Refresh your decor instantly with colourful, custom accent cushions. Learn how to sew a piped cushion with a zip using this easy to follow tutorial, including a printable zipper guide. It’s a tutorial that you’ll want to use over and over again!
Update Your Decor By Sewing a Piped Cushion With Zip
Using accent pillows on your couch, on your bed, or on benches and chairs is a great way to layer colour and texture in a room. Swapping out accent pillows and cushions is one of the easiest ways to update your decor and refresh it seasonally.
Benefits of Zippered Cushion Covers
Storing a whole bunch of voluminous cushions is not efficient, unless you have more space than you know what to do with. That’s why I prefer to make my own cushion covers to zip on and off the same set of pillow forms. Not only do I save space by tucking away much smaller covers, but I can make cushions that look exactly how I want them to look.
As a big added bonus, cushion covers with zippers are fabulous because they can be removed and thrown in the wash (assuming you choose a washable fabric). If you’ve got kids and pets, or like to snack on the couch, this can be so helpful. And if they ever get damaged beyond repair, just sew a new cover. No need to toss the whole pillow!
You could make a cushion cover that has an overlapped back and no zipper, which is easier. But you can absolutely master a zipper by following my straightforward steps below, and create a more professional cushion. I’ll show you all the tricks and tips for great results!
What is Piping, and Why Should I Bother?
Piping is a round cord, covered in fabric that is sewn into seams to add visual interest or definition, or to reinforce the lines and structure of a sewn item. You can find piping on garments, slipcovers, upholstered furniture cushions, as well as on throw pillows.
Piping can be made from the same fabric as the rest of the item to blend in, such as when it’s needed more for structure, like on the bench shown above. Or to bring more visual interest, you can choose a colour from the fabric pattern to emphasize, or add a contrasting colour to the patterned fabric.You might also choose to add an accent colour if your fabric is neutral for an extra pop of colour.
Adding coloured piping to your cushion covers makes them look more polished and professional, while also giving them a little more visual presence on your couch or bed. It does take a little bit more time and effort to add piping, and I have made pillow covers without it as well. But I’ve never regretted adding piping for the benefit of the finished result.
You can buy premade piping at sewing supply stores, but it’s not that difficult to make your own, and again – you can customize it exactly how you want!
But wait – making a piped cushion with a zip sounds hard!
Making a piped cushion with zip does SOUND hard, but I promise you it’s not. Making a piped cushion with zip was my first project as an adult relearning to sew after taking Home Ec. classes in junior high. And I have been making new sets of cushion covers every few years since then. Piping and zippers are really useful skills to learn, and you can use them in a variety of projects.
For this project, you will need a sewing machine, but it can be a very basic sewing machine. The ability to do a zig-zag stitch is helpful for finishing the raw edges. You will also need a zipper foot for your machine, which is essential for both the zipper and the piping.
Choosing Fabric For Your Piped Cushion With A Zip
When it comes to choosing fabric for your cushion covers, there are lots of options. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Make sure to choose a woven fabric and not a knit
- Don’t choose anything too thin. Personally I would consider a single layer of quilting cotton too thin for the body of the pillows, though you could use it for the piping.
- Don’t choose anything too bulky. If you choose an upholstery fabric that’s too thick, it will be very difficult to sew at the seams
- I would avoid anything slippery, especially as a beginner
- Woven cottons, linens, (or blends of the two), lightweight denim, canvas, and chambray are all easy to sew choices
- If you choose a patterned fabric, make sure you have enough yardage to cut all your pieces in the same direction as well.
I’m using a patterned corduroy for my cushion covers. As I explained in my Anatomy of Fabric post, corduroy has nap. This means I need to cut all my pillow pieces in the same direction on my fabric. If you are using a patterned fabric, you will want to do the same.
How Much Fabric Do You Need For a Piped Cushion With Zip?
To calculate yardage, first figure out the size of your pillow forms/inserts by measuring from one side seam across to the other. (This assumes it’s a square pillow – if it’s not, you’ll need to measure both dimensions).
If you’re happy with the fullness of the pillow, or it’s quite puffy already, make a pillow to fit those dimensions. However, if the pillow form is fairly flat, you can choose to make a cushion cover that’s a bit smaller. This will squish the pillow just a bit, making it more full.
To make the piped cushion with zip, we will use a 0.5″ seam allowance, which we need around all four sides.
For example, I have 18″ square pillow forms, but they’re kind of flat. I’m going to make a 17″ pillow to make them more full.
For the front of the pillow: We need a piece that’s 17″ + 1″ in length and width. Therefore I would cut an 18″ square.
For the front: Cut 1 piece that is (Finished Width + 1″) x (Finished Height + 1″)
For the back, we are putting in a zipper in the middle, meaning we need two pieces. Each of those pieces needs another 0.5″ seam allowance where they are attached to the zipper, plus the 0.5″ seam allowance on the outside edge.
17 divided by 2 = 8.5″ for each piece. Plus 1″ seam allowance for each of those pieces. Therefore I would cut 2 pieces, 9.5″ wide x 18″ tall.
For the back: Cut 2 pieces: (Half of finished width, + 1″) x (Finished height + 1″)
See the diagram below for a visual representation.
You can do your own calculations to double-check the width of the fabric you want to purchase/use and the size of your pillows.
To be on the safe side, I recommend purchasing 0.75 yd of fabric for one cushion cover, and 1.5 yd for two cushion covers, depending on the size of your pillows and the width of your fabric.
I bought 1 metre of fabric (a couple inches longer than a yard) for my cushions. Because I’m doing just slightly smaller cushion covers and I was careful not to shrink the corduroy too much, I was able to squeeze out two covers out of one metre.
How Much Fabric Do You Need For Piping?
How much fabric you need for piping will depend on how you cut the piping strips to cover your piping cord. You can either cut straight strips across the width of fabric, or cut strips on a 45 degree angle on the bias of the fabric. As I explained in my post about The Anatomy of Fabric, cutting fabric on the bias gives it more stretch.
Because the piping is going to be turning corners around the cushion, having more stretch from bias cut strips will yield a nicer finished product. However, cutting on the bias does require a larger piece of fabric with more waste than cutting straight strips. Either way is fine and I sometimes cut my piping fabric straight across the width if I have a small piece of fabric to work with.
To cut your piping strips straight, you’ll need less than 0.25 yd for one pillow, but 0.25 yd should work for 2 pillows.
To cut your piping strips on the bias, I recommend 0.5 yd, which will also yield enough for 2 pillows.
Materials to Make a Piped Cushion With Zip
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- Fabric for the pillow – see notes above about fabric types and yardage. (This is the fabric I chose.)
- Fabric for the piping – also see above
- A pillow form/insert – I buy mine at Fabricland, but you can even find them at Ikea.
- Cord – more than enough to go around the perimeter of your pillow. Add up the lengths of all sides and add a few inches. Mine is about 0.25″ in diameter. I buy mine at Fabricland.
- Thread to match both the pillow and piping fabrics
- Zipper – a little bit shorter than the height of your pillow – typically you choose a colour to match – a contrasting colour can look cool but it draws attention to the zipper, which you likely don’t want as a beginner.
- Cutting mat – the bigger the better – I like 24×36″
- Quilting ruler
- Rotary Cutter
- Sewing machine – I started sewing with a basic mechanical Singer machine like this one
- Zipper foot
- Seam ripper
- Optional: free printable zipper guide, available at the bottom of the post.
Step 1 – Wash and dry your fabrics
If you’re ever planning to wash your pillow covers (accidents happen!) and you’ve bought washable fabric, wash and dry it according to the bolt instructions or fabric type. It’s also a good idea to wash and dry it how you intend to wash the pillow covers going forward. If intend to throw the covers in the dryer in the future, pre-shrink the fabric in the dryer now so that your cushion covers will still fit after laundering. Don’t forget to wash the piping fabric too.
Step 2 – Prepare your piping strips
Iron your piping fabric and lay it on your cutting mat. I’m using an off-white linen that I’ve reused from some old curtains.
Note: My cord is about 0.25″ in diameter, so I’m going to cut 2 inch wide strips. If your cord is narrower than 0.25″ in diameter, I recommend cutting 1.75″ wide strips.
To cut straight piping strips, cut enough strips that are 2″ wide from the width of the fabric to more than go around the perimeter of your pillow. Square off the ends, and sew the strips right sides together with a 1/4″ seam allowance into one continuous strip. Press seams open. Follow along with the steps to sew the piping around the cord below.
To cut bias strips, cut 2″ wide strips on a 45 degree angle using the 45 degree lines on your cutting mat and quilting ruler to help. If it’s longer than your ruler, you can place another ruler in line – even a school ruler works in a pinch.
Square off the ends of your strips and then join them into one continuous strip. To do so, first, lay one strip right side up from the left. Then lay another strip right side down over top of the first strip and pointing downward. Pin the overlap and draw a diagonal line from corner to corner of the overlapping “square”, starting from the top left to the bottom right. I used a fabric marker, but a pencil is fine because you won’t see it. Sew along the line you’ve drawn.
Flip the seam open and make sure you’re going to end up with something that looks like this. If you did it wrong, unpick the seam and try again. Then trim a 1/4″ seam allowance, and iron the seam open on an angle like this. Continue joining strips until you have a bias strip long enough to go around the perimeter of your pillow front plus a few inches extra.
Step 3: Sewing the piping strips around the cord
Cut a length of cord that is a few inches longer than the perimeter of your pillow front. (For example, mine is 17″ square, so 17 x 4 = 68″, so I’ll cut my cord to be 72″.
Next, put your zipper foot on your sewing machine and thread your machine with thread that matches the piping fabric. Now take your cord and your piping strip. Put the cord in the middle of the wrong side of the piping strip and fold the strip around the cord so the right side shows and the two raw edges meet.
Leave a few inches at the end with the fabric unstitched around the cord (for later!) and put the piping under the zipper foot, making sure the needle placement is as close to the cord as possible. Stitch down the length of the piping. I use my fingers to line up the raw edges before the fabric gets to the needle and to press down close to the cord so I can stitch closer to it.
Stop when you get a few inches from the end of the cord, leaving the other end open too. Cut off any extra fabric so that the fabric is the same length as the cord.
When you’re done, you’ll have a nice length of piping like this.
Step 4 – Cut your pillow sections
Next, iron your pillow fabric. Plan your cuts before you make them, especially if you are cutting more than one pillow and have limited fabric. Remember the direction of the pieces should be the same, especially if your fabric has a print, or your fabric has nap like my corduroy does.
I’m not overly concerned about pattern matching as long as my pieces are all cut in the same direction. However, you can help the match at the zipper by cutting your left and right back pieces side by side with no gap between them.
Here’s an example layout on a cut of fabric.
For the front: Cut a piece that is 1 inch bigger than your finished cushion dimensions for both the length and width. Mark the top of the pillow with a pin, so you know which way is up.
For the back: Cut 2 pieces, each half the finished cushion width plus 1″, and a height of the finished cushion cover plus 1″. Mark the tops of both pieces with a pin, so you know which way is up.
Here are what my pieces looked like:
Step 5 – Sew the centre back seam
Take your two back pieces and pin them right sides together, matching top to top. Lay out your zipper as a guide along the pinned side, centering it from top to bottom. Mark just above the zipper pull and just below the bottom stop with pins in a different direction. Set the zipper aside.
Using thread to match your fabric, stitch down one long side with 0.5″ seam allowance. Use a regular stitch length before you reach the special pin where the zipper will begin. At the pin, backstitch a couple stitches, then switch to a longer length stitch to baste (meaning it will be easier to remove later) for the length of the zipper.
When you reach the pin where the zipper will end, backstitch again, then switch back to a regular stitch length until the end of the fabric. I like to remove pins as I come to them.
Press the seam open with an iron. Then finish both of the two centre back seam raw edges separately with a zig zag stitch – or a serger if you have one (with the knife down so as not to cut the fabric).
Step 6 – Attach the zipper
Below I’m sharing a diagram with instructions for sewing a zipper into the cushion back. If you’d like a free printable PDF version of this guide for easy reference, you can get your copy at the bottom of the blog post. Following the diagram, I’ll demonstrate how I sewed my zipper with photographs.
I also figured out a trick for sewing neat zippers. There is a line of stitching that runs down both sides of the zippers, halfway between the edge and the zipper teeth, and it looks visibly different. If you sew down those lines as a guide, you will have a neat and professional zipper. See the image below.
Let’s put the technique into practice:
Leaving the fabric wrong side up with the seam allowances showing, place your zipper face down along the seam allowances, centered again, with the top of the zipper at the top of the pillow that you marked with a pin. Pull the zipper tab down to open the zipper a little ways. Pin both sides of the zipper to the seam allowance, keeping it centered left to right and up and down. Bring together the two top ends above the pull as if it were still zipped and pin in place.
Put your zipper foot back on, and use thread to match your pillow fabric. As the zipper guide diagram above shows, start sewing at the bottom of the zipper, with the zipper to the right of your needle. Backstitch a few stitches. Sew on the visible lines on the zipper, halfway between the edge and the zipper teeth, toward the top of the zipper. When you get near the zipper pull, PAUSE with the needle down.
Lift the presser foot if you need to, and remove a pin as well to access the zipper pull. From underneath the zipper, grasp the zipper pull and rotate it to the right, sliding it back carefully past the needle and out of the way. Be gentle with the needle down so that you don’t bend it. Then continue sewing toward the top of the zipper, just past the metal top stop.
With the needle down, lift the presser foot and pivot the fabric to sew across the top end of the zipper, backstitching across again to reinforce it. Then pivot again and continue down the special line on the zipper toward the bottom of the zipper. Pause when you come back to the zipper pull to again slide it backwards and out of the way. Finally, pivot at the last corner and backstitch across the bottom of the zipper, past the metal bottom stop.
When you’re done, the zipper will have been sewn in a neat rectangle around the zipper teeth.
Flip the pillow back over to the right side. Using a seam ripper, cut the basting threads that run the length of the zipper. Make sure to leave the backstitched threads across the top and bottom of the zipper intact. Remove any little threads that are poking out before testing your zipper so they don’t get caught in the teeth.
Zip that zipper! See, I knew you could do it!!
Step 7 – Pin the piping to the front
Lay out your cushion front with the top marked with the pin away from you and the bottom closest to you. Take your piping, and start to the left of the centre bottom, leaving the section with the cord unstitched at the centre. Line up the raw edges of the piping with the raw edges of the pillow front and start pinning, working toward the left corner.
When you get to the corner, take fabric scissors and make a series of cuts into the seam allowance around the corner section. Be careful not to cut through the piping seam. Curve the piping into the corner as closely as you can with the seam allowances not going beyond the edges of the cushion fabric. Pin well in the corner.
Continue pinning around the sides and clipping and curving the corners until you get back to the bottom side. (You can now remove the pin marking the top). When you reach the bottom, you’ll have two loose ends with the cord left free.
Joining the Piping Ends
Pull the cords back slightly out of the way and take the two ends of the piping fabric. Pinch them together at a place where they can meet and lay flat without pulling the cushion fabric and place a pin at that intersection.
Lift up that meeting of the fabric and flatten it out, straightening the pin slightly if needed. Place this section under the sewing machine. It’s awkward – do your best to flatten it out. Then sew across the pin line with thread to match the piping.
Lay the cushion back down and see if the piping will lay flat with your new seam, although it’s a bit awkward with the cords in the way. If it’s good, trim a seam allowance with scissors and press it open with your fingers.
Next, trim the two lengths of the cord so that they just meet.
Finally, pin the piping fabric down so it’s all one nice continuous section.
Step 8 – Sew the piping to the front
Use thread to match the piping here – this is very important as it could end up being visible depending on how well we do later steps.
Put on your zipper foot again. Choose a place to start sewing around the edge – it doesn’t matter where. Place the cord to the right of your needle. Backstitch a few stitches and sew as closely as you can to the piping cord.
Ideally, you’ll be able to follow the existing seam line on the piping from when you enclosed the cord. I use my fingers to keep the raw edges of the piping aligned with the raw edge of the fabric and to keep the edge of the piping as close to the needle as possible. Remove pins as you go.
When you get to a corner, put the needle down and pivot, lifting the presser foot a few times if need be and sewing slowly in sections with the needle down. When you return to where you started, backstitch again and clip your threads.
Step 9 – Pin the cushion back on
Take the back section and unzip the zipper a few inches. This is important to be able to turn the cushion right side out later.
Lay the cushion back section right side up. Then lay the cushion top on top with right sides together, and aligning the bottom of the zipper with the bottom where you made your piping seam. Align all raw edges and pin around the whole perimeter of the pillow.
Step 10 – Sew the cushion back
Using thread to match the cushion fabric now, we will stitch around the perimeter of the pillow. Leave the zipper foot on.
Choose a place to start – it doesn’t matter where. Place the cord to the right of the needle. Sew, once again, as close to the piping cord as you can. This time you won’t be able to see the cord, but will mainly rely on feeling it with your fingers. With the cushion top facing up, you will be able to see the line of stitching where you attached the piping. Use that line as a helpful sewing guide. Use your fingers to keep the raw edges aligned.
Again, take your time at the corners. Sew in short sections, putting the needle down and pivoting and lifting the presser foot as needed. Try to sew as close to the cord as you can, especially in the corners. When you get back to where you started, backstitch a few stitches and trim threads.
Unzip the zipper fully and turn your cushion cover right side out, poking out the corners. Check to see if you got close enough to the cord or if it looks like you should try again. I often have to try again. If so, turn it wrong side out again and take another pass with the sewing machine on those sections. If it looks good, great!
This corner has too much piping and the stitching below it visible. I didn’t sew close enough, so I would turn it inside out again and try sewing closer to the piping around that corner. This is also why we used matching thread to attach the piping, so it’s less obvious when this happens.
Step 11 – Finish raw edges
The last step is to finish the raw edges. This will help your cushion cover to last with laundering. Turn it wrong side out.
First, trim down the seam allowance at the corners to about 1/4″ or a little more.
Sew around the raw edges of the fabric square with a zig zag stitch or with a serger (putting the knife down). This will effectively enclose the raw piping edges in between the fabric layers as well. Backstitch at the end and trim threads.
Turn your cushion right side out once more, poking out the corners. Put in your pillow form/insert, and zip it up!
Toss it on the couch or bed and amaze yourself at what you created! You should be so proud. Take a good long while to relax and enjoy it. But you can also dream up all sorts of other pillows you can make now that you know how!
Sewing a Piped Cushion With Zip – Plus Free Zipper Guide
It’s not that scary to sew your own piped cushion with zip if you follow my step by step instructions and use the zipper guide. Once you master the techniques, you’ll be whipping up cushions to update your style seasonally or to refresh your space. Sign up to get your own free copy of the printable zipper guide for easy reference. Then start planning out your pillows!
If you make a piped cushion with zip following this tutorial, share your project on social media with #MixMeasureMakeZipperedCushion and don’t forget to tag me @mixmeasuremake so I can see your fabulous creations!
Also, if you found this piped cushion with zip tutorial and its diagrams helpful, please share it on social media so others can benefit as well. Thank you so much!
All the best,