sewing 101: piping


Okay, it may not be the sexiest topic in the sewing world, but piping is a darn handy tool to have in your stitchy arsenal. It adds a super-professional touch to pillows and cushions, as well as accessories like pot holders, placemats—just about anything that needs a little trimming action.


You can buy piping in a fabric store, but making your own allows you to customize the size as well as the fabric. I’m going to show you the fundamentals of making piping, and how to attach it to a simple pillow. Once you understand the basics, you can pipe anything you like. Let’s get started! -Brett Bara

CLICK HERE for the full how-to after the jump!

What You’ll Need

cord, in any diameter you prefer – enough to cover the perimeter of your pillow, plus several inches (buy this in the notions section of a fabric store)

approximately 1  yard fabric for the body of the pillow (calculate the exact amount you need depending on what size pillow you’re making)

approximately 1/2 yard contrasting fabric for the piping (calculate the exact amount you need depending on what size pillow you’re making)

all-purpose zipper, a few inches shorter than the width of your pillow

pillow form

sharp scissors

tape measure

seam ripper

straight pins

sewing machine

iron

1. Cut the piping fabric

The first thing you’ll do is cut strips of fabric which will be used to cover the cord, to make the piping. To determine how wide to make the strips, first measure the circumference of your cord, and add 1” to this number.

Because the piping will need to bend around corners, the strips will be cut on the bias, which makes the fabric more elastic. This sounds fancy, but it just means you’ll cut the fabric on a 45-degree angle.

To cut on the bias, just fold the fabric at a 45-degree angle to the selvedge edge. Cut along the fold line.

Cut as many strips as you need, cutting from the 45-degree edge. Make enough strips so that when sewn together they’ll reach around the perimeter of your pillow, plus several inches.

2. Seam the strips together

To create one long continuous strip of fabric, join them as follows. Place one strip right side up. Place another strip right side down, perpendicular to the bottom piece, with the corners aligned.

Sew the strips together on a 45-degree angle, sewing from the upper left corner to the bottom right. Trim off the excess fabric about 1/4″ from the seam.

Open up the fabric and press the seam, and you’ve got a neatly seamed-together piece! Repeat till all the strips are joined.

3. Cover the cord

Fold the fabric, right-side out, over the cord. Load your sewing machine with a zipper foot (check your machine’s manual for help with this if necessary).

Sewing as close to the cord as possible, simply sew down the length of the strip.

And your piping is finished! That was easy, right? Now here’s how to attach it to a pillow.

4. Cut the pillow front

Cut a piece of fabric that’s the size of your pillow form, plus 1/2″ in length and 1/2″ in width. This is the pillow front.

5. Attach the piping to the front


Aligning the raw edges of the piping with the raw edges with the RIGHT SIDE of the pillow front, pin the piping in place all around the perimeter of the fabric. On the corners, allow the piping to curve. Clip the seam allowance on the piping along the curve so that it lies flat.

6. Sew the piping to the pillow

Still using the zipper foot, sew around all four sides of the pillow, stitching as close as possible to the cord.

When you reach the beginning of the piping, overlap the ends.

7. Install the zipper

To make the back of the pillow, cut a piece of fabric that’s the size of your pillow form plus ½” on one side and plus 1 ½” inches on the other side. (That extra inch will allow for the seam allowance used in attaching the zipper.)

Orient the fabric so that the longer side is horizontal, and cut it in two pieces, about 4″ from one of the short sides.

Next, you’ll install the zipper on the pillow back. With right sides together, place the small piece of the back over the larger piece. Center the zipper over the fabric, and place a pin in the fabric just inside the metal stops of the zipper on both ends. Set the zipper aside for now.

Using the regular presser foot, begin to sew the seam using a 1/2″ seam allowance. When you reach the first pin (which will only be 1-2″ from the edge), backstitch to secure, then lift the needle from the fabric and change the stitch length to a long basting stitch. Sew a basting seam until you reach the next pin, then switch back to a standard stitch length, backstitch to secure, and finish sewing the seam.

Iron this seam open. Place the zipper (right-side down) over the wrong side of the seam, aligning the zipper over the basted portion of the seam. Pin the zipper in place.

Using the zipper foot again, sew the zipper in place by stitching down one side of the zipper, pivoting and sewing across the zipper, pivoting and sewing back up the other side, then pivoting again to sew across the other end of the zipper, making a box all around the zipper.

On the right side of the fabric, use a seam ripper to gently remove the basting stitches. And your zipper is installed!

8. Join the front and back

Place the pillow front and back with right sides together (and with the zipper unzipped). The overlapping join on the piping and the zipper should both face the same edge, which will be the pillow’s bottom.

Pin the pieces together on all four sides. With the zipper foot, sew around all four sides, sewing directly over the line of stitching you made when you attached the piping to the pillow front.

9. Finishing

Trim the excess fabric from the corners, following the curve of the piping.

Turn the pillow cover right-side out and insert the pillow form. Zip it closed, and congratulations—you’re done!

rebecca

Piping adds a great finished look to a lot of different items. I recently made footstools covers for milk crates and used piping to give them a finished look. This is a great post because piping is really easy once you learn how it is done.

Lindsay

Thanks so much for this post! Custom piping leaves so many doors open – and can save money. Awesome.

Question: *where* did you get that outer-space fabric? I want that! Badly!

Tonja

This is also a great way to add a tailored look to slipcovers.

In larger pieces this fabric has more of a tie-dye look than outer-space. I have seen it at Joanne’s, but can probably find similar most anywhere.

val

You read my mind–I was looking for piping tutorials all day yesterday. This one far surpasses what I found!
I’d love to see other pillow-finishing and trim ideas, hint hint.

Katie

Thank you for this! Just as I was about to search the internet for instructions on how to add piping for my next project, you post this. It’s like you knew.

whistlerpotpie

Thanks! I have some Imperial Trellis that I want to make into pillows with piping but I’ve been scared to try. I’m going to do it this weekend! I’ll let you know how it goes!!!

Heather

You’re the missing link! I’ve tried adding piping (badly) on pillows before, and now understand exactly what I’ve done wrong. Thank you so (sew?) much!

Carrie

Man, I was hoping someone had made this pun already so that I don’t have to be the one, but… I guess I must. Here we go.

That is PIPING HOT!

Katie

Yes! I’ve been wanting to try this & will for sure use this guide when I do. Thank you!

Clair

oh yay! I am going to be doing some piping of my own this weekend. This is a new one for me. Wish me luck

emily rose

I love piping! I had trouble making it before, but I think it was my material choice (a slippery gauzy cotton) that made it difficult. Thanks for the tutorial!

Jennae @ Green Your Decor

I was trying to make a pillow with piping the other day without much luck. Now I know it’s because I should’ve used a zipper foot to make sewing the piping easier. This is completely timely for me!

Martha

I have been dying for these exact instructions- thank you! Now I can tackle the seat cushions I’ve been wanting to sew.

Isabel

I’ve been wondering on how to do this for the last couple of weeks – great explanations – come in really handy at right point in time :-) Thanks a lot!

Katherine

It’s like two tutorials in one! A clean, well finished zipper AND lovely piping! THANK YOU!!!

Lizzie

This is wonderful! I rarely break out the sewing machine for a project, but these well-described directions make me want to try this project soon. Thank you for preparing this post!

Terry

Thank you so much for the clear, easy to understand instructions. I guess I know what I’m doing this weekend!

izzy

Awesome – I was just attempting to do this. thanks sooooo much.

Amy

What a nice surprise, I am making a gift and I needed this tutorial more than I knew! Didn’t realize this is how you p-i-p-e. BIG THANKS

Reader

Those were good instructions on joining the bias strips, possibly the clearest I’ve come across.

I also was taught:

to sew close to the cord, but not right on top of it. That way there’s space left for second set of stitches, when the piping is sewn to the project;

to use an adjustable zipper foot, if available (helps with the second set of stitches; you move it so the stitches are flush to the piping);

to sew a fold line for the strip, if necessary, by thread tracing (small basting without knots) a line down the middle of the strip;

to start the strip off at the sewing machine by anchoring it with a pin, and after the first stitches to adjust as necessary;

to stretch the fabric and the cord while sewing.

Veronica

Wow I actually never thought about that many steps when stitching piping. I usually do 1/2″ excess cord wrap fabric, then pin between the two layers that make up the pillow and stitch once with a shorter stitch. (Might try this way to see if it’s any faster in the long run though!)

Melody

I’m so glad I found this tutorial! I’m reupholstering my couch and one thing I was really concerned with was that I wouldn’t have the professional look of piping on the cushions any more!

Allie

This is perfect timing for a tutorial like this. I’ve been dying to learn something new! This would look great on some upholstered cushions I’m working on. Thanks!!

carol

thank you so much for sharing this. I am considering reupholstering a chair and redoing some of the pillows in the house. I was going to ask the people at the fabric store but this would be a lot easier to figure out. thanks ds.

Fat Cat Anna \\^^//

I wish I’d seen this BEFORE I went in “blind as a bat” with doing piping, etc. for some boat cushions I was making for my 25′ sailboat. If I’d seen this, maybe I wouldn’t have put the project off so long (I had all winter – but was “afraid” – and then the boat sold – and I had to do the cushions up as the new owner wanted the cabin all pretty). Now following you on Twitter :)

meg

Next , can you show us how to get our **double** piping right? I can never get it even looking….and then there is the sticky issue of how to attach it to a couch edging without a pneumatic staple gun?

Chelsea

Ugh. I SO wish I had seen this before I made 4 pillows. They turned out all right, but would’ve definitely been better with your really detailed but easy-to-follow instructions. Bookmarking this.

Rita

Just finished 5 zippered pillows (2 with cording as Christmas gifts for my grandchildren to go with their blankets so they can lay and watch t.v. Thank you!

JV

Hi there! I really love your website. It’s really informative. I hope i can do some pillow one day. Good luck and Godspeed. More power to your website =)

Ginni

Great tutorial..finally one in color! I was hoping you could show it with the invisible zipper up close to the piping so it disappears like professional pillows do. I can’t seem to find directions to do that. Thank you!

Caroline

Absolutely fantastic tutorial – so simple to follow!

More like this please – inspirational!!

Samantha

Omg! Thank you. I learned how to make pillows w/zippers from your zipper pillow tut, and was trying to figure out how to put piping in with the zipper on the bottom next to the piping… Obviously that did not look right! I never thought to put the zipper on the back where the envelope opening would go.

Love your blog!

deanna

Thank you so much for this lesson! I can’t wait to try my hand at piping some seat cushions!

Maria

This is THE BEST. Have wanted to do this for a long time and having the full directions at my fingertips w/o having to buy a book makes it fabulous!

JoAnn Benoit

how do you tell the wrong side of store bought braided piping. I am not sure if the back side should be face up. I am making a day bed cover. I know have right side of material faceing in but I am have a problem as to the wrong side of pre bought be facing up.

Shirley Van de Vliert

How do you make an inconspicuous join using decorative cord piping which has no cover.

Shirley V

Molly

I just finished following your tutorial and my pillow is awesome! Your explanation was simple to follow and did not leave out any details. I am completely impressed with your ability to teach. I’ll be making four more pillows for my sister–so basically you’ve made two of us happy! Thank you!

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