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Project Kickoff: Throw Pillow DIY
Throw pillows seem like an odd item to cause major hesitation, but they’re one of the finishing touches our living room has been missing. I don’t really like the idea of buying something cheap as a stopgap to be replaced later, so we’ve just gone without while deciding on the perfect ones.
I’ve been overthinking pillows for approximately one year, and now I notice throw pillows everywhere. My favorite bit of set design on The Crown is a small loveseat adorned with probably twelve silk pillows. Small touches like pillows can really make or break your scheme, and who wants to break their scheme? Not me, so I overthought the pillows.
I still have my eye on a couple of tapestry pillows from Scully & Scully, but otherwise am really happy with the way things turned out. It was easy to do and relatively inexpensive in the end due to sewing the covers myself.
I used dupioni silk in beige and wine to create most of the pillows. For the toile pillows, I had just barely enough yardage left over from making the drapes to cover the front side of two pillows. (The birds and flowers toile is a Riley Blake design that is unfortunately now retired.)
There are a number of ways to approach sewing throw pillows. Personally, I don’t really prefer a pocket or button back. This is one of the simplest methods and will result in a lovely pillow!
Fabric (see amount below)
Thread in matching color
Pins and fabric scissors
Needle for hand sewing
Iron if desired
Buying your fabric
I used dupioni silk for this project in order to bring another texture into the space. If you’re a beginner, I wouldn’t recommend starting out with this fabric because it’s a bit challenging to work with. Cotton is a great choice for beginners.
I made six total 16x16" pillow covers - four are 100% dupioni silk and two are one side silk and the other side leftover cotton fabric from the drapes. You can always mix and match fabrics, colors, whatever you like! I love to DIY items to get the exact design I want.
Along with the curtain remnant, two yards of the silk was plenty because it was a 54” wide fabric. Always check your fabric width before purchasing - width can vary wildly among fabric bolts.
Cutting your fabric
For throw pillows, you actually want your pillow cover to be a bit smaller than the pillow insert. This will make your pillow look plump and not like a deflated inner tube. I highly, highly, highly recommend using down (or down alternative if you’re allergic) inserts. Stiff foam inserts look cheap and can’t be plumped up. I got feather inserts for $10 each at Crate & Barrel and love them!
If your pillows are 18” or more, make the covers two inches smaller. If less, only allow one inch difference. Since I made 16” covers, that’s what we’ll do here.
A cutting and sewing shortcut - I cut a 16x32” fabric rectangle and folded it in half, wrong sides together. “But wait!” you say. “Didn’t you just tell us to make them smaller than the pillow?” Yes - accounting for the seam allowance, this will be one inch smaller than the pillow!
The seam allowance is the amount of space between the fabric edges and line of stitches. It's governed by the little ruler beside the needle on your sewing machine - use it to sew in a straight line! I set my seam allowance at 4/8 inch, therefore in total taking off the space we said to lose for a 16” pillow.
Using a 16x32” rectangle shaves off a bit of time, as the folded edge is one less seam to sew. Of course, if you’re using multiple fabrics, this isn’t an option. Just cut two 16” squares and put them wrong sides together.
If you’re not a confident sewist (or are working with slippery silk), I recommend pinning your fabric together at this stage. Be sure to leave a space open to stuff in your pillow after the next step. You’ll hand stitch it closed later. I made this edge the bottom of the pillow in order to hide the hand stitching.
Sewing your pillow
This part is easy! Using the 4/8 inch seam allowance discussed above, sew your fabric together, leaving about three quarters of one side open to stuff in the pillow. Be sure to reinforce the stuffing-in side by backstitching a few times so the stitching doesn’t pop out when you insert the pillow.
At each corner, make a tiny, diagonal clip to ensure square corners, then turn the pillow cover right side out. Iron it at this point if needed.
Stuff the pillow insert into the cover - this might be tricky, but keep adjusting and moving the pillow and fabric around until it looks even.
Hand sew the open seam closed - use small stitches and pin the seam if you need to. It can be a bit hard to do as the pillow insert will crowd you as you sew. As I said above, it’s best to make this edge the bottom of the pillow.
And that’s it! There are quite a few ways to embellish throw pillows - cording, braid, tassels - that you can experiment with as you become a more confident pillow maker. I chose to do unembellished pillows this time due to the obnoxious (but lovely) dupioni silk unraveling all over me.
This is a very quick project. I started a pillow during the Tannhäuser Overture, and the piece was still going when I finished. Apparently, this is how I measure time now. That said, it’s not a race, especially if you’re new to sewing. Go at your own pace and musical selection. If you make a throw pillow, I'd love to see it!