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30 Minutes with Workroom Tech: Episode 40 / Pillows and Cushions Q & A

Updated: Jun 10, 2020

For episode 40 of the podcast (air date Wednesday, June 10, 2020) Ceil DiGuglielmo and Susan Woodcock asked members of the Workroom Accountability Mentoring Group for their questions about sewing custom pillows and cushions. The group had a lot of great questions!

You can listen to the podcast here:


When making pillows and cushions do you serge the pieces before sewing or after?

Susan and Ceil agreed that when you are serging the cut edges of pillows, it is best to serge the pieces before sewing. Not all pillows are serged, but it is a good way to finish edges for fabrics that fray.

Are pillows always lined?

No, not always. Susan shared that she will add lining based on the fabrics and project. If the fabric is thin or stretchy, or if the pillow has been pieced like a patchwork or border style then a base piece of lining will keep the pillow square and neat. Ceil recommended using napped sateen. For stable and heavy fabrics lining is not needed.

For a knife edge pillow (without welt cord) do you ever use your serger to sew the sides and top after the zipper is sewn in?

Ceil and Susan shared that they have the same process and serge the individual cuts for the front and back first, then sew together to make the pillow. "This makes it easier to take apart if there's a sewing mistake", Ceil shared. You also need to have larger allowances for seams if you plan to serge after the pillow is sewn. The idea of sewing the whole pillow at the serger would be a time saver. You must make sure the serger is set up with a straight stitch, and not just the overlock stitches.

What exactly distinguishes a custom made, professional looking pillow?

A pillow that is created specifically for a customer is "custom". That could be the most simple style using a specific fabric without any embellishment. A professionally made pillow with have attention to details like centering pattern motifs, clean, smooth edges, good quality inserts, serging and lining if needed and neat closures whether that is a zipper or hand sewn. The pillow below, made by Susan Woodcock, features an inset, mitered flange with pleats. It is a good example of a custom product from a professional workroom. (How to instructions can be found here: Pillow with Inset Flange by Home Dec Gal

How much larger should the inserts be to nicely fill out a pillow?

This depends on your preference and the fill of the pillow form. It is common practice to order one inch larger or two inches larger if you want a more plump and firm pillow. It is helpful to have the pillow forms before making the pillows so you can adjust the cut size.

When adding purchased trims like braided or twist cord, how do you join the ends nicely and how do you get the stitching close to the cord?

Susan and Ceil agree that sewing decorative cords can be difficult! It's best to sew into the cord instead of trying to sewn next to it by using a cording foot that is a size smaller than the diameter of the cord. You may need to sew with the fabric on top, especially if you don't have a walking foot machine. See the quick video below for a peek at joining twist cord. To learn more about adding trim including different types of decorative cording click here: 30-Minutes with Workroom Tech: Episode 8 - Applying Trims

Is there a method for perfect welted corners every time?

Susan likes to sew the welt cord first and then apply to the base piece, but others sew and apply the welt cord all in one step. For pillows with ruffles, brush fringe or pleated flange corners it's important to round the corners and not sew the cording at a right angle. Ceil suggests sewing to the corner with the needle down, pivot the piece and then continue sewing without "turning" the corner. The pillow forms can also affect how the corners look. Some polyester pillows will not fill out the corners. You may want to cut with tapered corners to prevent those "dog ears".

For pillows and cushions, it's important to push seams in the same direction so that the edges are neat. The prevents the welt cord from twisting.

How do you know what size to make a pillow when the flat size is so much different than the stuffed size?

That's a real challenge! When a customer says they want a 16 inch pillow, they may be thinking about the space they want to fill and not the flat measurement. In the photo below, you can see how much smaller a 19 inch plump pillow form really is. The inside of the blue tape is marked at 19 inches, but the center of a filled pillow is 16 inches. It's important that your customers understand the difference.


How do you order feather and down wrapped foam cushion insert?

Susan shared that she prefers to order the zipper feather and down cushion wrap, and then insert the foam. This give you more flexibility with the tightness of the foam insert. Whether you are ordering a custom made cushion or inserting the foam yourself, it is important to learn as much as you can from the supplier. They are the experts and a good company understands how important it is to educate customers.

Generally foam is cut to the finished size and then wrapped with bonded polyester dacron, or a feather/down layer. This gives the cushion higher level of comfort and a plush look that sets custom work apart.

To achieve a crown on custom cushions, you can cut the top and bottom pieces with a tapered shape, or cut down the size of the boxing and build up the padding. There's a lot of subtle changes you can make as a fabricator.

Here are excellent resources to learn more about cushion forms.

The Crowning Touches to Feather and Down by Joanie Johnson in the May 1999 Issue of SewWhat? magazine.

Cushion Fillers 101 by Anita Boetsma in the 2004, Volume 3 issue of SewWhat? Magazine

(Past magazine issues are available for PRO members of the Curtains and Soft Furnishings Library)

Are there any good fabrication methods or instructions for a French Mattress Cushion?

A French Mattress Cushion is very time consuming because all the edges are stiched by hand. It's a beautiful style. The following resources will help you to learn how to make this style.

August Blues Slipcover Studio Blog: French Mattress Cushion Tutorial

Drapery & Design Professional Magazine, Vol. 2012, Issue 3, Mattress Style Cushion by Christine Shepherd. (Past issues can be viewed on The Curtains and Soft Furnishings Resource Library).

There is no better way to learn than by doing. Keep practicing sewing pillows and cushions and you will soon learn how simple changes in cutting, sewing or stuffing can help to achieve the perfect finished product.

Looking ahead....

the next topic for the WAM group will be learning how to quote yardage for window coverings, pillows and cushions. Tune in to episode 41 the second Wednesday in July to hear what Ceil and Susan have to share.

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