29 January 2013

DIY: cloth napkin pillow covers

Last week when I showed you our new living room chairs, I mentioned that I’d had an idea regarding some cloth napkins:

You can guess where this is going, right? Napkin pillow covers! A project completed entirely after the sun went down, so you’re getting awfully lit photos! Oh well, you’ll see why I’m excited to show you anyway in just a moment.

I snagged these at HomeGoods, $6 for four napkins:

(I actually bought sixteen napkins for $24 but that’s neither here nor there.)

These napkins are made of durable, thick fabric that I knew would make a lovely pillow (or eight). Although each napkin is generally 19x19 inches, they’re by no means perfectly square. So I chose two that were roughly the same shape and stacked them together with the wrong sides facing out.

Now. This is normally where I break out my BFF Heat & Bond. I’ve used it to hem curtains, to make curtains, to design my own custom dining room linens, and to create skirt panels for the aquarium and the bathroom counter. I’ve even used it make decorative pillows for the guest bed. I am a Heat & Bonding pro.

But here’s the deal. When it comes to living room throw pillows, Mr. P and I... we are hard on them. We sleep on them, we squish them, we shove them under our arms and deform them. If I’m going to cover pillows for the living room, they must be sturdy. And I admit... I just couldn’t trust a Heat & Bond seam to hold up to our abuse.

So, I decided that I’d man up – my thirtieth birthday is under a month away, after all, and this was on my thirty by thirty list – and set this up.


Fortunately, when I inherited this machine from my mom, she’d already completely wound a bobbin and threaded the machine. If you don’t know what those words mean, don’t worry, I barely do myself. The point is that the most confusing part of using a sewing machine (at least, for a total novice) previously been completed, such that it was already ready to go.

Nevertheless, it took me a good hour or two to even figure out that it had already been done for me. Good grief.

Still. I’m a scientist. I quite literally spend my career jumping in to projects that I’ve never done before, armed only with poorly worded protocols and courage to say “What happens if I do this” and the ability to determine just how much I can take something apart before I’m unable to put it back together. I just needed to spend several hours doing just that (while full of contempt for the machine, mind you) until I felt I had finally broken its code.

So you won’t get a sewing machine tutorial from me, probably ever. If you need one, google around – I can’t recommend one because I didn’t use one, instead opting for the “take it apart and put it back together, also swear a lot” method of learning. As such, I barely know what I’m doing, having quite reluctantly entered into this partnership. But I did make these pillow covers with it at the age of twenty-nine, so. Winner!

Anyway. Back to the project at hand. I pinned the edges of the napkins together as best as I could, considering their wonky shapes:

Then set about sewing them together on three sides. Because the footy thingy (you’re just gonna have to get used to my subpar sewing machine terminology) wanted to be inside the previously-sewn hem on the napkin, I ended up sewing about an inch inside the edge of the napkin.

So in theory, my 19x19 napkin should have created a 17x17 pillow cover (by sewing an inch inside each napkin). Yet they still easily fit an 18x18 pillow form. I have no idea how that happened. I cannot unravel the mysteries of using a sewing machine just yet.

Because I wanted to use a pillow form instead of stuffing it by hand, I left one side completely open:

And then flipped it inside out:

Hey! That’s starting to look like a real pillow cover! Or perhaps a tote bag! Let’s go with pillow cover.

Then it was time to stuff in the pillow form and sew up the open edge by hand. For that, I tucked those pre-sewn hems inside (similar to what the inside of the machine-sewn sides would have) and pinned the edges together:

And then just sewed them together with a running stitch on the very edge of the fabric. Pro tip: Make sure you start with a length of thread that’s at least four times the length of the seam you’re going to sew. I thought three times would be enough, and found myself trying to hide the knotted end of the threads three-quarters along one side. Oops.

I actually have half the edge sewn in that photo up there, but you could never tell in that awful lighting. So, here’s the finished seam in the beautiful light of day:

Not bad! And my machine-sewn seams aren’t too bad, either, now that we can all see what’s going on.

So here’s the big reveal. Ta-da! (You know, I miss having an entryway mirror to show off my work with a goofy grin. I may have to start doing that again.)

Actually, this is the big reveal. I made two!

The one on the left? Totally my first try, and it shows (the seams are wonky in the corners). It didn’t help that the napkins weren’t perfectly the same size, but my inexperience is mostly to blame. Still, it’s not that bad. And the one on the right shows that I could totally win the Most Improved trophy!

Here’s the breakdown:

Time spent:
I’m a beginner, so making two pillows took me exactly one hockey game that went into overtime. That’s about three hours, for those of you not super pumped that the NHL lockout is over.

Napkins: $6 for four
Pillows: $20 for two 18x18 pillow forms (I got them at the Lobby of Hobbies, but not during a sale, and I stupidly forgot a coupon)
Miscellaneous sewing supplies: already owned
Total cost: $13 per pillow

So that’s my first sewing machine project! Mr. P was so proud. (Oh, and that’s not a vogue pose; he’s on the phone.)

If we’re being honest, I am, too. And super excited that we’re getting some color in this sea of beige! It’s starting to come together, dear readers. Yay!