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In our pillow perusal over the past weeks, the style we came across most often by far was the simple, square pillow. It’s a style so easy to make, you could almost do it with your eyes closed… if it weren’t for the stitching-over-your-finger part. The main challenges are finding a great fabric, then fussy-cutting that fabric to best showcase one or more dramatic motifs. However, neither of those things is really that much of a challenge. We located one of today’s fabrics at a local chain retailer and the other at a small independent shop. The only difficulty: picking just two favorites from their large selections. Fussy-cutting isn’t hard either; it simply takes a little patience and precision. We have an easy step-by-step tutorial. When a pillow is as basic as these, the insert is more important than ever. The Fairfield Home Elegance™ pillow inserts are our choice for the entire week, and we couldn’t be happier about that. They have a 100% cotton, 300-thread count jacquard cover filled with a special 100% polyester gel fiber. The result is an exceptionally plush textured pillow with a high-end designer look and feel. These are the most elite and luxurious down-alternative pillows available. And, thanks to their super cushy inside, you can get that high-end, karate-choppable look. We used the best quality, brand new components (no stash stealing) and came in under $50 for the large pillow, under $20 for the smaller pillow; pretty slick savings over retail. See our pillow inspiration after the jump. 

How you prepare your fabric also makes a great deal of difference in a simple square pillow. For today’s samples, we used two very distinct fabrics: one a heavy-weight home décor fabric in a crewel style, the other a standard quilting weight cotton. With heavier fabrics, if you use a premium pillow form, little else needs to be done besides correctly sizing and cutting. If you’re using a lighter weight fabric, consider doing what we often do: add a later of batting (as we are doing today) and/or fusible interfacing (as we did with yesterday’s Grommet pillow) to give your fabric more stability and to create a super smooth exterior. If your fabric is especially lightweight or a specialty fabric, you can even add a third lining layer for a super professional finish

Another great thing about pillow projects is they don’t use much fabric. So even if you choose a brand name home décor fabric, which can often run from $30 to $50 and up per yard, you usually need much less than a yard. And with the super wide widths most home décor fabrics come in (usually 53-60″), you’ll likely come away with enough to make more than one pillow or with a generous remnant to use for another fun project, like a cute bag. 

Our 20″ x 20″ pillow sample is made from a 54″ home décor cut that ran $45 per yard (although we had several in-store coupons that saved us a substantial percentage), but little else had to be done besides to create a stunning fussy cut for each side. 

For our 16″ x 16″ quilting weight cotton sample, as suggested above, we included a layer of batting for a smooth finish

And remember, for the best plump and taut finish, cut your pillow to the same dimension as your pillow form or even a tiny bit smaller. 

Our thanks to Fairfield for providing the amazingly soft and plush Home Elegance™ pillow forms for all our projects. These inserts are widely available at in-store and online retailers everywhere; we provide several link-to-buy options below. 

In addition, we’re excited to share the special 25% discount off Home Elegance™ pillow forms created just for Sew4Home visitors at the Fairfield World Factory Store. Use the coupon code S4H25HE at checkout through August 16, 2013 to get your 25% discount on Home Elegance™.

Sewing Tools You Need

Any sewing machine (we recommend the Janome Magnolia 7325)

Fabric and Other Supplies


  • ¾ – 1 yard of 45″+ fabric for the 20″ x 20″; we used a 54″ home décor fabric with a crewel-look purchased locally
  • ½ – ¾ yard of 45″+ fabric for the 16″ x 16″; we used a 45″ designer cotton fabric purchased locally
    NOTE: In both cases above there is a fabric cut range listed. The amount depends on the size of the motif in the fabric you select. If your fabric has a large motif, get a bit more than you really need in order to allow a wonderful fussy cut. 
  • Optional (but recommended) for 16″ x 16″ cotton pillow: 1 yard of 20″ + lightweight fusible interfacing; we used Pellon Shir-Tailor®
  • Optional (but recommended) for 16″ x 16″ cotton pillow: 1 yard of 20″ + lightweight, low loft batting
  • One 20″ x 20″ Fairfield Home Elegance™ pillow form, available at the Fairfield World Factory Store, as well as Amazon
  • One 16″ x 16″ Fairfield Home Elegance™ pillow form, available at the Fairfield World Factory Store, as well as Jo-Ann.com
  • All-purpose thread to match fabric
  • See-through ruler
  • Fabric pen or pencil
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Seam gauge
  • Seam ripper
  • Straight pins
  • Hand sewing needle
  • Tissue or pattern paper (optional for fussy cutting)

Getting Started

  1. For pillows where it’s ALL about the fabric (there are no additional embellishments), it’s also all about how the design is presented. From the fabric, fussy cut TWO 20″ x 20″ squares for the 20″ pillow and two 16″ x 16″ squares for the 16″ pillow. 
  2. You can eyeball your motif and cut. 
  3. Or, we often like to cut a pattern from tissue paper or other semi-transparent paper in order to really be able to see the motif within a “frame” and get the very best cuts possible. When you have your perfect position, lay a see-through ruler along the edge of the paper and cut with a rotary cutter.
  4. Whatever your choice, take your time and buy enough fabric to be able to center things just the way you want them. 

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

  1. Place the front and back pillow squares right sides together, aligning all four raw edges. Pin in place all around, leaving an approximate 9″ – 14″ opening along the bottom edge.
    NOTE: Your opening should be generous enough to easily stuff in the pillow form, but remember, you will have to hand stitch that opening. Luckily, the Home Elegance™ pillow forms are super soft and easy to compress to fit through a smaller opening. 
  2. If you have a directional fabric, make sure both sides are facing the proper direction when you place them right sides together. 
  3. Using a ½” seam allowance, sew around all four sides. Remember to pivot at the corners and to lock your seam at both sides of the bottom opening left for turning. 
  4. Trim all four corners at a diagonal. For more about corner-cutting, see our tutorial
  5. Turn the cover right side out through the opening and press flat.
  6. Insert the Home Elegance™ 20″ x 20″ pillow form.
  7. Gently fluff it into each corner, working from the farthest side toward the opening.
  8. Turn under the raw edges of the opening used for turning so they are flush with the sewn seam. Pin closed.
  9. Thread a hand-sewing needle with matching thread and slip stitch/ladder stitch the opening closed. Use small stitches to keep your work as unnoticeable as possible. 

Optional layering for quilt weight fabric

  1. Our 16″ pillow fabric is a standard quilting weight cotton. For the smoothest, best finish, as we mentioned above, we recommend adding a layer of fusible interfacing and/or batting. We used both for our sample pillow. 
  2. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse the interfacing to the wrong side of both the front and back cotton pieces.
  3. Place the fused front and back pieces right sides together. 
  4. Make a sandwich with the batting, layering a piece on either side of the fabric pieces. Make sure all the edges of all the layers are flush. Pin in place.

    NOTE: As an added help against shifting, you could hand or machine baste the batting to the front and to the back and then place the fabric right sides together.
  5. As above, stitch all four sides, turn right side out, and insert the 16″ x 16″ Home Elegance™ pillow form
  6. Pin the opening closed.
  7. Slip/Ladder stitch closed.


Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Aimee McGaffey

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