How to Sew a Professional Pillow Cover

I'm no seamstress, you guys. But when I bought this settee with the intent of reupholstering it, I knew that I'd have to BRING IT in the sewing department. Because it's mostly pillows, and the crispness of how they looked would make or break the end result.
I'm super happy with the result, and the reason why, in a nutshell, is that I took my time and paid attention to detail. Period. If you're interested, here's how I did it:
Here's the original pillow, one of the two back cushions on the settee:
I decided to take the pillow cover apart, piece by piece, so I could use these bits for my pattern.

Read more about this process after the jump...

I snapped photos along the way so I could recreate the details exactly. For example, this little finishing bit of fabric at the end(s) of the zipper:
Snapping photos was really the key, actually, because I referenced these in layering how I re-sewed the pillow. Also, it helped me to know seam allowance for all parts, which ultimately led to perfectly fitting pillow covers. Normally, I tend to just guess on this stuff, but not this time.
Ripped out the seams. I noted the order I did this, because I would sew the new pillow cover back together in the opposite order.
Things like how the piping ended were especially important bits for me to pay attention to (and snap a photo). See how this one merges into the seam itself? I never would have done it that way. Good to know.
Once all the pieces were separated, I used them as my pattern for cutting the new fabric, making sure that the stripes were going the way I wanted them.
Sometimes when I'm sewing, I cut the pieces a teensy bit bigger than the pattern, just because I'm kind of paranoid that I'll make a mistake and need extra or something. (Maybe you psychoanalytics out there could trace this back to my childhood, I dunno.) But this time, the pillow cover needed to fit snugly, so I cut pieces exactly the same size as my pattern. I know, right? Gold star.
Once all the real pieces were cut, I then made my piping. Cut diagonal, about 2" wide, and sewn together into a long strip.
Because it was in great shape and the perfect size, I used the same inner cording. Put my zipper foot onto the sewing machine and went to town. One thing I've learned through trial-and-error with sewing one's own piping is that it's a good idea to kind of stretch the fabric as you're sewing the cording inside. Not so much that the fibers are straining, but I like to pull it enough so that it has a nice, crisp, tightness to it so when the piping bends, it doesn't bunch up a ton.
Okay, good job. Piping's done, set that aside.
For the pillow cover, I started with the zippered edge. I also reused the zippers, because they were the perfect size (obv) and in excellent shape. I laid down a folded crosspiece of fabric at the zipper's end (like the one I noticed while I was taking apart the pillow) and then sewed the fabric pieces to the side of the zipper.
I've got to inject here: I've always been a little scared of sewing zippers for some reason. They seem super intimidating. But the fact is, they're really not bad. Just sew along, trying to line up the folded fabric edge with the middle of the (closed) zipper, and you'll be golden.
Here are some (probably unnecessary) photos (but I'm including them anyway) of adding that folded end piece. Just a little professional touch that really makes things polished.

Sew one side, then the other. Tip: Keep your sewing machine going in the same direction for both sides of the zipper. As in, if you sew from the top of the zipper down to the bottom of the zipper for the right side, then sew from the top of the zipper down to the bottom of the zipper for the left side. (You'll need to switch your zipper foot, but that's not a big deal.) This is important if you're trying to match a pattern, like a stripe, all the way down.
Also, I don't know if there's a "real" way to sew around the zipper pull, but here's what I did: Sew until you're about an inch away from the pull, then stop and lift up your sewing foot.
With the foot raised, move the zipper past the foot an inch or two (into the part you've already sewn).
Lower your sewing foot, and finish sewing up the end with the zipper pull out of the way. This keeps your seams even all the way up and down the zipper.
I forgot to snap a photo, but, with the zipper side complete, the next thing I did was sew the corner, um, darts? Is that what you'd call them? on the main pillow cover edges. (The photo below shows the part I'm talking about, although you won't have sewn the piping in yet. That's the next step.)
So, really, all you have left to do is to sew the piping on, and you're practically done. I had trimmed my piping's long edge to be the same size as my seam allowance, which made it easy for me to simply line up all the edges of my pieces (right sides together, piping in between, raw edges out) and sew them up. I maybe went overboard, but I actually made two passes - the first one with my zipper foot, and the second one with my regular foot to double-secure it. You probably don't need to do that. But you can if you want.

With the piping in, all that was left was for me to sew on the zipper piece. This was probably the trickiest part, and I had to do sections of it several times to get the exact fit. (Sometimes, despite my being very careful, I would get all the way around and find an half an inch of "extra" fabric on one piece or the other, so I had to rip out about a foot of the new seam and adjust the layout so that there was no extra, anywhere. I doubt this makes any sense...unless you're at this step in your pillow cover and you're finding the same thing. Just know that it happened to me, too, and I just kept adjusting the seams until it sewed perfectly flat on all parts.)
Make sure you unzip, at least a little, during this last part, or you'll have a tricky time getting the pillow cover turned right-side-out. :)
Thar she blows.
Oh, because mattress ticking can be kind of fray-licious, I also zig-zagged around all raw edges once I was done. If you have a serger, then: (a) I'm jealous, and (b) you could skip this step.
Phew. It sounds crazy, but it really wasn't too bad...and I'm in love with the result. Just perfect.
I basically used the same methods for the seat cushions, too...the two piping edges on those was a little tricky to line up, but it ended up working out in the end.
I hope this was helpful!

p.s. Some of you have wondered about the patchwork throw pillows shown in these photos. Here's my patchwork pillow tutorial, if you're interested in making some for yourself. :)

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  1. It's beyond the realm gorgeous!!!!!!
    And I'm so jealous - because as easy as you try to make it look -
    I'm overwhelmed by it all - maybe, just maybe, I could do the piping but that would be it lol
    Beautiful job

  2. Great tutorial and the cushions certainly do look VERY professional! Fabulous job!

    Thanks for linking to a Round Tuit!
    Hope you have a fabulous week!
    Jill @ Creating my way to Success

  3. Gorgeous! Oh, and it's called boxing the corners when you sew those notches along the diagonal. I hope to have a somewhat similar cushion recover eventually; our leather sofa has had it!

  4. Very nice!Good job end great colors!!!

  5. That looks so professional - I love the pillows as well!

  6. Great tutorial! Our outdoor furniture needs new covers desperately!

  7. what a awsome job. It looks amazing.

  8. Anonymous5/25/2013

    A+ Tutorial and if you made the throw pillows they are certainly worth a tutorial as well, they are just gorgeous! Love the colors in them and the look of patchwork. Thanks for the guide to remaking these pillows.

  9. That looks so good! I actually bought a sewing machine in the hope that I could recover a bamboo sofa on our front porch that has hideous 80s chintz, but I haven't had any idea how to do it. I may try your method. It turned out great!

  10. They look great! Nice and crisp. I was searching for tips for "professional" finish to pillows and appreciate the extra photos you shared! Deb

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