For Valentine’s Day and Beyond: Capture Mementos (and Memories) with a Nostalgic “Pocket” Pillow

Some sources say that it was Henry VIII who, in 1537, settled the English celebration of Valentine’s Day upon February 14–by Royal Charter, no less. At the time, he was married to his third wife, Jane Seymour. Jane, who was expecting, ultimately produced the long-awaited male heir, marking one of the happier times in Hal’s well-chronicled marital history.

That old romantic, Henry VIII; photo courtesy of www.theanneboleynfiles.com

That old romantic, Henry VIII; photo courtesy of http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com

(Don’t you love the photo? I found it on a wonderful blog — The Anne Boleyn Files – a fun destination for Tudorphiles.)

Last week, under the spell of the approaching holiday (and inspired by Downton Abbey, to which I’ll admit I am hopelessly addicted), I decided to put my creative mojo to work designing something with a hint of romance and nostalgia. I had the perfect inspiration, too. About 18 months ago, my (nonagenarian) mother-in-law Ethel passed along a beautiful collection of delicate lace- and cutwork-trimmed handkerchiefs and tea napkins. Some had been given to her as a girl as souvenirs from family traveling in Europe; others she believed had belonged to her own mother, or possibly her mother-in-law.

Just a sampling of my lovely "inherited"  textiles; by the way, that fashionable, bustled lady is my great-grandmother's sister, Pauline, who made her living as a dressmaker. Fabric is in my blood, I guess!

Just a sampling of my lovely “inherited” textiles; by the way, that fashionable, bustled lady is my great-grandmother’s sister, Pauline, who made her living as a dressmaker. Fabric is in my blood, I guess!

It was Ethel’s intent that I put at least some of these family heirlooms to use in my work. I began as I usually do, by choosing a basic palette (in this case, gray, pink, rosy mauve, ecru, and white), and then raiding my cupboards for fabrics, trims, and embellishments that might create the “mood” I’m looking for.

Some of the fabrics, trims, and other embellishments I considered

Some of the fabrics, trims, and other embellishments I considered

Now the big question: what would I make? Here’s what I came up with . . .

pillow complete vignette

This dainty, Edwardian-inspired, 8″ square pillow met all my criteria. It’s feminine and romantic, with a pocket for tucking away cherished photos or other ephemera. It allowed me to use one of my treasured vintage hankies. Finally, once I had finalized the materials, it took less than two hours to make, including the pillow form (which means that yes, you can still make one in time for the big day)!

If a 48-hour turnaround is just a tad too ambitious, consider making one as a first-year anniversary gift for a special bride (incorporating her bridal handkerchief, and tucking her wedding invitation and/or wedding portrait inside); as a memorable silver or golden anniversary gift; or as a christening or First Communion rememberance. Then again, you might whip one up in the appropriate fabrics and trims; stash some fancy chocolates, a pair of movie passes, a handmade sachet, or even a gift card in the pocket; and surprise someone you love, “just because.”

Here’s What You’ll Need

8 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ square each of two different fabrics (one for pillow front, one for pocket)

Two 6 1/2″ x 8 1/2″  rectangles of fabric (for pillow back)

3/4 yard of 1 1/2″-wide wire-edged silk ribbon

Small lace-edged handkerchief, tea napkin, or crocheted doily

Charm, button, or other embellishment as desired

8″ square pillow form (or make your own; directions follow)

Making the Pillow Front

1. Fold over the top edge of the pocket piece approximately 3″; press.

Stripe is the pillow front; rosy hand-dye is the folded pocket fabric. I've shown both so you can see the approximate proportions.

Stripe is the pillow front; rosy hand-dye is the folded pocket fabric. I’ve shown both so you can see the approximate proportions.

2. Fold the hankerchief diagonally over the folded top edge of the pocket, so the desired amount of handkerchief is visible on the pocket front. Use matching thread to baste the handerchief to the pocket along their top edge with a 1/8″ seam.

hankie overlap_2

3. Trim the handkerchief even with the sides and bottom of the pocket.

hankie trimmed

4. Fold the length of wire-edged ribbon in half crosswise. Tie a generous bow at the midpoint. Pin the ribbon to the top edge of the pocket, centering the bow. Working outwards from the center, use matching thread to stitch the top and bottom edges of the ribbon to the pocket, right along the wire edges. Trim excess ribbon even with the sides of the pocket.

ribbon extended_2

5. Layer the pocket on the pillow front, right sides together, with side and bottom edges aligned. Baste the sides and bottom of the pocket to the pillow front with a 1/8″ seam.

pillow front complete

Assembling the Pillow

1. Turn under one 8 1/2″ edge of one backing piece 1/4″ to the wrong side; press. Fold over a second 1/4″; press and topstitch. Repeat with the other backing piece.

back piece

2. Layer the pillow front and the backing pieces, right sides together, aligning the raw edges; pin. (The hemmed edges of the pillow backing will overlap about 2″ – 3″.) With your machine set in the needle-down position, stitch 1/4″ from the raw edges all around the perimeter, pivoting at each corner. Clip the corners at an angle, taking care not to cut into the seam.

pillow assembled_2

3. Turn the pillow cover right side out, making sure the corners are nice and crisp; press. (Another job for my 4-in-1 Essential Sewing Tool). Add a decorative charm, button, or other embellishment to the bow as desired. Insert the pillow form, and you’re all set!

finished and stuffed

Pillow Form

If you can’t find an 8″ square pillow form, make your own. It’s easy! Cut 2 squares of muslin (or other light-colored cotton), 8 1/2″ x 8 1/2″. Place right sides together. Stitch around the perimeter with a 1/4″ seam, leaving a 5″ opening along the bottom edge. Clip the corners, turn right side out, and press. Stuff to desired firmness with your favorite filler, pin the opening, and slipstitch to close.

Our readers went all out with the Valentine’s comments in response to last Friday’s post. We even received some poetry! The winner of Laura’s apron pattern is Mary on Lake Pulaski. Congratulations, Mary!

Don’t forget to check back on Friday, when I’ll be announcing the winner of Quilt Blocks Go Wild! from my February 5 post.

‘Til then, happy stitching. Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day!Darra-signature

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5 Responses to For Valentine’s Day and Beyond: Capture Mementos (and Memories) with a Nostalgic “Pocket” Pillow

  1. Terry says:

    What a beautiful pillow…love it!! I don’t have any vintage hankies so I’ll be asking my daughter to look for some when she goes antiquing. Thanks for the tutorial :)

  2. Beautiful! I only wish I could sew! Thanks for the mention.

    • Darra Williamson says:

      Thank you, Claire, and thanks again for permission to use the image. I hope our readers take the time to drop in on The Anne Boleyn Files. It’s addictive for ANYONE with an interest in British history! Darra

  3. Gorgeous!!! Thank you so much for the tutorial, too! :)

    • Darra Williamson says:

      Thank you, Katherine! As I seem to be in a “pillow mode” these days, I’ll be popping over to your site to see what’s up. Darra

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