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


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!

  1. Mary says:

    Wow! What a SUPER GREAT tutorial. And like someone else said – it’s 2 for 1: How to do Piping and How to do a Zipper- made easy. I’ve been afraid of zippers for years, but no longer! I followed the instructions just as written, and everything worked out perfectly. Thank you so much, Grace!!

  2. Shirley Matthews says:

    Thank you so much for these instructions. I have sewed since I was a little child and for some reason could not remember for the life of me how to do this. I am recovering sun visors in a 1960 Studebaker car. Thank you again.

  3. Sheryl says:

    Thank you so much! My pillows look amazing. I used the fabric from my chair covers for the piping and it really pulls the look together. This was so easy to do. I never would have thought of making my own piping before I found your tutorial. Thank you!!


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