You know what makes me insane? Buying something I can make myself. Trust me, I get it. Life is busy and sometimes buying it is the perfect time-saver. As you may or may not know, we are currently making over our living room. Due to financial and time constraints, it’s been a slow process. We don’t even have a couch right now (but check out our Up! inspired chair configuration on Instagram)! Want to know what we have a ton of? Throw pillows. Do they match the color palette I want? Of course not. Let me tell you, the throw pillows I have weren’t cheap. I’m not about to go spend more money on pillows when the ones I have are still fairly new and in great shape.
So, I took my hand-me-down sewing machine down from the attic and decided to make my own. The last time I went to HomeGoods (love that place!), a small throw pillow was $19.99. I already had four pillows, so instead I bought about 5 yards of varying fabrics fitting my color palette instead. Even with the invisible zippers, I still came out saving over 50% of what I would have spent on brand new pillows.
Why DIY Instead Of Buying
If you have even a semblance of sewing skills (aka can turn on a sewing machine and run some fabric through it), then you can do this project. While I’ve had some sewing experiences in the past, I am no expert. Even this project I had to consult my mom when I got to the zipper stage — Trust me, do that side first. I had to live with my mistake of doing that side last. As long as you don’t make that mistake like I did, your pillows will come out gorgeous and you’ll impress all your friends with your skill!
Okay, so remember when I mentioned that a SMALL throw pillow went for about $20 at HomeGoods? Well, I made covers for two larger pillows and two smaller ones. All told, if I had bought them new at HomeGoods for the same prices, I probably would have spent about $100. Between the fabric, zippers, and zipper foot for my sewing machine, I spent only about $40. The added bonus included picking my own fabrics, ensuring not only that they matched my color palette, but that I also loved them to pieces. 🙂 I actually ended up buying too much fabric, because I chose 3 different fabrics, so you can probably complete this project for even less than I did!
Okay, so the biggest tip I ever received on choosing fabrics was to have a color palette already in mind. Choose one fabric that has all the colors you wish to use, then choose accent fabrics that compliment and contrast your original choice. You can see my fabric choices here (if you missed it on Instagram):
Living room sketches and fabric choices! It finally feels like I can start designing this space for the future! #renovation #diy #diys #diyaddict #livinginrenovation #livingroomreno #livingroom #interiordesign #fabric #joanns #sketchbook #homedesign #designspaces #colorpalette #inspiration #dreamlivingroom
I chose the floral fabric in the back first. That was my grounding fabric. Then I pulled out one of the greens and one of the blues for the other fabric. These two are much bolder, one being a contrasting geometric print. Always choose fabrics you’re drawn to and love. Sure, design rules say you need color, contrast, and texture. I say rules are more guidelines. Choose what you like! After all, you’re the one who needs to live with it. HGTV hosts aren’t going to show up to your house just to critique your fabric choices. Just have some fun with it! If you’re not sure, ask for some help and opinions at the fabric store! I did, and it definitely panned out.
Calculating Pillow Sizes & Material Needs
Okay, so one of my pillow sets was easy to calculate dimensions for, because they had a cover of their own. Bonus! It’s navy, so I will likely save them for a later use (or if I change my mind, haha). So, I just had to take the cover off and lay it flat to measure it. Note– It’s actually easier to use a construction measuring tape to measure pillows and their covers than to use a fabric tape. Measure the height and width in inches (be as accurate as possible). For pillows without a cover, you may need some help measuring.
Pull the adjacent corners as tightly away from each other as possible. Then measure the width. Do the same with height. See the image below for reference:
Once you finish measuring, add half an inch to an inch (depending on your comfort with stitching seams. Multiply this by 2 and you’ll have your fabric needs for 1 pillow of that size. See my pillow calculations below:
2 pillows — 17.5 x 17.5 inches + 1/2 inch on both sides = 18 x 18 inch squares (x 4 squares)
1,296 square inches
Total square yards needed: 1 (I got 1 1/4 to be safe and make sure I could make everything square)
2 pillows — 15.25 x 15.25 incheste + 1/2 inch on both sides = 15.75 x 15.75 inch squares (x 4 squares)
992.25 square inchest
Total square yards needed: about 8/10 of a yard (I wanted extra fabric, so I got 1.25 yards of 2 different fabrics for these smaller pillows)
Your fabrics will depend on the look you want for your pillows. I wanted my smaller pillows to have different fabrics on each side, so I bought extra fabric. Otherwise, these are the materials you will need to make your pillows. Please note that some of these are Amazon Affiliate Links. I only included tools and materials I used in my own projects and would never include anything that I don’t love working with. If you want to read more, check my Disclosures & Policies.
-Enough fabric for all your squares (see calculations above)
–Sewing Machine* (I personally prefer Singer machines — This is a newer version of my sewing machine)
–Rotary Fabric Cutter* While I used my mother’s rotary cutter while I was visiting her in Pittsburgh, this is the exact one I have at home.
–Quilting Ruler* This helps make straight/square cuts.
-White Thread (It won’t be seen, so the color doesn’t so much matter, but usually white is the cheapest color)
–Zipper Foot Attachment for Sewing Machine* This one covers most Singer and other sewing machines, but be sure to check whether it will fit yours before ordering.
-Regular sewing needle
–Invisible zippers* one for each of the pillow covers you are making.
Making Your DIY Pillow Covers
The process of actually making your pillow covers is quite simple. Overall, I think I spent an hour cutting, pinning and sewing all the sides minus the zipper side. Let me repeat myself — Learn from my mistake! Do the zipper side first when you’re sewing! Before you measure your fabric, make sure to wash and iron your fabric. This will make it easier to get an accurate cut, because the fabric will have shrunk (if it’s going to) and will be nice and flat.
After you measure your pillows and wash your fabric, you need to cut your squares. A self-healing mat will help protect whatever surface you’re working on, so it’s a must. I already had one available, along with a rotary cutter and a quilting ruler. If it’s your first time using these tools, make sure to cut a little big. That way, if it doesn’t come out square right away (you can test it right on the mat if you buy the right one), you can trim it without sacrificing the fabric you need. Mark your fabric with a fabric pencil if you have it. If not, a white colored pencil should work in a pinch. Just make sure you’re only marking what will be hidden by your seam.
Use the quilting ruler to make a clean cut once you’ve made all your marks. Steady it with your hand (it works better if you’re standing) to make sure it doesn’t move and run your rotary cutter right down the line.
Repeat for all your cuts and check that they are square on your mat. Do any necessary trimming.
Onto The Sewing
Do The Zippers First
So we already know I made the mistake of not sewing the zippers on first. Had I done that, I would have had a much flatter surface to work with. Iron the zippers flat first and pin it to one side of your square, following the directions on the packaging. It may seem counter-intuitive, so make sure you read the directions carefully. You can see why it was more difficult for me to do this in my project –>
I didn’t have a flat surface to work with. That, and I had to hand sew to the corner because I couldn’t get the remaining piece flat enough once the zipper was in to run through the sewing machine. Huge bummer. I will never make that mistake again! Anyways, sew that side of the zipper with the zipper foot on your sewing machine. pin other side to second square, making sure to match where the zipper will line up on both sides of the cover. Sew the second side.
Then, pin the two squares together for the remainder of the sides the zipper is on and sew them together so you have a clean seam. Make sure to pin them so the showing fabric is on the inside and you see the backing of both squares on both sides.
Finally, pin the two adjacent sides and sew them together. Before you sew the final sides, turn the entire thing inside out and iron all the seams flat. You can do this in between sides as well, but I found it was a little quicker to do it this way. Once the seams are ironed, turn it back inside out. Make sure the zipper is open on the zipper side. Pin and sew the final side.
Turn the entire thing inside out again, iron the whole cover, especially the final seam. Then cover and love your pillows!
Repeat for all of your pillows and you’re done!
Enjoy Your Handiwork!
First, take a deep breath. You did it! Congratulations on making some beautiful pillows! Don’t worry if they aren’t perfect. Trust me, you’re the only one who will notice unless all your friends are master upholsterers. You’ll love them more for having done them yourself and you’re sure to impress everyone who sees them! Check out how my pillow looks in my favorite chair!
Remember, I’m no master of sewing. I did a little with my mom growing up, but my sewing machine hasn’t seen any action for a few years. I’m just rediscovering how relaxing (with the occasional frustration) sewing can be! This was the perfect project to dive into to begin my re-education!
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Keep on making friend! As always —
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