Making a silk cushion out of a sow’s ear

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I’ve been dabbling here and there over the last few weeks, with mixed results. Here’s a little summation of a few of the things I’ve been up to, which today comprise two “sow’s ears” and a silk cushion:

One of the month’s themes from the course I’m doing involves ruffles, gathers, smocking and so on. It was all very interesting and I decided to rustle up a couple of things and just let loose on the techniques.

I’ve only made one so far, but this is how I did it: I used a poly crepe de chine which has quite a bit of texture to it. I got it from LA Finch Fabrics. Do you know them? They buy and sell end-of-range fabrics from high-end designers, and then sell them for a pretty reasonable price. Now, I had only been on there once or twice, and I happened to log on one night and noticed they were doing a $1/yard sale on a stack of fabrics. That’s right: $1 a yard!! I thought perhaps there was a mistake, but figured I’d give it a go and ordered a ton of jersey and wovens, figuring this was even cheaper than muslin, so why not? Well, to cut a long story short, it was a valid and short-lived sale and I received all the fabric just fine. And it was/is decent stuff, of which this crepe de chine is one example.


A few of the $1/yard fabrics, from top left clockwise: abstract rayon challis, grey French terry, delicate floral polyester (kimono!), stained glass chiffon and graphic B/W cotton knit.

Back to the plan: the pattern I had was for a little tuxedo vest which involves making an insert with your chosen technique and then inserting it in the “bib” part of the vest. I decided to gather it, or to be more precise, shirr it using the sewing machine and regular thread. In order to do so I first decided I would like 6 or 7 lines of shirring. I then drew a number of parallel lines approx. an inch apart using a felt pen. I’ll be honest: I wasn’t crazy precise since it was an experiment, but it still turned out pretty even.

20160615_133514Next, I sewed along the lines using a basting stitch, leaving long threads on each end and just made sure the threads didn’t get too tangled. After I pulled the threads at either end to tighten, I realised I wasn’t sure how I was going to fix the shirring in place, since I would be cutting into this to make a shape. So I figured, heck, why not try the smocking stitch on the old sewing machine and see what happens?



Smocking stitch with the original line stitches removed

I used No. 17 on the picture above, and actually it turned out not too bad. Next, I took the pattern piece and cut around it as best I could, knowing that the edges would be hidden in seams anyway.20160615_205940

Finally, I sewed it into the vest body to give the tuxedo effect (below). And… this is where I stopped. As you can see, it’s not quite straight on the body of the vest and I actually didn’t cut the body that well either. It also looks rather unbalanced at the top of the bib (too much unshirred fabric), even bearing in mind it’s not finished yet, and most importantly, the fabric doesn’t really suit me. 🙂 I could fix all these things, but, honestly, I’ll never wear it. So I look at it as a decent experiment in gathering/shirring/etc. and take it for that. I have to say it was a lot of fun and maybe I can repurpose it for something else another time.


Next, I started making some Weston shorts, from Seamwork magazine. These are a high-waisted summer short with a slight vintagey feel. I am still working on these, but that is only because by some miracle they actually don’t look too bad from the outside. i.e. I think I’ll be able to get away with them. I used some teal linen/cotton that I had earmarked for another project, but was freed up when I didn’t really love the first version I made of that project.


Here they are above (obviously wrinkled and unfinished), but not terrible huh? I’m not going to say too much about them as I’ll probably post a proper write-up once I’m completely done, but suffice it to say that it was mostly the waistband that “done me in” on this one. Oh, and the zip. And perhaps the fly a little too. Hahaha.


Here’s the inside view, gulp. I’m not how clear any of it is, but some issues include:

1) The zip: I cut the top off to fit and then pulled the zip pull right off. Managed to get it back on, but not sure how to secure. Perhaps some zigzag stitching at the top of each side? Any suggestions welcome! I am now aware that cutting the bottom of the zip would have been a better idea.

2) The waistband is sewn on badly and it’s all gathered at one side at the back. It simply needs to be redistributed better and resewn.

3) I didn’t do a great job of placing the waistband. I’ve never put in a fly or a zip, so it was a little tricky. I found it difficult to follow the instructions here. They were quite scant for this part and after a while I realised that the diagram I was looking at referred to the next part of the instructions, which scuppered me a little. Another problem was my marking. I seem to have missed some vital pattern markings for lining everything up and it definitely didn’t help.

4) You can’t really see it, but I just did something weird to the top of the zip/fly area. I’m still not really sure what.

Anyway! I’m going to fix it and let’s see. Then I’m going to try again as it is actually a nice pattern and this was really a muslin of sorts.


After both the unfinished vest and unfinished shorts, I decided I wanted to make something quick, satisfying and that would definitely be finished! Understandable, non? I was at a local thrift store a few weeks ago and happened to spy a lovely silk scarf. I am not really a silk scarf kind of gal although I can appreciate the beauty of them. So anyway, I spied one, and on closer inspection a number of them hanging out in the gigantic scarves section.


“You know what?” I thought to myself (or possibly even said out loud; wouldn’t be the first time), “these would make lovely cushions”. I brought them home, and handwashed them with a little light detergent and hung them out to dry. Worked perfectly by the way – no damage, no massive dry cleaning bills. The secret is to be gentle: no wringing! I then made the easiest cushion in the world. There are lots of slightly different tutorials on the internet, but they pretty much amount to the same thing:

I cut out a piece of black broadcloth just slightly larger than the scarf and wonder-clipped them both wrong sides together. I then sewed just inside the scarf (1/8″ to 1/4″) with a straight stitch all the way round. This puts a backing on the delicate silk.


Next, I cut out another two pieces of broadcloth that were the same width as the first one, but just three quarters of the length. I sewed a 1.5-inch hem on one side of both pieces.


You then layer all three pieces right sides together for the final part: the silk cushion piece and the two back layers, with hems pointing to the centre. Then sew all the way round the outside at around 3/8″ (or just inside the line you used for the silk and backing).


The three layers together

Finally, you turn the whole thing inside out, press, and put the cushion inside! This took about 30 mins from start to finish, so I thoroughly recommend it if your apparel projects are getting you down, hee hee. Have a great weekend everyone!


The rather wrinkly backside, so to speak.





6 thoughts on “Making a silk cushion out of a sow’s ear

    1. Thanks Trisha! While I admire them on other people, they’re not something I’ve ever worn that well. My scarves just end up hanging in a cupboard. This way I can see them and they get some use. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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