Step by step DIY zipper pillow tutorial

October 09, 2019

Hey hey! I'm back with a project I've shared before a few times...but I like to repeat it because it's such a GOOD one. Especially for seasonal decorating on the cheap! 

Though I've shared this before, I don't think I've ever shared a full step-by-step tutorial, so I'm doing that today. I also learned a new trick that I'll share (along with a video with the best how-to I've found). 

I love to use napkins to make pillows, especially when it comes to a certain look -- I really love to do it with Pottery Barn napkins to recreate their pillows that are WAY more expensive. I shared how I make pillows with napkins and runners here

I've always wanted to learn how to sew in a zipper, and finally bit the bullet. I am far from perfect on both pillows and the zipper (especially on the zipper 😂), but this is one of those projects that really doesn't need perfection. Most of my projects don't, thank goodness. 

Let's do this step-by-step, shall we? I finished most of these pillows years ago, but decided to deconstruct those I had finished to add the zippers and then I finished the rest. 

Cut your fabric to size

I use very basic (AKA cheap) muslin for the backs of my pillows. It's not the strongest fabric in the world but it always holds up fine for me. If you have kiddos that enjoy pillow fights, you'll want to use something a little thicker: 
Making pillows with napkins for cheap

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**I link to my fall napkins at the end of the post!

I just laid my napkin on the muslin to figure out the size I needed. You'll notice I used pinking shears here, just because they help prevent the fabric from fraying. I've done it with fabric scissors (I recommend using those for ease of cutting) and they still do fine. (If you plan to wash the cover often I'd hem or use the pinking shears.)

After your two pieces are cut, lay them wrong sides against each other. With a solid fabric this won't matter as much:
How to make Pottery Barn pillows for way less

Sew in your zipper

I found an awesome video tutorial for this that I'll share in a minute. But these are the basic steps. Lay your zipper down on one edge (make sure if you have any kind of design that has a top and bottom to put the zipper on the bottom!): 

How to add a zipper to a DIY pillow cover

Mark where the zipper needs to be sewn on -- keep in mind you don't want to cover the ends of the zipper too much. I marked this with a pencil. 

Sew to both pencil marks (on either side) and don't go any further: 
Making pillows with Pottery Barn napkins

You'll be left with two pieces of fabric with just the ends of one side sewn together. There will be a long hole in the middle for your zipper. 

I found it easier if I ironed the "seam" before working on the rest of the zipper: 
Step by step pillow with zipper tutorial

Lay your zipper on the fabric where you marked with the pencil so it matches to where you ended sewing up the ends. Then sew back and forth over each side of the zipper: 
Sew a pillow tutorial with zipper

Make sure the zipper is facing out! This is where it got a little hairy for me. I wasn't a perfectionist on this part and it's obvious. ;) 

I left the zipper closed and sewed down one side first: 
How to sew a pillow with a zipper

I don't have it pictured here, but I highly recommend pinning your zipper to each side before sewing. Otherwise your line gets a bit wonky. Just pin along the length of the zipper so it results in a clean hem along the zipper. 

To do the other side, I undid the zipper and then pinned that other side of the zipper before sewing it in. This will help later because when you close up the pillow you'll want it open. 

Close up your pillow 

This is by far the easiest part! If you aren't using a zipper, making a pillow is one of the easiest DIYs ever. I know many of you are intimidated when using a sewing machine, but if you can get help setting it up (the directions are very helpful too), it's VERY easy. 

If I'm sewing up a pillow without a zipper it only takes a few minutes. Is is usually perfect? Would I want anyone inspecting my lines? NOPE. Do I care? NOPE. 😁

Sometimes fabric with stripes are harder because you need to go fairly straight with your sewing. Once you get the hang of it, they are actually a little easier because they give you a guide on keeping that straight line: 
How to sew a pillow

You'll need to sew up the remaining three sides and you're almost done!

Finish up small details

Before turning it right side out, I like to trim down the extra fabric and the corners. This just makes it less bulky: 
How to sew a pillow tutorial

Turn it right side out and poke the corners out. Trim any random strings (I had a lot when doing the zippers!) 

Add your insert (you can see my favorite inserts for a crazy good price here!) and zip it up! I was so pleased with myself, I had to show the whole family. They were very impressed. (Not really.) 
Pottery Barn pillows for cheap

Now that I know how to add a zipper, it will help my insert hoarding problem big time! I'll only need a few inserts for my seasonal pillows. I LOVE that I can take these off to clean them now. 

I hope my zipper tutorial made sense. If not, be sure to check out this awesome video -- it's by far the best I've found. 

I bought these Pottery Barn napkins years ago (eight of them) for around $45 I think? You can find the fall plaid napkins here and the pumpkin napkins here. I made eight "Pottery Barn" pillows for less than $15 each. Not bad when their most basic pillows sell for $40 and up! (This plaid one similar to mine is $27 on sale.) 

I added a couple of these rust colored pillows from Pier 1 to finish off the sofas:
How to make seasonal pillows for way less

Have you ever made your own pillows? I encourage you to try it out and forget about perfection! You know me -- if anyone is ever going to plop down on my couch and find the imperfections in my DIY pillows, they get a cookie. ;)

Of course this napkin trick works well year round -- not just for seasonal decorating! If you have any questions, let me know.

**If your couch cushions slide of the sofa and don't stay put, check out this easy hack that will fix it immediately! ;)

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  1. Well done! I've been making non-zipper pillows for years and I learned a lot from your post! In particular, I like your fabric scizzors for non-fraying cutting. Will try that next time. Thank you for the great tips about using napkins!!!

  2. What size do you cut your napkins? I read somewhere to cut them about an inch smaller than the pillow so they're snug...

  3. So fun! I bleached some drop cloth canvas and made huge white pillows last year - I actually just stuck the World Market pillows I already had on hand inside them. I used a tutorial for an "envelope pillows" - this lets me take the covers off and wash them, but not mess with a zipper. I hadn't sewed since high school, but it was a fun, cheap project that instantly brightened up my space. I wash those suckers on hot with bleach to get them white again and they've held up surprisingly well.

  4. Nice job! I am such a wimp when it comes to sewing but I do own a sewing machine...I used it once to make a pillow for my son's room when he was a baby. That's the last time I used it...he's 15 now! I really should put learning to sew on my bucket list because you can make so many wonderful things. I am pinning your tutorial in case I get ambitious!

  5. They came out beautifully, and what a great idea with the napkins! I think I'll give this a go - after I figure out how to work my sewing machine.

    Dee ~ Vanilla Papers

  6. Suggestion after sewing the ends. Sew the rest of the seam, where the zip will go, with the largest machine stitch or "tack" it closed tacking is a large temporary hand stitch. It holds the seam closed while you sew. You can also tack the zip in place before machine stitching to hold it in place while machining An idea I just had is maybe narrow double sided sticky tape the thin craft type may work to hold the zip in place for sewing.

  7. I love this. Great job. I actually shop clearance after every holiday and get printed napkins for the front and as many solid colors I can find for the back. Usually less than .50 each for solid. This way I have no tread to trim on fabric and I have a straight edge to sew by. Amazing how pillows change things. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Pinking shears have been around for years

  9. Love this tutorial. Makes it seem so easy! I have also had a lot of luck making pillows out of lined placemats :). Just rip a little of the seam open, stuff, sew back together and voila! New pillows.


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