Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Easy instructions for sewing cushions with zips

As a child I loved playing "make believe" games, pretending I was a teacher, a librarian, a shopkeeper, a housekeeper, a secretary, a radio announcer, a baker, an author, a magazine editor etc etc. Nothing unusual there. As an adult, I still like to pretend I'm something I'm not every now and then. I don't see why kids should have all the fun.

Recently, I've been pretending to be my friend SM's interior decorator and sewing lady in my spare time. My "client" needed some new cushions for her navy couch and the brief was pretty clear - European pillow covers made from a cotton with a soft feel so they would be comfortable to cuddle up with when watching movies and smaller cushions for show in a more durable fabric. The Euro pillows were to have an envelope opening and no zip to ensure comfort when laying on them. The others were to have zips so that they looked great on both sides. The fabric needed to tie in with the navy couch and a green lamp shade. We settled on a fine navy and white stripe for the Euros and a reversible green and off white geometric chain pattern for the others.

I started by sewing the Euro pillows as I could easily adapt the pattern I had from a pair of yellow ones I made for our guest bed (see here). Then it was onto the more challenging task of the zippered cushions. My experience with zips is limited to the skirt I sewed in a class earlier this year and a striped cushion I created for our living room by studying another cushion cover and freestyling. I decided to follow some illustrated instructions from The Laura Ashley Book of Decorating this time to do it "properly". The 1987 edition of this book was given to me a few months ago and I have been worried what on earth I am going to do with it. It's very uninspiring (the photos and decor are quite hideous) but it has step by step instructions for all sorts of soft furnishings and crafts.

I found that the instructions for a cushion cover really simplified the process of inserting a zip for a novice like me. Apparently that Laura Ashley knows a trick or two about these things! So I thought I'd share the instructions and illustrations on how to sew a square or rectangular cushion cover with a zip opening. If I can do this, so can you!

1. Measure the width and length of your cushion insert. Add 12mm (1/2 inch) all round and cut two pieces of fabric to these dimensions.
2. With right sides facing, pin the seamline on one side and machine stitch (12mm from edge), leaving a centrally positioned space for the zip opening (see image below marked Fig 4). On a 30cm square cushion, for example, a 20cm zip would be about right. I used 46cm zips for 55cm cushions.

3. Lay the two pieces of fabric flat, wrong sides up, and press (iron) the seam open.  Sew the seam allowances in place (see image below marked Fig 5).

4. Pin the zip in place centrally over the seam and between the machine stitching. Undo the zip a little. Using a zipper foot, machine stitch all round the zip teeth as shown in Fig 6 (pictured below).

My notes/tips:
  • While doing this hold the material in place (or pin it together) over the zipper teeth (if it's not covering the zip while you sew, the little flap you are creating will not conceal the zip in your finished cushion). 
  • I sew back and forth at either end to make the ends strong.
  • It may be hard to sew around the slider and pull tab of the zipper. When your machine's foot gets close to it, wind the needle down, raise the machine's foot, slide the zipper up (in the opposite direction from where you are about to sew), lower the machine foot and continue sewing.
5. Once you've sewn all around, open the zip and, with right sides together, join the back and the front of the cover by stitching the remaining three sides. Trim corners (as in the picture below), turn right side out and press (iron).

Et voila!

I couldn't quite believe how proper they looked! Like real, legitimate zippered cushions!

I loved delivering these to my "client" and completing the "installation" so to speak, but I've now lived out my fantasy of being a seamstress. I couldn't see it being a lucrative career and, once I became faster, I could see it becoming a boring process. So, it's back to being a sewing hobbyest for now. I do want to sew some Christmas stockings to hang on my new mantle but at any given moment I can go back to the drawing board, ask myself "who do I want to be today?" (Trinny and Susannah style) and embrace my next career-for-a-moment. Variety is the spice of life, after all.


  1. Inspiring! The cushions look great - good colour choices - The instructions are clear and they appear easy enough for me to have a go!

  2. Ooh so lovely.... I can't wait until I'm properly settled in an apartment and can nest. I need some lovely comforting cushions. First step should probably to get a doona cover though. Haven't quite managed that yet, so the hand-made cushions may have to take second place!

    Poppy xox




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