Is there anything worse than a lumpy pillow? Well… yes, there are probably lots of things worse, but ya gotta admit, a lumpy pillow is a real bummer. You may be under the assumption all fiber filling is created equal, and that you just punch it in to the pillow cover like you’re stuffing the Thanksgiving turkey. Well, take a step back S4H Stuffing Students, today we’ll discuss types of filling, quality cues to look for on the label, stuffing tool recommendations, and how to properly stuff your next pillow (or other stuffed project) so it looks super smooth and professional.
One thing we always stress in our tutorials is the need to be precise! Accuracy in your cutting and your seam allowances is important no matter what type of project you’re making, but when sewing a pillow, accuracy in the pillow cover directly relates to how good it looks when stuffed. If precision is overlooked, a specific area can look distorted or the item can look misshapen overall. Start with a great outside and you’ll be happier with the end result.
Our review and samples today are based on the Fairfield product line. The depth of their inventory is really the most complete available, and they are easy to find just about everywhere. For more about the company and their products, take a look at our article: Pillow Personality with Fairfield Processing: The Story of The Soft Stuff.
Fairfield products are easy to find! They’re available at the big box stores, national fabric stores, as well as your favorite local quilt shop.
Regardless of brand, each type of filling offered has a distinctive feel and finish, as well as a specific process to how it’s made. The most common type is 100% polyester, like Fairfield’s signature Poly-Fill® brand. However, you will find different kinds of polyester fills on the market. As we mentioned, the polyester fibers are processed differently and/or blended with other fibers to provide unique textures and finishes for specific types of projects, like stuffing dolls or animals versus stuffing pillows.
With the development of more eco-friendly products in general, there are now fillings manufactured with sustainability in mind. The Nature-Fil™ brand from Fairfield offers a bamboo blend as well as a corn sugar filberfill. Of course, there is also the 100% natural, old-school filler: feathers (or down), but you’ll need to take that up direct with your local ducks.
No matter which type of filling you choose, go with quality brand, such as Fairfield. Whenever the word “quality” is mentioned, people usually figure that translates to, “costs a bit more.” It may cost a bit more, however, higher quality filling lasts longer, which actually costs you less in the long run because you won’t have to replace it. Our recommendation is to buy the best quality filling your budget will allow. Fairfield is sensitive to budget, offering a range of quality products at various price points.
There are key words you can look for on the packaging that we call “quality cues”. These consist of one (or more) of the following:
- Will not bunch
- Resists mildew
- Flame retardant
A key to successful stuffing is what you use to get into those hard to reach corners, curves and crevices. We have a list of recommended tools below. Some are official stuffing tools, while others are “off label” as they say. In general, you need a tool that won’t pierce the fabric as you gently push the filling into place.
Official stuffing tools
Fairfield actually provides a “stuffing stick” in their bags of Poly-fil®.
The Clover Stuffing Tool is available at most retailers.
There are a number of official doll stuffing tool sets made of metal, wood or plastic. We found a set at Dollmakers Journey.
Unofficial stuffing tools
- Wooden spoon – the handle end, not the spoon end
- Chopstick – either end works here
- Knitting needle or crochet hook – wooden or plastic
- Pencil (new) – use the eraser end
- T-pin – for really tight corners… be gentle
- Hemostats (yep! the same ones we love for tube turning)
How to properly stuff a pillow (or other project)
We always like to remind you we use plain fabrics and bold colored thread in our tutorials so you can clearly see the technique we’re describing. Of course, you should use the fabric of your choice with a coordinating thread.
First step: be prepared. Before you dive in to your project, stop and consider how you want the item to look when it’s completed, as well as how firm you want it to be. Answering these questions will help you decide which type of filling to buy, and how much you will ultimately use.
In the steps below, we are using a simple square knife-edge pillow to illustrate the basic stuffing technique. Since not all projects are square, you want to make sure you’ve properly sewn and trimmed any curves or corners on your project. To learn more, read our tutorials on how to sew corners and curves. For unusually shaped objects, spend extra time in smaller areas first to ensure the shape is taking form, then work your way out towards the opening.
- Start with a generous handful of filling. Gently pull the filling loose. The idea is to remove any clumps, while fluffing the fill at the same time. Repeat the process 2-3 times before inserting the fill into your project.
- From this worked filling, take a portion equal to the area where you want to begin stuffing. Begin stuffing in one of the corners farthest from the seam opening. As we mentioned above, it’s best to work your way out.
- Whether you use your fingers or one of the stuffing tools listed above, gently, but firmly, push the filling into the corner.
- When you’re stuffing, you need to pay attention to the outside as you go. It’s from the outside that you can really see any lumps or indents forming. Keep in mind, sometimes the solution is to add a bit more filling to the immediate area. Other times, you might need to remove some filling and “work it” some more to remove a stubborn clump. Take the time now, because you won’t be able to fix it later.
- Once the corners (or other tight areas) are filled, you can begin to insert small amounts of additional filling, gradually working your way toward the opening. If you haven’t thoroughly worked through the amount of firmness you want, now’s the time to finalize that decision. When it comes to pillow firmness, we recommend not filling it up so much that it becomes uncomfortable for the user. A pillow should have a pleasing give to it when pressed.
- As you approach the opening and complete the stuffing process, you want to take one last look at the item from the outside. This is your final chance to address any problem areas.
- Stuffed pillows are usually hand-sewn closed. Thread your needle with coordinating thread, and keeping your stitches as small as possible, slip stitch the opening closed. The tiny stitches help insure no stuffing will poke out of the hand-sewn seam.
- As you sew, continue to manipulate the fill so this final area is just as smooth as the others. You may find partially sewing the opening, then adding more stuffing just underneath, will help fill out the area.
Batting and interlining for a smoother shape
- When faced with a unique shape, Donna recommends combining a layer of batting and interlining with your main fabric.
- Cut a layer of batting and interlining fabric the same size and shape as your pillow front and back.
- Layer (in this order) the interlining, batting and fabric. The batting and interlining should be on the wrong side of the fabric.
- Baste all layers together.
NOTE: If you need help on how to baste, check out Machine Basting 101
- Sew the edges of the pillow together, leaving an opening for turning.
- In order to achieve clean corners and edges, we recommend trimming away the bulk of the batting just beyond the seam allowance.
- Stuff the pillow, following the steps above.
NOTE: If this technique seems to make your pillow too thick, you can try a single layer of just batting or just interlining instead of using both.
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Jodi Kelly