Bolster pillows are those long, cylindrical pillows that make a fantastic addition on any bed, both aesthetically and functionally. They provide excellent neck or back support, and they just look pretty because they break up the right angle-ness of all the other bed pillows. It is this very rounded nature, however, that makes sewing a bolster pillow feel maybe a little intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be this way!
This tutorial will walk you through the entire process of sewing a bolster pillow, complete with zipper and button ends. Ready to begin? Let’s do it.
DIY Level: Intermediate sewing
- Bolster pillow form (example uses a 6”x26” form)
- Zipper at least half the length of your bolster
- Two (2) large half ball cover buttons
- Thick (e.g., button) thread & large needle
- Optional: trim or ribbon to sew along the side of the bolster
- Fabric cut to size:
- One (1) main piece: Find the circumference, or the distance around the circular part of your bolster, by multiplying the pillow form’s diameter by pi (example: 6” x 3.14 = ~18.75”). Add 1.5” allowances for seam and zipper flap, for a total of 20-1/4”. This is the length of fabric required to go around the bolster pillow with a zipper sewn in. The other measurement is the pillow form’s length plus 1/2″ seam allowance, or 26-1/2”. So the main piece will be: 20.25” x 26.5”.
- Two (2) side gathered pieces: Find the radius by dividing the diameter in half (example: 6” / 2 = 3”), then add 1.5” for hem and seam allowances, for a total of 4-1/2”. This is the width. The length is simply the cut circumference measurement from our main piece, or 20-1/4”. So the two side gathered pieces will each be: 4.5” x 20.25”.
- Two (2) zipper stop scraps: Cut two pieces about 1-1/8” wide (or as wide as your zipper fabric is) and each about 12” long. These can be trimmed down later. So the two zipper stop pieces will each be: 1.125” x 12”.
Whew. That was a lot of math. We’re done with that part now, though – now it’s time to sew! If you want your bolster pillow to have a little trim detailing on the sides, now is the time to sew your trim piece onto your main fabric, with the trim running parallel to the circumference cut (as opposed to the pillow form length cut).
(This is what your trim piece will look like on the completed bolster pillow. If that’s a look you like, go ahead and add it now. If you don’t care for this detail, feel free to skip this step.)
Use a straight stitch to attach the trim to your main fabric piece, taking care to keep it far enough away from the edge of your fabric piece to allow for a seam allowance on the gathered sides.
Now you’ll want to serge or zig-zag stitch the main fabric piece edges, along the pillow form’s length cuts. This will help to eliminate fraying near the zipper, which is always a good thing. The elimination of fraying, I mean. Not the actual fraying. Fraying near a zipper is an eternal pain. You don’t need to worry about this if you have a selvedge edge, but stitch along one or both edges if they’re raw.
Now we’re going to tackle the zipper. If you’re like me, you’ve spent a lot of time being intimidated by sewing zippers onto stuff. Don’t be intimidated. It’s relatively painless, I promise. Grab one of your thin 1-1/8” fabric scraps. Fold down one end about 1/2″.
Lay the folded end on one end of your zipper to create a zipper stop. I like to cover up the large, ugly stops that are included on zippers, but you can really place this fabric piece wherever you want.
Using your zipper foot and keeping the machine needle as close to the zipper teeth as you can, sew the folded fabric stop onto the zipper, on both sides of the teeth. (You’ll need to spin your zipper around 180 degrees, probably, to do the other side if you don’t want to mess with switching your zipper foot around from right-to-left or whatever.)
Repeat this process, with your other 1-1/8” fabric scrap, on the other end of your zipper. I find it useful to slide the zipper pull down the zipper a couple of inches to get it out of the way from my machine’s zipper foot. Take care to keep the zipper fabric ends together by pinning them or pinching them together manually with your fingers.
Good job. Your zipper now has top and bottom fabric stops and should be long enough to reach, or longer than, both ends of your main fabric piece’s pillow-form-length side.
Lay your zipper on the ground, right side facing up. Lay your main fabric piece on top of the zipper, right side facing down, aligning a pillow-form-length side’s edge with the edge of your zipper and fabric pieces.
If you added trim to your main fabric piece, the trim should be running perpendicular to your zipper at this point. Center the zipper itself on your main fabric piece.
Pin in place if you want, or simply pinch the pieces together and, using your machine’s zipper foot, sew the two edges together. This will include sewing the main fabric piece to the first zipper stop fabric, then the zipper edge, then the second zipper stop fabric, in that order.
Tip: To sew a straight line, even around the zipper pull, keep the zipper zipped closed until you get about 3” away from the zipper pull end. Leave your machine needle down to keep your place on your seam, but lift your zipper foot.
Slide your zipper pull backwards down the zipper to just barely past your zipper foot. Lower your zipper foot.
Carefully realign your fabric edge with the zipper edge, and continue sewing a straight seam along the zipper, as close to the teeth as possible.
This is what your zipper now looks like, attached to your main fabric piece.
Unfold the zipper so right sides are facing up. You’ll want to create a zipper flap now.
Keeping the zipper and stop fabric flat, use your zipper foot to sew a zipper flap onto the main fabric piece, as close to the zipper teeth as possible. Ideally, your main fabric fold will hit precisely in the center of your zipper.
Half the zipper part is done, and it lies nice and flat now, thanks to the zipper flap seam.
Go ahead and trim off the excess fabric scrap lengths on both sides so they’re even with the main fabric piece. Good work. We’re going to move onto the side gathered pieces for a minute now.
Begin by serging or zig-zag stitching one long side of both of your side fabric pieces.
This zig-zagged side will actually be the side that is gathered up and tucked away underneath the covered button on the very ends of your bolster pillow, so you don’t want it fraying. Do this to both side fabric pieces.
Lay your main fabric piece down flat on the ground, right side facing up and zipper on one side. On the circumference end (the end parallel to the trim, if you added trim at the beginning), lay one of your side fabric strips, right side down, on top of the main fabric piece, aligning raw edges. The zig-zag edge of your side fabric strip should be closer to the middle of your main fabric piece, not aligned on the edge.
Sew the side fabric strips to the main fabric piece ends.
Zig-zag stitch along the raw edges.
Your main fabric piece now looks like this, with a zipper attached and two side strips attached to each end.
Open up the side fabric strips so that all right sides are facing up.
Fold your fabric in half so that the side fabric strips are folded as well as the main fabric piece. Basically, you want your zipper edge to align with the other side of your main fabric piece. Because it’s time to finish off this zipper!
Just as you did before, align all edges and then use your zipper foot to attach the zipper to the side of your fabric, keeping the seam as close to the zipper teeth as possible. Do that zipper pull-moving trick, too, so your seam can stay nice and straight and not make a bump around the zipper pull.
Turn your whole fabric right side out.
You’ll notice that one side of your zipper looks great, with the zipper flap keeping things nice and flat and tidy. The other side, the seam you just sewed, still needs a zipper flap. Now’s the time to do it.
Open up your zipper, and slide the fabric underneath your zipper foot. Sew the flap from one end of your main fabric piece to the other, keeping the seam as close to the zipper teeth as you can. Remember to keep the fold of the zipper flap as close to the center of your zipper as possible; this will help your zipper to become “invisible” when it’s zipped.
There! Two zipper flaps sewn neatly in place.
Position your pillow form inside your bolster pillow case. Zip up the zipper. Can you believe you’re almost done? All you need to do now is gather the side fabric and add on the covered buttons.
You should have two large cover buttons at the ready. Basically, these buttons allow you to cover them in whatever fabric you want. If you want contrasting fabric on your bolster pillow, for example, you could cover the buttons in something that will pop (red buttons on a denim bolster, for example). Or you can keep the fabric the same as the rest of your bolster pillow.
Cut out two circles from your fabric of choice as per your cover button instructions.
These fabric circles need to be big enough to not only cover the button, but also to fold over and attach to the button’s teeth.
Fold over fabric on opposite sides of your button, and attach the fabric to the teeth; I found it helpful to use an old pencil eraser on the teeth. Make sure the fabric is pulled taut on the front button side.
Work your way around the entire button (I found it easiest to work in opposites – a little on one side, then a little directly across from that, etc.) until all the fabric is taut and attached to the button teeth.
Check for smoothness on the front end before you complete your button. If it looks good, then it’s time to attach the button back.
Snap the button back in place. This should cover the teeth and keep the fabric all in place.
Repeat for your other button. You’re ready to finish off your bolster pillow now.
Using heavy duty thread, such as that designed for sewing on buttons or other heavy duty purposes, and a subsequently large needle, knot the thread and begin sewing large basting/gathering stitches about 1” in from the zig-zagged or serged end of your side fabric strip.
Continue, 1” away from the end, all the way around the circumference of your side fabric until you reach the starting point.
Carefully pull the thread so the fabric gathers and closes off.
Keep the thread tight, knot it off to hold it securely. I did a triple knot because I’m paranoid like that. Don’t cut the thread, though, because you’ll still need it to attach the button.
Use your finger to poke the fabric edges inside the gathered hole.
Thread the needle (with your heavy duty thread still attached to your fabric) through the hold on the back of your button, then insert needle into the fabric, directly across the gathered hole from where it started.
Continue sewing in this way – with your needle exiting one point on your gathered hole, through the button hole, then into the position directly opposite on the gathered hole, about four times, pulling the thread tight between each stitch so your button becomes attached with a thread web of sorts.
When your button is secure and there are no visible gaps showing from your gathered hole, you can knot off your thread.
When your thread is securely knotted, and you’re satisfied with the button’s central position on the gathered hole, go ahead and cut your thread end. Repeat on the other side of your bolster pillow.
And, just like that, you’re done. You’ve sewn a beautiful, professional-looking bolster pillow.
Throw that puppy on your bed, and give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done. It looks lovely.
And, because you’ve got a zipper, it allows you to remove the bolster pillow case and wash it as often as you’d like. Or sew another one to change out as the seasons change. Whatever you want!
The possibilities for your enjoyment of this DIY bolster pillow are endless. (If you’re interested in other sewing projects, you might consider checking out some basic How to Sew stitches or sewing your own duvet cover, fitted sheet).