**Click on any photo in this post to view a larger size
Lately I have been obsessed with making pillows. They are addictively satisfying. You can make one in a single day, if you are motivated. My friends over at Threadbias have been begging me to write a tutorial for making pillows with hidden zippers. And so today is the day.
First a word about the instructions. I first learned how to make these pillows in the wonderful book by John Q. Adams titled Pretty in Patchwork Holidays. There is a project in that book called Greetings From Antarctica! Quilted Pillows (pages 94-98) which I made and posted about here. I’ve taken the instructions for making the hidden zipper back for this pillow and tweeked them a tad to be user friendly for any size pillow you want to make…but mostly I follow their technique as it is easy and looks great.
To make a pillow with a hidden zipper, you will need to construct a front which is 1″ larger than the pillow insert you will be using:
16″ X 16″ pillow insert – construct a top measuring 17″ X 17″
18″ X 18″ pillow insert – construct a top measuring 19″ X 19″
20″ X 20″ pillow insert – construct a top measuring 21″ X 21″
You get the idea, right?
I actually construct a top measuring 1.5″ larger than my insert and then TRIM IT DOWN to the correct size after quilting it. This was one of the places I tweeked the original instructions. It is very easy to be off a quarter of an inch during the construction process and then with the quilting…and it is important that you end up with a pillow top EXACTLY one inch larger than the insert.
FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS TUTORIAL – We will be making a pillow cover which will fit an 18″ X 18″ pillow insert.
Okay, so let’s talk about pillow tops. This is the really fun part. The world is your oyster, as they say. You can, of course, follow a published pattern or tutorial for a pillow top in the size you want. This is what I did when I made my Modern Chevron Pillow (using a pattern from the book Pillow Pop by Heather Bostic).
Or you can take a block from a quilt pattern and turn it into a pillow top which is what I did with my Vintage Pillow (pattern was from the book Simply Retro by Camille Roskelley):
I should add that Camille’s new book (Simply Retro) is a great place to find ideas for pillows because her blocks are large…making them very adaptable to pillow construction.
Or you can make up your own pattern using scraps from your stash, which is what I did when I made a Modern Diamond pillow from leftovers from a quilt:
CONSTRUCTING THE PILLOW FRONT
So the first step is to make your pillow top – have fun. Make it about 1.5″ larger than your insert. It is great to add a border or two to make your design pop and that also makes it easier to trim things up later. Here is the front that I pieced using half-square triangles which I arranged on my design wall until I had something I liked:
Once your top is done, you will need to quilt it. To do this, cut a neutral piece of fabric slightly larger than your top (I like to use white fabric, but you could use muslim if you prefer). Cut a piece of batting the same size as this neutral fabric. Make a quilt sandwich by layering the neutral backing piece (right side down), the batting piece, and your pillow top (right side up)…the top will be slightly smaller than the backing and batting – just center it on top of the batting like this:
Pin all three layers together with safety pins. I don’t bother to tape things down first…I just make sure everything is all lined up and flat and then I pin.
Quilt as desired using a walking foot. It is fun to quilt with straight lines, echoing the pattern of the top. But you can do whatever you like.
When you are done quilting, carefully trim your top to exactly 1″ larger than your pillow insert. So for an 18″ X 18″ pillow insert, your top should now measure 19″ X 19″.
Here is the finished top all quilted…and a shot of what the back of the top looks like:
CONSTRUCTING THE BACK OF THE PILLOW
Before I start instructing, here are some photos of what your back will look like. In these examples, I have pieced the back panels which you don’t have to do, but it looks nice if you do that rather than using one piece of fabric. Notice the zipper flap which hides the zipper.
You will need the following to make your back:
- Two panels (a top and a bottom) of coordinating fabric. The size of these panels is your choice – BUT, their combined size (in up/down length) before stitching anything together should be AT LEAST 1.5″ bigger than your pillow insert. Personally, I like to make the total size in length about 2″ larger than the insert, while the width is 1.5″ wider. You will later trim everything down (after sewing on the zipper and connecting the two pieces) to exactly 1″ larger than your insert (just like the top). These panels may be just a single piece of fabric, or they can be pieced – your choice! Let me give you two example of some possible sizes of the top and bottom panels for an 18″ X 18″ insert:
Top piece measures 6.5″ X 19.5″; bottom piece measures 13″ (OR 13.5″) X 19.5″…when you add 6.5″ + 13″ you get 19.5″ which is 1.5″ larger than your insert (or if you cut your bottom 13.5″ X 19.5″ you will have a total which is 20″ which is 2″ larger than your insert).
Top piece measures 8.5″ X 19.5″; bottom piece measures 11″ (OR 11.5″) X 19.5″ – this will make the zipper more in the center of the back of the pillow versus closer to the top (like the first example I gave). Again, totaling the measurements will give you either 19.5″ or 20″ which is either 1.5″ or 2″ larger than the pillow insert.
(IF you are piecing the panels, you will also need two lining pieces which are the same size as the finished panel sizes – this lining should be a neutral fabric – I usually use a white cotton.)
- A zipper (plastic, non separating) which is about 2″ smaller than the size of your pillow insert. So for an 18″ X 18″ pillow insert, you will need a 16″ zipper.
A great place to find good quality zippers in many colors is the Zipit Store on Etsy. Her prices are great (check out this assortment of 100-16″ zippers for $40 or this sampler pack of 25-16″ zippers for only $16)
- Two small pieces of fabric measuring about 2″ X 3″ – these can be just white or they can be coordinated colors with the pillow – these will be the zipper ends and will mostly not be visible unless you lift up the zipper flap.
- A piece of coordinating fabric measuring 3″ in width and a length of 1.5″ wider than your pillow insert (so again, using the 18″ X 18″ pillow insert example – you would cut this fabric 3″ X 19.5″; if it was for a 16″ X 16″ pillow insert, the piece would measure 3″ X 17.5″ – you get the idea) – this piece of fabric will be what hides your zipper. It will be positioned horizontally across the pillow back.
Now I am going to show you how to make a PIECED back for an 18″ X 18″ pillow insert where the top panel is shorter than the bottom panel, which means the zipper will be positioned closer to the top of the pillow.
MAKING THE TOP BACK PANEL
Select the fabrics you want to use for the back panels. I am going to construct a block for the top panel (you can do any type of piecing on this panel which you want to as long as it comes out the correct size for the top panel). For the purposes of this tutorial, my top panel will be 6.5″ X 19.5″ – so my block has to have one side which is equal to 6.5″.
Here is the block I made which is 10.5″ X 6.5″:
Now I will attach a piece of coordinating fabric to the left and right of the block so that my total finished size of this panel will be equal to 6.5″ X 19.5″:
Now, to provide protection for the raw seams, you need to take the piece of lining fabric which measures 6.5″ X 19.5″ and baste it to the back of your top panel (I baste about 1/8th of an inch from the raw edge using a long stitch on my sewing machine just along the top and bottom, not the sides because we’ll be trimming those down later):
Next take your fabric measuring 3″ X 19.5″ (the zipper flap), fold it in half lengthwise, wrong sides together, and press.
Attach the zipper flap to the top panel by lining up the raw edges along the long side, right sides together, and stitch using 1/4″ seam allowance. Don’t press this seam open yet.
Finished piece should look like this:
Set this piece aside while you tackle the bottom panel.
MAKING THE BOTTOM BACK PANEL
Select the fabrics you are planning to use for the bottom panel. You could just use one piece of fabric, in which case you do not need to add any lining fabric – or you can piece together scraps. For this tutorial, I’m going to piece together some strips of coordinating fabric and the total size of this panel will be 13.5″ X 19.5″ (which is the size needed for our 18″ X 18″ pillow insert). Here it is:
Now I’m going to protect those raw seams by basting a piece of lining fabric (the same size as this back panel – 13.5″ X 19.5″) to the wrong side of my panel (exactly like you did on the top panel):
You should now have the following components for your pillow completed:
- A quilted front
- A top back panel which is pieced and lined and has the zipper flap attached
- A bottom back panel which is pieced and lined
Here are my three components:
All you have left now is the zipper and binding!!!
INSTALLING THE ZIPPER
Before we can sew the zipper to our two back panels, we must first prepare the zipper for stitching.
If you have not already done so, cut out two pieces of fabric 2″ X 3″ in size (you may choose to coordinate this fabric with the rest of your pillow, or just use a neutral fabric). Select a 16″ long zipper (which is the right size for our 18″ X 18″ pillow insert):
Stitch a 2″ X 3″ piece of fabric to each end of the zipper as follows:
- Place the short end of the fabric close to the metal stopper, right sides together with the long end overlapping the zipper itself. It should look like this:
- Now, carefully stitch across that short end, as close as you can to the stopper. *HELPFUL HINT: I usually do one row of stitches a little away from the stopper just to attach the piece of fabric, then sew again closer to the stopper to secure it in the right place. You may need to unzip the zipper very slightly (see the second photo below):
- Carefully press the piece of fabric away from the zipper:
- Trim the sides equal to the width of the zipper using a ruler and rotary cutter:
Don’t worry about the length yet – we’ll trim it up later once we’ve sewn the zipper to the top and bottom panels. Here is what your zipper should now look like:
Time to stitch the zipper to the bottom panel…
Center and pin your zipper face down on the long top edge of the bottom panel (don’t be worried about the ends that are too long – we’ll trim them off later) Orient your back panel so the zipper lies along the top part of the back panel.
Use a zipper foot to stitch the zipper to the bottom panel:
Zig zag along the seam allowance to prevent fraying:
Press the zipper (careful not to melt your zipper!) away from the back panel and then top stitch along the seam close to the edge. I use my 1/4″ foot and put it right on the seam made by the zipper and the bottom panel (see photo on the right)…this way I get an accurate 1/4″ top stitch:
Now attach the zipper with bottom panel to the top panel…
Lay the top panel FACE UP on your table with the zipper flap AT THE TOP. Lay your bottom panel face up with the attached zipper facing the top panel:
Now flip the bottom panel over the top panel and with right sides together align the raw edges along the long sides and line up your sides (don’t be too worried if the sides don’t match perfectly because we made them longer than needed and will be trimming them up later). You will be looking at the back side of the zipper if you did it right:
Pin the two pieces together, carefully keeping the edge of the zipper aligned with the raw edge of the zipper flap:
Use your zipper foot to stitch these pieces together:
Zig zag along the seam allowance to prevent fraying:
Press the seams so that the zipper flap lies over the top of the zipper and top stitch along the seam, close to the edge of the top panel but NOT over the top of the zipper flap:
Now carefully trim your back piece so that it measures EXACTLY 19″ X 19″ which should match exactly the size of your top piece. Trim the sides to 19″, then trim the bottom so the piece measures 19″ in length:
Your finished back should now look like this:
Whew. Are you still with me? Good, because we’re almost done now!
BINDING THE TOP AND BACK TOGETHER:
Lay your back, WRONG SIDE UP, on your table. **Make sure that the top of your pillow back will be matched up to the top of your pillow front!!! Then place your front piece RIGHT SIDE UP directly on top of the back:
Use safety pins to baste the front of the pillow to its back, but don’t put any pins close to the edge as you will be stitching there (I pin around the perimeter about 1.5″ to 2″ away from the edge. You don’t have to put pins in the middle – just make sure your edges are nice and lined up as you pin (don’t worry if you have a little “extra” fabric in the middle which can happen if your pillow top and bottom are not exactly the same – this extra bulk will be taken up with the pillow insert – the important part is that the edges line up):
Cut your binding 3.5″ wide X WOF (this will give you a generous binding). Two of these strips is enough for an 18″ X 18″ pillow insert. Cut off the selvedges and attach the two strips along one short edge with a simple 1/4″ seam. Press the seam open. Fold the binding strip in half lengthwise and press:
Pin your binding to the front of the pillow, right sides together, lining up the raw edges, and stitch the binding to the layered top/back using a 1/4″ seam allowance. You will need to leave a tail on either end to attach your binding ends just as you would with a quilt. **HELPFUL HINT: I use two pins to mark where the zipper flap is so that I make sure it is laying flat as I sew on my binding (see the photo on the right):
Fold over the binding to the back, and hand stitch it in place. **NOTE: stitch only to the 1/4″ stitch line on the back otherwise you will not have room for your insert. This means that your binding is a bit “floppy” which looks good on a pillow. See the photo below to see what I mean. If you don’t want a floppy binding, then make your binding strips more narrow (ie: less than the recommended 3.5″ width above).