How to add a zipper to a quilted pillow
What's your relationship with zippers? I kind of remember learning to sew in a zipper back in school.
Sidenote, in Switzerland (where I grew up) kids are taught "textile arts" from grade 3, so I learned knitting, crochet, embroidery, and of course sewing and how to use a sewing machine back then. I'm pretty sure adding a zipper to a skirt was in there somewhere, too.
But I'm also pretty sure it was the first, last, and only zipper I sewed between then and about 4 or 5 years ago when I started making a few clothes for myself. Although I always tried to make things that had elastics or snaps because frankly, I was a bit terrified of zippers.
But, I love a zippered closure on a pillow. It's just so much neater than an envelope back, or snaps etc. And it's actually really fast. So, I learned how to sew a zipper into a quilted pillow case so I could make all the lovely pillow samples for my patterns.
My preference is to sew the zipper into the bottom seam of the pillow, rather than in the back. I like that when the pillow is standing on the couch, the zipper is hidden, and the pillow can be used both ways. You could technically even put two quilted sides on it...
Either way, though, I wanted to write this tutorial for anyone else who might be a little (or a lot) scared of zippers. They really look scarier than they are, trust me.
You will need:
- a quilted pillow top, trimmed and squared up. I'm using my Spinning Top pillow for this tutorial, but scroll to the bottom for some other quilt pattern suggestions for pillows.
- a piece of backing fabric the same size as your finished pillow top
- a regular (not invisible) zipper around 2" to 4" shorter than one side of the pillow top
- a zipper foot for your sewing machine
- straight pins
- pillow insert to fit your pillow size. The Spinning Top pillow top finishes at 21" and I'm using a 20" insert. If you like a more "stuffed" look for your pillows, get an insert that's about 1" larger than your finished pillow (or trim your pillow if the design allows it)
Mark the placement of the zipper
Place the zipper along the edge of the pillow top where you want to insert it (I prefer the bottom edge if the pillow pattern has a distinct top and bottom).
Insert a straight pin into the pillow top at both ends of the zipper to mark the start and end of the zipper. Make sure you mark the metal bits of the zipper, not the end of the ribbon. The metal bits is where the zipper starts and stops, the ribbons extend beyond that. Put the zipper aside.
Sew the first seams
Lay the backing right side up, then lay the pillow top on top of it, right side down.
Sew a 1/2" seam from the edge of the pillow to the pin, on both ends. Secure your stitches at the start and end of each of those two little seams. The rest of that side of the pillow will have an open gap, that's where the zipper will go in.
I flipped the "sandwich" over in the picture below so it's easier to see my seams on the pink backing.
Pin the zipper in place
Open up the two pieces of the pillow, place them right side down, and press the seam open with your fingers (or you can press with an iron, too), all the way across the opening. This should leave you with a pressed 1/2" seam allowance along the gap, and that's what you will attach the zipper to.
You can just about see the floor peeking through the gap in the picture below.
Lay the zipper face down over top of the gap and check that the two seams come right up to the metal clamps on the ends of the zipper.
Now pin one side of the zipper to the seam allowance on that side, making sure the zipper is still lined up properly in the gap. Only pin it to the seam allowance, not all the way through the pillow top or backing fabric.
Sew in the zipper
Install the zipper foot (and make sure you know how to use it, or keep the sewing machine manual handy) and sew one side of the zipper to the seam allowance.
When you get near the zipper pull, stop with the needle down, lift the presser foot and slide the zipper pull past the needle. Put the foot back down and continue sewing until you reach the end of the zipper ribbon. Secure your stitches at the start and stop.
You'll see in the picture below that the zipper is only sewn onto the seam allowance, not through the backing.
Repeat this for the other side, pinning the zipper in place along the seam allowance, then sewing it in, moving the zipper pull when you get near it.
Finish the pillow
And that's it already for the zipper! Now all you have to do is finish sewing the pillow.
Important: Open the zipper before you continue here. You'll need to turn your pillow right side out when you've finished the seams, and it will go through the zippered opening.
To finish the pillow, place the backing and pillow top right sides together again, matching up all the edges and corners, and sew all the way around with a 1/2" seam (with your regular presser foot again).
Trim off the corners, then flip right side out through the open zipper.
Insert the pillow form, zip the zipper, fluff, and pat yourself on the back! You just made a zippered quilted pillow.
Other pattern options for the pillow top
I used the Spinning Top pattern for this pillow, but here are a few other pattern suggestions for quilted pillows.
Both of these traditionally pieced patterns have directions for a pillow size.
- Any of the Ice Cream Sunday quilt blocks
- Swirly Lollipop
- Mini Flocks
- Rainbow Star
These FPP block patterns can easily be made into a pillow by either enlarging the templates on a photocopier, or adding borders around the finished blocks.