Sewing Projects

How to Sew Seat Cushions

Sit on It Some More, Jen

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Updated August 25, 2020.

Right now the summer days are too hot for my taste and it is difficult to escape the heat.  Our area is built for the colder weather, so for the few weeks each year when it gets really hot, it can be very uncomfortable.  As a general rule, I think that sweating bullets while you are just sitting is wrong.

Thankfully, we live by the water and the breeze off the river often gives us a reprieve.  That is why we built a deck the width of the house out back.  My husband and I are still working on furnishing the deck so that we can enjoy the space fully.  To start, we wanted an outdoor couch to sit on and read, and from which we could enjoy the view.  In an earlier post I explained how good furniture cost more than I wanted to spend, and how I was sure we could build the couch ourselves.  My mom and sister suggested I purchase the seat cushions first, and then build around them.  Since good seat cushions would cost as much as a couch all complete, I decided to make those too.  The process I took to prepare the cushions is explained in the post: How to Make Seat Cushions.

Once the innards of the cushions are prepared, you can move on to creating and sewing the covers.  For help preparing my patterns and steps to make a box cushion I found a video tutorial from  Besides fabric, you will need thread and zippers.  A marking pen is really useful too.  I have tried the chalk pencils, but they are not clear enough.  The disappearing ink pen works better for me.  I also chose a strong upholstery thread for the project in the same color as my Sunbrella fabric.  Individual zippers did not come in sizes long enough for the long seat cushion, but the zipper roll pictured was available in a gray pretty close to the color of the fabric. I found it fairly easy to use and have had enough left over to use on several other projects.

Since the deck is uncovered and the cushions are not meant to be left out in storms, we have to bring them in when it rains.  However, the Sunbrella fabric will help to prevent wear from the sun and prolong the life of the cushions.   Using my Joann Fabrics app, I waited for notifications of sales and was able to get the cut of fabric for 50% off.  That is a huge savings for a quality material.  The color palette outside our house is cool tones, so I chose a light gray that I think was called gull. 

If you have a quilter’s rule, mat, and rotary cutter, those tools will make the next steps easier.  

Following your pattern, mark out the largest pieces on your fabric first.  The width of this bolt was just wide enough to fit the length of my largest piece, including the seam allowance.  Ink from the pen disappears somewhat quickly, so I marked and cut each piece one at a time.  Since I knew the width of the fabric when I purchased the bolt online, and because I calculated how much I would need and planned how to orient the pieces ahead of time, I could mark and cut the pieces in this manner.

Although I really like the durability of this fabric the cut edges were fiddly to work with.  Once cut, the weft would peel out and unravel the edge, so working more carefully became more important.  You may be able to see an example of this in the lower left corner of the photo above.  Pinning two pieces that were meant to go together as soon as they were cut made the fabric a bit less frustrating to work with.

The next step was to cut the edge pieces.  All of the edge pieces could have been combined to make one perimeter piece.  Although the bolt was long enough for that, I decided to cut four separate pieces and have the seams line up on the corners in the front or on the tops, as the case may be.  Looking at our living room couch cushions, I noticed that the zippers ran along one edge and overlapped to the sides a few inches.  This was a great idea as it would make getting the cushions in and out of the cases for possible washings much easier.  When adding the length to the zipper panel, be sure to subtract the additional inches from your side panels. 

Variations like this one are another example of why I often prefer to make something myself.  Pieces in your home will be more unique and special because you made them yourself and they are tailored to yours and your family’s needs.  Plus, the endorphins from the accomplishment is pretty great.

Line up your measured marks and cut out the edge pieces.

Then, measure to length and cut your zippers.  Remember to move the pull tabs off the length you are cutting and leave only the one you need per zipper.  This step will alleviate later frustration that could occur from having to get a pull tab back on a zipper!

As in the video tutorial, I began sewing my zipper panel.  Sewing a zipper or a button hole was something I had always thought would be really complicated until I did another project and my mom showed me how.  I was so surprised at how few steps there were to adding a zipper, and at the same time felt really proud of myself thinking, “Look what I can do!”

Except for that half an inch where the seam ripper went off course that I had to repair later, this came out really well.  As my husband said, “If I didn’t know that [error] was there, I wouldn’t have noticed it.”  

The zipper panels would be hidden within the couch, but I am happy to report that I did even better on the back pillows.  This one was a warm up. 😅

One step I would not have thought of on my own was to open the zipper a little when sewing the box cushion covers.  Once all the right sides are sewn closed, you will not have access to the pull tab unless you have opened the zipper a few inches ahead of time.  MAKE sure you do this.  I was very thankful for the reminder from the tutorial.

Sew together all of the edge panels, end to end.  Then, pin the right sides of the top and bottom panels to the edges and sew.  Remember that if you are doing a zipper panel longer than the longest edge, like I did, that you should not align that panel to the corners.  I found it easier to line up the panel opposite the zipper to the front edges of the top and bottom panels first, since they were the same length.  

Next, check your alignment and begin sewing.  This is a lot of fabric to hold onto at once.  Take your time and go slowly so the cushion cover doesn’t get folded over onto and sewn to itself.  The cover looks pretty good so far:

The photo below shows the zipper panel sewed to the top panel and overlapping the edge as described earlier.

The top panel is attached to the edge panels!  I had to stop and enjoy how this idea was finally coming together.  Seeing the right sides looking all clean was very rewarding.

Pin the bottom panel to the edges and sew the last panel in place.  Remember to open the zipper a few inches first!  

You can really see the fraying edges of the fabric’s weft in the photo below.  Even though my cut with the rotary cutter and quilter’s rule were very straight, this fabric had the tendency to unravel at the edges.  That is probably my only complaint about the material and the entire process.  I have not tested a scrap piece with pinking shears to see if that helped at all.  Once the panels were sewn together I didn’t have any further trouble with the fabric.  The material is excellent when turned right side out. 

Press open the seams with your iron when you are done.  Then turn your cushion cover right side out and stuff the cushion inside.  Repeat the process for the two back cushions.  

Following are some photos of the finished product.  I was and still am super excited with how they turned out.  They almost look professional.  Even more important: they are really comfortable, firm with a little give.

Here you can really see how the zipper overlaps the edge.

Making the cushions myself has been so worth it.  Though we did not have much opportunity to use them last summer (Thanks a lot EEE 😒), we are definitely getting more use out of them this year.  I am certainly glad I made these cushions out of durable materials, as I predict they will get a lot of future use in fort construction and imaginative play as our son grows older.  It is not a use I anticipated when I embarked on the project, but one I look forward to in the coming years that brings back good memories.  

Did you build forts from the couch cushions as a kid?  Do you think you will tackle this project too?  Best of luck if you do!  Contact me if you have any questions.

Check out the post on building the couch to go with these awesome cushions.  📯 (Tooting my own horn.)  You are just one more project away from enhancing your outdoor space.  I look forward to hearing about your renditions.

Until the next project,

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