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How to Make an Envelope Pillow with a French Seam

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Inside: How to Make an Envelope Pillow with a French Seam

If you regularly read this blog, you may have noticed that I’ve had an obsession with pillow-making. While the topic of pillow-making has been completely covered here, I didn’t want to move on without creating a pillow tutorial for the absolute beginning sewist.

stitching folded seam

How to Make an Envelope Pillow with a French Seam

I’ve created a very-simple-anyone-can-do-it tutorial to teach absolute beginner’s the very basics of sewing while stitching up an envelope pillow.

With this pillow, I’m also including instructions on how to interface fabric and how to sew a French seam. Both of these techniques will be invaluable to your future sewing.

Best of all, you will be amazed at how easy this is!

Supplies:

16” x 16” Pillow Form (Joanns/Hobby Lobby/thrifted pillow)
1/2 yard of 100% Cotton Fabric (quilting weight) {I’ve used 2 Quilting Fat Quarters}
1/2 yard fusible Woven Interfacing (Optional) – affiliate
Pins and Pin Cushion
Water Soluble Marker
Sewing Gauge
Yardstick
Sewing Machine
Scissors
Rotary Cutter, Quilter’s Ruler, Self-healing Mat


Pre-Project Steps:

stitching

You will need to be familiar with your sewing machine. Have it threaded in a complementary color thread with a new needle (80/12). You may want to sew a few practice seams on some fabric scraps before moving forward. If you struggle with this step, check out YouTube for video instructions specific to your sewing machine.


Another pre-project step would be to wash, dry, and press your fabric. You NEVER want to work with wadded up, wrinkled fabric.  

pressing fabric

Step 1:  Find the Fabric Grain Line

See image below to learn how to find the fabric grain. This step is essential when sewing with wovens.

How to Find the Fabric Grain

Step 2: Cutting Out the Pillow Front

pillow front

Cut a square from your fabric for your Pillow Front that is 1″ greater in length and 1″ greater in width than the pillow form. I cut out a piece that is 17″ x 17″ since my pillow form is 16″ x 16″.
 
Pro Tip: If you want your pillow form to fit more snugly, then decrease each measurement by 1/2”.

pillow form

Step 3: Cutting Out the Pillow Back:

Since this is an Envelope Pillow, you are going to need a piece that is a little bit wider for your Pillow Back.

To make the envelope part, follow this simple formula: Take your pillow form dimensions and add 1″ to the length and 5″ to the width.

For our pillow, that means cutting out a piece of fabric that is 17″ x 21″ {because my pillow form is 16″ x 16″ and 16 + 5 = 21}.

NOTE: If you want your pillow form to fit more snugly, then decrease each measurement by 1/2”.

pillow back

Optional Step: Adding Interfacing

Most quilting-weight fabrics cost around $5-$10 per yard while décor fabrics cost around $20-$$$$ per yard.
 
A good way to make an inexpensive quilting-weight cotton act like a décor-weight fabric is to interface the back. Doing this will make your inexpensive fabric feel like an expensive fabric.
 
I prefer a fusible woven interfacing like Pellon ShapeFlex 101 which can be picked up at Joann’s or Hobby Lobby. (affiliate)

interfaced body

The product comes with instructions, but all you need to do is set your iron to wool/steam. Place the fusible side of the product onto the wrong side of your fabric. {HINT} Cut out the interfacing 1/4” smaller on each side and it will fit the fabric better.
 
Press (with steam) for 10 seconds, working across your fabric until the interfacing covers the back of your fabric.


Step 4: Cutting Pillow Back in Half 

cut in half
two pieces
all pieces

Once you have your Pillow Back cut out, flip it so the wrong side is facing up. Find the middle of the 21” side; this will be 10.5″ from the side. Draw a cutting line down the middle with a water soluble marker.Next, cut the Pillow Back in half on the cutting line. This will leave you with two pieces that are 17” x 10.5”Now, you have all of your pillow pieces cut out.


Step 5: Finishing Edges of Pillow Back

You will now need to finish the edges that form the ‘envelope’ for your Pillow Back before attaching the Pillow Front to the Pillow Back.

You are going to create a double-turned hem, like you find on most jeans.

pressing folded edge

Fold the long edge (the side that is 17″) under 1/4″ and press.Now, fold over the same edge a second time and press. Doing this encloses the raw edge of the envelope portion of the Pillow Back. That’s how simple it is to make a double-turned hem.

second press
stitching seam
finished edges

Repeat on the other Pillow Back piece.Stitch down the folded edge of both Pillow Back pieces using a 2.5mm stitch length.You now have two Pillow Back pieces that are 17” x 10”. When you assemble the pillow, the two finished edges will overlap to form the envelope.

pillow back seams

About French Seams

We are about to attach the Pillow Front and the Pillow Back pieces using a French seam. This type of seam encloses the raw edges and gives you a finished look on the inside as well as the outside. It is also extremely durable because it is double stitched.

Normally, when you attach seams together you place your fabrics Right Sides together. Then you stitch a seam and turn the fabric.

wrong sides together

This gives you a clean edge on the outside of your project and raw edges are on the inside of your project.

right side out
regular seam wrong side

A French seam is different because it encloses the raw edges and creates a ravel-proof seam. This is done by stitching the seam twice.

wrong sides together

Begin by pinning your fabrics Wrong Sides together.Stitch together using a 1/4” seam allowance.

stitching
finished seam
pin right sides together

Stitch together using a 3/8” seam allowance. This will allow you to enclose the first seam and will prevent any ‘whiskers’ from showing on the front of your project.

perfect french seam on inside
outside french seam

If you are new to sewing, you may want to practice this method before continuing.


Step 6: Attaching Pillow Front and Pillow Back 

Constructing pillow cover
right sides up

On a flat surface, lay out the Pillow Front with the wrong side facing up. With wrong sides together, lay the left Pillow Back piece on top of wrong side of Pillow Front, matching the left corners. Pin to hold.Next, with wrong sides together, lay the right(hand) side of Pillow Back on top of Pillow Front. This piece will overlap the left side of Pillow Back.Using a 1/4” seam allowance, stitch around the entire pillow, backstitching at the overlaps.

sewing
drop needle
corner pivot
clip corners

Carefully remove pins as you stitch. You do not want to sew over pins.When you come to each of the corners you will want to stop sewing, drop the needle, and raise the presser foot.Pivot the fabric around the corner, lower the presser foot, and continue sewing until you reach your starting point.Carefully, clip the fabric from each corner to allow for less bulk when turning. Be careful not to cut into the seam allowance.Turn pillow inside out with Pillow Front and Pillow Back pieces now facing right sides together.

pin seam allowance
finished stitching

Press the seams flat and pin along the 3/8” seam allowance. Stitch a 3/8” seam around the pillow’s perimeter; be sure to pivot at the corners.Can you believe that this is the inside of our pillow cover?Turn the pillow cover right side out. Push out the corners with something that has a blunt tip, like a knitting needle or chop stick.

pillow front

Press the entire pillow cover until it lays flat.

pillow back
inserting pillow

Slip the pillow form into the envelope opening in the back.


finished pillow on chair

Simple and chic! The possibilities are endless…


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35 Comments

  1. Wow Leslie what a thoroughly detailed tutorial! Can you believe, I’ve never sewn a French seam in my life? Maybe now is the time!!!!

  2. How nice of you to give such a detailed pillow tutorial for the sewing newbees. It helps build confidence with a successful project. I’m crazy about pillow making too!

  3. I’ve made bunch of pillows, but I didn’t know about adding interface to the back of the fabric. Thanks so much for sharing that!!!

  4. Hi, I’m new to sewing but have started making cushion covers using silk. This tutorial is great, the only bit I’m confused about is where you have said “Begin by pinning your fabrics Wrong Sides together”. Which two pieces are these? It looks to me that they are the back pieces but this is confusing? Sorry to be thick!

    1. Thank you for this great question ~ I always want to clarify instructions. The “Begin by…together” applies to Step #6 when you are attaching the pillow front to the two pillow back pieces. Because the Back is in two pieces, you will attach one side of the back Wrong Sides Together AND then the other side of the Back Wrong Sides Together. Then, follow the rest of the directions. Let me know if you need more clarification.

  5. I’m also confused about the part that says “Begin by…together”. Sorry to be doppy but I don’t understand your explanation of “attach one side of the back”? Please could you give further clarification, I’m still confused! Thank you!!

    1. French seams are a two-part process. Most fabrics are attached ‘right sides together.’ With French seams, you attach ‘wrong sides together’ first, then turn the fabric so the seams are then ‘right sides together.’ Try the method on some scraps first and you will see how this process works.

  6. What a great way to teach French seams – I intend to add this (along with the piping tutorial) to my sewing lessons for my granddaughter. I am having so much fun reading your older blogs. I always learn something and find such useful info.

    1. I’m thrilled to know that my tutorial will be used to pass sewing on to the next generation. Thanks for sharing this 🙂

  7. Love. This. I love making pillows – this is great! Thanks so much for linking up to the “Best Of The Weekend” party! Stay tuned for the next party this Fri. eve – I’m ramping it up “a couple of notches”!! In the meanwhile, I am pinning this!! 🙂
    xoxo

  8. This was a wonderful tutorial. I linked to it in a recent post, so I wanted to share that post with you. Our little blog is getting some good traffic from this post, so I hope the traffic love is heading your way as well.

    Again, thanks for sharing this amazing tutorial!

  9. This is a great tutorial – I’ve always wondered what a French seam is. Can’t wait to try this technique! Thanks!

  10. I’ve just ordered a sewing machine and I have been reading and watching all the tutorials I can find. Thanks so much for making this one for beginners. I’m excited to try it out!

  11. Hi Leslie! Thank you so much for the great tutorial. I made my first of two pillows yesterday and it came out really well! I’d like to add a caveat for other beginning sewers that if your seams are greater than 1/4″ on your first part of the French seam (mine were a little crooked in some places), then trim them down so they’ll fit inside the second seam. After I trimmed and restitched the second seam it looked great! Thanks again, and can’t wait to try the skirt next!

  12. i just happened upon your website and your instructions are so clear and detailed. Thank you so much for all of this! Can’t wait to look through everything you’ve made available. 🙂 Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!!!

  13. Hi! Just a quick question. Do you use the fusible Woven Interfacing on the front and back sections of the pillow, or only front side? Thanks in advance.

    1. It depends. If I’m using a heavy fabric I don’t interface. If I’m using something like a quilting cotton, I do interface.

  14. Thank you sew much for the great illustrations and simple details for the French Seam finish. I learned this method years ago, but had problems with the pokies sticking out. My instructor said to always do 1/4 ” seams, and nothing about the 3/8″ seam. This solves the problem, and well as making it look very professional!!!!

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