this reading nook in my new house was begging for a bunch pillows- before photo at the end of the post
Most of you probably don’t know this but I used to work for an interior designer making drapes and pillows. Drapes stressed me out a bit… 1/2” too long on a lined and interlined drape was a nightmare to fix and 1/2” too short was a disaster. But, I loved making pillows. We used lots of fun trims and created complicated designs. It was so much fun to work with incredible fabrics.
My personal design taste is a lot simpler these days and with a new house I am excited to create a bunch of throw pillows. Pillows are such an easy way to change the look and feel of a room and are super easy to make….even with a zipper. I have a few tricks I learned in my design workroom days though that will help you make professional looking pillows.
Supplies and notes:
found these awesome fabrics at Michaels Craft Store
You will need some home décor weight fabric. Lighter weight quilting cottons don’t hold up to a lot of wear and tear but are fine to use if they won’t be involved in pillow fights. I found some great 100% cotton home décor fabrics at Michaels. Not all stores carry these fabrics but they also have a wide selection on-line. Here is a link to the stores with an expanded fabric selection.
I always prewash and machine dry my home décor fabrics. Between coffee spills, pets and kids I want to know I can wash my pillow covers. Pre-washing takes care of any shrinkage so you don’t end up with a too small pillow cover down the road. I also want to see how the fabrics fare in the washer. Some will have some minor scuffs from the washing and drying process…I love that it gives the fabrics a not so new look. If you have a more formal style you may want to dry clean your fabrics and in that case don’t need to prewash.
If you think you will be making a bunch of pillows, a quilting type ruler will help a lot to get lines straight even when cutting with scissors. I use the clear rulers for so many tasks that aren’t even sewing related! I don't know what I would do without one. A rotary cutter and mat is a tool you will use for so many sewing tasks so they are a worthwhile investment. Put it on your wish list if you don’t have one yet.
Plump or squishy?
If you want a plump pillow cut the fabric the same size as the pillow form. If you want a squishy pillow, cut the fabric ½” – 1” bigger than the pillow form.
- 1.25 - 1.5 yards of 45” wide fabric is enough for two 20” X 20” pillows…adjust amount according to your needs
- Pillow forms in the desired size
- All purpose zippers
- Cotton or Poly-cotton sewing thread
- Sewing machine with primary foot and zipper foot
- Quilting ruler or yard stick
- Rotary cutter and mat (optional)
- Tailor’s chalk
All seams are sewn at ½”
Time to make some pillows!
Iron your fabric to eliminate any wrinkles. Use a rotary cutter and mat to cut your fabric down to the desired size. If you don’t have a rotary cutter and mat, use a ruler and tailors chalk to draw your cutting line and use scissors to cut.
Step 2: Dog ear adjustment
This simple trick I learned in the workroom produces professional looking pillows and eliminates dog ear corners. I made a cardboard template because I was making so many pillows but you don’t need one…though they are handy. The math is pretty simple.
Place the fabric squares wrong sides together unless it is easier to mark on the back of the fabric and then you can place them right sides together.
Measure the width of your fabric and divide by 4.
On my 20” x 20” pillow I cut the fabric 21” but to make the math easier we can use the 20” number.
20 divided by 4 = 5” That is where we will start to trim the corners.
Place a mark on your pillow corner ½” in from the edge with the tailor’s chalk or pen
Angle your ruler from the 5” mark on the edge to the ½” mark. I usually mark it with a pin or a pen.
Trim off the edge with your rotary cutter or mark the line with tailor’s chalk and cut with scissors
If that isn’t clear, this image with the ruler laid on top of the cut corners helps to clarify the narrow triangle you are cutting off the fabric.
I made a template out of cardboard to streamline the process. I marked it for 4 common pillow sizes: 18”, 20”, 22” and 26”. I think it is well worth the time to make, I have been using mine for 15 or more years.
Step 3-the zipper
Your zipper should be 3-4” shorter than the width of the fabric. At the end of this tutorial I have a short video about how to shorten a longer zipper. You can use a smaller zipper in a pinch but it may be more difficult to insert your pillow form.
Lay the zipper on the edge of your fabric. Mark the zipper placement with pins. Note you want to mark close to where the zipper head is not the end of the zipper tape.
We are going to mark the zipper placement in the pillow by basting in one seam on the bottom edge of the pillow. If you have a directional print decide which seam will be at the bottom of the pillow. If your print isn’t directional just pick a side.
Go to your sewing machine and stitch from the edge to the first pin using a normal stitch length. Remove the pin and adjust the stitch to a longer stitch length. This will be easier to remove later. When you get to the second pin, remove the pin and adjust back to a normal stitch length. Stitch to the end.
Press the seam flat and then press it open. Note that because of the slight curve at the edges the fabric will not be flat. This is normal.
Lay your zipper (zipper pull face down- toward the seam) directly on the seam line, centering it. Pin in place on one side.
Use your zipper foot to stitch along the pinned edge of the zipper. Don’t forget to move the needle over to the proper position for the zipper foot. I kept forgetting and broke at least 2 needles. Remove pins as you get to them.
When you reach the end, pivot the foot 90degrees and stitch very slowly across the end of the zipper. I usually turn the fly wheel by hand to stitch through the zipper teeth.
Pivot the foot another 90degrees and stitch down the other side of the zipper.
Use a seam ripper to remove the stitches over the zipper and then open the zipper up. Don’t forget this step.
Return to your sewing machine and stitch around the remaining 3 sides of the pillow. Press the seams flat. Then press open. This will help create nice flat side seams.
If desired, ziz-zag stitch or serge the seam edges to prevent fraying.
Press flat again and then insert your pillow form.
The before photo of the reading nook
How to shorten a zipper- a quick little video