Felt Fish Pillow Tutorial for the Nautically-Inclined

Happy Friday, friends!  So, the Rustic Nautical Master Bedroom Makeover series continues, but we’re going to take a little break from this talk of building and staining and pallet-ing (yes, it’s a verb now) to get a little crafty today.  This should be a fun tutorial for ye lovers of felt and all things nautical!

So, as you may have noticed from our “before” and “after” photos, a significant part of the transformation involved our bedding.  For the first time EVER, we have decorative pillows on our bed.  And gosh, I feel so grown up!  (Decorative pillows make you a grown up, right?)

DIY Decorative Pillows for a Rustic Nautical Bedroom via thinkingcloset.com

I decided to tackle two of the pillows myself because…well…why buy it when you can DIY it?  (Anyone else here live by that mantra?  Oh good.)  You’ve already gotten to see how I made our Nautical Anchor Pillow.  So, today it’s all about the Felt Fish Pillow.

Nautical Felt Fish Pillow Tutorial by thinkingcloset.com

Of course I’m going to give you the full run-down, so you can make your own!  Let’s dive in (pun intended).

D.I.Y. Envelope Pillows (on the cheap!)

The first step in the process was to get a hold of some inexpensive pillow forms.  So, it was off to HomeGoods!  I bee-lined it straight to the back for the pillows clearance aisle (they have a whole entire aisle dedicated to clearance pillows at our store…uh-ma-zing).  And I pretty much just punched and squeezed every pillow until I landed on two that were luxuriously stuffed to the gills with feathers.  And when I checked the price-tags, I smiled with glee.  Just what I was hoping for.  A steal!

HomeGoods finds!

Fittingly, the pillows are nautical in their design, but they didn’t quite work with our new color scheme.  Plus, one of the pillows had some major stain-action going on.  So, I harvested the feather pillow forms, relegated the removable pillow covers to the Goodwill pile, and it was off to Jo-Ann’s for some fabric for my new DIY pillow covers.

Clearance pillows from HomeGoods = inexpensive feather pillow forms!  $10 each.

There, I picked up some navy duck cloth along with some gray felt (both on sale!).  When I got home, I dragged my Brother sewing machine out of the closet, and set to work play!

Fabric purchased for my Nautical Felt Fish Pillow via thinkingcloset.com

TIP: At the store, I like to take photos on my phone of the fabric bolt end, so I remember the specifics if I need to buy more, and so I know the washing instructions!

I found a really easy-to-follow video tutorial by Jackie from Teal & Lime on how to create your own envelope pillow covers.  To check it out, click HERE.  She even has a really helpful post with tips for buying fabric and how much you need.  My dimensions were slightly bigger than hers as the pillows I purchased were both 20″ x 20″.  So, when cutting my fabric, I just cut 20″ x 46″ strips…which fit my pillows to a T.

I’ll refer you to her video tutorial for the 411 on how to create those envelope pillow covers.  Beginner sewists, never fear!  This is right up your alley and only requires sewing four straight-ish lines.  You can do it!

Just don’t make a rookie mistake like I did and start off with an old needle.  I ended up ripping out several seams because my stitches were knotting up where they shouldn’t.  I changed out my old needle for a new one, and instantaneously, the problem was solved!  (So, when they say you should use a new needle after every big project, they weren’t kidding.  And my last big project was the Origami Bags – – remember those?  So, no wonder my needle was tired and protesting.)

Another tip I would offer is to have your iron and ironing board at the ready to press seams to help along the way.  Before you know it, your envelope pillow covers will be done and ready to be decorated!

DIY Envelope Pillow Covers!  Great sewing project for beginners.  Via thinkingcloset.com

Next came the fun part: felting!

How to Create a Layered Felt Fish

I’ll skip over those 2 hours when I hemmed and hawed over what nautical design to tackle…and I’ll jump right to the moment of inspiration, when I thought, “Eureka!  I’ll use the gray felt to create a scaly fish!”

I don’t know about you, but textures are my jam, and I really love the look of layered felt on pillows (like this Harvest leaf circle pillow and this sunflower pillow).  So, I thought it would be fun to tackle some felt layering with a fish design, especially for the scales.

After finding a free clip art file to work with, I planned out my design.  I knew I wanted to do a lot of layering, but instead of layering directly onto the pillow, I thought I’d have a big outline of the fish in felt and then build my layers on top of that.

So, in order to get a really clean cut of my felt pieces, I utilized one of my crafting materials ever: freezer paper.

Freezer Paper: who knew that it's great for getting clean cuts of felt!?

“Wait, what?!  Hold the phone!  I thought freezer paper was for…well…the freezer.”

Oh, it is.  Buuuuut, it’s also nifty for crafts, especially when stenciling on fabric.  It’s exactly what I used when painting the anchors on my Nautical Anchor Pillow, too!  {You can check that tutorial HERE.}

So, back to my pillow project!  I wanted to cut out my fish shape on freezer paper in order to help me cut out the design on felt with precision.  So, I used my Silhouette machine to cut out a 12″ x 12″ cut-out of the fish.  It took me a bit of trial and error the first time I cut freezer paper with my Silhouette, but the settings that work best for me (with a new blade) are a blade of 1, speed of 3, thickness of 10, and shiny side up.  (The shiny side has some adhesive on it that is going to be ironed onto your garment, so just keep that mind if you’re working with fabric that has a “right” side.  You may need to flip your design horizontally.  With felt, it was no matter.)


Then, I gently ironed that fish cut-out onto my gray felt, shiny side down.  Felt doesn’t always do well under a hot iron, so just be sure to keep it cool, dry, and only apply it long enough for the glue to adhere to the felt.  Make sure to press down those edges!  There should be a strong seal between the freezer paper and the garment, although know this is not permanent.

Ironing freezer paper to help get clean cuts on felt!  via thinkingcloset.com

Then, after ironing, I used my fabric scissors to carefully cut out my fish.  When done cutting, you’ll find the freezer paper peels away with ease.

Using freezer paper to help get clean cuts on felt!  via thinkingcloset.com

I repeated this process one more time with a second identical fish shape…and in a moment you’ll see why.

Kissing fish!  via thinkingcloset.com

Aside: For certain felt designs, it might make sense to use your Silhouette to cut your felt…and it’s possible!  My friend Jessica from Cutesy Crafts made a video tutorial with the whole run-down, so if you’re curious, check that out HERE.

And if you don’t have a digital craft cutting machine like a Silhouette, no problem!  You can also PRINT on Freezer Paper (see!).  For larger designs, you’ll just have to print it on multiple pages and piece it together.

Next, I took my second fish cut-out divided it into sections: lips, tail, top fin, bottom fin.  I then cut each section into strips that I layered atop my first fish cut-out.  Because of the layering, I had to create one or two extra strips for each section in order to fill it up.  I just used my Elmer’s fabric & paper glue to adhere it.

Layering felt strips to create a textured felt fish pillow!  via thinkingcloset.com

Now, I will say this about my choice to use fabric glue as my adhesion: I’m only doing that because this is a decorative pillow that won’t be really handled much or run through the washer.  However, if you anticipate that your pillow will have a fair bit of handling or sitting on, you’ll want to tack down those felt pieces either with a needle-and-thread or your sewing machine; you could even use heat transfer interfacing to adhere the felt to the fabric.   For my purposes, fabric glue proved sufficient!

Fabric glue action!

Then, came the challenge of figuring out how to create the fish scales.  I’ll admit, I tried free-hand cutting, but it looked like the work of someone who had been sleep-crafting.  So, I decided to use the freezer paper method again, but this time for strips of scales!

Using freezer paper to create scales for a textured felt fish pillow!  via thinkingcloset.com

I simply created my strips by welding together some ovals and a rectangle in Silhouette Studio; then I pieced two strips together for economy’s sake.  I went through the process of cutting the freezer paper with my machine, then ironing the strips to some felt, and cutting out the scales.  One cut down the middle of the rectangle split each shape into two strips of scales. Then, I simply glued the strips onto my fish, starting at the tail and working forward, layer by layer, trimming the edges as I went.

This was the most time-consuming step, so good thing I had Project Runway to keep me company!  (Tim Gunn’s “Make it work!” exclamations powered me through.)

Layering strips of scales to complete a nautical felt fish pillow!  via thinkingcloset.com

And with the addition of a navy felt dot for an eye, my fish was complete!

Completed felt fish...ready to be glued onto my envelope pillow cover!  via thinkingcloset.com

I used my fabric & paper glue to apply the fish to the center of my newly-sewn pillow cover and called it a nautical day!

Nautical Felt Fish Pillow Tutorial by thinkingcloset.com

Nautical Felt Fish Pillow Tutorial by thinkingcloset.com

Isn’t he sweet?  I think I’ll name him…Barnabas!   Yes, Barnabas will suit him just fine.


And once again, here’s Barnabas, chillin’ out on our new bed:

Nautical Felt Fish Pillow & Anchor Pillow - - Full tutorials over at thinkingcloset.com

DIY Decorative Pillows! Just one piece in the puzzle of this Rustic Nautical Master Bedroom Makeover! via thinkingcloset.com

Thanks for following along with the felt-tastic fun today.  Perhaps it has sparked some inspiration for a felt pillow project of your own?  Hmmmm?

Other Posts in This Series

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Enjoy this last day of February, dear ones!

{I link up here!}


Lovely comments so far...

  1. Mom L says

    Just adorable, that’s for sure. I didn’t realize you had made that one too! You should go to work for Pottery Barn design center…

  2. says

    BARNABUS!!!!! I want a barnabus all my own. I’d hug him, and squish him, and name him, well, barnabus.

    In all seriuosness, this looks amazing Lauren. Job well done! (And of course my mantra is why buy it if you can DIY it!)

  3. says

    First let’s talk about that name. Barnabas. It’s amazing, obviously, and I love it!!! Second, the moment I laid eyes on this fish in my Bloglovin feed I fell in love with it! I can’t believe you hand glued all those little pieces of felt! Serious crafty talent, that’s for sure… Oh and patience! Something I lack… He is perfection for your nautical bedroom! Well done, girl!

  4. says

    Decorative pillows totally make you a grown-up! I am beyond impressed with the time and quality you put into this! Something this detailed & textural would cost so much money at a store. Well done, Lauren! And I love that you name your decor :) I have a whole cast of characters in my house as well :)

  5. says

    I’ll admit, I was more excited for this part of the series than all the others before, mostly because I do not have an incredibly handy hubby that would be able to help me out with any major projects 😉 lucky lady!
    Funnily enough, I also used that tutorial to make my first DIY pillow covers! Great minds and all..!
    But I chose a hideous fabric, so I will be making some new ones soon.. maybe even with a felt fish on them! 😉 Thanks for the inspiration!

  6. Marmie says

    This sounds awfully fishy to me! Haha~ I love your fish-named-Barnabas and am impressed with your patience in making those scales. You have been weighed and not found wanting!! Are these loose associations or what?
    Your bedroom is so lovely. All of these extras and details just add to the charm!
    Remember when you made your PJ bottoms so many years ago? I knew you were blossoming into an artist but little did I know you would be such a Renaissance woman when it comes to such a wonderful DIY blog! Hip Hip Hooray!!

    • says

      Ha ha. Love all the free associations in that opening paragraph…I almost thought you were Dad for a second! 😉 (Guess that’s what happens when you’ve been married almost 34 years!)

      And yes, I totally remember with fondness that P.J. project! (Although I made them too long and too baggy…though I suppose that was the style back then?) I have no doubt that helped give me the bug for sewing and crafty projects down the line. YOU played such a role in my Renaissance education, that’s for certain! Hip hip hooray! #chipoffthemomblock

      • Marmie says

        Yes, guess that’s one of the things that happens after 34 years of marriage! :-)
        And the PJ style back then WAS long and baggy! You were right in style.
        I am delighted to have had a bit part in what God was doing in your life back then and will continue to support you forever and always! xxoo

    • says

      Thanks for the kind words, Style Sisters! Yes, I forget where I learned that tip about taking a photo of the end of bolts…but it has saved me many times when trying to remember those oh so specific washing and ironing instructions. And thanks for the linky invite! I’ll do my best to stop by!

    • says

      Aw, thanks so much, Alison! I’m a detaily person, I suppose. 😉 And I’m so glad you left me some comment love because it afforded me the opportunity to visit your beautiful blog!

  7. says

    WOW! This is so cute and so detailed! What a perfect way to add character and texture to your already amazing room!

    Thanks for sharing such a great idea!


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