Monday, January 31, 2011

How To: A Simple Square Pillow

Project: A square pillow, with hidden zipper and piping
Time: For me, about an hour. For beginners, plan on three. I've made 3-5 dozen pillows over the last 10 years or so, I've got it down to a science.
Skill Level: A little sewing experience helps

When I showed my mom the bedding that I picked out for Mistress Monstress, she spoke the most terrifying sentences I have ever heard;

"I have the perfect piece of cross stitch to go with that! I made it for you when you were a little girl and never made it into the pillow it was supposed to be!"

Immediately, thoughts of country geese and hearts sprung to mind in those wonderful early 1980's colors of blue and mauve and I broke out into a cold sweat thinking of how to tactfully turn her down without hurting her feelings. So you can imagine my delighted surprise when she pulled out this:
and I realized that she was right, it was perfect for her room! When I picked up the bed skirt and other things from Craig's List the other day, included was a pink gingham pillow sham that matched the bed skirt. Since I already had a pillow sham to match the comforter, I didn't really need a second one, so I decided that it would be perfect for the back of the cross stitch that my mom had finished. I pulled out a zipper that I had in my drawer, and set to work creating something for Mistress Monstress using only things I already had. The outer part of the pillow was no problem, but I didn't have a pillow form. Or did I? Remember that loveseat I got off CL? It came with two other throw pillows in, um, less than stellar condition.
I used my trusty little seam ripper and got to work! It was a little bigger than I needed, but being a cheapy pillow, I just cut the batting mass down to the size I needed.
Now, to begin I ironed the pillow sham and cut it down the seam to make a single layer.
Using a straight ruler, I trimmed the fabric to make the sides square. To calculate how big the piece should be just use this easy math: Add one inch to the finished width of the pillow and 2.5 inches to the finished length. This was a 12" pillow, so my back was cut 13" wide and 14.5" long.
Cut straight across the width of the pillow about five inches down from the top of the pillow.
After the cut is made...
Put right sides together and pin the edge. Set aside.
I almost always do piping on my pillows. You can buy piping ready made, but it's really easy to make. Cut strips on a 45 degree angle off a straight edge of the fabric that are 1.5 inches wide. Cut enough strips to go around your pillow sides with a little left over.
Put your strips end to end, and then fold them back to make a seam. When you do this it will make two little 'v' shapes, stitch from the top to the bottom of those v's. Confused? Me too. Check out the next picture.
You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words?
After all your piping strips are sewn together iron the seams open and get ready to insert the cording.
I get piping cord from Home Sew, $7.85 for 50 yards. It lasts a long time but it's way cheaper to do it that way. Well for me anyway, but then again I make a ridiculous number of throw pillows. Anyway, put the piping cord in the center of your piping fabric strips and fold it over.
I use a piping foot, (#12 on my Bernina) to do this, just move your needle position over all the way to the right and stitch the entire length, folding as you go. I also use the auto-needle down feature, which in my opinion is worth it's weight in gold.
Once you have the piping done, now you stitch it onto the front of the pillow. I already had this one made up, but if you don't just cut your fabric an inch larger on all four sides than the finished size of the pillow. This one is a 12 inch pillow, so the fabric would have been cut 13" square. Line the edge of the piping up with the edge of the pillow front. Start a little past the end of the piping, and I always start at the bottom of the pillow.
Snip your corners to make turning easier.
When you get back around, cut your piping off so that it overlaps about an inch or so from the other end.
Using a seam ripper, open up your piping back past the starting point.
Cut the cord only so that the two ends meet when they lay flat.
Fold the fabric under to create a finished look, and line everything up. Then stitch in place.
The finished piping.
Now onto the back. Baste your two pieces together 3/4" from the edge.
Now, just next to the basting stitch sew a seam 1.5 inches from both edges. Backstitch for security.
Take the back to the ironing board. fold down the seam and press flat. This is also a good picture of the basting stitch next to the 1.5 inch seam.
Pressed flat.
Now fold the top seam backwards so that approximately 1/4 inch of the fabric extends past your basted line. Press in place.
A little hard to see, but hopefully you get the idea.
Attach your zipper foot and use it to stitch your zipper on to the 1/4 inch fold that is sticking up.
Once the zipper is attached, then fold the pillow back open and stitch the remaining three sides of the zipper, starting from the first line of stitching on the zipper. Pull your threads through and tie them off in the back.
Here's hoping this picture helps a little...
Once your zipper is secured, then you need to remove the basting stitch. It's hidden under the flap on the back.
A better shot of where to find the basting stitch.
When the basting stitch is gone, flip the pillow back over and you have a hidden zipper with a flap!
Now lay your pillow front face up on a flat surface. Lay the back on top right side down. Line up the edges and pin around the edge to keep it in place.
Pinned and ready to go!
Stitch around the edge using your piping foot. it will guide your stitching and make sure you keep on track. Start at the middle bottom. Once you have rounded your last corner, stick your hand inside the pillow and unzip the zipper so you can turn it right side out when you are done. Finish stitching and turn right side out!
And here's the finished product. It's a little scary how close my mom came to bedding that I wouldn't choose for nearly 30 years. Cue the theme from the Twilight Zone...


  1. It is perfect! You are seriously talented!

  2. I am loving this crafty blog of yours! Very inspiring!

  3. ok, i've been wanting to sew pillows for awhile, maybe this will help me do it - thanks!