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Natalie Barnes is the owner and pattern designer of beyond the reef, and author of the well-received A Modern Twist: Create Quilts with a Colorful Spin. Quilting expert Angela Walters joined Natalie, sharing some of her vast quilting knowledge in the book.

Natalie showed us how to make Easy Quilted Coasters + Table Toppers earlier this summer, and now she’s back with a Back to School Pillow. This pillow is a lovely gift for just about anyone, but Natalie had older kids in mind. Send kids to college (or their other independent adventures in the world) with a reminder of home and love!

Natalie is also, once again, giving away FIVE copies of A Modern Twist: Create Quilts with a Colorful Spin. In addition one winner will receive a fat eighth bundle of Cotton + Steel Basics! Leave your comment below and you’re entered to win; tell us what “back to school” means to you.

This is a funny time of year once your kids are past the age of eight, or even eighteen… Back to School. As a quilting parent this time means you want to make just the right quilt for your college student, something that they will proudly put on their bed while they are away from home.

But they’re 18. The last time you made something for them that they carried into bed and wouldn’t part with was when they were six. So for this back to school post I wanted to talk about making something “more neutral” than that quilt you want to make from all of their baby clothes. Might I suggest a pillow?
You will need basic machine sewing supplies, and a needle and thread to sew down the binding which will act like a pillow piping.

We surround those we love with love as we send them off into the world.

There is contrast between the large and small blocks; there is contrast between the colors.
But there is an organizing element that ties both together. Large and small, we come together to make “one.”

So send your loved one off on their adventure with a symbolic gesture of your love– a pillow.

Just that. Only that.


Let’s talk a little about color recipes, and using an “organizing fabric,” both tools that will help manage your scrappy fabric look. All of these items are covered in more detail in the book,
A Modern Twist: Create Quilts with a Colorful Spin by Natalie Barnes (me) with Angela Walters, with chapters (and projects) organized by Color + Contrast + Composition.

Because we’re talking scrappy, we’ve created a “color recipe.” The fabric requirements will be:
Color A:
– 2-1/2” x 2-1/2” squares, Quantity: 28

Color B:
– 1-1/2” x 1-1/2” squares, Quantity: 64

“Organizing Fabric” similar to Color A:
– 8-1/2” x 2-1/2” strips, Quantity: 2
– 12-1/2” x 2-1/2” strips, Quantity: 2

– “Organizing Fabric” similar to Color A was used for binding and backing.
– 2-1/4” x width of binding fabric, Quantity: 2 strips
– 16-1/2” x 12-1/2” backing squares, Quantity: 2 pieces
– 20” x 20” batting and backing if quilting the pillow top

Here’s the thing. Once you have a “color recipe,” you can substitute any color or theme fabric for Color A or Color B.

If your back-to-school-er is a big sports fan, use the team colors. Or use a low volume background for Color A, and select the “something special” fabric for Color B. Use an organizing fabric to tie it all together– the box around the one inch squares, the binding and the backing.

One more thing that’s important to remember when working scrappy: “organizing fabric.” When you have a lot going on in a quilt top, block or project, the eye needs someplace to rest– and the brain still needs to make sense of what is going on. It’s that “something” that pulls it all together. This is the “organizing fabric.”

Let’s use a fashion example… Imagine you’ve been chosen to walk the runway. You’re wearing a big floral print chiffon top and hipster plaid slacks. It all seems a bit much to you, even if you are the runway model. But then the stylist adds a thick black headband, and puts on a thick black belt between the big floral and the plaid. You look down at your black ankle boots, and all is right with the world.

Of course, that outfit I just asked you to visualize? That might just be the outfit your back-to-school-er is going to wear on the first day of school!

1. Select fabrics for your color recipe; cut the required quantity of pieces for the project (described above). I chose to work with Cotton + Steel Basics bundles.

2. Piece 1-1/2” x 1-1/2” squares into one 8-1/2” x 8-1/2” square. Press into submission.

3. Attach one (1) each 2-1/2” x 8-1/2” strip to the left and to the right of this square.

4. Piece six (6) 2-1/2” x 2-1/2” squares into one strip, 2-1/2” x 12-1/2”. Make two of the strips.

5. Attach each of the (2) two 2-1/2” x 12-1/2” organizing fabric strips to pieced strips made in Step 4.

6. Attach the two pieces created in Steps 4 and 5 to the top and bottom of the 8-1/2” square and 2 – 1/2” strips created in Step 3. Note: Organizing fabric sits adjacent to 1” squares.

7. Piece eight (8) 2-1/2” squares into 2-1/2” x 16-1/2” strips. Make two of these strips. Sew these two strips together.

8. Attach piece made in Step 7 to the left of the 8-1/2” x 8-1/2” square and organizing fabric strips surrounding this square.

9. Layer 16-1/2” x 16-1/2” pillow top, batting and backing piece. Quilt as desired.

10. Trim to 16-1/2” x 16-1/2” quilted top.

11. To make pillow backing, hem one side of each 16-1/2” x 12-1/2” square for backing along the 16-1/2” side of the square.

12. Overlap pieces with hemmed edge in the center of the pillow, and baste to back of quilted top.

13. Prepare 2-1/4” binding strips by trimming selvage and sewing strips together.

14. Stitch binding to top of pillow/backing “sandwich” as you would a quilt. Turn to back of pillow and stitch down with needle and thread.

If you leave a comment below and tell us what “back to school” means to you, you will be entered to be one of five people (yes, again: five!) to receive a copy of the book, A Modern Twist: Create Quilts with a Colorful Spin. (Hard copy within the United States, eBook for international winners.) One additional lucky comment author will be selected to receive the fat eighth bundle of Cotton + Steel Basics used to make these pillow tops. – Natalie Barnes –

Natalie makes no claims of expertise on child raising. She has enjoyed this experience from afar, living vicariously, watching her dear friends raise children. Her expertise about quilts in the dorm room/apartment of college students comes from receiving photos from her namesake, of the Tula Pink quilt hung over a window to block the direct sunlight.