Mid Century Modern


The blocks (for both cushions)

  • 4 1⁄2in squares in a variety of colours, 32 in all are used
  • Small scraps of fabrics (squares or rectangles are best) in contrasting colours to the patches
  • 50cm of Bondaweb
  • 15cm of 112cm wide fabric for inner border
  • 1m of 112cm wide fabric for outer border, flange and backing
  • Two 50cm cushion pads

Finished Size

Designed to fit a 50cm (19 1⁄2in) cushion pad, the actual cushion measures 57cm square

Skill Level


Made of simple patchwork with appliquéd motifs, the cushions are a good exercise in achieving a balance of colour and pattern. Eleanor used motifs based directly on Peggy’s ceramic tile designs for Carters in the early ‘50s and has interpreted them in patchwork and appliqué. You can either copy the designs exactly as shown or if you wish to challenge yourself on the design front, sew at least forty patches in total and arrange the pattern on a design wall until you achieve a pleasing design. The cushions feature an Oxford flat frill. This is a good trick if you want a wide border to set off the central design, but the size of your cushion pad dictates a narrow border to fit. If you have a smaller cushion pad (18in, 45cm for example), you can simply make the flange appear wider.

Figure 2: Layout of patches

The fabric colours were deliberately chosen to reflect the Fifties mood. During this decade one popular style was called the Scandinavian Look and included colours such as olive, rich creams, khakis, browns and grey. Any patterned fabrics which have been used feature spots and ovals (both subtle and bright), again the references are taken directly from Peggy’s Pebble six inch tile designs, from 1955.

Preparing the patches

  1. Cut at least thirty two 4 1⁄2in squares for the backgrounds in a variety of fabrics. Some will be used as they are and other will have appliqué added.
  2. Iron the appliqué fabrics and cut the Bondaweb into small sections of the same size. Following the manufacturer’s instructions, carefully iron the Bondaweb onto the WS of the fabrics.
  3. Cut out or trace the templates and draw round these templates on the paper covered Bondaweb. If you are copying Eleanor’s cushions exactly, you will need the following:
    • Star – six in total from two colours
    • Wave curve – eight in total in pairs of colours
    • Pebbles – cut enough to have three or five pebbles on four patches in co-ordinating colours
    • Hollow circle – two in one colour
  4. Place the motifs on a variety of backgrounds for the most appropriate combinations. When you are happy, remove the paper backing and iron in place.
  5. Secure the appliqué with stitching. Here, Eleanor has used a small, straight machine stitch in a matching thread colour so that the stitch line is not obvious. Alternatively, for a more definite edge, sew using a machine satin stitch.
  6. Cut six 4 7⁄8in right-angled triangles (three in one colour) and sew into pairs. Press the seam towards the darker fabric.

TIP! You should always iron Bondaweb on as a regular shape (square or rectangle) and then draw and cut out the motif.

Playing with pattern

Either arrange the patches exactly as in Figure 1 or rearrange on a design wall (or the floor) until you achieve a balanced combination. The two cushions shown here are deliberately different. One has slightly warmer colours, although some common fabrics are used in both for a cohesive look.

Design tricks that you should consider include:

Mid Century Modern
  • Use a feature (fabric or motif) at least two or three times per cushion.
  • Some motifs such as the wave curve look good when placed next to each other to make a repeating pattern. Others are best separated. The wave also looks very different when two blocks are used together and one is rotated as another pattern is formed (see the bottom corner of one of the cushions).
  • Try rotating an appliquéd patch in the same location. Remember the mantra one chants at an opticians, “Better? Worse?” as you do this. One orientation will always look more effective.
  • The half square triangles look striking when the position of the common fabric is switched.
  • The plain squares are often the easiest to swap around and should be used to balance the appliquéd patches.

When you are happy with the designs, leave the room and do some other activity, such as have a cup of tea. When you come back and look at them afresh, you will immediately see if the patterns work.

Figure 1: Layout of patches Figure 1: Layout of patches
Figure 1: Layout of patches

Cushion Assembly

  1. Lift a line of patches one at a time and sew together with 1⁄4in seams. Press the seams towards the darker fabric. Sew the four rows together and press well. The cushion front should measure 16 1⁄2in square.
  2. From the total width of the (cream) inner border fabric, cut four strips, each 1 1⁄4in wide. From each strip, cut a border, 16 1⁄2in long. Sew to the sides of each patchwork and press. Cut the second borders each 18 1⁄2in long and attach to the top and bottom.
  3. From the entire width of the border/backing fabric, cut four strips each 2 1⁄2in wide. From each strip, cut a border, 18 1⁄2in long. Sew to the sides and press. Cut the second borders each 22 1⁄2in long and attach top and bottom. Press well.
  4. Cut the remaining fabric in half for the two cushion backs. Turn over a small hem at the top and bottom of each piece and cut across about 6in from one end to make the two back pieces.
  5. Place the cushion front, RS up. Place the cushion back pieces RS down with the hemmed edges overlapping and the longer piece at the top. Pin and sew around the edge. Turn to the RS and press well, ensuring that the corners and edges are crisp (use a pin if necessary).Using a quilting pencil or disappearing marking pen, draw a border line, 3⁄4in from the edge. Pin the front and back of the cushion together to make sure the cushion cover does not shift when sewing. Stitch in a matching thread colour along the drawn line to create the Oxford flange.

First published in Popular Patchwork Volume 11 Number 5 - May 2003