What you need: Fabric, thread, tape measure or ruler, pencil or chalk, needle, scissors, pins, stuffing or pillow insert; sewing machine and iron optional.
Directions: Cut two squares of fabric that are the same size. Keep the edges as straight as possible (striped or checked fabric makes this easy; otherwise, measure and mark to create a guideline).
Pin the pieces together with the "good sides" (the fabric you want to see on the finished pillow) facing each other. Sew straight along three sides of the pillow, 1-inch from the edge. On the fourth side (usually the bottom), sew a straight seam but leave at least a 5-inch gap in the middle of that seam (big enough to fit your hand through and grab the fabric). You'll need a larger gap for heavy fabrics or if you're using a preshaped pillow insert.
If using a bulky fabric (corduroy, fur, etc.), trim 1/2 inch off the edges at the corners. Turn the pillow right side out by reaching inside the 5-inch gap, grabbing one side of fabric and pulling it through. If needed, use the eraser end of the pencil to poke corners out.
Iron the fabric, if needed. (That won't be easy once the pillow is filled.)
Add filling. The two sides of the gap will naturally come together. Pin them in place. Sew the gap shut.
Optional: Add trim to the edges before you sew the side seams. Around the edges of one square, baste or pin the trim in place with the "good" edge (the side you want on the outside of the pillow) pointing toward the inside of the fabric square. Allow a little extra at the corners to allow for turning. Then, pin in place the other fabric square on top, with the trim sandwiched in the middle. Because the trim is hard to see while sewing, use the basting stitches or pins used to hold the trim in place as a guide for sewing the finished side seams.
How much fabric do you need? It's about geometry. That answer depends on the width of the fabric as well as the size of the finished pillow, typically a square, rectangle or other geometric shape.
Fabric is sold by the yard (36 inches). Most yardage is between 36 and 60 inches wide; upholstery fabrics are typically 54 inches wide. A square of 54-inch fabric is 1 1/4 yards long. That's enough for four finished 16-inch square pillows (plus one 18-inch square of fabric left over). That 54-inch square also is a perfect size for a throw; just hem or finish the edges.
Each simple pillow has two sides. Add an inch to each edge for seams. For example, a 12-inch pillow requires two 14-inch squares front and back.
(You can mix and match materials, too; if needed, selvages the fabric edge can be cut down to a half- inch.)
A half-yard (18 inches) of 60-inch wide fabric is enough for two complete pillows up to 13 inches wide. But those two same pillows would need almost a yard (7/8) of 54-inch fabric.
There's a big difference in the yardage needed for bed pillows. A standard bed pillow measures 20-by-26 inches; it needs 5/8 yard of 54-inch fabric. A queen-size pillow is 20 by 30 inches; it needs 1 1/8 yards. A 20-by-36-inch king pillow needs 1 1/4 yards.
More fabric may be needed to match patterns or stripes, but pillows usually are so small that's not an issue.
No-sew pillows take more yardage. One 12- to 14-inch pillow requires a 36-inch square (1 yard). An 18- to 20-inch pillow needs 1 1/4 yards of 54-inch fabric.
The no-sew bolster pillow uses 3/4 yards.
How much trim: Add up the finished measurements for the four sides plus at least 4 inches for turning the corners and seam margins. (The wider the trim, the more you need for the corners.) A 12-inch pillow requires just under 1 1/2 yards of trim.
How much stuffing: Don't overstuff; it makes a pillow feel hard. One bag of polyester fiberfill is plenty for two small pillows or one medium. Pre-made forms create a good solid pillow shape, but they require careful cutting of the pillow fabric; when sewn together, the pieces have to fit that shape.
What fabric to use? Where will the pillow sit? Outdoor pillows have to withstand sun and water. Indoors, the environment is more forgiving.
Upholstery fabrics make good choices because they can stand up to regular use. But silks and satins have their place on pillows, too.
For beginners, choose a simple fabric with an easy-to-sew surface. Fur can be tricky and takes some patience.
"Don't try anything slippery," said Gina Damoulos of Triad Plus Fabrics in Roseville. "That's tough to sew."
Possible trims: Dress up edges with cording, fringe, balls, ruffles, lace, beads or other assorted edging. Use your imagination. To the front, add buttons and beads for texture and shine. Appliqué fabric cutouts or ribbon.
Edges: The simplest is a knife edge a straight, sharp seam. Flange edges are made by sewing a second seam an inch (or two) all around the pillow's outside margin after turning the pillow right side out.
Zipper or no zipper? Most pillows don't need them. But zippers do come in handy for pillows that may need to be washed often (such as those used by children or pets, or on dining chairs) or for exchanging the inserts from one pillow cover to another (a popular option for seasonal pillows they take less room to store). Triad sells zippers by the yard.
Typically, zippers are sewn into a pillow's side seam or down the middle of the back panel.