How to Sew a PIllow

How To Sew A Pillow

It’s pillow time!  Are you ready for this?  Of course you are… you’ve been waiting patiently for weeks for me to get this post out 🙂  We’re starting with how to sew a pillow for our first project because it is just about the easiest project you could sew, and it puts several skills into practice right away.

Before we begin, I want to say a few things.  First of all, you’ll notice towards the end of the pictures that I switch from one pillow to a different one in my pictures.  That’s because this white one is going to get some special attention in the next few weeks with some artwork, and I didn’t want to close it up just yet.  I switched to another pillow cover that I had begun making a test run to help me think through how I would teach this, but you didn’t miss anything in my switch.  The steps are all still exactly the same, though the position and size of my opening are different.  Also, you should probably read this post all of the way through before beginning on your pillow if this is something you have never done before.  I have all of the pictures captioned for you, and you should be able to read them either by clicking on them or hovering over them.

How to Sew a PIllow

Okay, so technically, the picture says Saturday, and today is not Saturday, but I want to mark that these posts are a part of the same series.

Some of these steps I may not show in such detail in the future, so if for example, I say, cut out a square that is 6″x6″, I’m going to expect you’ll already understand how to go about doing that.  You can always come back and reference this post for pictures of how to use a rotary mat, ruler, and cutter, or you can reference THIS OTHER POST where I talked about cutting out a square without the fancy tools.  I will probably not show anything about pressing/ironing in the future unless it is for a special demonstration.  My guess is that most of you know how to iron a shirt or a dress smooth, and you can figure out how to do the same with your fabric.  In general, I’d like to include fewer images, but not at the expense of making things confusing for you.

And my final note to you is this:  I’ll say this throughout the post, but you do NOT have to have all of the tools I have or even follow all of the directions to a T that I give.  Feel free to hand sew your pillow, cut your fabric out by hand, and use different methods for smoothing your material.  Don’t let my choice of tools intimidate you to start with.  Feel free to make your pillow larger or smaller, or rectangular.  If you feel comfortable using something other than standard cotton, go for it.  This does not need to be a rigid project!  Make something you will like! (Reference my last post for more information.)

Alright, now that I got that out of the way… let’s see what you’ll be needing:

  • Fabric (3/4 yard if you are buying fabric new and are using the dimensions I am using) cut into two 19″x19″ squares
  • Matching thread
  • Fill for the pillow (I am using an 18″x18″ pillow form)

Before you can begin sewing, you will need to iron out your fabric.  You may want to begin by washing your fabric, but I’ll leave that up to you.  Some fabric is very stiff before washing, others not so much, and most fabric will have sort of a chemical wash on them that you might want to wash off, especially if you are sensitive to that kind of thing.  Either way, once you have your fabric ready you will want to iron it.  Your fabric, if it came right off of a bolt at the store, will be folded in half down the length of the fabric.  That’s okay, just keep it folded (unless you are trying to use a particular part of the print on a fabric, then you might want to be more choosy).  With the fabric folded on its original crease, iron the entire cut of fabric.  I use my iron on a steam setting, usually a higher setting as it can help remove deep wrinkles from the material.

If you do not have an iron, you could go about smoothing your fabric a few different ways.  If you took your material after washing, you could lie it down flat on a smooth surface and press it flat with your hands, and potentially hang it to dry after smoothing.  Or you could spritz your fabric with a spray bottle of warm water and smooth.  Just be wary of water spots.  I have hard water with a high iron content, and if I spray things with water directly from our sink, I’d end up with yellow marks on white fabric. Either way, your fabric will need to dry out before you begin cutting.

My cutting board was not wide enough to fit the whole 19″ onto my cutting board in one direction, and in the other direction, my fabric would have completely covered the marks of my mat, so I folded the fabric in half, lengthwise, to make it fit across the length of my mat.  If you are going to do this, make sure you line up the selvedge edges (the factory “finished” edges of the fabric, not the cut edge) of your fabric with your folded edge, and that the fabric lays smooth and doesn’t bubble along the newly folded edge.  Do not push down hard on the newly folded edge, but make sure all of the fabric lays smooth and flat.

With one of your long edges lined up with the grid of your rotary mat, clean up one edge of your fabric by trimming the first edge of your fabric to be smooth.  Measure out 19″ on the grid.  Measure twice, cut once!  I don’t always follow the numbers on the grid, so counting is important.  Each square is 1″ square. If you look at the picture below, you can see how you can line up the lines of a rotary cutter with the lines on the grid below.  You don’t need to worry about lining up square for square, but you should have your cut line be lined up perfectly.  You may need to turn your mat or move before making different cuts so that you are in a comfortable position for cutting.  NEVER use a rotary cutter if you are in an uncomfortable position.  The risk of you cutting yourself will be much greater as you will be more likely to slip while cutting.

By keeping the original fold in the fabric, you are now cutting out two squares at once.  Open the fold of your fabric, and now fold your fabric in half in the other direction, lining up your edges nicely.  Again, line up one of your long edges with the lines on the rotary mat.  Trim one end, and then cut the other end so you have another length of fabric that is 19″ long.

If you are making your pillow with different dimensions, just add 1″ to each dimension of your fabric.  For example, if your finished pillow is supposed to be 16″x12″ cut your fabric to be 17″x13″.  That will allow you for 1/2″ seam allowances on your pillow.

My finished dimensions are now 19″x19″.  It may look like I only cut out one square of fabric, but again, because my fabric was folded, I was actually cutting out two squares at once.  If you are going to use two different fabrics, one for each side of your pillow, you could still cut the pieces out together, or you can do it individually.  Whatever makes you more comfortable.  With the RIGHT SIDES of your fabric facing each other, line up your two squares and begin pinning.  I initially pinned the corners and I used two pins to mark what would be the opening of the pillow.  My fabric is a plain, off-white material and is reversible, so I did not need to worry about right and wrong sides of the material.  (If you are not sure if your fabric has a right and wrong side, look at both sides.  One will be dull and the other bright.  Some solid colored fabrics are actually printed, and if your fabric has images printed on it, then there is a right and wrong side.  The clear, bright sides should be facing each other.  Other materials are dyed or woven and it will not matter what side faces in, like my white fabric, or a woven plaid.)

Continue to add pins to the other edges of your fabric.  Keep the pin heads near the edge of your material, and weave your pins in and out at least once.  If your material is more slippery, you may want to poke your pins in and out more than once for a better hold.  Leave the space between your opening hole pins open.  Do not put any pins between those pins.  That will mark your starting and stopping point.  I left this opening rather large since I am using a pillow form to fill this.  You could leave a smaller opening, but remember that the smaller the opening, the more difficult it will be to fill your pillow later.  You could end up snapping the threads at your opening or tearing your fabric if you make it too difficult to fill.  For reference, my opening is probably about 16″.

When you have your pieces put together and your machine is threaded with the correct thread for the project, you may begin sewing.  You are going to be using a 1/2″ seam allowance around the perimeter of the pillow.  Start at the pin that marks your opening, leaving the opening BEHIND the presser foot, and the fabric of the pillow to the left of your machine.  It is much easier to work with your fabric outside of the machine’s throat than it is to work with it bunched up inside the throat.  Remove the first pin before you begin sewing.  As you can see below, I actually started just behind the first pin.  Start by stitching forward (3 stitches), backward (3 stitches), and forward again until you reach 1/2″ from the corner of your pillow.  Leave the needle in the downward position, using your hand wheel if needed.  Do not worry if you are slightly off from the half inch mark/point, just so long as you are very close to it.

Raise your presser foot, leaving the needle in the downward position, and turn your fabric to begin sewing the next seam.  If you would feel more comfortable marking the corner of your fabric to mark where 1/2″ would be, then do so.  My ruler is 1/2″ wide, so I just lined up the one edge of the ruler and the 1/2″ mark to mark where my corner was.  I used a disappearing ink to mark the corner.  Continue sewing around the perimeter of the pillow, turning at the remaining corners, until you approach your final pin marking the opening of your pillow.  When you get to the last pin, stitch backward and forward to strengthen your opening.  Lift your needle and presser foot so that you can remove your pillow.  Trim your thread, leaving a tail for the next time you sew.  When you are finished, you should have one edge of your pillow that has a seam that is not completely closed.   Do not forget to remove your pins as you are sewing.  If you sew over a pin, you can bend the pin, break the pin, break the needle, or damage the needle, causing the needle to snag your fabric. 

This next step is not an absolute necessity but is good practice for giving yourself a more professional finish.  You can finish your seams one of two ways: 1) you can  use a pinking shears to trim the edges of your fabric near your seam (leave plenty of space between your cut and your seam, you wouldn’t want to accidentally cut your seam), or 2), you can use a zig-zag stitch to catch and finish off the edge of the fabric.  The reasons for finishing edges are that it will help the fabric to keep from unraveling (especially in the wash), and it will make your seams stronger.   Sometimes seams can pull apart with time, but things like finishing off the edge of your fabric will help keep them from pulling apart.

A note on pinking shears… you will want to use a pinking shears that is meant for fabric.  Just as you will not want to use your everyday crafting scissors or kitchen scissors for sewing, neither will yo want to use a craft shears instead of a sewing shears.  Your fabric will not cut well, and you will be miserable.  They aren’t an absolutely necessary sewing tool, but they are nice to have on hand for when you can’t or don’t want to use a zig-zag stitch or other seam finishing method.

You can trim the corners of your pillow to allow for a more crisp corner, but with a 1/2″ seam allowance, and standard cotton fabric, it wouldn’t be absolutely necessary.  Just be sure you don’t clip off your stitches, and you leave a little bit of space between your fabric edge and your stitching.  Stick your hand into the opening of your pillow, and pull the whole pillow right side out.

You can see that after my initial flip (above), my corners looked less than stellar, and my pillow didn’t look very square.  I went around the pillow and using my finger, pushed all four corners out to create a more crisp corner.  Then I went around with my point turner and poked out each of the corners to get an even sharper corner on my pillow.

With my pillow seams sewn, it is time to press the edges of the fabric so that you have a clean, flat pillow casing.  I always start by “rolling” the seam from the back side until the edge of the seam lays flat on the ironing board, and then press each seam little by little until the whole thing is flat.  That just leaves the opening to deal with.  For that part, I use a little trick where I stick my fingers into the hole at the opening edges and pull the fabric taught.  Then I gently push the seam down with my hands and holding it in place, I press the seam.  This gives me a nice folded edge to work with when I am sewing the pillow shut.  You can do this step by measuring 1/2″ seams on each side of the fabric and folding the edges inward and pressing if you are worried about accuracy.

Here comes the pillow switch.  Don’t worry, same concept.  Stuff your pillow, and folding your seam allowance inward, pin the opening shut.  Hand sew the pillow closed with the ladder stitch we talked about in Hand Sewing Basics: Part 2.

Make sure your thread matches to get the cleanest looking seam possible. If you look at the pictures below, my thread matches very well.  The first picture of the pillow sewn shut is of the side I sewed shut by hand.  The second picture of the pillow is of an entirely machine sewn side.

And there you have it, a finished pillow!  Feel free to go pillow crazy and make lots of new pillows for your couch, as gifts for family and friends… This cherry pillow was given to a very happy little girl 🙂

How to Sew a Pillow
Miss Lady and her new pillow!

You can use this same basic pattern to make pillow forms, too.  I’ll show you in another post how to do different types of closures, and you can always get fancy with your pillow cases in the future.

As a testament to the fact that you can do this project may different way, my 7 yr. old, Peanut, decided to hand-sew a pillow not too long before I wrote this post.  Without any help from me, he cut out his fabric by hand (one of his pieces of material was already a nice square), but he put right sides together, hand sewed the seams, leaving an opening, and using his finger, poked the corners out.  We haven’t had a chance to fill it, and it is certainly not perfect, but you can do all of this without any fancy tools!

How to Sew a Pillow
Pillows make a room feel cozy, and they can definitely make it more comfortable.

As always, please, please, please, let us know if you have any questions!  And we love hearing from you.  If you end up making a pillow, we’d love to have you share the pictures of our finished pillow on our Facebook page Spring Lake Homestead or send us your pictures through the contact page.  Either way, leave a comment and tell us if you made a pillow!

Love~ Danielle

P. S.  Feel you are missing information?  Go back and read through our other Sewing Saturday posts.  We’ll continue to add the links into posts for easy reference and have a list at the bottom of each post so you can go back and see what you’ve missed.

The Basics

Introduction to Sewing: Part 1

Introduction to Sewing: Part 2

Sewing Tools

Your Sewing Machine

Acquiring a Sewing Machine

Getting To Know Your Sewing Machine

Setting Up Your Sewing Machine

Sewing Machine Maintenance and Troubleshooting

Hand Sewing

Sew, A Needle Pulling Thread

Basic Hand Sewing: Part 1

Basic Hand Sewing: Part 2


Throw Pillow Supplies and More Sewing Tools



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