Hopefully you’ve now read part 1 of how to make box seat cushions (if not, click here!) and you have everything you need to start sewing. Making cushions for our campervan was the first sewing project I’d ever attempted (may be the last) so it taught me a lot about using a sewing machine and different techniques for everything, from measuring to unpicking.
It was a steep learning curve, but hopefully what I did learn will be useful to other beginners who want to tackle something similar.
This might not always be the most conventional method of sewing, but having read a lot of beginner sewing books and watched a range of tutorials, this is what worked best for me. I know the modern thing is to upload a YouTube video but sadly, the chances of me sewing in a straight line while smiling beatifically into a camera and talking in a calm, rational voice are quite slim. But, if you are more of a visual person, there are heaps of videos out there teaching you how to sew. I watched a lot of these, but found the information would desert me somewhere on the walk between my computer screen and sewing machine.
Some tips before you start:
- I tried every shortcut that was going. I tried to get away without pinning, pressing and bothering with a practice run. It didn’t work and I got into more of a flap. Slow and steady was actually the quickest way to the best result.
- Pinning – try pinning with the point of the pin facing outwards to the edge of the fabric. You’ll often find you can sew over the pins like this, rather than having to remove each one as you reach it.
- Pressing – one of my best purchases was a tabletop ironing board. It was $10 from Ikea and could stay out on the table, which was much easier than putting the big ironing board up every time I wanted to press a seam.
- Have a practice run. I know. Making an entire cushion just as a practice sounds incredibly tedious, but it’s really worth it and if it turns out perfectly, you have your first complete cushion already. Some tips for your practice run:
- Ideally, use the exact fabric you intend to use so you know how the weight will respond, and how you need to match the pattern up between different panels.
- Use a longer stitch (it’s quicker to sew and easier to unpick).
- If you’re already happy sewing in a straight line, you can just practise the corners on a few scraps of fabric. It’s just a case of matching three corners up and sewing to the same point on each one.
Step 1. Getting prepared
Carefully cut out your 6 panels, similar to the diagram here (but with your own measurements). Remember the 2cm seam allowance on each end. The back panel will contain the zip and be cut in two lengthways so allow an extra 2cm on this measurement, 1cm for each half. (If you want to give yourself a bit more leeway, you can always use 2cm for each half.)
Use a fabric pencil to mark the back of each panel whether it’s front/back etc. You’ll soon find they look very similar.
Lay out your panels in your cushion configuration so you know which bit goes where.
These photos are of my smallest backrest cushion.
Step 2. Fixing the front and side panels to the top panel
Starting with the front panel, position it – right sides together – over the top panel, with the bottom seams and corners lined up exactly.
Pin the two pieces together along the bottom seam. Make a small mark 2cm from each end and, using your 2cm seam allowance, sew between these two marks. Backstitch a few stitches at each end to strengthen.
Open out the fabric and press out the seam on each side.
Continue with the two side panels. Position them (right sides together) over the top panel, pin together and then machine stitch to 2cm from each end.
After each panel, open out the fabric and press out the seam on each side.
Cushion corners – an alternative method.
The cushion corners were my nemesis.
The standard method of making a box seat cushion is to use one long strip which curves around the front and sides. Every manual and video advised this is the best way to make cushion corners. I tried. And I failed. I battled with these corners for weeks and only produced very inconsistent results. So I devised my own method, which was far easier, looked much neater and briefly saved my sanity.
Step 3. Corner 1 – front / left / top corner
Look at where your front, left and top panels meet – your three corners should all neatly join up.
Pin along the edge of the front and left panels. Again, make a small mark 2cm from each end (where the corners will be) and, taking care to manoeuvre the top panel out of the way (you should only ever be pinning two pieces of fabric together, make sure the third doesn’t get caught up), sew to the 2cm mark. Backstitch a few stitches.
Now you can turn your fabric the right way round and see how neat and pointy your corner is!
The reason most methods use a single strip for the front and sides is to avoid having potentially weaker seams on the edges. I haven’t had any problems so far but you can strengthen your seams as much as possible by using thicker upholstery thread and backstitching over each end a couple of times.
Step 4. Remaining panels and corners
Once you have the top, front and left panels attached, turn the fabric inside out again and press out all the seams. Continue with the top / front / right corner using the same technique as above.
Then you just have to add your bottom panel and sew its corresponding corners to complete your 5-sided cushion cover. All you have to remember is to line up your edges and leave a 2cm gap at each end.
Note: If you’re flagging, stop at this point for a reviving cup of tea and a jaffa cake, and congratulate yourself on having produced fabulous cushion corners.
Now it’s time to look at the zip.
Step 5. The zip
In a nutshell, you’re going to cut your back panel in two lengthways, then sew it back up (bear with me – this forms the seam), tack the zip on underneath your seam, then machine stitch from the right side through your seam allowance and zip. You can then cut open the seam and open/close your zip.
In the following photos I’ve demonstrated the steps on a prototype using cream fabric with red thread, which shows up more easily. Of course it also shows up mistakes and wonky lines more easily – these will be nicely disguised if you’re using matching fabric, thread and zip, so yours will look much better than this!
Here’s how to do a zip in 20 simple steps.
- Take your back panel and cut it in half lengthways. R= right side, W=wrong side. (Try to cut a bit straighter than in this prototype!)
- Put the panels together (right sides together). Place the zip in the centre, aligned with the bottom seam and make a small mark at each end of the zipper teeth.
- Place the zip to the side. Pin the seam together.
- Using a 1cm seam allowance, sew the two pieces together. Machine stitch long stitches between the two marks (to make it easier to unpick at the end to enable the zip to open) and little stitches for the rest.
- Press open the seam and place the panel wrong side up (the seam will now be right side up).
- Attach the zipper foot to your sewing machine.
- Open the zip and place it wrong side up over the seam allowance.
- Pin the left side of the zip to the seam allowance, with the zipper teeth running along the centre. Placing the pins’ point facing against the way you’re sewing makes them easier to remove as you sew down.
- Place the fabric on the sewing machine and move the bottom panel out of the way so you’re only sewing the zip to the seam and not the panel underneath. (Nb. The reason for this is on a basic sewing machine, you may find the stitches don’t look as neat underneath, and I didn’t want them showing through on the right side of the fabric. If you have a better sewing machine and are happy with how the stitches look underneath, you can sew all the way through to the right side, and can skip the next section where you sew through from the right side.)
12. Close the zip.
13. Pin the right side of the zip to the seam allowance, moving the panel out of the way, as before. Turn the fabric round so the zip pull is at the bottom.
14. Sew down the right side.
15. Turn your fabric over. The zip is now attached in position underneath the seam allowance but is not visible from the top. Press flat.
16. Position the fabric on the machine, right side up with the zip pull at the bottom. With the zipper foot to guide you, sew down the left side of the centre seam. Start around 5mm above the zip stop, and stop when you’re struggling to sew in a straight line around the zip pull underneath. (It doesn’t matter if you don’t reach the end, we’ll continue sewing this line shortly.)
Now all you have to do is turn your 5-sided cushion cover inside out again and attach the zip panel following the previous instructions. Et voila! You’ll have made a beautiful cushion with neat pointy corners!
As per the disclaimer at the start, I started this project as a complete beginner and had to learn from scratch. As such, I’m sure there are simpler (and shorter!) instructions out there in webland. But this is what worked for me, so hopefully someone else can benefit as well. As always – all comments are welcome!