Beginner Sewing Tutorial: Simple Pillow Covers

Something about the snow falling over the past week has made me long for Spring even more than usual (it is March, Missouri... come on now...) and that longing finally gave me the kick in the butt I needed to check this project off my list. Of course, I put it into tutorial form as well, so I hope you can find a spare 20 minutes or so to sew along with me!

I've made lots of pillow covers like this for our family room, but today, I concentrated on our screen porch. (Hence the longing for Spring... can't really comfortably use the screen porch when it's cold enough to snow!) I bought fabric to make my pillow covers last May, soon after we purchased our patio furniture, but clearly it wasn't a high priority project. It should have been, though. Check out the pillows that came with the furniture:

Now, they could be a lot worse. But I don't really care for red when decorating, nor do I care for color schemes that are so dark. The stripes I can handle. They were just kind of blah to me.

So when I was hunting for fabric I looked for something that would liven things up a bit, and go with the one item on the porch that already had color, which is a potting bench/buffet that Sean built and painted yellow. (More on that later.) I also wanted to stick with an outdoor fabric since rain does sometimes get blown in through the screens. JoAnn has a handful of decent outdoor fabrics if you're shopping during the right season, but I found the best selection for my taste here. The fabric I used is by Mill Creek and it's called Glamis in Spa.

On to the tutorial! Here's what you'll need:
• Pillow form or an old pillow to cover. I used the insides of the two pillows that came with our furniture set, and two additional pillow forms from JoAnn for a total of 4 pillows.
• Fabric mine was 54" wide, and for four 16" square pillows I bought 2 yards. I could still make an additional two pillows with the fabric I have left over.
• The usual sewing supplies: machine, pins, scissors, ruler, seam gauge, thread, marker or chalk, serger if you have one.

Here's how you make it:
1. First, figure out the size of fabric you'll need. For example, my pillow forms are 16" squares. That means for the width I'll need 17" in order to include a 1/2" seam on each end. For the length, you'll need to do a bit more math. I needed 16" for the front, 16" for the back, and 5" for overlap and seam allowance. So my pillow covers started as 17 x 37" rectangles. I measured and cut one, then pinned the first to my remaining fabric to cut the other three. If you're using an 18" pillow form, you'd make a 19 x 41" rectangle. Width + 1 by Height x 2, + 5.

2. Hem the short ends. I used a 1/4" double hem on both of the 17" sides of all four of my pillow covers. I used a seam gauge to measure 1/4". Fold over the edge, press, fold again to encase the raw edge, press and pin. If you feel that's necessary. I did for the photos but for the remaining three pillows I didn't bother to pin.

 Psst, don't make the same mistake I did if you're using indoor/outdoor fabric... turn the temp on the iron down, or you'll end up with puckering like this: 

Thankfully I noticed I was burning it quickly and was able to put this edge on the inside so no one will ever notice!

3. Sew a straight seam along the hems you just folded. I just lined mine up with my presser foot at 1/4" and went to town.

4. Lay your fabric on a table right side up. Fold the hemmed edges towards each other into the center so your fabric is right sides together. Make a mark at 3" from the edge of your hem, and line up the other hem at this mark so your hemmed edges overlap on top of the rest of the fabric.

5. If it doesn't matter to you whether the pocket ends up in the exact middle of your pillow, just pin however you want. I prefer for mine to be right in the middle, so I measured about 9 3/4" from the hemmed edge to the folded edge on both sides of my pillow before pinning the still raw edges.

6. Straight stitch along the two edges that are still unfinished with a 1/2" seam, taking your pins out as you go. Be sure to back stitch when you get to the overlapping edges as there will be more stress on those parts of the cover when you fit your pillow form inside.

7. This step is optional. If you have a serger, run the two seams you just completed through to finish off the raw edges. Some of you might skip this if you feel like your fabric won't fray, or if you don't ever plan on taking your pillow covers off your pillow forms. You could also use a zig zag stitch on a regular sewing machine to get a similar effect, or try out a french seam by starting with your fabric right side down at step 4, sewing 1/4" seams, then flipping and encasing the raw edge in another 1/4" seam.

8. Flip the pillow cover right side out and slide your pillow form in.

So after this only took me about an hour to complete, I had to laugh at myself for not getting this project done sooner... but now our screen porch is well on its way to be ready for Spring and Summer:

And here you can see the fabric pattern with the potting bench/buffet Sean made:

I call it a bench/buffet because it technically is both. I wanted something that looked like a potting bench, but I saw a cart at Crate and Barrel that opened up to hold cold drinks inside, and I wanted both. Sean took my wants and designed a piece of furniture that combined all of the above.

If you look closely you can see a metal bin hanging under the right side of the counter surface. That side of the counter lifts off to reveal the bin, which we fill with ice and cold beverages whenever we have company over. We topped it off with a bottle opener attached above the metal bin and a bucket to catch caps. Oh and of course, painted it yellow... because the rest of our furniture out there is wood toned, so we wanted something to pop.

Did I ever mention we also spent 2 weeks painting the entire screen porch white to match the siding on our house? Ceiling and half walls... and it took 8 gallons of paint for a 15 x 20 foot room. This is the true before:

So we've certainly come a long way. Maybe a new rug and some cushions for the eight seats at the table you don't see pictured here and we might actually have something completed in this house!

What room in your home could use new pillow covers? I hope you'll come back and share what you've made!


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  5. Just finished my 18" square pillow. Loved the pattern and it was easy to follow. However my pillow was quite think and I had to use a small velcro tab to keep it from lifting. Maybe I'll add another inch to the length next time.

    1. Glad you liked the tutorial, Alice! That's a good note to make... I'm sure there's a variety of thicknesses for pillow inserts so an extra inch definitely wouldn't hurt!

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  13. Awesome tutorial! Just made two pillow covers in less than an hour. Thanks!

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  20. Hi-what brand and color did you use for the buffet table?

    1. Hi Jennifer, It's been so long since we painted it I can't honestly say for sure! I do know it was spray paint from Lowe's and they had few yellow options at the time- it's a brighter yellow. My husband then went back over the paint with a dark wood stain to make it look aged and finally a polyurethane coating to seal it all in for outdoor use. Hope that helps!

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