Switching it out

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Our home is in a constant state of evolution. It’s no great secret that the key to making a house a home is to make it beautiful but inviting, lovely and lived-in. Somewhere between Please Use A Coaster and Of Course You Can Put Your Feet on the Sofa. Striking that balance isn’t always easy.

One thing I can change seasonally to make things feel bright and new and lovely are the surface decorations in my living areas. Changing out the covers on the sofa pillows, getting a different colored throw out of the linen closet, and adding a seasonally appropriate tablecloth are a couple of quick fixes that instantly make the place spiffed up. Well, that and vacuuming. What is it about hoovering the house makes it look instantly polished? You’d think that would make us do it more often.

Anyway. I wanted new pillow covers and of course I’m too cheap to buy them outright. A trip to the fabric store during a particularly coupony sale netted me a piece of tapestry that I’ve been coveting for MONTHS. I bought a yard, and found a remnant in a bin in a light peacock blue microsuede that nicely complimented the first piece I found. Finally, a piece of peacock blue trim that was clearanced out for $0.97 a yard (down from $6!). And all for about $40. Not exactly cheap, but the pillows I love and covet in my favorite boutique-y stores are usually about that much for just the cover, never mind the actual pillow insert, for a 20″ pillow.

To my sewing corner I went. I have a storage ottoman that I keep some of my shears and things in, and in it I found some beautiful complimentary green remnants in there that I had forgotten about. I make a practice of haunting the remnant bin at the fabric store for this very reason. I’ve gotten some beautiful pieces of fabric, and good sized, for 50% off the bolt price this way. By using some of these pieces along with the two I just bought, I had enough fabric recover a seat cushion for one of our occasional chairs and the throw pillows that go in it. Score!

What I didn’t have were zippers. Well, I’d gotten this far, and I was in that zone where nothing was going to stop me but the power going out. I was just going to have to make envelope backed pillows, which to me are easier anyway.

This pillow style is a great project for a start-up sewer. It’s really forgiving, and you don’t have to fuss with making button holes or installing a zipper, both of which can be intimidating and difficult when you’re learning (and I still fight with zipper installation, to be honest with you). And when you’re done you’ll have something lovely to enjoy every day.

Here’s what you’ll need to make your pillows:

  • Your pillow fabric(s)
  • Thread in a matching or complimentary color to your fabric(s)
  • Pillows

Here’s what you do:

Complete step 1 and/or 1A before fabric shopping if you already have the pillows at home, otherwise you can do the math portion of the project at the fabric store after picking out your pillow forms. Taking a tape measure and calculator will be helpful, and the folks at the store are always happy to help out with questions.

1. If your subject pillow has a removable cover on it you’re ahead of the game. Remove the cover, flip it inside out, and measure it top to bottom, and in the case of a non-square/rectangular pillow, from left to right as well. Write down your measurements for reference. My pillow covers are 18″ squares from edge to edge, with a 1/4″ seam allowance, making them about 17 1/2″ across on the inside of the seam placement. I like my pillows to fit tightly inside of the covers so I make them a little smaller than the pillow itself. Keeps them fluffier that way.

1A. If your subject does NOT have a removable cover and you want to make one for it don’t fret. Get out a tape measure or yard stick, grab your pillow, stretch the corners out, and measure from corner to corner along one side. This guy is 18″. Again, I like my pillows to fit snugly in the case so my front piece is going to be cut to exactly 18″.

2. Take that trusty tape measure or yard stick and measure your square on your chosen fabric, checking for pattern placement. Sometimes its worth buying a little more fabric than you need in order to get the right look on your pillow, so take this into consideration before you go to the cutting counter at the fabric store. If you have a smaller print it’s easier to line up your shot, but on a large pattern sometimes it’s not so easy. Another trick is to make a paper template of your square and use that as a guide so you can really see what your pillow is going to look like when it’s completed.

3. Grab your contrasting fabric, if you’re using one, otherwise keep going with your original fabric. To make the envelope back, you want your overlap to be a good 3-4″ in the center of the pillow, to keep it’s belly covered. I take my pillow length, divide by two, and add 4 to get the right amount of overlap. This provides ample room for your seam allowances as well as hemming your raw edges in the middle.

The equation for my pillows is this:
18 / 2 = 9
9 + 4= 13

My envelope flaps need to be 18″ wide and 13″ tall. Measure and cut two (2).

4. If you didn’t use pinking shears zig-zag one long edge of each of your two pillow back pieces to check the fray. On one of the long edges on each of your flap pieces, fold each of the zigged pieces down about a half an inch on the wrong side of the fabric, press and pin in place. Sew down with a 1/4″ seam allowance.

5. Turning the right sides of the fabric together, lay the two envelope pieces over the pillow front and pin in place, being sure to put the bound edges facing the center of your square.

6. Sew around the edges of your square with 1/4″ seam allowances, and again if you didn’t use pinking shears zig-zag around the outside edges of the pillow to keep the fray down. Flip inside out, cram in your pillow, fluff accordingly, and VOILA!

7. Be smug about your crafting abilities and your smart new pillows.

Now, wasn’t that easy? If you shop the sales and remnant bins you can find some gorgeous fabrics for a fraction of the retail price and make pillow covers that look like they cost a fortune. Happy sewing!

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