Pillows 101

Every once and a while, I get the itch to sew something – Halloween costumes, napkins, clothing, but most often, I make a new set of pillows for the vignette area by my living room window. Since I have two chairs and a small table in between, I like to jazz it up with bold colors, patterns, seasonal flair, and shimmer. I get so bored when I go to stores and see the same old designs for decorative pillows, and that run-of-the-mill pillow at the home store can easily cost $20 or more, for a single pillow. I usually need two or more, which can add up fast. Here is a simple how-to for handmade pillows in one afternoon. If you have a sewing machine, you can make even quicker work of it.

  1. Select your fabric. I like to use table runners, cloth napkins, handkerchiefs, curtain panels, tablecloths, cloth place mats (try to find some without the hard backing), or just fabric scraps from the craft store. If you are using cloth napkins, two napkins will yield one pillow. The same is true for cloth place mats and handkerchiefs. One table runner will generally yield two rectangular pillows.
  • Side-note: This is one of my new favorite tricks, and I have been using table runners for pillows a lot lately since they often come with tassels, beads, and bells dangling from the ends – free embellishments! A square-ended runner works better for pillows than one with triangle ends. The price is great, $10-15, for a unique look. And for under $20, including stuffing, you get two custom pillows!

  1. Measure and cut your fabric. When I use cloth napkins, cloth place mats or handkerchiefs, I find that I just use them as they are, and I do not need to cut anything. If using a table runner, measure and mark out four equal rectangles from one runner. If using a larger piece of fabric such as a tablecloth, curtain panel, or fabric from the craft store, measure and mark your fabric to the desired size and shape. (Square and rectangle-shaped pillows are easiest.) Keep in mind that you will be sewing the pieces together, so you will lose a little bit off the edges of your pillow. Take this into consideration when measuring and marking your fabric. Then carefully cut out the rectangles or squares you have marked.

  1. If you would like to embellish the fabric shapes you have cut with beads, sequins, embroidery, or other items, sew them on at this point.

  1. Put two fabric shapes together evenly on a flat surface with the wrong sides facing out and the sides you want to show on your finished pillow on the inside. Use pins to secure the edges of the fabric together, leaving a hole large enough for your hand open on one side of the pillow shape.

  1. Hand-sew, or use a sewing machine to sew around the fabric shape you have made. If hand-sewing, use a running stitch and go around the square or rectangle about 1/8” from the edge of the fabric (you want to leave a tiny bit of room between your stitch and the edge), removing the pins as you go. Knot the ends of the thread as needed. To begin, I thread my needle with a simple knot I make with one hand, pulling the tail through a loop one or two times to secure it.  To finish, I often use an ending knot, which is a knot made in the final stitches that lies flat against the fabric you are working with. If you need help, try the Internet. There are lots of tutorials on basic sewing knots. Use whatever knots you are comfortable with. If you are using a sewing machine, use a straight stitch and reinforce the ends of your stitching.  I do this by reversing and re-stitching over the beginning and end of my project as I go. Do not sew the hole left for your hand.

  1. Turn the fabric shape inside out, revealing the finished fabric side that had been on the inside of your pillow. Push out the corners with your fingers to make a smooth-edged square or rectangle shape.

  1. Use a bag of batting (stuffing) and stuff the filling into the pillow with your hand through the hole you have made. Carefully fill the corners with stuffing and smooth out any lumps. Stuff the pillow until it achieves the look you desire.

  1. Hand-stitch the opening for stuffing closed and snip any threads. You’re done!
  • Some years ago I even made pillow covers using this method to cover floor pillows that I wanted to keep, but pillows that needed a change since the fabric clashed with my new décor. For the covers, I left one side of the large squares open and used pinking shears on the edges and to make small slits down the length of the opening. I threaded beautiful ribbon through the slits in a braided pattern to close them, and tied a large bow at one end.  All I needed to do was un-thread the ribbon to reuse the covers. Voila!