Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pillow Basics Tutorial

I've put together a Pillow Basics Tutorial that shows how to make a basic envelope pillow and also a simple pillow finished with binding.

Pillows are a great simple project that can be made from start to finish in no time! While you can make a pillow and stuff it I suggest using a pillow form. Pillow forms are available at most quilt shops and hobby shops and take one step out of the process!

Some pillow forms have a non-woven cover.

Others have a woven cover. Not all pillow forms are made equal and you should be able to see the quality in construction through the packaging. In general you get what you pay for. Personally I prefer the non-woven cover pillows that fall in the middle of the price range.


Better quality pillow forms have a zipper closure. This allows you to add or remove filling if you want to make the pillow more or less stuffed. It also helps if you need to spot clean the pillow form.

One of the simplest pillows you can make doesn’t even have any quilting! It has just a few steps and you can easily make it in under an hour. 

I’m going to show you a 14” Pillow. For my pillow I started with a big bold panel print that I found at IKEA. I used a large square fussy cut ruler to determine what part of the panel I wanted on my pillow. I marked the 14.5” measurements.

Rotary cut out the piece you want to use for the front. For my 14” pillow form I cut my square at 14.5”

Use a coordinate fabric for the back and cut out two rectangles 14.5" x 10."
Here is a table of common pillow form sizes and corresponding front and back measurements.


Iron 1⁄4” on one long side over and then over again to encase raw edges. Pin in place.

Using matching thread topstitch this seam down. Repeat for second back piece.

Place pillow front right side up.

Place first back piece right side down as shown in photo with the finished seam down towards the middle.

Place second back piece right side down as shown in photo with the finished seam up towards the middle.

Place pins around the outside to hold the three pieces in place.

Use a 1⁄4” seam to sew all three layers together.

Stop when you get 1⁄4” away from the corner. If your machine has a needle down function use it to pivot the pillow cover 90 ̊. If your machine does not have a needle down function carefully pivot the pillow cover without pulling much of the thread from the bobbin or the needle.

Continue sewing all the way around the pillow cover.

Trim off the excess bulk in the corners. 

You can also add some extra stitching for strength in the corners if you want.

Remove all of the pins and turn the pillow cover right side out. Insert pillow form and you are done!


Many people like their pillows to be a bit more stuffed. This can be achieved in a few simple ways. #1. Add more stuffing into the pillow form. #2. Sew using a 1⁄2” seam instead of a 1⁄4” seam. This will cause the pillow cover to have a tighter fit over the pillow form. #3. Use different measurements. For example instead of cutting a 14.5” square for a 14” pillow you could cut a 14” or 13.5” square. This will give a similar result to method #2. How different you choose to make your measurements is up to you, but I personally suggest not changing them more than 10% I suggest you try each method and decide what works for you. Personally I use #3 the most often.

How many orphan blocks and partially made things do you have lying around near your sewing machine? If you are anything like me it’s more than you want to admit! Leftover blocks and partially made things make great pillows and help you use up your random bits. You can take a stray block and put borders on it to bring it up to size for the pillow form you have.
Metro Market and Remix by Ann Kelle for Robert Kaufman
Border is Kona Crush by Robert Kaufman

For Pillow #2 I’m going to show you how to finish your pillow with binding. For this pillow I used a leftover coin strip from another project, put a frame around it, and quilted it with a grid pattern. I’m using a 14 x 28 pillow form and made my pillow front 13.5” x 26.5” so that it would be a snug fit. Make a pillow top and quilt it as if it was a mini quilt. Note: This method of finishing a pillow with binding works best when the front of your pillow is quilted. If the front is not quilted the binding doesn’t have as much to hold on to and it can be hard to hand stitch without showing through the front.

After quilting I basted around the “mini quilt” and trimmed it to size.

I use muslin as the backing for my “mini quilt” so that there is not bare batting when the pillow is finished.

The assembly here is very similar to pillow #1 but not identical. Since I’m going to finish this with binding I don’t have to assemble the pillow inside out. Place quilted front right side down. Place first back piece on top with the wrong sides together as shown. Note: With square pillows I always orient the back sections horizontally across the pillow. With rectangular pillows I always make the open section line up with the smaller side regardless of the pillow’s orientation.

Add the second back piece also with the wrong side down as shown.

Pin to hold the 3 layers together.

Set your machine to a long straight stitch.

Use a walking foot to baste the three layers together all the way around using a scant 1/8” seam. Remove pins once this is complete. After this step your pillow cover is assembled and you could put the pillow form in it even thought your raw edges are showing. If you are at all concerned about fit now is a good time to test it out before taking all the time to put the binding on.

Make enough binding to go around the pillow cover. I show step by step how to make binding in this post on my blog

Here is a chart that shows how much binding you’ll need for each pillow. In general I use bias binging but I do use straight of grain on many of my more decorative and less daily use pillows. 

Pillow Size       Binding Strips
12 x 12             Cut2-Make60"
14 x 14             Cut2-Make70"
16 x 16             Cut2-Make80"
18 x 18             Cut2-Make80" (might need 3)
20 x 20             Cut3-Make90"
27 x 27             Cut 3 - Make 120"
12 x 16             Cut 2 - Make 70"
14 x 28             Cut 3 - Make 90"

Put the binding on your “mini quilt” that now has the back pieces basted on. I show step by step how to attach the binding to your quilt, or pillow in the case, in this blog post


Wrap around to the back and hand stitch in place. I show the method I use for hand stitching binding as well as how I finish off my corners in this blog post

Take your time with the binding and it’ll be a great addition to your beautiful pillow!!

I hope you like my pillows as much as I do. The long coin strip pillow is my new favorite!!

© Blog post written by Julie Herman
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Vickie said...

Been that...What a great tutorial post over at Sew Mama Sew! Congrats and thanks! I have recently put pillow making on my list of things I want to make. I love the long coin strip pillow, too, however that IKEA bird is really cute!!

Lee said...

Thanks for another great tutorial!

mascanlon said...

My goodness you have been busy! I think that clever coin pillow has jumped way up on my list too.

Sewhappy said...

Thanks for that great tutorial at SMS, I can't wait to get started on a long pillow I have had sitting around here for years, Yay.

Tricia said...

Great tutorial! And those pillows are adorable!! I can't wait to try out your tutorial, especially since I've never made an enveloped pillow back!

Angela Nash said...

very cute pillows!

Just JaiCi's Crafts said...

vERY CUTE! Can't wait to give it a try!

Tezzcan said...


Connie Kresin Campbell said...

Love the coin strip pillow and the idea of using binding! Thanks for sharing your tutorial!

bethanndodd said...

YOur coin pillow is adorable! It makes me want to give it a squeeze. I will be heading over to look at your tute...thanks!

Terriaw said...

Love your new coin strip pillow, especially with that fabulous fabric framing the coins. And I adore the binding on pillows. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

LOVE the coin strip pillow! You always come up with the cutest stuff.

JariJari said...

what a pretty pillow! great tute over SMS.

Tiffany said...

I love this use of the apple fabric. I bought that fabric in 2 or 3 colorways with polka dots to match. I've been trying to force myself to use it for placemats but I have a hard time using fabric I love for something I can't snuggle. We shall see how long I resist.