upholstery basics: boxed cushion sewing

Happy New Year! I hope your resolutions include rejuvenating your worn-out furniture because I have lots of fun projects planned for us this year! First up is a new bed for Pixie. She’s been lying on an old cushion I pulled out of a client’s chair. Yuck! So I thought it was about time for an upgrade. A few yards and hours later, and she is relaxing in style. The best part is you can use these steps to make any boxed cushion, even if it’s not for your furry friend. Think window seat, desk chair or even revamping a sofa by adding new cushions in a contrasting fabric! — Amanda

Read the full how-to after the jump!


  • fabric
  • white or yellow chalk
  • yard stick
  • square
  • scissors
  • t-pins or straight pins
  • iron
  • zipper and zipper pull
  • 5/32″ welt cord
  • sewing machine
  • single welt cord foot
  • thread
  • masking tape


Don’t forget to check out Upholstery Basics: Tool Time to learn more about the tools we’re using today.


1. If you plan on washing your cover in the future, pre-shrink the fabric by washing and drying before beginning construction.

Laying out the fabric:

I’m making a 25″ square cushion with a 4″ boxing around the edge. When marking my pieces on the fabric, I’ll need to add an extra 1/2″ to all sewn edges; this is called a seam allowance. If my final cushion needs to be 25″ square, I’ll add an extra 1/2″ to all sides, making my cut piece a 26″ square. The 4″ finished boxing will go around the front and sides of the cushion (75″), so it will be 5″ x 76″ with seam allowance. We’ll also need a zipper boxing in the back so we can easily insert and remove the padding from the case. I like my boxing to go around the sides about 5″, so the finished dimensions of the zipper boxing need to be 4″ x 35″. The zipper attaches in the center of the zipper boxing between two strips of fabric, so each strip is a finished dimension of 2″ x 35″. With seam allowances, we’ll need two strips that are 3″ x 36″ to make up the zipper boxing.

2. First we’ll cut our top and bottom faces. Determine what part of the pattern you’d like to be centered and measure out from the middle to mark the edges of the cushion. Square up the edges with the pattern and double-check your measurements before moving on. Remember, measure twice, cut once!

3. It looks best when the top of the cushion matches the front boxing, so find the center front of your cushion top.

4. Find that same point in the next available repeat of the pattern and make a mark 1″ above that point. This will be the top of our front boxing.

5. Make a mark 5″ down from that point. This will be the bottom of our boxing.

6. Using the pattern as a guide to keep the lines consistent and straight, draw two horizontal lines across the fabric. This will be your front boxing. Since my fabric is not 76″ wide, I’ll seam together three pieces of fabric, end to end, to make my boxing. I prefer to place the seams at the front two corners. Mark the middle top of the front boxing so you can easily line it up with the cushion when sewing.

7. Once the top and bottom faces and boxing for the front and sides are drawn, draw the zipper boxing. Remember, we need two pieces that are 3″ x 36″.

8. Follow step 8 from Coil Seat Finale to draw your single welt cord. We’ll need a little over 200″ to go around the top and bottom faces of the cushions.

9. On the back side of the fabric, mark the top edge of all of your pieces.

10. Iron down the 1/2″ seam allowance that attaches to either side of the zipper.

11. We’ll use the single welt cord foot to sew the cushion. Cut a piece of zipper chain the length of the zipper boxing (36″). Place one of the edges we just ironed in the middle of the zipper. Place the zipper teeth under the single welt cord foot where the cording would normally go. The needle should be positioned to the right of the zipper teeth over the fabric. Start at one end and sew down the right side of the zipper to the other end.

12. Now attach the other side of the zipper boxing by turning the zipper around and repeating step 11.

13. Here’s what the zipper boxing should look like when it’s finished.

14. Follow steps 9–14 of Coil Seat Finale to sew the welt cord.

15. Now we’ll attach the cording to each face of the cushion cover. Start by marking or cutting a small notch in the middle of the back side of the face. This is where we start and stop the cording.

16. The cording tail should be 1/2″, so place the cording under the foot with the tail to the right and the edge of the tail lined up with the edge of the cushion.

17. Continue sewing the cording along the edge of the face. When approaching corners, prebend the cording to go around the corner. Cut a few notches in the tail at the corner so it will lay flat. Lift the sewing foot and pivot to sew tightly around the corner.

18. When you’ve sewn all the way around, stop about 4″ before getting to the middle back of the cushion face and cut off the extra cording 3″ beyond the middle mark.

19. Open up both ends of the cording, approximately 2″, by cutting the threads inside.

20. Lay the two ends of the cording (where we started and where we stopped) side by side and cut them to meet in the middle.

21. Connect the two ends by wrapping masking tape around the connection.

22. Fold the excess fabric under and wrap around the welt cord. Be sure the cording is completely covered by fabric before sewing down the middle connection.

23. Ta-da! Welt cord is attached to one face of the cushion. Now repeat steps 15–22 for the other face.

24. After both faces have welt cord, we’ll attach the boxing around the front and sides. If you haven’t already, seam all boxing pieces together. Line up the middle top of the boxing with the middle front of the top face of the cushion cover.

Since we don’t want the threads to show, we’ll sew on the back sides of the fabric for the remaining steps. When we turn the cushion right side out, no threads will show. As long as we keep the edges lined up and the welt cord under the foot, we should be able to maintain our 1/2″ seam allowance.

25. Starting from the middle, sew the boxing around the front and one side. Stop 6″ before the back corner.

26. Go back to the middle of the front and flip over the pieces. This will keep the cording on the left and seam allowance on the right. Repeat step 25.

27. After you have the boxing attached to the front and sides of the top face, repeat steps 24–26 for the bottom face. This is what it should look like (right side out) when you’re finished sewing on the boxing.

28. Now we’ll sew on the zipper boxing. Line up the middle back of the top face and the top middle of the zipper boxing. From the middle, sew along the back and around the corner. Stop 2″ past the corner, leaving the end of the zipper boxing loose. Go back to the middle, flip and sew the other direction.

29. Once we’ve attached the zipper boxing to the top face, we’ll repeat step 27 to attach the zipper boxing to the bottom face.

30. Attach the zipper pull to the zipper. Leave a few inches open at the end of the zipper.

31. The ends of both boxings should be loose toward the back corners of the cushion. We’re going to make a pocket to hide the zipper pull. Fold the front boxing back and place the zipper boxing over it, as shown in the photo. You can adjust how much zipper shows on the sides of the cushion by extending the front boxing closer to the back corner.

32. Hold the end of the zipper boxing firmly to the end of the front boxing while placing both under the sewing foot. Be sure to get the rest of the cushion out of the way before sewing the ends together.

33. As you sew across the ends, place a small piece of fabric over the zipper teeth and sew over it. This little tab keeps the zipper pull on track so it doesn’t slide off the ends.

34. Once the ends are sewn together, smooth the fabric that folds under the zipper boxing, lay all of the layers flat with the edges lined up and close up the rest of the cushion that was left open.

Now that it’s finished, turn it right side out, stuff it with your padding of choice, and have a seat! I used a loose polyester fiber to give Pixie a nice, squishy bed.

Tips for cushion sewing:

1. Wash fabric before constructing your cushion, so it’s pre-shrunk. If you’re not sure if the fabric is washable, order a sample and throw it in the wash. You can also dry-clean fabrics that are not washable.

2. If you have a serger, serge the edges of the fabric before sewing together to prevent fraying.

3. On cushions, the top of the pattern should start at the back of the cushion and go down to the bottom of the boxing. The boxing on the sides and back should be oriented the same direction as the boxing on the front.

4. Buy long lengths of zipper on a roll so you can cut it to the size you need. It’s also cheaper this way.

5. Use a thread and zipper that are similar to the color of your fabric if you’d like it to be unnoticeable.

6. Double-check the marks on your pieces to make sure you have the pattern orientation correct. There’s nothing more frustrating than sewing something on upside down!

7. If your seams are not super tight, sew around the cording one last time to tighten up loose sections.

Be sure to check out the other Upholstery Basics posts!

Fabric: Duralee 21015 in Red, available at Spruce.

  1. Rachel says:

    Thank you for a very clear and well-written set of instructions. Do you have a photograph of the zipper panel after you finished? Maybe a detail that shows where the zipper panel meets the other box panels? I’d like to see what it looks like when complete.

  2. Anna says:

    How much fabric do you think it would take to make this for a newfoundland dog?

  3. Karen says:

    Perfect job on this tutorial! I have an upholstery business, so hats off to all who can DIY! The only thing I do differently is to sew the zipper pieces together with a basting stitch – larger, then lay the zipper on it and sew on the wrong side. Then I carefully undo the baste stitch. It makes a very tight flat lap on the zipper that way.

  4. Lore says:

    Fabulous site, i come to your site so much now for these great tutorials! Thank you so much to taking so much time to put these detailed instructions together WITH PICTURES!!! Great great great!

  5. Judith says:

    Great tutorial! Exactly what I needed to boost my confidence as I recover cushions for our vintage camper!

  6. Veronica says:

    I love this tutorial! I was wanting to use an invisible zipper along the back seam. Is that possible with this pattern?

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Great tutorial! I actually love the pillow on the couch, too. Can you tell me where that came from?

  8. Bethlyn says:

    Awesome tutorial; I am a professional and am going to try your zipper application tomorrow. Can’t believe I could learn something new!

  9. marian says:

    Thank you so much! I just finished a 2 cushion project and your tutorial was so helpful!

  10. Nancy says:

    Thank you for the tutorial. Obviously being a novice at this type of project. I am struggling with three cushions, middle one just 11/2 ” smaller than the sides to fill a window seat. The fabric is HORRIBLY THICK by the time I am sewing the four layers together and is making me nuts. I attached all the pieces together and found I was off 1/4 inch which really messed with my finished cover fitting nicely. Took it apart and starting over. This is just the first one and have two more to go. Any other tips you can share are very welcome. Thank you

  11. Misha says:

    Thanks for the great tutorial! I’ve been following step by step. I’ve got my cording on and I’m ready to sew my zipper boxing. I’m a bit confused by the pictures and instructions though. It sounds like there will be a pocket created on the outside that hides the end of the zipper?? I’m also working with a purchased upholstery zipper with the pull already attached because my fabric store didn’t have a roll of zipper available in the color I needed. Any advice for attaching this type of zipper? Thanks!

    1. Amanda Brown says:

      Hi, Misha!
      You are correct. By folding over the excess fabric where the front boxing attaches to the zipper boxing, you create a small pocket that hides the zipper pull. The zipper you purchased should work just like the one I use in the tutorial. You just have one less step since your pull is already attached. Hope that helps!

  12. lrLinda Schenk says:

    I sewed cushions in a furniture factory for 21 years and I have one suggestion that would make sewing cushions easier. You should construct your border and then welt it. It is easier to sew welt onto a long straight piece of border than trying to sew it around the curved cushion panels. That is difficult even for the most experienced of sewers. After adding the welt to the border then lay the panels on top the welt and sew the panel to the one side of the border welted piece. Then square up your corners on the sewn panel. Attach the other panel making sure the panel corners line up 1/2″ from the notch or mark you made to square up the corner. If you do not do this the cushion will not be square and will not fit the border correctly. Then measure the border to close leaving a 1/2″ seam and sew the fabric down to the border. Take the cording and overlap and cut in half so it lies flat and tape the ends very well. We used a very sticky type tape or duct tape may hold better. Fold the welt over the cording and position the panelto the border and close up welted border. I probably made thousands of cushions using this procedure and could easily do three cushions in about 15 minutes total on an industrial sewing machine where the speed is much faster than a home machine. Making cushions are very difficult to do and takes lots of practice for an amature to do. I would recommend taking them to a professional or your will be overly frustrated.

  13. Linda Rae Schenk says:

    To make sewing the cushions easier I would just eliminate the cording and welt. It will be much easier for the novice to tackle. The welt can be sewed on using a zipper foot but is difficult to cover the basting stitches. The tutorial is using an industrial sewing machine with a walking foot and the foot has a cut out groove that fits over the cording to get the stitching very close. Sew the zipper onto the border pieces and then to the ends of each zipper sew on the remaining border pieces leaving the side open for closing. It is important after sewing on one panel to the border that you fold the border in half where the panel corners are located and mark the corners on the opposite side of the border. When you sew on the second panel you want to make sure you ease the panel on between the marked corners allowing for a 1/2″ seam allowance for turning the corner. Always lie the border flat to the sewing machine table and work the panels around the border. It is easier to sew around the curves or corners.

  14. MichelleW says:

    This was a great tutorial, thank you, my squab cover turned out really well, will definitely use this again.

  15. Sarah says:

    I just completed mine and it is so fantastic! Thank you for the great tutorial.

  16. kristal says:

    I like my boxing to go around the sides about 5″, so the finished dimensions of the zipper boxing need to be 4″ x 35″.

    sorry I don’t understand this bit-you said the sides were going to be 4 inches, then five? then four again? Eh?

  17. Gretta says:

    Do you have any recommendation of what size, brand sewing machine to buy in order to do this project?

  18. Gerri says:

    Thank you for your tutorials! I love them and my Design Sponge book as well! Ok, so I made a boxed cushion with welting. It is a floral print, so it took me ages to make sure it was lined up correctly. I wanted to wash it then, to check for shrinkage. My cushion was a little loose, decided to add more batting to my cushion- that worked well. The problem– ewww now my piping is all puckered:(. Maybe I should have bought a different material for my cording? I thought it was standard- I bought it a an upholstery store. Can I fix it?
    Thank you,

  19. Laurel says:

    I am having major issues with sewing around the corners. I don’t understand “cutting the notches.” I am putting random slits into the fabric and it’s not working, just messing up the fabric. Any suggestions?-

  20. Emily Ross says:

    I used your directions and my project came out great. Thanks! It was my first time sewing on my own and your photos and instruction were really helpful.

  21. Adrienne Konkel says:

    I have made several cushions now and keep coming back to this tutorial because it is so well done. Thank you for the great pictures and instructions. A warning to people just getting started- matching the patterns can be very frustrating so follow her instructions on matching the front boxing…

  22. suzy cannon says:

    I think this tutorial has saved my stress level!

  23. Tanya Thomas says:

    Thank you so very much! My daughter just bought her first home. She is very excited and should be as she is only 24 years old.

    She has a window seat in the master bedroom and is dying for me to make her a cushion for it.

    I have only just started quilting in the last year. I’m so close to 60 that I’m shaking hands with it. Not sure if I can do this, but I am going to try.

    Again, thank you so very much and I pray God’s Blessings rain down on you!

  24. Lindsey says:

    Anyway to do this without a zipper or buttons? We discovered our dog ate the zipper on her dog bed.

  25. Susan Borg says:

    I am so excited to do it for my dog! Thank you very much for the tutorial!

  26. Stephanie says:

    Just finished my first two cushions for the first of two Danish modern chairs I am updating. The pictures you provided were very helpful. I have to admit I was a little intimidated at the thought of tackling this project myself. The previous covers were professionally done. I have to say that my cushions turned out really well. Now I only have the cushions for the matching chair and 12 cushions for the two sofas left to finish. Glad I chose a solid material for the sofas as pattern matching for the chairs was a little tricky. Thanks for the great tutorial!

  27. Claire says:

    I am doing my 4th upholstery task but my first boxed cushions. I need more detail on the best an easiest way to make a straight edged fabric, the boxing, go around the square corners of the top and bottom fabric. I did a practice cushion cover, easing/slitting the edges/and much pinning of the border and it came out sort of OK but I cannot imagine doing in adding the piping.

    Also, some comments refer to the “border”. Do they mean the “boxing”?
    Thanks for any help.

  28. eliza says:

    great tutorial ! How do you determine tread and needle sizes?
    what is the best (waterproof or resistant) type of cushion?
    the pictures are very helpful

  29. Lotta says:

    Any advice on how to do boxed cushions without the cording? I actually like that look better but not sure how to achieve. Thank you!


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