101brett baraDIYdiy projectssewing 101

sewing 101: zippered throw pillows

by Grace Bonney

Next up in our learn-to-sew series: throw pillows!

Throw pillows are another fantastic way to incorporate cute textiles and DIY flair into your home without a great investment of time or money. If you’ve ever gone into a fabric store and wanted to buy everything because it’s just all so gorgeous, then pillows are a great way to put those fabrics to work in your decor. Bold or loud prints that would be too much used in large scale (like in curtains) can be just right for a little pillow pop on a sofa or bed.

I’m going to show you how to make a zippered pillow cover, which is easier than it sounds, I promise. It looks super-professional AND has the added bonus of being easily changeable—I love the idea of making tons of different pillow covers and just swapping them out whenever you want a little change in a room.

The best part? You can make the pillow shown here in less than an hour! –Brett Bara

CLICK HERE for the full zippered throw pillow how-to after the jump!

A Word on Zippers

Ok, I know you’re not going to believe me when I say this, but installing a zipper is REALLY EASY. (There are many ways to install a zipper —some more refined than others—the method I’m sharing here is basic and very simple!)
BUT, if installing a zipper feels like it’s just too much, don’t give up. I’ll give alternate instructions at the end for how to make a pillow without a zipper. Everybody happy now? Let’s get started!

What You’ll Need

½ yard fabric (if your pillow is larger than 16”, you’ll need more fabric)

1 pillow form (buy this at a craft store or upholstery shop)

1 all-purpose zipper about 4” shorter than the edge of your pillow

Thread to match your fabric

Seam ripper

Sharp scissors

Straight pins

Tape Measure

Sewing machine

Zipper foot attachment for your sewing machine

Selecting and Preparing Fabric

Almost any type of fabric can be used for a throw pillow, but for beginners I recommend starting with medium-weight fabrics that are smooth in texture, like cottons or cotton-linen blends.

I’m using a Japanese print from the fantastic Etsuko Furuya for Echino line.

If your fabric is machine-washable, wash and dry it before sewing. This will pre-shrink the fabric, which is necessary to prevent the seams from puckering during future washings.

Finally, thoroughly iron the fabric before beginning.


Cut two pieces of fabric that are the size of your pillow form plus 1” in length and 1” in width. So, if your pillow form is 12×16”, you’ll need two pieces of fabric that are 13×17”. This allows for ½” seam allowance on all seams.

Installing the Zipper

Place both pieces of fabric together with the right sides of the fabric facing each other and all corners aligned. (Be sure to situate both pieces so that the print pattern is facing in the same direction.)

Center the zipper along what will be the bottom edge of the pillow, since you’ll want the zipper to be on the bottom edge of the finished pillow. (Here, my fabric is flipped with the bottom edge facing up, just to make it easier to work with).
Place a pin near each end of the zipper, just INSIDE the metal stops at each end.

With a ½” seam allowance, sew the two segments on the outside of each pin. (This should be a short space of just a couple inches between the pins and the corners of the fabric.) Reinforce these seams by back-stitching at the beginning and end of each seam.

Next, change the stitch length on your machine to the longest length, which will allow you to baste the next seam. (Basting is sewing a long stitch which will later be removed; the long, loose quality of a basted stitch makes them easier to remove than regular stitches) With the stitch length set to long, simply sew the space in between the two short seams you just made. (Do not back-stitch to reinforce basted seams.)

Iron this seam open.

With the wrong side of the fabric facing up, place the zipper right-side down, aligning the zipper teeth directly over the seam. Pin it in place.

Change your machine’s presser foot to the zipper foot. Consult your manual for help with this if necessary; usually the feet snap off and on rather easily.

A zipper foot (shown here on the right) can be different for every sewing machine model, but it often looks like half of a standard presser foot (shown on the left). It allows you to sew right along the edge of the zipper teeth neatly and easily.
The zipper foot has a little sliding part that changes it to a right or left position, so just slide it accordingly depending on whether you are sewing the right or left side of the zipper. (That means you have to pop off the zipper foot after sewing the right-side seam, slide the zipper foot thingie over to the left position, then pop the foot back on the machine. All this only takes a second once you get the hang of it!)

Note: Be sure your stitch length is back to normal length for the remainder of the sewing.
Starting at the bottom of the zipper on the right side, with the zipper foot in the right-side position, sew down the side of the zipper. When you get near the end, stop the machine. Leave the needle in the work, but raise the foot, and gently move the zipper pull back behind the needle. Then lower the foot again and sew to the end of the zipper. Backstitch at the end of this seam.

Next, change the zipper foot to the left position, and repeat this process on the left.

And your zipper is installed! (That wasn’t so bad, right?) The seam is still basted closed, so from the right side, use the seam ripper to gently remove the basted stitches. (They’ll pop out really easily; just pick out any remaining thread pieces that are left dangling.)

Change back to the standard presser foot. Fold the two pillow halves so that they are aligned with right sides facing each other and all corners and edges meeting. Pin in place. Sew around all three sides with a ½” seam allowance. (The fourth side, of course, is the side with the zipper installed.)

Here’s how to sew around the corners: when you reach each corner, leave the needle in the fabric and raise the presser foot, then pivot the fabric 90 degrees, lower the presser foot again, and continue sewing.

Clip the fabric at the corners. (Removing the excess fabric here helps give you a nice, sharp corner once you turn the pillow inside out.)

Turn the pillow cover inside out, ironing the seams flat.

Insert the pillow form, and you’re done!


If you’d rather skip the zip, just use your sewing machine to sew the two pieces of fabric together around three edges, plus about 2” on each side of the fourth edge. Clip the corners and turn right-side out, iron the seam flat, then insert the pillow form. Using a needle and thread, hand-sew the opening closed. Of course, this pillow cover won’t be removable, but it will still be lovely!

Check back next Wednesday, when I’ll show you how to make a slip cover for a cube ottoman!

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  • This is incredibly well done. I used to sew quite a bit ages and ages ago and this helped me to remember how to do some things.
    Thank you so much and now I just need to go buy my supplies and go wild with the machine/1

  • I was thrilled to see all the interest in sewing. I have been a sewer for 60 years and I still hesitate to do zippers. It is so simple and your blog has me moving finally to make the pillows. I do like the invisible zipper better but it is always a chore to get the correct foot to use. I heave several and haven’t used any of them for a long period of time. Have you ever had trouble with the stitching being too close to the zipper teeth? Any suggestion?

    Also,there is a neat way to eliminate the dog ears on the pillow corners. The corners naturally are very pointed when you insert the filler pillow. To eliminate this simply measure the distance from along each edge. (A rectangle pilloe will have different measurements ) mark the center of each side. Example: a 16inch square pillow would be marked at 8″. Divide the distance from center to corner (8″ divided by. 2 is 4″s. measuring from the 4″ to corner-draw a line from center to each corner onan angle 1/2 inch less at corner. Do this on all corners. Basically, you are marking and taking the pointed corners off. It is amazing how this adjustment helps to make the fit so much more accurate. I do not have any photos to send along with this. I will be happy to explain further if necessary. Reducing the pillow measurements by 1 inch is a good rule of thumb. I have made a sample pattern for the standards pillow sizes (less the inch) with the corners reduced and I use the patters over. It saves a lot of measuring. I hope this is of help to pillow makers old and seasoned!!!

  • wonderful instructions. my zipper turned out nice and i don’t think anyone will know it was my first zipper! Thank you.

  • Thanks a ton, I’m a non-sewer, and have just finished my second pillow. Okay, so made a few mistakes on one, but I made two pillow covers! Yea! Thanks for making such easy to follow directions. I love how the zipper gets hidden. Thank for sharing.

  • Awesome. Very clear and easy tutorial. Now that I’ve ripped the zipper away TWICE after it didn’t settle at the basted seam (yeah I used about 2 pins / inch the second time), I am ready for something else. Apparently I can crochet and knit and make lace, but not use a sewing machine…

  • Thanks for sharing this great tutorial, I’ve jsut used it to make my first zippered cushion cover and I love how it turned out. Basting and then sewing the zipper over the top leaves a nice little overlap so when it’s zipped up the zipper is nearly invisible.

  • This is a phenomenally clear tutorial. Thank you! Note: Commenter Mary Ellen Antonucci is correct when she suggests two things: reducing fabric size by 1″ will ensure a tighter, snug fit for a more professional look. Also, eliminating the dog ears. In upholstery this is also referred to as chopping the corners.

  • I’d like to say thank you too! I recently had a few pillows printed with my own designs on them. A local shop said “ooh we love them, we’ll carry the covers in our store”. Yay…YIPES! It’s been awhile since I sewed anything but knew I needed to be making my own and am now having the fabric printed. I looked at a lot of methods for putting zippers in, this one was easily not only the best but after trying several methods, this one looks the best on the finished pillow. So happy you posted this and as an aside, it’s amazing this is still being seen and commented on 3 years+ later. Good for you! I will continue to follow this!

  • Just joining the Thank You club. I just finished my first zippered pillow and it was easy. I’m a brand new at sewing and this was a great confidence builder. I’m hoping you have additional posts for trims and box cushions.

  • Thank you so much for the zipper instructions. I have been sewing for nearly 30 years and have always avoided the zipper. But I have just done a beautiful zip and I am mighty proud! Great easy instructions.

  • Thanks! Just used the tutorial to finally make covers for my “floor pillows.” Worked out perfectly!

  • Great tutorial. I just sewed my first invisible zipper and it looks great. Thanks for such clear directions.

  • Question: How did you slide the zipper pull back when you were sewing the second side of the zipper? I couldn’t get it to move down. Perhaps I sewed too close to the zipper teeth on both sides?

  • i understand better now the process. Thanks very much Grace for this tuto. I ll start this week to sew my armchair cushions zip. Hope i ll manage!

  • Thanks so much for sharing this tutorial! This is the first time I’ve done an invisible zippered pillow cover. I’ve finished three now and have one left to go. I’m so pleased with how they’ve turned out!

  • Thanks so much for offering this tutorial. It was clearly written, beautifully photographed, and so easy to follow! Like some other people here, my sewing machine had gotten a bit dusty with disuse, and though I had made one zippered cushion without any instruction, it took a very long time and had an unwanted crease at the end. The pillow I’ve made following your tutorial took me a fraction of the time, and it’s turned out perfectly. (Also thanks to you I discovered my sewing machine’s zipper foot!)
    Many thanks again for your generosity.

  • Oh my goodness this as exactly what I was looking for! I’ve been incredibly intimidated by the zipper situation!! Thanks so much for the easy and Informative tutorial!!! ??

  • Thanks for the great tutorial! I am very new to sewing and I wonder if you could tell me how I would sew the zipper in differently if I wanted the teeth to be exposed? I’m going with metallic zippers and I want the teeth to be visible.

    Thanks for any help!
    (And feel free to dumb it down to the max, when I say newbie I meaaaaan newbie :P)

  • Muito obrigada pela informacao functionality inclusive com tecido com elastano o ziper vicariously perfeito!!
    Thanks a millions

  • It’s already 2015 & your fantastic tutorial is still helping those of its who are afraid of zippers. Your clear, well written instructions along with pictures make it a winner! I’m a retired teacher and once a teacher always a teacher so I notice a well written anything! I will be back…hope you keep blogging!

  • I am as “beginner” as they come. I just got my sewing machine last month and this pillow was my very first project. I got confused (and had to rip out the seam twice) on the step before basting (sewing the small segments on either side of the zipper), but I persevered! My holiday pillow cover out beautifully and I’m going to make four more this week. Thank you for the detailed (and well-written) directions with the helpful photographs!

  • Thank you! What a great tutorial! The first pillow was a challenge as this was my first attempt with a zipper foot, but the second one was a breeze!

  • Many thanks for this very well explained tutorial ! I have been putting off making pillows since a nice looking closure was my problem, but no longer now, I am looking forward to making lovely pillows very soon!

  • Thanks for sharing this great tutorial, I’ve jsut used it to make my first zippered cushion cover and I love how it turned out. Basting and then sewing the zipper over the top leaves a nice little overlap so when it’s zipped up the zipper is nearly invisible.

  • Hey! This is a great tutorial and a very simple way to attack the scary venture of inserting zippers!!! One thing I noticed – (I did make a sample before I used this on my ‘real’ project) – make sure to use coordinating thread!! I absolutely failed on that – but it was just my sample. Apparently my hand needs to be held still…..:) Thanks so much for this post! Great job!

  • Oh my gosh–I know I’m YEARS late to this post, but I had to comment! This is the easiest and best zipper tutorial I have ever seen, and it looks so professional, too! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • I am just learning how to put in zippers and saw your post on a pin in someone’s Pinterest page. I am so thrilled that I did see it and followed the link to your post. You have written a great tutorial and I will definitely be using this method quite often, if not all of the time! Thank you for sharing and have a fantastic creative day!

  • Thank you, Grace, for the excellent instructions on how to sew a zipper into a pillow cover. I imagine you never thought your post would still be read 7 years later, huh?! :-) I am very interested in how to take the dog ears off, but didn’t quite understand your instructions. Do you have any photos to show on how and where to measure? Thanks so much!

  • I’ve just started back to sewing, so I’m a novice. Trying these throw pillow covers. All went well until I got to the second side (left side) of sewing the zipper. I couldn’t get the zipper to pull back at the end so I could continue sewing. It was so tight. Perhaps I sewed too closely to the zipper. Advice please.

  • I made throw pillow covers yesterday, with zipper, for the first time. I hadn’t sewn a stitch in a dozen years and your blog made it seem easy enough. They turned out nearly perfect! Thank you for putting up these simple instructions. I feel more confident and ready to get back to sewing.

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