Friday, May 18, 2018

Getting to Grips with Zips - A Beginners' Simple Zip-Backed Cushion Tutorial

For the last couple of months, I've been updating the cushions in our conservatory, living room and bedroom.  As I've said many times, I'm not particularly at home in front of a sewing machine, but having made nearly a dozen cushions in a short space of time, I feel confident enough to share the technique I worked out to make a simple zip-backed cushion.

In the past, I've made buttoned cushions and envelope cushions - being slightly apprehensive about inserting zips.  (I really needn't have been...) However buttoned cushions can be quite time-consuming to finish, with all the button-holes and buttons to stitch on, and I find that envelope cushions tend to gape over time and look less professional.  With eleven or so cushions to make, I knew that I had to get to grips with zips.

I bought some beautiful fabric last year from Modelli Fabrics.  I must confess that I'd spent more on material than I normally do, as I wanted a statement fabric for our conservatory that was fade-resistant and of course, this comes at a price.  So the fabric sat in the spare room for several months because I was just too scared to cut into it.

Eventually, after watching quite a few YouTube videos and procrastinating a little bit more, I finally bit the bullet and took my scissors to the precious fabric.  So here's my detailed step-by-step on how I make a simple zip-backed cushion.


  • Upholstery fabric. The fabric shown in this tutorial is Lusso Bronze Velvet. My cushion is 46cm x 46 cm, so a 50cm length was enough for one cushion.
  • Cushion insert or pillow pad - I prefer feather as I find it stays plump and holds its shape longer than poly-fil.
  • 3 pattern pieces  - One for the front and two for the back.  I like to make my cushion covers slightly smaller than the cushion insert for a plumper look.  My pattern pieces were 46cm x 46cm for the front and the two back pieces were 46cm x 35.5cm and 46cm x 13.5cm
  • Fabric scissors.
  • Pins and whatever method you prefer to attach your pattern to your fabric.  Rather unconventionally, I like to attach my pattern to my fabric with Sellotape.  I find the fabric distorts less and it reinforces the pattern edges for future use - although it is slightly wasteful... sorry.
  • Thread.
  • Sewing machine with a regular foot and a zipper foot.
  • Magnetic seam guide (optional).
  • Zip more than 5cm shorter than the width of your cushion. I used a 38cm zipper on my 46cm cushion to keep a good distance from the seam.
  • A seam ripper (also knows as a stitch ripper or Quick Unpick.)

Cut out your pattern pieces.

Lay the edge of the smaller back piece on top of the edge of the larger back piece, right sides together, making sure that if there is a nap, it runs in the right direction when it's opened out.  Place pins on either side.  Lay the zip centralised, close to the edge and mark just inside the top and bottom stoppers of the zip with pins.  You will want to keep these two pins in while you are sewing, so make sure that they are far enough away from the edge that they don't interfere with the needle and seam allowance.

Place more pins evenly along the seam.  I like to insert my pins at right angles to the seam.  I just find it distorts the seam a little less.  Some people find that they are able to stitch the seam with the pins in at this angle.  Personally, I've broken too many sewing machine needles and bent too many pins to keep them in while sewing.

With your regular sewing machine foot in place, a 1.5cm seam allowance and a short stitch, sew to the first pin that marks the start of the zip.  Put the sewing machine in reverse and go back 3 or 4 stitches, sew forward 3 or 4 stitches.  Keep repeating this so that you are sewing over the same 3 or 4 stitches several times.  You will be cutting the following stitches, so you need to make these edge stitches very secure.

Turn up the stitch length as high as it will go.

Stitch until you reach the pin that marks the second zipper stop.  These long stitches are effectively basting or tacking stitches.

Turn the stitch length dial down again.   Repeat the forward and back action over the next 3 or 4 stitches to secure them.  Continue sewing to the end.

You may want to press your zip seam open at this point, (personally I didn't bother).  Check the seam to see where the reinforced stitches are and place your zipper pull just inside.  Pin it in place.

Pin the rest of the zip in place, making sure that the teeth of the zip sit over the seam.

Change to a zipper foot, making sure that the base of the foot sits to the right of the needle.  Insert the needle close to the edge of the zip, to the right of the zip pull.  Stitch along the edge of the zip.

When you have sewn past the bottom zipper stop, keep the needle in the fabric and rotate your work to continue along the base of the zip.

Turn your cushion back again with the needle still in the fabric, continue to stitch up the other side of the zip.

When you reach the other side of the zipper pull, cut off your thread, leaving an end long enough for you to pull through.  Tidy your thread by threading it through to the reverse and sewing a few stitches into the back of the zip.

Insert your stitch ripper or Quick-Unpick into the longer tacking stitches and gently cut them.  I find it easier to start in the middle and work towards the outside, stopping when you meet the slight resistance of the reinforcing stitches.

Fortunately, I found that most of my tacking stitches came out clumped together on the stitch ripper, but the odd stray thread can be pulled out by hand.  If you have a lot of cut threads poking out, you may find a pair of tweezers or lint roller will make it easier to pull them out.

At this point it's important to unzip the zip - you only make that mistake once...

Lay the cushion-back over the cushion-front and pin around the edges.

Change back to a standard sewing foot and stitch all the way around the cushion edge with a 1.5cm seam allowance.  I like to use a magnetic seam guide as my fabric is so thick - it just makes it easier to see at a glance where I need to be stitching.

Trim the corners off at about 45 degrees, 1mm or so from the stitches.

Turn your cushion the right way around, pushing the corners out.

Insert your cushion inner, sit back and admire your handy work!

This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links to similar products that I purchased myself to make the cushion. If you click through and purchase, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.


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1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks so much for this! I came for the Nano hacks, stayed for the guinea pigs, and then found this right when I was needing to make a pillow for a knitted pillow topper. Not an enthusiastic sewer, but I did it! (I would have assumed the zipper foot should be right up against the working part of the zipper, needle to the outside, but your way works so I'll stick with it.)