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Pillow Stuffing Tips + Tricks
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.
We also discovered a stuffing tool that looks like a mini barbecue fork. We found it Heather Bailey’s online store, called a Stuffing Fork. It’s also available in a Mini version
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
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What are your thoughts on poly fill vs cluster fill, please?
Also, if I want to stuff a pillow covers that are the following sizes, approx how much fill do I need?
30 X 50 cm
45 X 45 cm
Hello Kat — in general, we prefer the polyester fiber fill options over the cluster fills. The cluster fill seems to have more of a tendency to clump, but if you have something quite large to fill, the cluster can be an easier option to take up the space; it can then be layered over the poly fill to “soften” the finish. There are quite a few variables on exactly how much filler you’ll need. Some of that is simply personal preference regarding how taut you want your final pillow to be. As a VERY general estimate, about 16 ounces… Read more »
I have coiled cotton to stuff my pillow, will that work okay? I am attracted to using natural fibers… I’m getting, the idea that I will need to fluff it quite a bit since it is in these coiled strips. Any suggestions on how I fluff cotton?
Hello Kristen — we’ve never worked with that for pillow stuffing, but – yes – it would take a lot of fluffing to make it lofty enough for a pillow. It might be easier to search for organic raw cotton stuffing/batting online in your area. That fiber should be “pre-fluffed.” If you want to work with what you have, you’ll need to pull apart the fibers with your fingers — a small wire brush or wire cat comb might also help.
Thank you! Sounds like a patient project- but a good opportunity to play with fiber.
How do I reduce the volume of a feather pad to stuff a cover ( without taking any feathers out) . X
Hi Ali – hmmmm – that’s a pretty tall order since the feathers are what give the pad/pillow its fluff. The only thing I can think of beyond removing feathers would be to open one of the pad’s side seams with a a seam ripper about 3-4″ and force out whatever extra air might be trapped inside. A bit like you would push the air out of a Ziploc plastic food bag prior to zipping it all the way shut. With all the air forced out, the pad will be about as small as it can be without messing with… Read more »
How much stuffing would I need to stuff a big seating pillow of 1mx1.2m ?
Hi Janica – We don’t have a specific guide linking the amount of filler needed to the size of a pillow/cushion. There are other variables that come into play in terms of the project design, structure, the type of “firmness” you are hoping to achieve, etc. With something quite large like you’re describing, you might want to investigate a mixture of fillers, perhaps starting with bean bag pellets (which are often sold in bags designed to “fill one bean bag”) then maybe mixing in some polyester fiber fill for additional softness. When we design pillows that are to be used… Read more »
about how much stuffing does it take to make a pillow that is 36cm by 36cm?
Hi Taryn – Unfortunately, there isn’t a set amount by size since there are so variables, like how tightly you are going to stuff (plump or slouch), what size bags are available to you, are there any unusual points/corners in the pillow, etc. In general, for a small pillow like that, you should be able to use a 20oz bag and have some leftover.
I need to make 12 pillows all the same size. Three will be sewn to the inside back of four kitchen chairs. How do I measure the polyfill so that they are even? Thank you!
Hi Connie – I don’t necessarily have a 100% perfect answer for that because there are a number of variables in terms of the quality of the filler, how diligent you are when “fluffing and stuffing”, the size and shape of the cover, the fabric type…. etc. But, in general I would suggest starting with one pillow cover as your sample/prototype. Fill it to the desired fullness, keeping track of how much stuffing you’ve used. Then, weigh it, and use that weight as a guide for the other 11. If you don’t have a way to get a weight with… Read more »
Where can I find this polyfill
Fairfield Poly-Fil is available at hundreds of retail outlets both in store and online. You can browse their main website to see all the options and find the best ways to get it in your area.
I sew a lot of odd shaped pillows of people’s pets. I have a hard time keeping the stuffing in small tight places like cat’s pointy ears. I use the back end of a wooden spoon to get it in there but it seems to come out as I stuff the rest of the pillow. Any tricks for this type of stuffing project?
Hi Lisa — It sounds like you have the right idea overall. If you’re not already, start with the small tight places first getting those firmly stuffed. Maybe switch from the spoon to something thinner, like a chopstick or long knitting needly – that might give you more control.
Better yet, pin the ears after stuffing, temporarily, so that the filling doesn’t come out
Thanks. I have been squishing it in the corners as much as I can but when I continue to fill the pillow it sneaks out of the darn corners. I thought about the pins. I have some bigger ones I might try that.
@Lisa – Let us know how it goes – great suggestions all around.
I, too, am having this problem, which I never remember having before when I made dolls years ago. I need parts of the doll stuffed very tightly and the stuffing won’t stay in. I’ve wasted quite a bit of time and am frustrated. I’m using Fairfield polyfil and (I believe) a poly/cotton fabric.
Hi Pearl – Polyfil is traditionally what we use for our stuffies and we haven’t had the trouble you’re describing. The only thing I can think of to offer is that I know some doll makers prefer using a wool stuffing because it is heavier and I understand it can be stuffed a bit more tightly. We haven’t tried it ourselves but have heard of this recommendation.