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Pillow Personality with Fairfield Processing: Pillow Stuffing Tips & Tricks

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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. 

Quality outside

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. 

Quality inside

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:

  • Resilient
  • Washable
  • Will not bunch
  • Resists mildew
  • Flame retardant
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Eco-friendly

Stuffing tools

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

Farifield actually provides a “stuffing stick” in their bags of Poly-fil®.

The Clover Stuffing Toolis 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. 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.  
  3. Whether you use your fingers or one of the stuffing tools listed above, gently, but firmly, push the filling into the corner.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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

Our friend, Donna Babylon shared her secret technique for smooth, professionally stuffed pillows in the tutorial Summer Fun: Babylon Flip Flop Pillows.

  1. When faced with a unique shape, Donna recommends combining a layer of batting and interlining with your main fabric.
  2. Cut a layer of batting and interlining fabric the same size and shape as your pillow front and back.
  3. Layer (in this order) the interlining, batting and fabric. The batting and interlining should be on the wrong side of the fabric.
  4. Baste all layers together.
    NOTE: If you need help on how to baste, check out Machine Basting 101
  5. Sew the edges of the pillow together, leaving an opening for turning.
  6. In order to achieve clean corners and edges, we recommend trimming away the bulk of the batting just beyond the seam allowance.
  7. 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



Comments (22)

Kay M. said:
Kay M.'s picture

I'm using a loose polyester fiberfill to fill some gumdrop pillows and I've noticed it seems to be coming through my muslin pillow forms any tips on how to prevent this?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Kay - I'm assuming the muslin pillow forms go inside your gumdrop pillows? If so, if a little bit is coming out, that should be okay. The best ways to prevent it is to use a super tight weave for the muslin (or even opt for a polyester) and shorten the stitch length. 

Kay M. said:
Kay M.'s picture

Thanks for the response. That's what I was afraid of, as unfortunately a tighter enough weave means a large increase in the price of the muslin - basic > premium being about $3/yd > $10/yd

Thanks again for answering my question.

Gretchen Tyree said:
Gretchen Tyree's picture

Do you use this filling for crocheted pillows or would a pillow form be better? Re: granny squares. Thank you!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Gretchen - Just granny squares over a pillow form would work but probably isn't going to be a great look. Of course there would be way too many open spaces with just crochet to use a filler. You may want to consider sewing your finished granny square panels onto a fabric base panel. That would also allow you to make the base panel larger than the crocheted panel so only the fabric goes into the seam allowance and the edges of the granny square can remain free. If you create it this way (with a fabric backing), you could use either a pillow form or filler. 

Franca P said:
Franca P's picture

These are easy steps :)  I am wondering how much stuffing would I need for a nicely firm 10 x 10 pillow ?  thanks 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Franca P - there isn't a definite calculation for filler as there are several variables, including the exact firmness you want, the fabric, the type of filler etc. In general, for a small pillow like you are describing, you will want somewhere between 8 and 16 ounces.

Socalcat said:
Socalcat's picture

I followed your instructions for the fill and pillow looks nice and smooth. However the top corners seem longer and turned up even though the material was cut square. Is that a filling technique problem???

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Socalcat - it's hard to tell long-distance since there are a lot of variables, but pillow corners can be tricky sometimes. Since it sounds like everything is already stuffed, your best option is to double-check that you have properly stuffed all the way into the very peaks of the corners. The other option is to un-stuff the cover and re-sew the corners. A standard corner pivot should work with more squares, but there is a trick to sew into the corner at the diagonal to get a flatter look -- you can read about how we did it on these silk pillows: http://www.sew4home.com/projects/pillows-cushions/jewel-box-pillow-pair-...

Tone-E said:
Tone-E's picture

Do you know a quicker way to stuff pillows?  I've been stuffing them by hand and made hundreds of them and my hands hurt for weeks on end.  Is there a home version of a pillow stuffing machine out there that is within a reasonable price?  Or do you have any tips on making one?

DannyII said:
DannyII's picture

I wonder if the blower/shredder attachment on a leaf blower would work for stuffing lots of pillows?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Tone-E, That is something we don't have any experience with... we've never made so many pillows in a row! I don't know of any pillow stuffing machines nor do I have any ideas on making one. It would definitely be a challenge for a machine since pillows come in so many shapes and sizes – the machine would have to be re-set somehow for each new shape, So sorry to not be able to help. 

Anonymous said:
Anonymous's picture

i was just browsing along and came upon your blog. just wanted to say good blog and this article really helped me.

Janet Mahoney said:
Janet Mahoney's picture

You've shown a pix of the 3 dif. types of polyfil but not what the dif. is?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Janet Mahoney - Thanks for being interested in more information. The goal of this article was about the techniques and tools for the stuffing process, and we were more general in showing the variety of fillers available. Below is a link to the Fairfield site were you can read more about the contents of their filler options. In addition, I included a link to another tutorial we have about pillows and pillow inserts.



Joan Hardee said:
Joan Hardee's picture

Thank you so much for all the helpful hints! I already use Fairfield stuffing and I agree that paying more is fine, the end result will prove it! Somewhere in your copy I now know some small things I could improve upon. Once I get this all down, I would love to enter one of your pillow contests.

I look forward to future dealings with you. You have been an inspiration.


gibbylet said:
gibbylet's picture

I feel like an idiot, becuase I was stuffing a pillow last night and i KNEW you guys were doing articles on filling this month, and I didn't take the time to come and look for just this article!  My corners would've appreciated me reading this first ;)

MarciaFlorida said:
MarciaFlorida's picture

Thanks for the tips for softer pillows -- I've been known to have rock pillows.

Cynthia K said:
Cynthia K's picture

Me too! I love love love Poly-Fil and wouldn't consider using any other brand!

carol_j_scott@yahoo.com said:
carol_j_scott@yahoo.com's picture

I love Fairfield's web site and their products are great.  I never realized their products were sold by local retailers I will have to check that out.  Thanks.....