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Top 12 Tools for Pillow Projects

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We get quite a few compliments on our samples and photography, which makes us blush and makes our day! Some of the most common notes are about how "smooth," "straight" or "perfect" things look, along with a request to know, "What are your secrets?". We're firm believers in surrounding yourself with the top tools to get the job done. Having the right tools on hand makes all the difference in how easy a project is to complete, as well as how good it looks when finished! We've found that spending a little bit more up-front can more than pay for itself in the long run. You save both time and money when the project turns out right the first time, plus there's no hair-pulling, no swearing, no hurling things out the window (all reactions we've been guilty of when a tool has failed us). Because we have three pretty pillows this week as part of our 10 Designers & 10 Collections series for FreeSpirit and Rowan Fabrics, we collected our fave tools for pillow making. Read up - gather 'em up - and make a prettier pillow. 

#1 Rotary cutter

If the fabric for your pillow cover is cut accurately, the seams will be easier to keep straight and true; this will make the stuffing or pillow insert fill more smoothly, which will make the finished pillow look its best. It's a cause-and-effect thing, and the reason we have a good rotary cutter at the top of our list. Once you discover the rotary cutter, you'll wonder how you ever lived without it. Seriously, this thing is like the sliced bread of sewing. I suppose, if push came to shove, you could use it to slice bread, but it's best for cutting fabric. We did a nice shopping review awhile back of what to look for and how to use rotary cutters

We like the Olfa 45mm Ergonomic Rotary Cutter.

You can change the blade with single click, each side slides back and forth independently so you can easily switch hands to cut, and the curved handle is nicer to hold on to than a straight tool. 

#2 Long, see-through ruler

If you're using a rotary cutter, you really need a clear ruler to cut against. We recommend a long ruler, 22" or more, so you can easily line up and cut your pillow parts in one fell swoop. The most common sizes for toss pillows are 16" x 16" and 18" x 18" - so a 22" to 24" ruler is a great investment. We have a good tutorial that outlines a number of speciality rulers. We LOVE our rulers because of the number one rule of fabric preparation: Measure Twice - Cut Once!

We like the TrueCut Ruler With Accutrack 6'' x 24'' Clear.

Accutrack allows the cutter to interlock with the ruler so you can make straight, precise cuts every time. We also like the built-in marking holes along the entire ruler through which you can drop your fabric pen or pencil to make a fast marking dot.

#3 Piping cord

As you may have noticed, we love adding piping to our pillows, so we always keep a selection of piping cord on hand. Good standard sizes are ¼" and ½", but variety is the spice of life, and this stuff is very inexpensive (usually jut 25 to 35 cents per yard), so why not stock up?! Then, when the piping bug strikes, you'll be ready. If you haven't already, check out our recent tutorial on how to make and attach custom piping. In addition, since bias tape is what you need to wrap around all your new piping cord, you might also want to check out our review of Simplicity's Automatic Bias Tape Maker.  

Fabric.com carries a good selection of piping cord.

#4 Small, sharp scissors

If you're making a pillow, at some point you'll be clipping corners and curves. A good pair of small, sharp scissors will come in handy every time. 

We like the Gingher 4" Spring Action Scissors. 

Gingher is always a great choice, and the spring action of this pair makes cutting easier. They also have a locking latch mechanism, which eliminates the need for a sheath.

#5 Zipper Foot/Feet

Pillows love trim and we believe the feeling is mutual. But, in order to attach trim successfully, then sew up the pillow with ease, you want to have a Zipper foot on hand. This foot is designed to sew close to the teeth on a zipper, so it's ideal for a wide variety of trims. In addition, many manufacturers have an even narrower zipper foot for those particularly hard to reach places. For more about trims and the feet they love, check out our Specialty Feet for Trims tutorial

Our Janome machines (the machine of choice in the Sew4Home studios) come standard with an easy-to-use Zipper foot that can be attached for a left or right position. Their Adjustable Narrow Base Zipper foot is an economical optional accessory. 

#6 Stuffing tool

A key to successful stuffing is what you use to get the filler into those hard to reach corners, curves and crevices. For more information on how to get a smooth, professional finish with your stuffed projects, take a look at our Pillow Stuffing Tips article.

We like the Clover Stuffing Tool

The bent angle of the tip and the slim grip make it especially nice for delicate stuffing of tiny kitty ears and bunny tails

#7 Button kit covers

Another one of our favorite custom pillow embellishments is the covered button. Being able to add a button in the perfect fabric (either coordinating or contrasting) is a truly professional finish. Covered button kits come in a huge array of sizes and the Dritz variety, our favorite, are available just about everywhere. 

A great size for center buttons or across a seat cushion is 1½", which we found at Amazon.

We also have two great covered button tutorials, one on making covered buttons WITH a kit, the other how to make DIY Buttons WITHOUT a kit.

#8 Curved needle

Similar to the square-peg-in-a-round-hole problem, sometimes a straight needle is awkward for sewing buttons on pillows or closing the seam on a curved cushion. A curved needle can step in to do the job. You can also use them for upholstery projects and tying quilts. 

We found a nice set of four at Amazon for under $3.00.

#9 Invisible Zippers

There are lots of ways to close a pillow, but one of the sleekest options is the invisible zipper. We like the selection from Coats & Clark, because there are tons of colors and sizes, and their polyester zippers have a fine, flexible coil that is easy to install and completely invisible. If you've always been a little afraid of invisible zippers, read our invisible zipper tutorial. They really are easier to put in than you might think; in fact, I think they're easier to install than regular zippers!

Fabric.com carries a great selection of the Coats & Clark zippers.

#10 Hand sewing needle selection

It may go without saying that you should have a good selection of hand sewing needles in your sewing box. But, I'm going to say it anyway! Different weights and textures of fabrics require different needles in order to get nice stitches that virtually disappear. If you're new to hand sewing, we have a great tutorial on the basic stitches.

We like this set of 30 from Dritz that comes with its own needle threader.

#11 Upholstery or Button Twist thread

If you're sewing a button into place, especially a tufted button, you do not want it to come off. Same with stitching a pillow seam closed; you don't want it to open up. Invest in a few spools of the specialty thread made for tugging and pulling. 

Coats Dual Duty Button & Craft Thread is the strongest and heaviest hand sewing thread available. It's a polished cotton over a polyester core. 

Coats Extra Strong Upholstery Thread is a heavyweight 100% nylon thread for machine and hand sewing. It's a bonded 3-ply nylon thread that is weather, abrasion, mildew and UV resistant.

Coats Dual Duty XP Heavy Thread is known for having very low breakage. It's also color-fast and weather resistant with a unique polyester wrapped core. 

#12 Thimble

Finally, as you've noticed from the other items in our list, there's a fair amount of hand sewing in pillow making. Unless you have callouses of steel, invest in a good thimble. Your fingers will thank you. I have actually gotten blood on projects when I've gotten lazy and not worn my thimble! 

We like the Clover Natural Fit Leather Thimble.

It comes in small, medium and large, and is actually shaped to fit a real finger. There are no seams or stitches where the needle hits the thimble, allowing the needle to be pushed from the most convenient spot.

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Comments (5)

Dilynnt said:
Dilynnt's picture

Thank you for the list... I have never heard of the leather timble before...but I will be looking for one this week. It will make my fingers so happy and my life easier. I too have gotten blood on the project!

Jane Coombs said:
Jane Coombs's picture

I am making a sleep sack for a pre-schooler. I have a model to replicate. The top part of it is stuffed to emulate a pillow. Do you think I should just stuff it or should I make a separate muslin casing for the stuffing? If I had say in it my suggestion would be to make so that a separate small pillow like a travel pillow could be inserted; however, they want it all enclosed. The rest of the sleep sack is padded like a quilt. The sack is rolled and stored when not in use, held together with velcro.

Jane Coombs said:
Jane Coombs's picture

The model I have is almost the same as your tutorial! The only difference is that the fleece is serged and there are several velcro tabs to match in the roll up. Thanks for the URL.

GloriaLaVonne said:
GloriaLaVonne's picture

Thanks for the list.  It seems I'm good to go.(sew)

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