Cushion (pillow) assembly

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.

Envelope closure

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.

Cushion back made using Philip Jacobs fabric

The opening on the back of this cushion is on the bottom.

Button closure

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.

Floral buttons on a cushion back.

The buttonholes are sewn perpendicular to the edge.

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.

Bonnie and Camille cushion with pompoms

I matched the pattern on the back, but the cushion stuffing distorted my good work.

Cushion back using Tanya Whelan fabrics

You can add two buttons or three.

Black and white cushion back

And you can mix and match fabrics on the back.


You can even use a combination of different buttons.

Cushions made using Tula Pink's coastal cruiser pattern

The overlapping flap and buttons can be placed anywhere on the back.

Zipper closure

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.

Scrap cushion with red spot back

I lined the spotty pattern up so it did not jump oddly across the concealed zipper.

Flea Market Fancy cushion back

I really was dancing about the sewing room with joy when I successfully matched the fabric pattern across the zipper.

Scrappy cushion (pillow) pattern by Granny Maud's Girl

Of course, I matched the pattern across the concealed zipper on this back too.

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.

Ready-made closure

This last method works when you repurpose old clothing, such as shirts and jackets. Some might call it cheating; I call it recycling.

Cushions made with mens' shirts

The pockets of the shirts are intact on the top right corner of each cushion back.


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.

Taper your corner seams in an inch to avoid ‘ears’ on your cushion.

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?


18 thoughts on “Cushion (pillow) assembly

  1. I like a button finish, but I’d never thought of assorting 2 different fabrics for the back, so thanks for that idea ^^

  2. I adore that pink and yellow peony cushion, and the perfect buttons you selected for the back… I shall have to find something with similar impact and lavish gorgeousness. I suspect the Husband is about to be subjected to the traditional female Cushion Torture. Too bad!

  3. You are the cushion master! I love how you managed to keep all those patterns lined up. I am scared to death of zippers; have just learned how to use my button holer, and typically make the envelope style. 🙂

    • That tutorial is great, isn’t it, Anja. I have added zippers to cushions in many different ways, and I thought of writing my own instructions, but I realised I had nothing to add to or improve on what Svetlana wrote.

  4. I certainly follow Svetlana’s zipper tutorial, but also like an envelope back. I sometimes make a contrasting band, to give a bit of interest to it, especially as I don’t have enough fabric to match a pattern.

  5. Thank you so much for this lovely tutorial! I haven’t really made pillows much and when I did I used the enveloe closure. I love the button idea! I purchased fabric to make cute pillows to go on the bed with a couple of UFOs I will be working on this year. I will certainly be revisiting when I am ready for that.

  6. I tend to make knife-edge pillows with envelope closures. I’m very boring that way. But sometimes I add a layer of fusible fleece to the front, to make it more substantial. And if I’m using quilting cottons on the back, I like to double-up the fabric, again for more substance. (I think I picked up that tip from Amanda Jean.)

    Your method to avoid ears is brilliant in its simplicity! But best line of the whole post: “No one likes a limp cushion.”

  7. These are all great. I tend to forget about the easy envelope closure and how you can dress it up with cute buttons. And OH MY GOODNESS – the plaid backing on that one pillow: IT’S PERFECT!!!!! I can’t even imagine how long it took you to get that right. But your efforts paid off.

  8. Pingback: Kokeshi cushion | Granny Mauds Girl

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