Learning the Basics
Pillows can be made from nearly any fabric. Consider what use the pillow will get when you are choosing between washable and nonwashable fabrics and stuffing. Allow extra seam allowance for fabrics that tend to fray.
For best results, use polyester pillow stuffing or ready-made forms. If you want to use a form, purchase it before you cut your pillow fabric, because they are available only in a limited number of sizes. Foam rubber can be cut to order if you can find it available. Cut it about 1” larger than your finished pillow’s dimensions. You’ll want the edges and corners to compress, or your pillow will have a boxy look with empty seams.
Other possibilities for stuffing include shredded foam rubber, which will look fine for decorative pillows but will be uncomfortably lumpy for a pillow for sleeping or sitting on. You can get fair results by recycling women’s hose. Be sure to cut away all elastic and seams, including reinforced toes. Stuff the pillow tightly so the individual hose don’t separate into lumps.
Cut and Stitch
When your pillow is stuffed, it is going to appear smaller than the seam-to-seam measurements. For a pillow to look 12” square, you will need to cut your fabric about 16” by 16”, allowing for ½” seams and about 3” total for thickness. Cut your pillow on the grain of your fabric to assure that it will keep its shape.
If you’ve chosen a stretchy fabric or one with a very loose weave, or if you need to cut your fabric off-grain in order to get the desired effect, make a casing or lining out of muslin or other firm fabric that won’t show through your pillow fabric. Make the casing the same size as your pillow, stuff it, and use it to stuff your pillow once it is together, or use the fabric as lining, stitch the muslin pieces to the back of your pillow fabric pieces, then treat them as one fabric. The back of your pillow can be identical to the front, or it can coordinate. If your front is odd-shaped, pin it to the back fabric—right sides together—and trim the back to fit after they are sewn together.
Stitch ½” from the cut edge all around, leaving a gap of a few inches. If possible, leave your gap in a straight line for easier blind stitching. If you’ve chosen foam rubber or a pillow form, leave nearly all of one side unstitched to make it easier to insert the stuffing Turn and Stuff
Turn your pillow right side out through the gap. Poke out the corners with something blunt and press. Be as accurate as possible when pressing the seam allowance under at the gap so it won’t look different from the rest of the pillow edge.
If you want to have a tiny lip around your pillow, a sort of mock piping, topstitch 1/8 ” from the edge after you’ve turned your pillow all the way around except at the gap. Topstitching is stitching done on the outside that is expected to show. Finish the topstitching after you’ve stuffed the pillow.
Stuff your pillow thoroughly. If you are using bagged stuffing, a wooden spoon can be helpful to get the corners and the rest well packed. Don’t skimp on the stuffing. It will compress a little with use, and you don’t want your pillows getting that floppy, sunken look.