Cushion Covers: Add A Zipper, And Some Functionality

Cushion covers are simple sewing project for the beginner. Learn how to make your own throw pillows with a zippered slipcover. Very inexpensive and an excellent project for the novice sewer.

Throw pillows for your living room add a pleasant touch, and they are inexpensive to make. Pillow forms (if you use them) are generally less than ten dollars apiece (you can find the best bargains on them at stores like Walmart or MacFrugals) and they usually come in simple shapes like round or square.

Using commercial pillow panels sold at fabric stores saves you the hassle of measuring and cutting enough fabric to cover your pillow form. However, pillow panels have very narrow seam allowances (sometimes smaller than 5/8 inches), which makes them less sturdy in the laundry, as well as when you go to stuff it by hand or insert the pillow form. Moreover, if you want to add more function to the pillow cover, it will be almost impossible to add a zipper to it, because you need a generous seam allowance.

Today you will learn to make a standard cushion with a pillow insert and a zippered slipcover. The zipper will allow you to remove the insert if you ever stain the cover and want to clean it without throwing the entire cushion in the laundry.


Pillow panels are fine for this project, but make sure to cut a bit of extra fabric from the outer border of the panel cutout. Many panels have extra fabric around the central cutout so you can use it as trimming, as a placemat, or for a quilting project. Make sure that you have at least 5/8 inches of border fabric around your central cutout.

For pillows made from upholstery fabric (70 inches wide), or any 45-inch wide cloth, You will have to do the measuring yourself. When you go to buy your fabric, keep your pillow form measurement in mind. A standard size pillow form is the 14-inch square. Here is how you calculate the amount of fabric, keeping in mind that you will have to cut out two pieces from it when it is folded in half:

For a 14-inch cushion, take the 14 inches and add 1 1/4 inches for a total of 15 1/4 inches. This will give you each side of the cushion, plus a 5/8-inch seam allowance around the perimeter.

For the 14-inch square pillow, buying one yard of 45-inch fabric will give you enough after prewashing it to make at least two pillow covers.

Pinning Your Pillow Cover

Make sure that you two panels of fabric are facing wrong side out. Pin them together along one side, matching the edges. Straight stitch that side with a 5/8-inch seam allowance. With your iron, press that seam open.

Note: Most zippers have the instructions on how to install them on the package, but here is a recap.

Take a zipper (for a 14-inch pillow, a 12-inch zipper will do), and lay it face down against the center of the seam allowance, lining up the zipper tape with the pressed-open edges. Pin the zipper along both sides of the seam allowance.

Change the presser foot on your machine to a zipper foot. Baste the zipper tape to each side of the seam allowance WITHOUT sewing all the way through the panel. The stitching should not be visible from the right side of the fabric, because you are ONLY tacking the zipper tape onto the allowance.

Pin the seam allowance and zipper FLAT against the panels and then straight stitch (shorten your stitch length from the basting stitch that you used before) over your basted seams. Start from the top of the zipper on one side and then lift the zipper foot when you reach the bottom. Pivot and stitch straight across the bottom of the zipper, about a centimeter above the teeth. Make sure to also stitch across the top of the zipper tape.

Turn the panels right side up and then pick out the basting stitches and center seam. This will expose the zipper pull and teeth. Test the zipper to make sure it opens and shuts with no difficulty. Leave it unzipped.

Remaining Stitches

Pin the wrong sides of the panels together on the remaining sides. Straight stitch and leave a 5/8-inch seam allowance. Trim the allowances and clip the corners. Press them open.

Turn it right side out.

Take your pillow form, squeeze the top two corners together, and ease them into the pillow cover through the zippered opening. Stuff the rest of the form into the cover. You will have to evenly distribute the form and tuck the corners of it into the cover's corners. Zip the cover shut. Fluff and smooth the pillow.


If you want to add trimmings to your pillow, finish the ends of the trim with a narrow hem so it does not fray. You want a neat edge. Make sure to pin the trim right-side-down, lining up the top border of the trim with the raw edges of the panel (i.e., if the trim is scalloped lace, the scalloped edge should face in toward the center of the panel). Also, make sure you pin the trim about 5/8 inches in from the raw edge of the panel, so you can sew right over the same seam when you go to sew the panels together.

When you display your pillows on the couch, make sure the zipper is facing down.

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