Monday, March 22, 2010

Quilted Pillow Covers {Tutorial}

So I've been making lots of new pillow covers for my very favorite UK resident.

She (wisely) chose the entire Amy Butler LOVE line which is a beauty. What a pleasure to work with these super cheery fabrics.

Group Picture

Ok, everyone smile and say "cheeeese!"

I thought I would share the (kind of long but totally worth it) process with you so that your sofa will look crazy awesome too. You're welcome.


Fabric - can be various scraps. Should be at least two yards total.

All the sewing stuff - machine, thread, scissors

Blue painter's tape or ye ol' masking tape

Safety pins (curved are preferred, but normal are fine)

Batting - I use Warm & Natural

Cord - usually found in the upholstering section of Joann's with grommets and other fun stuff. Don't be intimidated as I was the first time I ventured out of the fabric section. Just find the size you like and ask the nice lady to cut a few yards for you. (Make sure you figure that part out at home first, though.)

Degree of difficulty - probably not a good first project, but you don't have to be a rocket scientist. I guess I'd say advanced beginner. I mean, it's just sewing. With these thorough directions, anyone could make it! :)

Let's begin, shall we?
First, make the front of your pillow. Be it patchwork or some sweet design. Just sew that puppy together and make sure it's slightly bigger on all sides than your pillow form. This tutorial is for a 20" x 20" pillow, so the front was about 21 inches square.

Yes, you need to iron it. No, don't worry about trimming it up and cutting it to size.

Next - cut a piece of batting also about an inch (or more) larger than the form.

Dear Eco-Sewers and Cheap Skates, save all batting from your quilts and sew it together for small projects like this. I know!!! Just set your machine to the widest, biggest, bestest zigzag you have and butt those pieces together. Try not to overlap the edges as it won't lay flat under the finished piece. My new motto: Economical, Efficient, Environmental. Hubs thinks I'm joking when I say it, but really, it's free batting, people!
Love, me

Ok, moving on... We have the top, the middle, and now... the back:

If this were the back of a quilt, it had better be ironed and beautiful. However, this is the back of the front of the pillow. It will never been seen. Ever. So use whatever you like, but for goodness sake, don't pay money for it.

Now that we have all three layers for the front of our sweet pillow, it is time to prepare a little sandwich. Hold the mayo - it's a quilt sandwich.

Lay cheapo backing on the floor. Have the blue painter's tape handy. Tape at least once on each side, pulling the fabric kinda tight. Taut? I'll stick with tight.

If this were an actual quilt, I'd recommend taping the heck out of it, pulling as tight as you can. But like I said before - it's the back of the front of a pillow. It will never ever be seen.

Adding to the quilt sandwich, next lay your batting on top:

And then the front (pretty side up):

All three layers should be visible all the way around the quilt. The idea is that when you quilt (sew through all the layers), things can pull and "shrink" and you want to eliminate the possibility of the front being larger than the back at all costs. Then the whole size of the pillow is shot. Trust me.

Now you'll need those safety pins. Curved are preferable (Walmart, $2), but normal ones will do. Pin the center first and then work away from the center, smoothing the front as you go.

Don't try and look at my watch to see what time I did this. It was nap time.
That's how I tell time here - nap time and non-nap time.

I'm pointing at the first safety pin placed in the center.
I'm not much for rules in sewing, but it's kind of important.

Keep pinning and pinning. They should be about 4 inches apart. Work from the center up, then the center down, center left and center right. Obviously the pillow won't know if you work from the center right before you go left - I'm just giving an example of working methodically to keep the fabric tight... taut.

Now it's time to quilt this baby! Again keeping the whole taut thing in mind (I just looked it up on, turns out I was right!) - as the needle is going up and down, your hands should be pulling away from each other, keeping the fabric as taut as possible.

Please don't be too jealous of my unmanicured naturally supple hands.

I use a water-soluable marker to guide my sewing when quilting straight lines. That's the blue line you see. After sewing, I just use a wet toothbrush to take the lines away.

I'm here to tell you that you can indeed make your own piping. Yes, you! Piping!

I chose to use the same fabric as the backing. Cut enough strips so that they are a few inches longer than the actual diameter of the pillow. So for four sides of a 20-inch pillow... I need a little more than 80 inches of both cord and fabric.

I have about 84 inches of cord here:

Cut fabric strips one and a quarter inches wide:

Lay corners right sides together and sew top left to bottom right at 45-degree angle.

Now sew them together as shown (on blue mark) to get one looooong continuous strip, also about 84 inches long.

Trim away the excess, about 1/4" after the seam:

Seam should look as such when sewn together:

Now to put fabric casing around the cord to make your very own piping!

Fold the strip in half long-ways with cord in the center. Keep the raw edges together. Most people pin, but I am not a pinner - I'm much too impatient for such things. So keep them together with your method of choice. Get out the zipper foot and sew with the needle as close to the cord as possible. Go slow and stop as often as you need to keep it nice and neat. You've worked hard so far - don't screw it up now!! :)

Ta-daaa! Eighty-four inches of glorious piping!

Now is the time to trim up your quilt sandwich to 20 inches square. If you like an extra fluffy pillow, make it smaller. If you like it a little flatter, go a little larger.

Using your zipper foot, sew the piping onto the quilt sandwich you created earlier. Be sure to keep the raw edges of the piping aligned with the raw edges of the quilt sandwich. Pin if you must. Go ahead, I'll wait.

So now you should have the assembled and quilted top of the pillow cover with piping sewn on. Be proud, very proud of this accomplishment. For the back of the pillow, choose your fabric and try to follow these awesome math skillz.

For an envelope closure, the two back pieces should overlap by at least 6 inches for a 20-inch pillow. For smaller pillows, they don't need to overlap as much, but any less than four inches and you could be asking for trouble. Sounds serious, huh?

For this pillow, I cut two pieces of backing fabric 21" x 13".

Sew just ONE long side of EACH panel to make a hem. Fold 1/4 inch, baste (the long stitch) and iron if you wish. Then fold another 1/4 inch and sew nice and pretty. Sometimes I use a decorative stitch here. But just on one side because the other will be hidden underneath.

Ok, hang in there! We're almost done! (More of a pep talk for myself to keep writing this! The sewing is much more fun.)

Next - place the panel that you would like to see the most of face down first on top of the quilted front so that right sides are facing. Next, lay down the other panel also face down, overlapping the first.

The two back panels should completely cover the front of the pillow.

Ok, let's get that zipper foot back on the machine now. Reach down deep to find your Super-Feely Fingertip Superpower. Just as you made your own piping (you did go through with it, didn't you?!), get the needle as close to the cord as possible. Since it's under the backing, you won't be able to see it - at all. Just use your Fingertip Feely Superpower and do your best. Slowly stitch all the way around the pillow. If the needle gets away, just cut the thread and get back on track. Stay with it! The closer you stitch to the cording, the neater the finished product will be.

After you've stitched all the way around, flip the pillow right side out and insert your pillow form.

It's gonna rock. The wonderful quilty-soft front will be so perfect to lay your now-weary head on for a well-deserved nap. I told you it was worth it.

I'm so proud of you!


  1. I love how you explained everything and with such humor.
    THAT'S TAUGHT...or That's tight? I like "taut" now for the new decade :)

  2. I finished my pillow today, and I'm so excited about it! Excellent tutorial. I was only confused about how to finish off the raw piping ends. I'm not an experienced seamstress, but I think I can figure it out. Overall, your tutorial was easy to follow. Thanks!

  3. you are a treasure thank you so much for the pillow tutorial it was greatly appreciated. I've studied it thoroughly and now i'm off to make one (or six) of my own, can't wait and thank you again stephanie

  4. I was searching online for how to make the Envelope part of the pillow, as I already had my quilt top made. However, I found myself reading your entire tutorial because it was so entertaining. ha. Thanks for the help. Here's to Finished Pillow Euphoria! :)

  5. This is such a late comment, but i just wanted to say how awesome your tutorial for a quilted cushion cover was. I used it and it was fantastic. Thank-you!

  6. Do you make quilted pillow protectors, to go under the pillow case that your head lies on? These are so hard to find nowadays. I can't believe the people that are looking for them as I am, online now. Thanks for your help.
    Mrs. Faye Green

  7. Thank you SO much for this awesome tutorial!!! This was the perfect way for me to practice free-motion quilting (no one ever sees the back...with all of my tension issues...YAY!). And a great way to use up fabric stash on gifts! Easy & fun. Thanks again! :D


I would love to hear from you! Sew lovely of you to comment.