Pillow covers are a wonderful way to showcase unique handwoven fabrics, and they make excellent gifts as well. In this article I'm going to show you how to easily make an envelope style pillow cover with handwoven fabric.
For many years I was intimidated by this style of pillow cover—I once made a rather wobbly and mediocre one and let that bad experience scare me off making more. One of the best parts of an envelope style pillow case is that there is a beginner-friendly project that can be sewn by hand or machine—there are no tricky zippers or buttons, just straight seams! If you’ve ever wanted to use some of your special handwoven fabric for a pillow, this article will help you get started.
I’ve broken down the steps for sewing an envelope style pillow cover below. This tutorial is for a standard 20” x 20” pillow, but is easily adaptable for pillows of any size.
Please note! In the photographs, I am making a roughly 5” x 5” pillow for demonstration purposes. The instruction's measurements are for a regular sized 20” x 20” pillow cover.
If your project is fresh from the loom, make sure you wash and finish it before you go to the next step. This prevents it from shrinking after the fact and keeps seams smooth. For example: the Pebble Pillow I designed for Gist Yarn stockist Gather Textiles shrinks 16-18%—which could really affect your finished pillow’s size and shape!
Envelope pillow covers are made up of three pieces: one front and two backs. Your front piece should be 20” square + seam allowances. I like to sew 1/4” seams, so I add 1/4” to each side of my 20” x 20” front, making it 20 1/2” square.
In the photographs, my pillow front is a scrap of natural white checked fabric.
An envelope style pillow case has no zipper — instead, the two pillow backs overlap to keep the pillow insert enclosed. While the finished size of the sewn pillow backs will equal 20” (the same as the front), each piece of fabric needs to be longer than 10” x 20”. Too little of an overlap and a particularly well-stuffed pillow might bulge out; too much and it becomes bulky. Here is how I figured it out:
The width of the pillow backs is the same as the width for the front—20” + 1/4” on each side for the seam.
To figure out the length, I first divided the finished size (20”) in half, since there are two back flaps. I decided a 2 1/2” overlap between the two pieces would work for my pillows, so I added that number to each flap. Next I added 1” for my flap seam — the part that will be visible on the back of the pillow. To all of this, I added 1/4” seam allowance on the top and bottom.
In total, I need to cut out two pillows flaps that each measure 14” long by 20 1/2” wide.
In the photographs I am using two pieces of different-colored commercial fabric to illustrate the two black flaps.
Finish your pillow fronts and backs by zig-zag stitching any raw seams.
To make the hemmed edge on the pillow backs, fold over one edge 1/4” and then 1”. Pin into place and sew together by hand or using a machine. Do this to both back pieces. If you have an iron, press them flat. If you need tips, see my article How to Hem Handwoven Fabric.
We’re ready to sew! Place your pillow front face side up on the table. Take one of the pillow backs and place it face side down on top of the pillow front—the pillow is sewn inside out.
Line up the zig-zag edge with the top of the pillow front and the hemmed edge towards the centre of the pillow. Pin it to the pillow front. Using your needle or sewing machine, sew this flap to the pillow front using a 1/4” seam.
Repeat for the second flap, lining up the zig-zag edge with the bottom of the pillow front. Your back flaps should overlap by 2 1/2” in the middle. This can be bulky, so I like to sew them in two parts to prevent layers from shifting out of place. I like to iron my seams before I move to the next step, but that's optional.
Remove any sneaky pins (double check—trust me!) and turn your new handwoven envelope pillow inside out—you’re done! In order to reduce bulk at the corners, you may want to clip a small triangle of fabric off at each point. Stuff with your favorite insert and enjoy your new handwoven envelope pillow cover.
Now that I realize making handwoven pillows is easy and simple, I am a bit embarrassed that it took me so long to try again. Making pillows is a great way to to use up small amounts of yarn and try special tie-ups or labour-intensive processes. For my little sample pillow I used commercial fabric for the back flaps, but you could weave your own fabric for that perfectly matching look.
Here are a few handwoven pillow cover projects you might enjoy:
There are other ways to finish handwoven pillow covers too—if you’re a more confident sewer, you might like to try adding a zipper. However, some pillow covers don’t need to be removed or don't lend themselves to this style of sewing, so we’ll be looking at how to sew a handwoven pillow in one piece in a few months.
Amanda Rataj is an artist and weaver living and working in Hamilton, Ontario. She studied at the Ontario College of Art and Design University and has developed her contemporary craft practice through research-based projects, artist residencies, professional exhibitions, and lectures. Her textile focus of the material and conceptual nature of vernacular, everyday objects used for the home and body; her work (and weaving patterns) are available at her website, and at Guildworks, or by commission.