Saturday, March 9, 2013

make your own exotic fabric throw pillows - cheap!

You know how when you watch HGTV's DesignStar obsessively, and it gets later in the season and there are more and more camera challenges, the judges start hammering the contestants to share some brilliant design tip with the "viewer" that the folks at home would just never have thought of otherwise?  And how most of the design tips are stuff like "breathe new life into old furniture by painting it an unexpected color"?  Thanks, HGTV!  Paint!  Would never have occurred to me! 

(Although I will note that Karl and those sconces with the wires fed through copper piping were legitimately brilliant and fabulous and I still remember and am hoping to use the idea some day.) 

So you get the impression that every cool idea that creates an attractive result and isn't too difficult or expensive is already widely known.  That's probably true here.  But after trying this myself, I think it's pretty darn brilliant, and I haven't seen it anywhere, so I'm sharing.  Ta-da! 

The idea started as I would browse those reused-exotic-textile pillows that cost an absolute fortune - like this one, from One King's Lane:

It's $159 ("Estimated Market Value" is $399.  I'm not making that up.  I mean, I'm pretty sure somebody is, but it isn't me).  And Pottery Barn sells these patchwork kilim floor pillows for - you know what, don't even ask:

I think they're just lovely, but at that price, totally out of the question.*  But it occurred to me that exotic fabric is actually commonly available - in pashmina form.  And thus a plan was born! 

To do this, you will need:
  • 1 pashmina in the print of your choice, at least 6 feet long
  • 2 18" x 18" pillow inserts (preferably feather)
  • 2 zippers, 16" - 18" long (optional, but highly recommended)
  • pins, needles, and thread
  • sewing machine (again, optional but highly recommended)
(Obviously, you can use whatever size you want.  Convert measurements accordingly.) 

As I mentioned previously, I picked out a pashmina from A.C. Moore's extensive selection - it was just $5:

I note that pashmina fabric can be flimsy.  If this pillow is going to get real use, pick a piece in which the woven threads don't catch your fingernail if you run it down the fabric. 

For the reasons discussed by the Nester, you should always go with feather pillow inserts.  My preference is to get them by buying throw pillows second-hand (only if the covers have zippers) and cleaning them.  That's $2-3 per pillow.  C&B also has inserts for $12, and Ikea has 16 x 24s for just $7 (a pashmina would cover two in that size easily). 

I had one of these from C&B that I had picked up at a thrift store:

I really liked the fabric (real silk!), but mine was getting threadbare.  So I mercilessly set it on an ice floe to die stole its feather insert and tore out its zipper.  I did the same to another very similar throw pillow in a color I didn't really need any more.  Make all of your throw pillows work all the time

My fabric is pink and orange on the "right" side - what will be the outside - and green and blue on the "wrong" side, or inside:  

First you have to make sure that your fabric is long enough - it should be just over four times the width of the pillow:

(You could use the old pillow case to measure your fabric, but I just eyeballed it using the pillow itself.   If the case is a little tight, the pillow will just be fluffier.)  If it checks out, then cut it in half as shown above. 

Next, you'll want to zigzag-stitch (or stretch stitch) the raw edge you just cut - right away, before it starts to fray:

(If you don't have a sewing machine, you'll need to roll and stitch each raw edge instead of zig-zagging.)  Obviously, do this for each cut piece. 

Next, you sew together the edges I have helpfully marked with blue dashes (no idea why these pictures came out so tiny - sorry).  Do this WRONG SIDES OUT (see how the pink side of my fabric is shown on the inside below?).  And unless you have magic fingers, I suggest you pin the edges together first. 

Again, obviously, do this with each piece.  Next, pop the pillow on there and figure out where to cut the width:

These measurements are obviously rough; I just left a smidge for a seam allowance.  (I sewed my seams with only about 1/4" allowance [the distance between the seam and the edge of the fabric] because my pashmina was barely long enough.  If you like to be very precise, you could carefully measure a 1/2" seam allowance.  If you really want to.) 

Next, you need to zigzag stitch that raw edge you just cut - the one indicated with blue dashes below. Since you want your zigzag stitches to go through BOTH layers of fabric at once, you should pin them together first so they line up perfectly. After that's done, sew a straight seam just inside of the zigzags (I did mine at about 1/4"):

Turn it right side out now. So close:

Now, as anyone who has made pillow cases before knows, the last edge always has to be hand-sewn.  (Unless you can fit your entire sewing machine inside the pillow case, and also get it out afterward.)  I saved the hand-sewing for the zipper side, since I would probably screw up a machine-set zipper.  In a moment of uncharacteristically good planning, I also saved this operation for the edges that were part of the pashmina's original finished edge - they don't need hemming.  (If you prefer, you can just sew this side closed instead of adding a zipper.  But then you'll never get the pillow out again, will you?) 

So, first, take out the stitches that hold the zipper into your previous pillow.  Next, stitch the zipper onto the inside of the open edges:

As far as I can tell, the best way to understand how to sew in a zipper (if you haven't before) is to carefully examine how the zipper was attached in the previous pillow-case, and copy that.  The machine method is more complicated; the hand method is very simple: two long seams, then tack it down well at the ends.  The halves of my zippers were about 1/2" wide, and I sewed in the center (1/4" from each edge).  This gave the right clearance for the zipper to work smoothly.  I also made sure that the zipper was exactly flush with the edge of the fabric, like so: so:

This made for an almost-invisible zipper when I was done:

I could have finished the ends of the zippers a bit better, I know.  But I am very pleased with the results.  PRETTY PILLOWS:

These pillows came out to $2.50 apiece, plus inserts I already had (that weren't getting much use) and of course some thread.  I hope my explanation is clear enough that someone else can get some use out of this idea - for an outrageous savings off of some of the options out there! 

And, I am sharing my little idea at Susan's Metamorphosis Monday

* I note that there are things in the same general style for better prices. West Elm has this multi-sari version for $29, though I'm unsure about those fabric strips; World Market has a patchwork sari for $25; Pier 1 has something in patchwork for $40; and I just now ran across this, which is pretty amazing.  In fact, that whole site seems pretty cool.


  1. Great job on the pillow! They are so easy to make and great idea using the pashminas. I made some a while back, but I actually folded the fabric over (so it overlaps in the back) so I didn't have to deal with hand-sewing the last seam or sewing in a zipper. A little lazy, but it worked!! :)

  2. Your pillows are beautiful!! I once tried to make the actual pillow and it turned out like SpongeBob´s head (not square at all).

  3. Great idea! I am gonna try this, although I have never worked with a zipper before. It should be a fun adventure!

  4. Wow!! Great idea and great handiwork! You are so talented. If you ever decide to use your home reno/design talents for hire, I'll be your first customer.

    Or you could just come over and we could drink wine. That works too.

  5. Great job and going to make some pairs of feather pillows for my home.