover, one that adds a dose of watery aqua blue for summer and also adds a touch of the islands I miss so much.

aloha inspired applique pillow


In Oahu, I visited the Polynesian Cultural Center and spent half an hour chatting with the Sisters. This quilt was on the wall was so impressive, that green pattern is cut from one single piece of cotton cloth and sewn by hand. Incredible.

quilt in pcc

You spy these patterns all over Hawaii in shops and hotels, I love the unique designs that repeat around a central point.

hawaiian quilt patterns


The Hawaiian quilt is traditionally done completely by hand. You start with a template, fold the fabric, cut the design, baste it, and then stitch the motif to a separate piece of cotton cloth. Once the design is attached, the quilt is layered with batting and further stitching just like in this step by step I snapped a picture of when in Oahu.

hawaiian quilt process


I decided to speed up the process by using my awesome sewing machine (worth every penny) and the decorative stitch options, but first, the template!  I haven’t mentioned this yet but I have been immersing myself in the Adobe Illustrator program, taking online classes, watching videos, and familiarizing myself with the tools which are taught to graphic artists and surface designers. I started to learn them because knowing how to create any image or pattern I envision has proven extremely useful for textile design (my prints will be available soon, pinkie swear!)

I was inspired to create a floral-ish motif based on a pattern I saw while visiting Hawaii. It took me an hour or so to create the design in Illustrator and to test the repeat so it looked like what I wanted.

design in illustrator

Hey look at that, so cool!

test repeat


I printed out the template, cut it, and pinned it to my aqua cotton fabric (you’ll need ¾ yard of 44” wide cotton for the applique and for the back of the pillow cover.) Fold your fabric in half, then in quarters, then in eighths and align the template. Same concept as cutting a snowflake!

trimmed template


When it’s unfolded you get a perfect repeat – I used pins to secure it to another 22 x 22” piece of white cotton.

unfolded pattern

I tested various decorative stitches on a scrap piece of fabric for the surface and settled on the second from the left.

tested decorative stitches


It makes sense to start at the center which is what I did, working slowly around the middle circle to secure the design to the white cotton.

start in middle


I worked my way around the edges slowly, the whole pattern took about 30 minutes of concentrated stitching. I messed up a little in a few places but from a distance you can’t tell. :)

finish edges with decorative stitch


I used the same aqua colored cotton for the back and actually sewed a zipper into a pillow this time. Usually I’m lazy and do an envelope or pocket style closure but I’ve been practicing zippers and I’m getting much better at them.

aloha applique pillow


It turned out better than I expected, I love it! It reminds me of the quilted patterns I saw while visiting the islands, but with a modern twist. 

diy aloha applique pillow cover


If you’d like to recreate one for yourself in a 20” x 20” size, feel free to use this template!  




  1. Wow! Color me impressed! You have inspired me to conquer my sewing fears. What an amazing first shot at trying something! When I saw the first picture I thought you had bought it!

  2. Thank you so much – this is exactly the bolder look I need to mix with smaller print pillows.
    Also, thanks for your site – it is one of two that I check everyday.

  3. This looks great. I might be creating some pillows from this template.

  4. This is awesome – not just the sewing – but the whole design and everything – I love it!

  5. Looks beautiful! Appliques are so pretty :). I’ve also been learning Illustrator, but haven’t taken a class yet. Do you mind me asking which one you’ve taken? I’m thinking of taking one this summer!

  6. Your pillow turned out beautifully. Is there anything you can’t do? Your sewing machine sounds great – is it one you would recommend for beginners or only advanced sewers. When I say beginner I’m not kidding!!!! It took me forever to make cup towels and a dress with vest in HomeEc and that was the last time I sat at a sewing machine. I so want to learn though. I want to make pillows and panels for the windows.

    I love visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center.

    • Yes I’d recommend it for any level Debbie, threading the needle is the hardest part I think for any beginning sewer, that model has clear directions and a needle threader for the last step too, it’s been a pleasure working with it for over a year.

  7. I love the pillow! Thank you so much for making the template public. I am not sure if I am doing something wrong however, I am having some trouble finding the template you uploaded.

    • Oh silly me Emily, it’s there I just linked to the host page. Click on the second place it reads “applique template”

  8. Wow. You did an amazing job from start to finish! Designing the template, mastering Illustrator, cutting, steering the sewing machine around all those curves and then a zipper on the pillow case to boot? i’m thinking Martha here, really. Even if I came up with the idea of making this when I was inspired on vacation, it would take me, oh forever, to actually get it done! I am slightly jealous and if I didn’t like you and your blog so much, I could hate you, you know…

  9. Your pillow is stunning! Thanks for sharing your template. Just a suggestion that you might try applique with a product called “Wonder Under”. It allows your applique to be fused to your fabric so that sewing around the edges is a breeze. I choose to cut out the center parts of the Wonder Under on my applique pieces so that there is minimal stiffer fused fabric areas.

  10. This is gorgeous! Great job…may just give me the confidence to try it (my sewing machine intimidates me) I haven’t done a zipper since I was 9 and trust me I was way better at it then. I wouldn’t even know where to start. LOVE the color also :)

  11. I LOVE it. The whole concept of creating a quilt out of one piece of material is brilliant. I *just* went to a quilting store with my mother this weekend and I kept saying, no .. no that one’s not right, no i don’t like it, no that just looks weird, no … no … no. But *this*! This is yes, yes, yes. ~ karen!

  12. Could you please tell us where you found the online classes on Adobe Illustrator?

  13. Call me confused! The sewing machine link said you were doing your daughter’s room in gray, white and yellow but isn’t her room purple/blue? Did I miss a room?

    • Nope KJ, we just, or should I say SHE just changed her mind and wanted lavender instead!

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