I don’t really like to write ‘how to’s’ because they are super boring. However, when I sewed my first set of window seat cushion covers about nine years ago, I wished there had been a place to learn how to do this properly. I spent many hours of the planning stages in that foggy space between sleep and awake where most of my productive creative thoughts are born before I realized the best process for sewing the covers as precisely as the ones bought in the store. The end result was good and that set of cushions lasted for a while. I have since changed the entire set of cushions to much thicker, more dense foam and resewed covers for that set – each time I have perfected the method with better results. So here is what I hope will be a detailed ‘how to’ so you can replicate the process yourself.
I always wash and dry my fabrics – even when encouraged to dry clean only because I figure with a cat, two kids, tons of family including toddlers and the messiest darn niece I can imagine a girl to be, as well as many other kids turned honorary personal children during weekend play dates and sleep overs, everything in the house has to be machine washable and life friendly. This is one lived in house and I do not want to worry with light upholstery or good fabrics that I can’t enjoy it and expect guests to do so as well.
First, I measured the rise of the cushions. They are all about 6 inches thick – so I cut strips in 7 inch thicknesses to cover all the way around the perimeter. These strips were sewn end to end wrapped tightly around the rise of the cushion – right sides together. When I originally did this project it was almost a ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg?” for me. Is it better to start with the rise or the faces of the cushions for positioning piping and starting assembly? I have done it both ways, but I now always start with the process where I am wrapping the rise first because if you are setting piping, this is the stage you would do it. It is much easier and more precise to wrap the piping equidistant (in the case of my cushions it would be six inches apart) around essentially a loop of fabric before setting the face panels of the cushion.
After you have made your loop of fabric that fits around the perimeter of the cushion, this is the time you would/could add the piping and zipper if you plan to use one. Position this loop so the seams are where they will be hidden – likely on the sides of the cushions. I sew my zipper on from the back so that no stitches show on the front when the cushion is turned right side out. You need to position it so when the zipper folds away from the fabric to meet with another fabric edge, it shows a clean edge. The front of the zipper should be against the right side of the fabric so when you turn it out to join the other side, only neat sides are shown. I am not sure how to explain this better – but it is such a perfect way of installing a zipper – if I was more technology savvy I would post a video because it takes all frustration out of including a zipper. This allows me to place it neatly and sew right up to the edge of the metal. Be careful not to sew too close to the teeth because the zipper will get caught in the stitches and not open or close.
Once you have your zipper sewn on the rise portion of the cushion, it is time to sew it onto the face of the cushion. To do this, I suggest placing the face exactly how you would like it to be when it is sewn in place. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter that your pattern is lined up or not – but I do like patterns to be lined up when they are striped or diamond shaped as I am working with now – particularly now because I am not using piping that would assist in visually offsetting any imperfection with pattern repeat placement. Once you have the face lined up you are ready to stitch along the zipper edge. After this step is complete, the only thing joining the two pieces of fabric is the shared zipper line.
Next, it is time to sew the first face to the rise piece all around. I have experimented with this many ways and found that the sole neatest way to finish this is to invest the time to hand stitch it prior to machine stitching it. I trace a pencil line on the reverse side of the fabric that is exactly around the very edge of the cushion that overlaps the zipper on either side by about an inch to hide the tail and zipper piece – right on the vertex of the cushion since that it where the stitching should be.
The rise piece of fabric should be stitched from right outside the piping seam to hide that seam or where the rise meets the edge of the cushion/face of the cushion panel where the pencil line is. If you forego piping ( which would have created a straight seam line to adhere to) made sure you pencil line both the rise fabric and the face fabric to ensure your seam stays on the vertex otherwise it will be wobbly and uneven – this I learned during this actual project – see you really do learn something new every day! I hand stitch around this seam first using big stitches that I will remove after the machine stitching to ensure it is accurately placed. Trust me, I do not like how long it takes, but it is the only way to be certain that your result will end in perfection – or at least as close as possible for a handmade item. I use a very different color thread from the fabric that I am working with so it can be easily seen and removed by pulling threads out by hand after it has been machine stitched in place. This is much better than using pins and hoping that they won’t shift during the sewing and trying to preserve your fingers and avoid bleeding on your new cushion covers.
Once you have stitched around one face and it is joined to the rise, you are ready to assemble the last panel. This is done by repeating the above step making sure to adjust the tension of the fabric so it fits like a glove. I keep trying the assembled pieces on the cushion insert so I can make adjustments as needed during the early steps so there isn’t a lot of back tracking if I make a mistake. I hope this explanation has been clear – if not please let me know so I can clarify.
The anticipation of sewing was a daunting task that I have to admit was another hold off on redoing the room. Waking up early paid off this morning because all of the cushions for the window seat and the antique chest in the kitchen are finito! That was a huge thing checked off of the list. Obviously a manicure is one more thing I need to add to the list after looking at the pictures for this how to – but not as productive or exciting so it will have to wait. Getting closer to the end of the family room redo. My parents are bringing a monstrous canvas tomorrow for me to paint for above the fireplace and I can’t wait to see what it turns out to be.