Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Tutorial: Tips for Perfect Quilted Pillows

If you follow me on Instagram you know I love to make quilted pillows. This obsession started about two years ago, but this year it really took off. I've made one quilt this year, but pillows...I've lost count. Seriously.

Every time I share pictures of my pillows, I get lots of questions. So I'm finally sitting down and writing a post with all my favorite tips. The best way to describe making a quilted pillow is it's just a mini quilt with an extra layer of backing! Even if you've never quilted before, a quilted pillow is a great way to get a taste of quilting without making a large quilt.

So where do you start? Easy. Pick a pillow pattern to make or make a single block of your favorite "large block" quilt pattern. I have a great free pattern right here on my blog called the Simple Patchwork Pillows or if you want a fun holiday themed one check my All Season Patchwork Cover in my Etsy shop.

Before you start your project, determine the finished size of the pillow as this will determine the size of form needed.  You can find pillow forms just about anywhere from Amazon to Joann/Hobby Lobby. The size of pillow form you use depends on the look you like. If you like a less full looking pillow use a form the same size as your pillow. If you like your pillows fuller, use a larger form than the size of your pillow. (Example: for an 18" finished pillow, use a 20" or 22" pillow form.)

Below you can see a comparison. Both pillows are 18" finished.  The pillow on the left uses a 20" form and the one on the right uses an 18" form.

I prefer the look of a down pillow form, but use both polyester and down forms.  Down forms can be pricey, but there are a few ways to get them for less. Recently, I bought two down pillows for my living room couch from Home Goods. They were $19.99 each including the zippered cover and form. Now I can switch out covers easily and I have two great down pillows and covers that I love for everyday use. Another option is to check the clearance section at stores like Home Goods, TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Ross, etc.  Many times there are pillows in clearance with less than desirable covers, but they have a DOWN forms. So buy the pillow, but toss the cover and use the down form. Polyester forms are great for pillows that get lots of wear and tear because you can wash the form. They are less expensive and can be found at Walmart for a great price.

Tip: Sometimes, the pillow works out to be a size that form doesn't come in, like 17".  Don't worry, just go up to the next size, 18" or  20". Another and very easy option is to make your own pillow form.  Look for a blog post in the future about that!

Ready to start?! Here we go!

This tutorial will start at the point of having a pillow top completed, but before basting and quilting. After making your pillow top, square it up to your desired size or to the size stated in your pattern. This is important. If your pillow top isn't square, your pillow won't be square. I know all my blocks aren't always perfectly square, but we're shooting for as square as we can. If you complete your pillow top and feel something is missing, try adding a 2.5" border all the way around. This also can help square up your pillow top if necessary.

* I apologize in advance for the quality of some of my pictures. It was a stormy day when I was binding this pillow, but I was bound to write this blog post! Next time I make a pillow, I will update these pictures with some brighter, prettier pictures. *

1.  Baste the Pillow Top
You will need your pillow top, a piece of batting, and backing as appropriate for your pillow.

A couple of things about the backing.
1. You won't see this backing as it will be on the inside of the pillow.
2. I tend to use whatever I have around. I don't buy anything "cute" for this step since it's not seen. So use a fat quarter that isn't really your style anymore, a plain piece of fabric, or anything else that's handy. If you need to buy fabric, purchase an inexpensive cotton.

Finally, press. You want your pillow top and backing to be crisp and free of wrinkles.

Basting a pillow follows the same process as basting a quilt. I usually baste pillows on my kitchen island, but you can use any hard flat surface. I like to use basting spray because it's quick so I baste in an area I can clean and wipe down afterwards. If you prefer basting with pins, you certainly can.

Tape the backing down with the wrong side up, pulling it taught but not tight. Next, place your batting on top of the backing. Lastly, add your pillow top with the right side facing up.

Pull back approximately half of the pillow top and batting so you see your backing. Clear the area of any threads or lint. Spray the area with basting spray and place the batting on top. Starting in the middle, smooth out the batting with your hands working towards the edges. Repeat with the other half. Next, fold back the pillow top half way so you see the batting. Spray the exposed batting with spray and place the pillow top on top of the batting. Smooth pillow top in place as before and repeat on the other side. 

Since my project is nice and smooth at this point,  I mark any quilting lines. Quilt your pillow top as desired. My favorite way to quilt pillows is using a cross hatch pattern. For details on this style click here, and scroll down to step 3.

2. Trim Pillow and Square Up Quilted Pillow Top
After quilting, trim away the extra batting and backing. Use a ruler and rotary cutter to square up your quilted pillow top to the appropriate size.

Tip: At this point I like to serge around my quilted pillow top to prevent fraying. If you don't have a serger, you can use a zig zag stitch, just keep the stitching within the 1/4" seam allowance.  I highly recommend this if you are working with a linen.

3. Prepare Backing for Envelope Pieces
I like to add an envelope backing to my pillows. It's quick, easy and makes switching out pillows a snap! With an envelope back, I don't need individual forms for each pillow I make. I store the covers I'm not using flat in my linen closet.

To make an envelope back, you'll need backing. Unlike the backing for the pillow top, you will see this backing. So use something fun! Or if you want to keep things simple, use a basic fabric (solid, ticking, linen, etc).

Next, determine the size for your envelope pieces. Take the size of your unfinished pillow top (for example: 20") and divide by 2 then add 4". In this example, it would be 20"/ 2 = 10" + 4" = 14".  Cut a strip of fabric to that width, in this example 14". Then subcut {2} 20" x 14" pieces.

Next, you can finish off the backing in a basic or a detailed way.

On each backing piece, fold under one of the long edges 1/4" once and press. Then fold under a 1/4" again and press. (Or if you have a serger run the long edges through your serger and just fold under once.) If you have a directional print, make sure you fold under the correct edges. Topstitch and set aside.

In addition to the two envelope backing pieces, you'll also need a 2.5" wide strip of fabric that's the same length as your pillow. (For our example, you would need a 2.5" x 20" strip) Scraps of prepared bindings are perfect for this. Fold the strip in half, wrong sides together, with the long raw edges meeting.

On ONE of the envelope back pieces, fold under a long edge as described above. For the other envelope back piece, match the raw edges of the backing piece and decorative strip. Sew along the long edges using a 1/4" seam allowance. The raw edges will be exposed on the inside of the pillow, so I recommend either zig zaging or serging to enclose the raw edge.

Press the seam up and away from the decorative strip. Top stitch along the pillow backing to keep the seam in place. Trim away any excess. This envelope backing piece will now be longer than initially cut. (In our example it was originally 14". Now it will be about an 1" or so longer.) Trim the piece so it again measures the correct size, 14".

This is what the back of your pillow will look like once it's done with the extra decorative strip. So cute!

4. Attach the Envelope Backing 
Now you need to decide if you want your pillow to be bound or unbound. Either way is perfectly fine, it just depends on the look you want. 

Tip: Once you line up your envelope back pieces, you may notice the pieces are a little wider than the quilted pillow top. This is normal, especially after quilting. Just trim away any excess or measure the width of the pillow top and cut the envelope back pieces to that same width.

Unbound pillows look great and are a breeze! If you need to finish your project quickly, this is the way to go. Just attach the envelope back pieces, turn, and you are done! 

To begin, place your pillow top with the right side up.

Place the TOP envelope back piece on top of the pillow top, RIGHT sides facing, as shown below. (This is important because if you place it the other way, the pillow back will open to the top instead of the bottom.) Make sure the finished long edge is facing the middle of the pillow.

Next, place the bottom envelope back piece wrong side up as shown below. Again be sure the finished long edge is facing the middle of the pillow.

Pin all the way around the pillow.  Sew around the entire pillow using a 1/4" seam allowance. I like to go around twice to reinforce.

Tip: These edges will be raw inside of the pillow, so I recommend either zig zagging or serging to enclose the raw edge. Press the seam before turning.  Turn the pillow right side out, poke out the corners, they will be slightly round.

Bound pillows look classic and crisp! Of course, bound pillows have the added step of adding binding. It takes me about 25 minutes from start to finish to bind a pillow.

Tip: I prefer to first sew the binding to the front of the pillow then turn it to the back and machine sew in place. You can certainly sew it on by hand or reverse the process. I prefer machine binding my pillows simply because they are tossed and knocked off my couch and chairs CONSTANTLY due to young children. I've never had any of my hand bound pillows fall apart, but I just feel better about a machine bound pillow withstanding childhood. :)

 To begin, place your pillow top with the right side down.

Place the BOTTOM envelope back piece on top of the pillow top, WRONG sides facing as shown below.  Make sure the finished long edge is facing the middle of the pillow.

Place the TOP envelope back piece on top, WRONG sides facing as shown below. Make sure finished long edge is facing the middle of the pillow.

Pin all the way around the pillow. Using a basting stitch, baste around the entire pillow using 1/8" seam allowance.

At this point sometimes I serge or zig zag around the raw edges, especially when using linen AND ticking.  It was a fraying mess! If you do this, be sure to keep it within a 1/4" so it will be covered by your binding.

5. Binding
Although this is my favorite binding method, you can always choose to use your preferred method. There really is no difference in binding pillow from a quilt. You just are working in a tighter space.

* I apologize in advance for the pictures.  It was a stormy day when I photographed this so my lighting went in and out. Hopefully the next time I bind a pillow I will have better lighting and I will update the photos.*

I like to sew my binding to the front of my pillow then fold it to the back. Then, I machine sew it from the back of the pillow. On the front, you will have a seam right next to your binding, but it blends in nicely with the rest of the quilting.

Cut enough strips for your pillow. For up to 18" pillows {2} 2.5" x WOF strips will be sufficient.  For any pillow larger than 18" you will need {3} 2.5"x WOF strips.

Join your binding strips together using a diagonal seam. Before trimming, press the seams open, this makes it much easier to press the seams open. Trim seams to 1/4" and press the binding in half , wrong sides together, matching the long raw edges.

Beginning on the bottom of the pillow, match the raw edges of the binding and the pillow. Begin sewing about 3" from the corner, leaving a long tail of binding free from stitching. (The longer tail of binding you leave free from stitching, the easier it will be to join the ends.)

Start sewing using 1/4" seam allowance. Stop 1/4" from the edge and back stitch.  Remove from machine. 

Fold the binding at a 90 degree angle.

Fold the binding back over itself, creating a fold and clip in place.

Continue sewing using 1/4".  Repeat the above process for the remaining corners.

After the final corner, sew for about 3" and stop. Line up the binding along the edge and when you get to the starting point of the binding, fold the binding back on itself. Press to create a crease.

Move to your cutting mat. Line up the crease with a line on your cutting mat. (My finger is pointing to the crease.)  Measure out from that line 2.25" and cut. Note: Typically, you cut at the same width as your binding strip, in this case 2.5".  However, I find that I always end up with some excess, so I cut 1/4" less than the width of my binding strip.

Open up the end of the strip. (This is real life quilting people! Of course I have a seam right where I'm joining my ends.  It came together really nicely, just press that seam open!) Draw a diagonal line from your crease to the opposite corner. This will be the line where you sew.

Now open both ends of the binding. Make sure there are no twists!

Place the ends on top of each other, right sides together, lining everything up nicely. ( I couldn't line it up nicely and take a picture so that comes next!)

Lined up nicely! Pin together.

Sew on the line.

Before trimming the seam, make sure the binding isn't twisted and lays nicely.

Trim the seam to 1/4" and press. If you feel like there is a little extra binding and you'll have bunching as you sew it down, flip the pillow so the binding faces the feed dogs.  As you sew, the feed dogs will ease in any fullness and there won't be any bunching.

From the top of the pillow, press the binding away from the pillow.

Fold the binding to the back of the pillow and clip in place. Sew the binding to the pillow. I like to line up the inside edge on the left side of my presser foot with the fold of the binding.

Miter each corner before approaching and clip in place.

Now you have a perfect pillow! Quilted pillows are truly one of my favorite things to make. They make great gifts and are such a fun way to make a quick quilted project. You really can make one in an afternoon!

Here are some of my favorite pillows I've made!

Happy Pillow Making!



  1. I was unable to find your tips on cross hatching as the click here didn't seem to work. Any ideas? Thanks!

  2. Thanks for the tutorial. I made four bound pillows using some vintage 30's fabric. They turned out great. Your instructions were easy to follow. Thank you for taking the time to post.

  3. Hi LeAnne,
    Thanks so much for recreating such a beautiful, detailed tutorial for making several types of pillows. Your instructions were excellent and easy to follow, even for a novice such as myself. I am a quilter who has finished a few other sewing projects, so with the knowledge, and courage your tutorial has given me, I can jump right in and execute another item that has been on my bucket list for quite some time. I am so excited to take all of your great tips and get started.

  4. This is such a cute idea - love it! I've been meaning to make pillow covers and haven't gotten around to it yet... hopefully soon!

    Gretta Hewson
    Veritable Wall NJ maid service information


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