I have never been a fan of decorative cushions, having always been attracted towards more functional objects. Cushions are obviously functional in themselves, but I have always chosen to make them as least decorative as possible. To do this I have looked to Japanese traditions of wrapping and tying, with the aim of producing a cushion that requires no man-made fastening, such as a zip or buttons. Instead, I wanted a design that would be entirely made from fabric. These are constructed from one long strip of patchwork textile that is folded and sewn into shape, and then fastened with thin cotton ties knotted into bows that sit recessed into the cover. The delicacy of the construction gives the final cushions an elegant simplicity while retaining their ultimate functionality. The quantity of fabric and instructions given is enough to make one cushion but you can easily multiply it to make a set.
Basic dyeing equipment
Fabric – medium-weight cotton or linen:
2 x rectangles of mordanted fabric, 24 x 55cm (9 1/2 x 21 1/2in)
2 x rectangles of mordanted fabric, 29 x 47cm (11 1/2 x 18 1/2in)
6 x strips of mordanted fabric, 2.5 x 40cm (1 x 16in)
Iron mordant (page 32)
Cotton sewing thread
Cushion insert (wool), 45cm (18in) square
Several bunches of rowan berries
3–4 sprigs eucalyptus leaves
1 Make up two dye vats, one from rowan berries and one from eucalyptus leaves. You will need to crush several big bunches of rowan berries and shred the leaves from three to four sprigs of eucalyptus. Simmer the berries for an hour and the leaves for at least two, and then strain through muslin. Put one of each size of fabric rectangle into each dye vat along with the six strips (three strips in each vat) and return to the heat on low for an hour before leaving them to cool overnight. Both will benefit from an extra day of soaking, particularly the berry vat as the pigment is so delicate. You can dip one rectangle dyed with eucalyptus in iron to turn it grey and then rinse and dry them all ready for use.
2 Press all four rectangles ready to piece together. Start by attaching the two longer 24 x 55cm (9½ x 21½in) rectangles together lengthways to make a rectangular block. Place right sides facing and machine stitch together using a 5mm (¼in) seam. Press open the centre seam and attach the two 29 x 47cm (11½ x 18½in) rectangles to either end, so that the central joined rectangles run lengthways, with the end pieces capping them off to form one long strip of patchwork measuring 47 x 111cm (18½ x 43½in). Press the seams open.
3 Press the six strips of dyed fabric. You are going to make these into the ties. To do this, take one strip at a time and press a 5mm (¼in) fold down the length of both sides into the middle of the strip. Then press the whole strip in half, hiding all raw edges inside. It will end up very thin at this point so take good care when ironing not to burn your fingers as you hold it. Once you have it ironed into a thin strip, topstitch the edges closed on your sewing machine and put them to one side.
4 Now take your length of patchwork and place it right side up. Fold over each short end of the patchwork to the front twice by 5mm (¼in) and press.
5 Mark the centre of the pressed fold on each end, then mark 7.5cm (3in) in from each side. Take the six ties and tuck each one under the pressed fold to line up with a chalked mark. Pin them in place ready to sew.
6 Using the sewing machine, topstitch the two pressed folds in place. Go slowly, making sure you stay on the edge and guide the stitching over each tie, securing it in place. Keep your eye on where your pins lie in case they are in the way, as you may need to remove them as you sew.
7 Now the ties are sewn in place, lay your length of patchwork wrong side up with the raw seams facing you. You are going to fold each end back on itself by 7.5cm (3in) and pin in place. The two sets of ties will now be facing up and away from each other. Once the two folds are pinned in place, topstitch one end down leaving the other pinned but not stitched.
8 Leaving the pins in place, fold the entire piece in half with the right sides together, and aligning the ends and edges. The ties will also be on the outside. Machine stitch along both edges with a 5mm (¼in) seam allowance, making sure to backstitch at the beginning and end of each line to secure your threads in place.
9 Turn the piece right side out, making sure to poke the corners out into neat points and remove any remaining pins. Take your cushion insert and gently manoeuvre it inside the cover, making sure it fills the corners and sits inside the lip of fabric that you left unstitched. Knot the ties into three neat bows, which will cinch the cover closed.
Project from The Wild Dyer by Abigail Booth