Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Pillow Sham with a Zipper Tutorial

It’s my first tutorial on the blog!  Woohoo!  I’m pretty amazed that I remembered to photograph the steps for this DIY since I was sewing like crazy to get these pillow covers finished.  I starting making pillow covers so long ago that I can’t remember exactly when I developed this method.  I do remember reading tons of books and DIY sites looking for an easy way to make a pillow sham with a zipper closure and so many of them called for additional adhesives or had instructions that honestly didn’t make any sense.  I ended up developing my own little way of doing it, and so far so good!  All of the shams I make for clients and those in my online shop have zipper closures sewn in using this method, so I stand by it. 

So without further ado, here is how to insert a zipper into a pillow cover, the easy way!

Here’s what you will need:

Fabric – cut to the size you would like your cover to be, mine shown is 18x18 inches
Zipper – I purchase all my zippers from Zipit on Etsy, and I always buy 4 inches smaller than the cover size, so mine is a 14 inch zipper
Sewing Machine
Zipper Foot for your sewing machine – some machines come with them, mine did not, but I was able to order it online at amazon for like $6 or something
Seam ripper

Begin with your fabric placed right sides together and pin along the bottom edge where the zipper will go. 

Now we are going to create the hidden pocket for the zipper to sit in.  With your sewing machine set at a medium size stitch, I do 3.5 on mine, stitch from the first edge in, about 2 inches with a ½ inch seam.  The size of the seam is important, if it is too small you will be able to see the raw fabric edge when you unzip your pillow. So make sure to give yourself at least ½ inch.

Once you have gone 2 inches, backstich a few stitches and then then switch the stitch length to the longest that your machine will do, mine is 5, and stitch across to about 2 inches in from the other side.  Turn your stitch length back to 3.5, backstitch again and then finish stitching to the end.  You can see in the photo where I backstitched to define where the larger stitches start, this also keeps the pillow from trying to pull apart when you are using the zipper and inserting your form, keeping everything nice and tight.

Press the seam open with an iron and get ready to pin!

This is where I kinda went my own direction, but I think it totally works!  Many books and tutorials will suggest using iron on adhesive or tape to keep the zipper in place, but you don’t need it!  Lay your newly sewn fabric pieces right side down on a flat surface.  Gently pull at your seam and find where the large stitches start, this is where we want the zipper to be begin.  Pin the zipper front side down, just at the top, and then flip the entire thing over, so that the right side of the fabric is now facing up. 

Starting at the bottom of the seam (opposite of where you just pinned), roll the fabric up towards the top until you get to your pin.  Feel for the zipper teeth and place a new pin right under the previous one so that you can start pinning on this side.  Remove the old pin.  Slowly unroll the fabric, sticking a pin thru the right side of the zipper, under the teeth and back up thru the left side of the zipper and the fabric.  I space them a few inches apart so the zipper doesn’t have too much room to move around.

Once you have your zipper pinned and nice and flat, you’re ready to sew!  Make sure your zipper foot is attached, and start sewing at your first pin.  The zipper foot will keep your needle from sewing on top of the zipper, but remember to keep your stitches within a ¼ inch of the main seam so that the zipper and the fabric flap both get sewn together.

Once you get to the bottom, you will see that the zipper has a little metal bottom stop to keep the slider from sliding off.  Make sure you do not sew thru the bottom stop – it’s a great way to break your needle and scream because your machine will make a crazy noise.  Feel for it under your fabric and look for where your stitches get small again.  With your needle in the fabric, lift the foot of the machine and turn the fabric 90 degrees to the left.  Now, your needle can sew thru the plastic teeth of the zipper, but go slowly.  Stitch to across the zipper to ¼ inch on the other side of the main seam.  I like to go back and forth over the zipper a few times to make sure the main seam won’t pop open while I’m wrestling placing a pillow form in there.

There's the little booger stopper :)

Head back down the fabric until you meet up with the starting point.  You will probably have to take the fabric off the machine to move the slider down a little bit in order to finish the stitches all the way around, but just repeat the same method as you just did at the bottom.

Ta-da!  All sewn on and now time for the more fun part.

Grab your seam ripper and find the first large stitch on the right side of the fabric and start ripping!  As you rip them open you will see your beautiful new zipper in its new found home.   There will be some threads to pull out but that’s it!  Your zipper is in!  Finish the other edges as you normally would, and be sure to leave the zipper open so that you can flip your pillow right side out once you are finished. 

If you like to serge your edges of your finished shams, be sure to use your serger on the zipper sides before installing the zipper.  That will save you a headache.

Photos like this make me laugh, it's like the pillow is hungry and trying to nom something 

Any questions?  Comments?  Got a quick and easy sewing solution of your own?   I would love to hear about it!


  1. This is the best pillow tutorial I've come across. Thank you!
    What machine do you use? . Same machine you do your gorgeous embrodery with? Thanks

    1. Hi Catherine! Thanks! I made this pillow on a heavy duty Singer machine, which is currently out of service, and now I use a Janome HD-1000. It's just a sewing machine, I do all my embroidery on 2 brother machines. Happy sewing!