Sep 17

Chinese Character Pillows

Have I ever mentioned that I am half Chinese?  Well, Taiwanese, to be exact, but they speak Mandarin Chinese there, and a lot of the people originally came from China, so it’s kind of the same.  Kind of, but not really.


My children go to a school that has a dual immersion program, one of those languages being English, and the other Mandarin Chinese.  I like to do what I can in the class (I speak Mandarin, although not as fluently as I used to) and I like to help out with fundraising and such.


I knew that eventually, I would make something quilty with Chinese characters on it, and the day has finally come!


Introducing my Chinese Character Pillows!

chinese pillows 1

I made these using a reverse applique method.  I traced the characters (mirror image) onto fusible web, and then stuck it on to the wrong side of the background fabric.  I cut out the inside of the characters, being sure to remember where all the little center pieces go, and ironed it to the right side of another fabric.  Then, add a zigzag stitch around all of the edges and BAM!  Chinese Character pillows.

chinese character pillows 4

Here is where the differences between the Chinese and Taiwanese causes a problem for me.  Before 1956, Chinese was written in it’s traditional form.   I have a picture of a sweatshirt that shows how the writing has changed through time, but still maintained the same basic structure and meaning within the character.

chinese character progression


When I learned to write Chinese characters, I learned the traditional form.   This is the form that is taught in Taiwan.

After 1956, the Communist Government in China changed and simplified many of the characters.  So, while the characters are easier to write, a lot of them are very different from the traditional characters from which they originated.  This is my opinion, but I feel that a lot of the deep meaning and history in the characters were lost.  This is the form of writing that is used in Mainland China.

They teach simplified Chinese at my kids’ school.

So, while making these pillows, I was torn.  Should I stick with the traditional characters that I know and love, or should I make pillows with the simplified characters that, to me, lack meaning?

I made both.

Two of the characters were the same for both traditional and simplified, so with these pillows (Green-courage, Yellow-Family/home) I only made one character for the front and added a patchwork back.

chinese character pillows 5


With the blue pillow (righteousness) and the pink pillow (love), I made one panel with the simplified, and one with the traditional.


chinese character pillows 6

Overall, I am very happy with these pillows.  Here they are again, with the simplified character side up:


chinese character pillows 2

And here they are with the traditional side up:

chinese character pillows 3

These pillows will be up for auction at my kids’ school in October.

18 inches by 18 inches

Thanks for stopping by!



  1. April says:

    These are brilliant! I’d like to make some for Lauren’s class too.

  2. Gayle Grier says:

    Your pillows are beautiful!

  3. Nicolette says:

    Love your pillows, it is nice to make something that has some meaning in life and also looks so pretty.

  4. Laura says:

    I was wondering if you had any trouble with the zigzag around each character.
    I’m doing a smaller version for a quilt block, so my jia /family character is only 3″ tall.
    But my machine won’t stich consistantly through the stiff part with the fusible web,straight yes, zigzag no.
    Any advice?

    • Tanya says:

      Hello Laura,

      Three inch 家? wow! That is impressive. I did not have problems sewing through the stiffer fusible web part, except that my zigzag stitch seemed to make a bit of a ripple with the fabric. I can’t really understand the problem to help you trouble shoot, but maybe if you sent me a picture I could better understand… You can email me at Finken (at) gmail (dot) com. Maybe if I saw the resulting zigzag stitch, I could help you out. Are you using a new needle? What kind of thread? What pressed foot are you using?