Up North and a Quick Pillow Cover

I have a lot to share – our trip AND my first sewing tutorial…

Last week we packed up the car and the dog and drove the LONG trip “up north” (as native Michigan people refer to it) to Lake Charlevoix. The oldest of my two brothers wife’s family has a family “cottage” (3 bathrooms doesn’t fit MY definition of a cottage, but what do I know?) on the south arm of the lake, which they are generous (and perhaps a bit crazy) and invited us and our 75 pound Golden Retriever, Wrigley, to come up and escape the unrelenting HEAT in St. Louis. For those of you with children, small or not, packing a car with only one dog instead of two children makes for a lot more room in the car. Wrigley is an awesome travel companion – no whining, griping, moaning or irrational requests to stop along the 12-hour trip.

We added a day trip to Petoskey (the Nina and Pinta arrived the day we were there), had some serious dock/reading time and generally enjoyed a lack of heat and humidity. We did get a little whiny when the temperature rose to the 80s, but karma is a bitch – it’s going to be 97+ or something ridiculous here today.

Here is the view I enjoyed every morning – me, Wrigley, some ducks and coffee looking across the lake.

As a grateful guest, I made some indoor/outdoor monogrammed pillows for my brother and his wife. Since this IS after all, a FACS-related blog, it is due time I put in some FACS-related information! One of the projects the 8th graders make in our district is a zippered gym bag – mentioning the word zipper sends chills and memories of nightmare Home Economics experiences for some – but we have an easy way to do it in class, the kids seem to do a good job and you can, too!

This is a variation of the technique I use (I like to use zippers on pillow covers so it’s easy to change them around and cuts down on the hand sewing required.)

Note: I used 2 fabrics, sewn together to make these pillows – a blue stripe and red shell pattern because I didn’t have enough of the red to be able to fit the pillow form…necessity often begets creativity?

Cut two pieces for the back of the pillow – the length (plus 1″ for seam allowances) and the width (plus at least 4″ to allow for the zipper and seam allowances, extra can be trimmed after the zipper is inserted).  The piece on the left will be where the first part of the zipper will be attached. I usually cut it about 1/4 of the width of the finished pillow.

Press under 1/2″ on the more narrow piece – make sure if you have a one-way pattern to keep the pattern going the correct way; and 1 & 1/2″ on the wider piece.

My teacher in junior high always reminded me that I would spend about as much time at the ironing board as I would at the machine when sewing – she was right – without good, consistent pressing your finished project won’t look “finished” and actually may take longer to put together.

Check out the cost of this zipper…the store, Hill’s (before Wal-Mart took over the world of retail) was in State College. We lived there 25 years ago…always buy zippers when on sale, you NEVER know when you’ll need one!!


Center the closed zipper on the narrow piece, and using a zipper foot, sew close to the teeth. Make sure to sew the entire length of the fold, so it looks finished.

Pin the wider piece OVER the first, matching the upper/lower edges and make sure the flap you have pressed under will both cover the zipper and attach it to the fabric. This will cover the zipper in the back. Pin through all the layers, adjust the zipper foot and sew the entire length from top to bottom. I prefer to sew from the outside (right side) of the fabric to ensure the stitching is straight – just keep checking to make sure you are connecting all 3 layers (fold AND zipper tape).

Ta-da!! You have inserted a zipper in the back of your pillow.

Now is the time to adjust the width of the back of the pillow to match the front, trimming the excess as needed. Sew the 4 sides (make sure to leave the zipper a little bit undone – makes it easier to turn right side out!) and you are DONE!  I like to square off the edges of the front and back of the pillow pieces using a self-healing mat, L-square ruler and rotary cutter.

After sewing a 1/2″ seam around the 4 sides, I like to finish the edge with a serger – if you don’t have a serger a tight zig zag will do the trick. A drop of Fray Check (or any other similar product) at the end of the serging  will keep the threads from raveling.

A nice pop of color for the beach chair (I used indoor/outdoor pillow inserts, but do not suggest washing the covers unless you pre-washed before sewing, which I did not do.)

Hope this will help you make your OWN pillow covers with a zipper in the back.

Next? Gazpacho is on the menu at this house – in the meantime, keep cool.


About Susie

I teach Family and Consumer Sciences at a large suburban high school in the St. Louis metropolitan area and have been in the classroom since 1985 - my goal is to stay relevant and innovative even though I've been around long enough for Wilma Flintstone to have been my mentor! Married since 1983 and mom to two adult children who live out of state. About to become a first-time Mor-Mor (grandma) in December.
This entry was posted in DIY, FACS, Home Decorating, Sewing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Up North and a Quick Pillow Cover

  1. Those pillows are BEAUTIFUL!!! 🙂

    • Susie says:

      Thanks so much! I just finished a pillow case project for my kiddos at school to make next year, they are a quick and rewarding project.

  2. Liz Burgess says:

    Great tutorial! I think the kids will love making them! Great lake pictures, too! Looks like Wrigley had a good time! So glad you enjoyed yourself!

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