Stylized Botanical Pillow

With its spindly form and distinctive blooms, the sarsaparilla plant comes to life in textural crewel stitches.


Natural linen (plain weave or twill): one 24" square (pillow front) and two 16x20" rectangles (pillow back)

8" embroidery hoop

Crewel wool thread: 1 skein each of Appleton #441, #442, #443, #445, #481, #992

Chenille needle: size 24, or comparable crewel needle of your choice

White cotton fabric for lining: one 20" square and two 16x20" rectangles

Hand-sewing needle

Sewing thread

18" square pillow form

Tracing paper

Fabric pen or pencil


Straight pins


1. Trace the pattern onto the center of the linen square. Hoop the pillow front.

Download the pattern here.

2. Refer to the diagrams and instructions in Stitch Basics for each stitch. Stitch the stem and branches using chain stitch and #445. Split- stitch the leaves, alternating the uses of #441, #442, and #443. Stitch each blossom using circular couching stitch and #992 (see diagram, right) and double-wrapped French knots on the ends. Use quadruple-wrapped French knots and #481 for the flower centers.

See basic embroidery stitches here.

3. Block your finished crewelwork. See below for specific instructions on blocking. 4. Trim 2" from each side of the pillow front, leaving a 1" border on all sides. The linen fabric with finished crewelwork should now measure 20" square. 5. Lay your crewelwork facedown on a flat surface. Lay the 20" square lining piece on top of your crewelwork. Pin the two pieces of fabric together and baste with sewing thread and hand-sewing needle, using a series of 1- to 2"-long straight stitches in diagonal rows spaced about 3" apart. Stitch loosely, so stitches will be easy to remove later; set aside. 6. Lay one 16x20" linen rectangle on a flat surface. Place one of the 16x20" lining pieces on top of the linen rectangle. Pin together and baste as described above. Repeat for the second piece of pillow back and lining fabric. 7. For each pillow back piece, fold one long edge 1-1/2" in toward the lining. Press with a hot iron or finger-press. Fold in again another 1-1/2", press, and pin along the folded edge. 8. Using sewing thread, blanket- stitch along the inside folded edge on each of the back pieces. Remove the pins. You should now have two 13x20" pieces of basted, lined, and hemmed fabric that will be used to make the backing for your pillow. 9. Lay your basted and lined crewelwork faceup on a flat surface. Lay one of the small pieces facedown on top of the crewelwork with the fold in the middle and the left edges lining up. Pin the left edges together. Lay the other small piece in the same manner, matching the right side edges of the crewelwork; pin edges together. The two folded and hemmed edges now overlap in the center. 10. Pin the top and bottom edges, and place a few pins through the center where the two smaller pieces overlap. Flip your work so the lining side of the crewelwork is facing up. 11. Machine-sew the three pieces together, leaving a 1" hem on all sides; remove pins. 12. Trim the seam allowance to 1/2". Snip corners, being careful not to cut too close to the seam; remove the basting stitches. Turn the pillow right side out. 13. Using the end of a blunt scissors, a knitting needle, or chopsticks, gently push out corners from inside the pillow. Slip the pillow insert into the opening in the back of the pillow cover and adjust as necessary.


Sometimes you'll find that your work has stretched out and become distorted while you've been embroidering, especially if it has been in a hoop for a prolonged period or has many directional stitches that, when stitched, tend to pull the work one way over another. Before finishing it into something, such as a pillow or a frame, you'll want to block it to stretch it back to its correct proportions and square off the sides so it is prepped for finishing.


First, gather your materials. You'll need a clean board at least  3/4" (2 cm) thick and larger than your finished embroidery; a piece of sturdy white cotton fabric about 8" wider and longer than your piece of wood; a box of 1" (2.5 cm) round-head, rustproof nails; a staple gun and staples; and a hammer.


Wrap the board with the cotton fabric, stapling all raw and folded edges to the underside of the wooden board.


Lay your finished embroidery faceup and centered on the board. Starting in the center of the top edge of your crewelwork, tack a nail through the linen into the board. Only about 1/4" (6 mm) of the nail needs to go into the board.


Smoothing the fabric with your hands and stretching it as necessary, tack another nail through the center of the bottom edge. Do the same in the center of the left and right edges. Working from the centers to the corners, alternating top to bottom and then left to right, nail down all edges of the embroidery. The spaces between the nails should be about 1" (2.5 cm).


Be sure to keep the design square while you work. This may require stretching and pulling if your needlework lost its shape while you were embroidering.


Next, spray your finished needlework with cold water until it is completely soaked. Set the board in a warm, airy place to let the needlework dry. If you're in a hurry, use a fan or hair dryer set on cool to speed up the process. When your work is dry, remove the nails with a hammer or pliers. Your work is now blocked and ready to be framed or sewn.


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