Sewing

Throw Pillow Supplies and More Sewing Tools

I was going to do this in a single post.  Making a pillow is easy.  Really, really easy.  But as I was getting ready to take the pictures for this project, my camera battery died.  And because I am a procrastinator, I didn’t take my pictures earlier in the week.  I am also very busy this weekend, so I can’t just load the post later.  I might get crazy next week and post the pillow how-to in the middle of the week.  But I’ve got 5 kids, so we’ll see.  However, all is not lost!  You see, I was just going to tell you how to sew a pillow when I realized that there are a lot of really basic pieces of information just to get started on your first sewing project that you might not know if I don’t teach you!  So at least now you will have the chance to learn a little before getting your supplies and sitting down to make some pillows.  Let’s break this down and learn about what throw pillow supplies you’ll need and more on sewing tools.

What you need to start sewing your very first pillow!

I’ll go over some info you’ll need for supplies, and how you can plan for variations on this project.  To make a pillow, you need fabric, some kind of appropriate filling, and thread (and scissors and needles and pins).  You could do this whole project with hand sewing, but I’ll be showing how to do this with a sewing machine and a few other tools that we’ll get into in a bit.  There are multiple ways of putting together a pillow.  I could be showing you a fancy pillow cover, something that is removable or interchangeable, but I want to keep this simple, so this pillow is “permanent.”  Don’t freak out!  Hand sewing is easy enough to remove with your handy-dandy seam ripper, so you can always take your cover off and disassemble it for parts if you feel so inclined.

Scissors, needles or pins are pretty much a given anytime you are going to be sewing, so from here on out, if you plan to be sewing, just have these supplies on hand.  Always keep a seam ripper on hand as well, you never know when you will need it.   Thread is a given too, but sometimes I’ll need to specify more info on that…  These tools are your most frequently used sewing tools and should be kept in a place that is easily accessible, like in a sewing basket, or some kind of Tupperware container, or something else that will work for you.  Some people use those inexpensive crayon/pencil boxes you can pick up in the school supply section.  Me?  I keep mine in a utensil carrier or in the general area around that carrier.  Everything stays there, and extras stay in a drawer underneath my sewing table.

Fabric

Like I said, you’ll need fabric.  If you are really a complete newbie to this whole sewing thing, I would recommend getting comfortable with some basic cotton fabric.  If you are feeling spicy, you can certainly use other fabrics.  Depending on where you are going to put the pillow, you might want to try some special upholstery-type fabric.  If you are going to make pillows to put out on your furniture on your front porch, then I’d have to recommend getting an outdoor fabric.  They are generally fairly waterproof, and they are specially designed to be fade resistant.  Standard cotton won’t really work for that.  As for how much you will need, that is going to be dependent somewhat on you.

For the purposes of this post, I am going to demonstrate making a pillow that is 18″x18″ finished, so I’m going to recommend that you get at least 3/4 yd. of fabric.  If you want to make more than one pillow, you will need just over a yard, probably about 1 1/4 yards.  If you are getting crazy on us and going to make a pillow that is smaller than the 18″x18″, then you could get 1/2 yard or less of your chosen fabric.  Really, I can do a whole other post just on how to go about buying fabric, and I think that’s actually what I will write about next week.  I know, I should plan better.   Let’s just say that if you want to make a whole bunch of pillows in this 18″x18″ size, buy 3/4 yard of fabric per pillow.  You will have leftovers.  The more pillows you make, the more leftovers you’ll have.  The finished size of your pillow will be roughly 18″x18″, but you need to include seam allowances, so you will need to have at least 19″ to work with.  Fabric comes in set widths on the bolt, so you don’t need to worry about your width, only the length of the cut you are purchasing.

Oh, and I will be using an iron for this project.  You always want to smooth out your fabric before cutting anything so you have precise cuts and a smooth finish.

Pillow Filling

Moving on… You will also need filling for your pillow.  You can find pillow forms at most fabric or craft stores, and they’ll sell them in varying sizes.  That can get expensive quickly, so use your coupons, shop the sales, or you have a few other options.  One thing that I will do from time to time is to look for pillows in the clearance section of oh, say… Walmart.  There I might be able to get a pillow for $3 or less.  The cover it comes with can probably be removed, and you can make a new cover.  Another option is to buy the bags of filling, Fiber-fil (sometimes Poly-fil) being the most common that I see in stores.  That is a bag of stuffing/filling that you can use to fill up your pillow.  You have to hand stuff, and it takes more time, and sometimes the end results are a little lumpier than a pillow form, but it still works fine.

Depending on what I am making the pillow for, my favorite way, and the most cost effective way I have found to make a pillow form is to purchase an inexpensive pillow from the bedding department of a store like Walmart.  You can use the fill for anything you want, and I can often get a standard sized bed pillow for under $3.  That standard sized pillow leaves me with more filling than I need to fill a throw pillow, which means I can save my leftovers for my next project.  Oh, and you can often find throw pillows in thrift stores.  If you get one from a second-hand store, I’d just recommend you wash it first.
I do really like the finished product I get with a pillow form, so for this project, my recommendation for this project is an 18″x18″ pillow form.

Thread

You are going to want to have thread to coordinate or match your fabric.  If you are going to be using a print, pick the color that is most dominant.  If there is no dominant color, just choose one of the colors in the fabric, and match your thread to it.  Solid colored fabric?  Pick the best match.  Easy peasy.  I’d just go with a standard all-purpose or dual-purpose thread.  You shouldn’t really need an upholstery thread, even if you are using an upholstery fabric.  Whatever you do, make it match.  Why?  Because if your thread doesn’t match, you WILL see it on your seams, especially if your pillow is very well stuffed.   What to know more about thread?  Revisit this post for more info.

Optional Tools

A tool that is not an absolute necessity, but very, very helpful to have is actually not a single tool, but a set of 3 tools.  If you want to make things that involve a lot of straight seams like pillows and quilts or even things like a purse, having a rotary mat, cutter and ruler will make all of the difference in the world to your sewing game.  A quilt that is cut out entirely by hand is likely to be somewhat wavy, uneven, with seams or intersections not lining up properly.  A pillow cut out without the guidance of some very straight lines is likely to look untidy.  Plus, it’s faster.  A lot faster.

 

Rotary Mat

A rotary mat is a sheet of semi-flexible (though mostly rigid) plastic.  They are generally “self-healing” so that they don’t chip.  That means that you cut your fabric on them, and while it does leave a cut, the cut closes back up.  If you have an old rotary mat that is dirty and seems rigid, there are ways of cleaning them up.  A rotary mat should be stored so that it is flat if possible.  A mat that is infrequently used and stood up on its side will likely start to curl, and become somewhat damaged, though laying it on a table for a long enough period of time should correct that in most cases.  But that’s going to cost you time when you really want to be sewing, so find a good, flat place to store this, and if you are putting it on a carpet, don’t put stuff on top of your mat (like your sewing machine), because the cushion of the carpet and the weight of the object placed on it could leave dents on your mat, making it difficult to use.

Rotary mats are (in the U.S. anyway) marked in 1″ grids, with each line being numbered 1″-whatever sized mat you picked.  They often have little markings between the inch marks (for 1/2, 1/4 and 1/8 inch) around the perimeter of the mat next to the number markings.  Some will have extra marks on them for cutting out pieces like triangles, and have varying angles marked on the mat.

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Rotary Cutter

A rotary cutter is a lot like a pizza cutter in design. (Just don’t’ try using your pizza cutter on fabric… it probably won’t work 😉  )  The blade of the cutter is a wheel, and you push the wheel across your fabric (using a rotary mat underneath your fabric) to cut your pieces as desired.  A dull blade will make you miserable (just like dull sewing scissors), so it’s not a bad idea to have a back-up, though I’ve only changed my blades a handful of times.  Then again, I don’t do heavy work with mine.  My mom, Trudy, on the other hand… she goes through them a lot more often than I do since the majority of her sewing work is making quilts.  These blades are sharp.  Really, really sharp.  I remember watching my mom cutting fabric when I was probably in kindergarten or preschool, and she slipped and cut her finger.  I remember Dad taking her to the hospital, and I think she got stitches.  I’m not sure if she ever cut herself after that, but I’m fairly certain I remember my brother cutting himself at one point in time, and I know I cut myself with one on two separate occasions.  It hurts a lot.  I’m not saying don’t use them or be afraid, but I am saying BE CAREFUL!

Rotary cutters generally have a safety feature, where the blade retracts and locks in either its open position or its retracted position.  Make sure you close your ruler when it is not being used.  If you are making a lot of cuts in a row, it’s not necessary to retract the blade every time, but I’ve had kids sneak up on me and pick up a rotary cutter with the blade in its open position while I was working.  I’ve also knocked the cutter off of my work surface and come close to cutting my foot with it.  I’m pretty sure it’s not going to sever any toes, but it could give you a nasty cut.  And besides, I’m a pen-clicker, and my rotary cutters have a fun clicking ability, which means I’m often just clicking for fun in between cuts.  While being cautious of course 😉

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Rotary Ruler

Well, a rotary mat and a rotary cutter won’t do you much good if you don’t have something straight to cut against.  You can use a yardstick, but the best thing to use is a clear rotary ruler.  These rulers are very useful.  Since they are clear, you can create more accurate cuts by lining your fabric and the grid of your rotary mat to create nice, square pieces/corners. Get a ruler that is as long as your mat is wide.  You’ll be glad to have a long enough ruler.  Trust me.  Speaking of sizes, rotary mats and rulers come in varying sizes.  I have a mat that is 18″x24″ and I have often wished I had a larger mat.  Yes, you could get away with having a smaller mat, but I’m going to share my honest opinion: you’ll wish you had a bigger mat if you have anything under 18″.

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Some come with “special features,” like the one I have that has a “mat lip” which is a little piece of plastic that folds underneath the ruler, just wide enough to snag the edge of your mat, making it easier to keep your lines straight.  Which brings me to my next point.  Your ruler is not always cooperative.  The ruler is smooth and so is your fabric, which means the ruler doesn’t always grip well, and if you aren’t cautious, you can end up with a crooked cut because your ruler slipped out of alignment as you were cutting.  You can purchase little felt grips for your ruler that will help to keep the ruler from slipping around.  I have grips on one of my rulers, but not on the other, so don’t think it’s an absolute necessity.

Recap

Let’s just give you a quick recap.  The materials I am recommending for this project are:

  • 3/4 yard cotton fabric
  • all-purpose or dual duty thread to match
  • 18″x18″ pillow form

The tools/other supplies I will be using are:

  • sewing machine (and needles and other what-nots like your bobbins…)
  • pins
  • hand sewing needle
  • thread
  • scissors
  • seam ripper
  • iron/ironing board
  • rotary mat, cutter, and ruler

Please do not feel that you HAVE to have the rotary supplies to do this project.  It is NOT a necessity, it’s a nice-to-have.  With that being said, it’s a set of tools that I’d highly recommend owning.   If you want to do extra pillows, go for it.  If you feel brave enough, try a fancier fabric.  If you want to make a different sized pillow, why not?  And use whatever stuffing/filling method that is going to work best for you.  Sometimes a pillow form is just not a part of my budget, so I really do understand.

As usual, let us know if there is anything you do not understand in what is written, and we’ll do our best to explain.  If you follow us on Facebook, show us what fabric you will be using.  If you don’t have Facebook, you can let us know what you’ll be making your pillow for in the comments below.  Will you make pillows for your living room?  One of your children’s rooms?  Your porch swing?  We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

Love~Danielle and Trudy

5 thoughts on “Throw Pillow Supplies and More Sewing Tools

  1. using a ready-made pillow and recovering is a great idea! thank you for the helpful instructions. Looking forward to more in this series, as I plan out a beginning sewing course for my own daughters.

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