It is no secret that I love making cushions (pillows). Cushion fronts are a great way to test colour combinations and practise new skills, such as appliqué, without the committment or workload of a larger project.
Cushion covers need to be removable so they can be washed. For easy removal, a cushion cover can have either:
- an envelope closure, which is the simplest for beginners
- buttons, which can feature as a decorative element
- a zipper.
How I turn my cushion fronts into cushions depends on my mood. Sometimes, I add piping or pompom trim. In the past, I often added frills, but my frill phase ended in the 1980s. With a simple cushion – one with no bulky quilting on the front and no bulky trim around the sides – a zipper can be incorporated into a side seam; however, I often make bulky, quilted cushions that need to have the opening in the middle of the back.
When finishing the back of a cushion, there are no fixed rules, but here are some suggestions.
An envelope closure is simple; you just need two hemmed pieces of fabric on the back that overlap enough to cover the cushion insert. Allow the two pieces to overlap at least 3 inches. A really large cushion, like a floor cushion, might need more of an overlap to cover its bulging middle.
A good place to put the overlap is near one edge, a little like the pillow slips you use on your bed.
A button closure is similar to an envelope closure, but evenly spaced buttonholes are sewn perpendicular to the edge of the top piece, and buttons are sewn to the piece underneath. The buttons keep the opening from bulging as much as in an envelope closure, so the overlap only needs to be big enough to accommodate your buttonholes. Two inches are often plenty, but bigger buttons and buttonholes might need more.
For this method, I often line the cushion back. An extra layer of fabric gives the buttonholes more strength. I either use the same fabric and simply fold and top-stitch it, or I use a piece of plain white calico to line each section of the back. If I do not line the full cushion back, I include a few inches of facing on both pieces where the buttons and buttonholes will be attached. Sometimes, I also reinforce the area of the buttonholes and buttons with interfacing.
Remember to sew the buttonholes before assembling the back or manoeuvering can become tricky.
In a simple fabric cushion, concealing the zipper in a side seam can be a neat finish; however, the side seams are not a great choice once bulky quilting and trim get involved.
When bulk is a problem, I prefer adding a concealed zipper beneath a flap in the middle of the cushion back, and I am a fan of Svetlana’s zipper tutorial. It is so simple that a beginner can do it, and the results are wonderfully neat.
When you want the fabric pattern to continue across the back, you cannot beat a zipper. If the fabric is cut carefully, you can continue the fabric pattern across the flap. The envelope and button closures both gap and bulge, so I prefer them for prints where pattern matching is not important. In recent years, a zipper has been my favourite method.
If using a zipper, always open it a little before sewing the back on – just enough so you have a gap to grab the zipper pull and open it fully before turning the cushion right side out.
This last method works when you repurpose old clothing, such as shirts and jackets. Some might call it cheating; I call it recycling.
When you have decided how you will make your opening and prepared the cushion back, baste it to the cushion front. Place both pieces with right sides facing and baste. The extra basting might seem pointless, but when you have the bulk of trim or piping and quilting, it helps to keep everything secure.
I use my piping or zipper foot to sew all four sides of a cushion. The foot allows me to get in close to any pompoms or piping I have added.
If you want to avoid the ‘ears’ in the corners, taper your corner seams in an inch as shown in this diagram. I confess that I rarely do this, especially with pieced cushion fronts where the missing corner section would show, but it is a handy trick to have in your cushion-making repertoire.
Finish the seams with an overlocker (serger) or zigzag stitch. If you use an overlocker and fancy trim, drop the trimming blade to avoid damaging the band that holds the trim together. And always clip out as much of the bulk from the corners as you can.
Buy a plump cushion insert. Sometimes, you need to buy a size bigger to get a nice, plump cushion. No one likes a limp cushion.
Do you have a favourite way of making cushions?