A beginner-friendly project: a cushion cover

A few friends have expressed to me their desire to learn how to sew but getting started in sewing is potentially very daunting. What equipment is needed? Is it expensive? Do I need to buy a sewing machine? How do I buy fabric? These are just some of the questions that may come to mind.

So what I want to do with this post is present a really beginner-friendly project. This cushion cover can be sewn by hand (don’t underestimate the simple running stitch!), or by machine, and requires very little fabric depending on the size of the cushion cover you want to make. I managed to whip mine up in a couple of hours so overall it isn’t a huge investment in terms of time and material.

what you will need:

  • approx. 1/2 m of fabric (with at approx. 140 cm length). This project is suitable for most fabric types but for beginners I would recommend a medium weight cotton.
  • coordinating thread
  • a cushion insert (mine is 42 cm x 42 cm)
  • pins
  • a ruler (a metre stick is nice but not a necessity)
  • an air/water erasable marker or chalk
  • an iron and ironing board
  • a needle if sewing by hand
  • fabric shears (for a beginner any large scissors will do – if sewing is something you want to invest more time in then get fabric shears)
My fabric i.e. the most perfect fabric there ever was.

Instructions

pro-tip: before you start, wash and press (iron) your fabric – the fabric you buy from fabric shops is not necessarily pre-shrunk and the weave can shrink in the first wash. Wash your fabric before so you don’t get any nasty surprises after the first wash! Unfortunately I speak from experience.

The first step is to draft out a pattern for your cushion cover. This does not have to be to scale, but it is helpful to figure out what size you will need to cut your fabric rectangle. First, measure your cushion insert – mine is 42 cm x 42 cm. Then follow the example below to draft the pattern for your cushion cover. Squares A and B are the front and back of the cushion cover and C is the underlap. The length and width of A and B correspond to the size of your cushion insert. You want the underlap to be approx 1/4 or 1/3 as long as the main cushion squares so I made mine 14 cm. On the short edges of the rectangle, add 2 cm on each side. On the long edge add 1.5 cm seam allowance. Your pattern piece will be the total length and width of the rectangle you have drawn – mine is 102 cm x 45 cm.

terminology: seam allowance is the area of fabric between the edge and the stitching line.

My pattern.

Next, use your ruler and marker/ chalk to draw your rectangle on to the fabric. Make sure to check all your measurements before cutting out, as you can see from the photo I did not get mine perfect on the first go. You can use the selvedge edge as a guide to start your rectangle as this edge is straight.

terminology: the selvedge is the tightly woven ‘self-finished’ edge that runs along both sides of the fabric. This edge does not fray.

This is why you always check your measurements, kids.

Next, cut notches in the long edges of the fabric on either side of where the B square will be. So for my cushion this was a notch 44 cm along and 86 cm along from one end.

terminology: notches are a short cut or marking in the fabric that are used to indicate where to match points on pattern pieces e.g. notches are used to indicate where to match bodices and skirts when connecting them.

Just make sure your notch doesn’t cut into your seam allowance.

Next, hem both the short edges of the rectangle with a double-fold hem. To do this, fold the edge under by 1 cm and press, and then repeat this step. pin the double-fold hem in place and sew.

Sewing machine pro-tip: When starting a seam, sew a couple of stitches forward then a couple of stitches in reverse before carrying on with the seam – this secures the seam. Repeat at the end of the seam as well.

I drew out the lines I needed to fold along with my marker.

Next, fold over rectangle A at the first notch so that it lays right sides together (RST) with rectangle B. Pin the two edges together and sew in place with 1.5 cm seam allowance.

A folded over B.

Terminology: the ‘right-side’ of the fabric is the side which will be facing out when the project is complete – if you are using fabric with a pattern, the patterned side is the right side.

Sewing machine pro-tip: in order to ensure your seam allowance is consistent you can use the grooves in the plate on the sewing machine or use a sticky note to mark where your desired seam allowance is in relation to the needle.

So the third groove along is my 1.5 cm line.

Next, fold over rectangle C at the notch so that the right side of rectangle C faces the wrong side of rectangle B, pin both edges and sew in place with a 1.5 cm seam allowance. Finish this seam in your desired method. I used a narrow zig zag stitch on my machine and trimmed the excess seam allowance away.

C folded over B.

Finishing seams: Finishing a seam refers to any method by which the fraying of the seam is minimised. There are many ways to do this but the most beginner friendly are either using pinking shears (which create a zig-zag edge which minimises fraying) or using a zig-zag stitch on the sewing machine. You can also sew a blanket stitch or whip stitch if sewing by hand.

An itty-bitty zig-zag stitch.

Finally, turn the cushion cover right sides out and you’re done! You may have to put the cushion cover through the washing machine to get rid of any chalk or marker lines but otherwise put the cushion insert into the cushion cover and admire your handiwork!

I need a proper sewing room solely for this cushion.

This project is also great as there are many ways to modify it to make it more advanced. Add buttons and buttonholes if you want a challenge, or decorate with embellishments!

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