Tutorial: how to make a simple zip-back cushion-cover

In my Absolute Beginners sewing class I teach students to set zippers using a simple zipper cushion-cover tutorial.  The cushions are fun and easy  to make and the students love them.  I thought you might enjoy a tutorial, so you can make them yourself.

This method of setting a zip is a bit longer and more involved than some, but it yields a fool-proof result, which is important when you are first learning to sew.  And even now, I’d rather use a technique that is always going to work perfectly than one that can go wrong!

For this tutorial you will need:

  • One 35cm/14 ” zip
  • 1/2 metre of mid/heavy weight fabric cut into 3 pieces: one square that is 49cm x 49cm (19.25″ x 19 1/4″”) (for your cushion front), and two rectangles (for your cushion back) that are each 49cm x 26cm ( 19 1/4″ x 10 1/4″”)
  • One 18″ square cushion inner

Cushion front piece (left) and back pieces (right)

Step 1: Sewing the zipper seam

    • First, finish the two long inside edges of your rectangular back pieces with zig zag stitching

The two inside edges finished with zig-zag stitching

  • Now, lay your zip down along one of the zig-zagged edges, centering it on the piece of fabric.  Mark the top and bottom of the zip (the top and bottom of the part that actually zips – so the metal and and the top of the slider) with chalk.

    Centering the zip along the finished edge

    Marking the top and bottom of the zip

  • Place your two rectangular pieces right sides together, with the zig-zagged edges aligned.  Using a 1.5cm (5/8″) seam allowance, stitch down the seam, using a regular (2.6ish) stitch length as you start, backstitching at the top, stitching down to the first chalk mark, backstitching again, and then switching your stitch length to a long basting length stitch (4) to sew the section between the chalk marks where your zip will go.  When you get to the next chalk mark, switch your stitch length back to a regular  (2.6ish) stitch length, sew three stitches past the chalk mark, backstitch to the chalk mark, and then sew to the end of the fabric, backstitching again at the end.

    Sewing to the first chalk mark with a regular stitch length (I’ve used 2.8 here)

    Switching to a basting stitch (4) for the long section where the zip will be

    Switching back to a regular stitch length (2.8) at the 2nd chalk mark for the final end section

    The finished seam, with backstitching just before the chalk mark

  •  Once your seam is sewn, press it open.  Lay the zip along the seam, matching the top and bottom of the zip to your chalk marks, and carefully centering the coils of the zip exactly on your seamline.  Pin the zip down.

    The pressed-open seam

    Laying and pinning the zip along the seam, checking that the coils exactly follow the seamline

  •  Once your zip is pinned down, hand baste the zip through all the layers of fabric along the outside of the zip.  For ease of removal, use a contrasting thread, and stitches that are approximately 1cm long.  Once you have basted the zip on you can remove all of the pins.

    Basting down one edge of the pinned zip

    Basting back up the other side of the zip with 1cm stitches

    The fully basted-on zip

  • In order to have a really easy guide line to follow, I like to mark my zips stitching line with chalk.  Using a straight edge and a tailors chalk, mark a line on the right side of the fabric  1/4″ or 7mm from the centre seam line all along the zip.  Mark off the top and bottom of the zip, just above the metal pull and below the bottom stay.

    The line for stitching the zip marked with chalk

  • Now you are ready to machine sew your zip on.  Using a zipper foot and a regular stitch length (2.4-2.8), start at the top corner of your zip, backstitch, and slowly and carefully, sewing right on the chalk lines, sew down the zip to the bottom corner.  At the bottom corner, sink your needle, lift your foot, turn the cushion 90 degrees, lower the foot again, and sew across the bottom of the zip to the next point.  Sink your needle again, lift your foot, turn your fabric another 90 degrees, lower your foot, and sew back up the other long side of the zip.  At the top, turn another 90 degrees, sew across the top of the zip to finish it off, and backstitch.

    Starting at the top of the zip, backstitch and sew down the first long side

    Turning and sewing across the top of the zip to finish it off

  • Ta da!  You’re zip is sewn on.  Double check that your zip remained centred on the fabric, and is fully sewn on on all four sides, and remove the hand-sewn basting stitches.

    The sewn-on zip from the back

    The sewn-on zip from the front

    Taking out the hand-sewn basting stitches

  • Now you can unpick the line of basting stitches covering your zip.  Using an unpicker, carefully cut through the threads holding the seam closed.

    The sewn-on zip with no basting stitches

    Unpicking the seam that covers the zip

    Checking that the zip opens

  • Finally, it’s putting the cushion-cover together time.  With your zip partly open(that part is really important) place your cushion back (with the zip) over the square you cut for the cushion front, right sides together.  Trim off any extra fabric, so that both sides are exactly the same.  Pin your front and back together on all four sides.

    Front and back placed right sides together

    I have a little bit of extra where my back is wider than my front

    Extra trimmed off, both sides are even and pinned together

  • Using a 1.5cm seam allowance (5/8″) and a regular stitch length, start at one corner of the cushion, backstitch, and stitch down one side.  When you get to the next corner stop 1.5cm from the edge, lower your needle, lift your foot, and turn your cushion 90 degrees so that you can stitch down the next side.  Do this at all the corners, until you come back to where you started.  Backstitch, making sure that your stitching exactly meets or overlaps with your start point, so there is no hole in the corner.

    One edge sewed down, lifting and turning at the corners

    The sewn-together cushion cover

  • Now for your last bit of sewing.  Set your sewing machine to a zig zag stitch and zig zag all four edges, lifting and turning your foot at the corners. Backstitch at the end.

    Zig-zagging the edges

    The cushion cover with all the edges finished with zig-zag stitching

  • Final step!  Trim off all four corners so that the cushion will turn nicely, and turn it inside out.  Press the seams, put your cushion inside, put the cushion cover in, and stand back and admire your handiwork.

    The cushion cover with trimmed-off corners

    The finished and pressed cushion cover

Now with a cushion – yay!

I hope that was fun and helpful!  Let me know if you have any questions

Felicity approves



  1. Lynne says

    A terrific lesson! Teaching people to prepare properly means they will (we hope) keep on doing it. Perfect zip!

    And what a beautiful and useful object to learn on – something that is quickly finished and instantly gratifying. Very encouraging.

  2. What a clever way to put the zipper and such a clear tutorial.

    Thank you so much for taking your time to document it !


  3. That’s neat! Why are you supposed to leave the zipper partially open when sewing the pieces together? I’m a total novice over here, so I’m a bit clueless.

    • Try it without leaving the zip open, and see what happens. I’ll be over here, grinning in an evil manner while you do so.

      (You end up turning it right way out through the zip hole. If it’s not left open a little, you end up having to work the zip open from the wrong side before you can. It’s possible, but frustrating.)

  4. Claire Payne says

    I trust that the same principles at sewing on the zip apply to skirts and dresses too? With such a marvellous photo of Felicity to end our tutorial, I’ll be referring to this next time I do a zip.

    • Absolutely – just don’t sew over the top of the zip. Lapped zip insertions work better for side dress and skirt zips though.

  5. I love your blog and this tutorial is great. I make cushion covers but am fed up with cushion inners that go flat after five minutes. By any chance do you know where you can buy inners in Wellington that are firmer, or do I need to go back to making the inners again like I did many years ago?

  6. Demented Seamstress says

    I love sewing tutorials. Thank you!
    I’m not likely to make a cushion cover any time soon, but the zipper part is a great tutorial all by it’s self. The large volume of pictures makes your instructions very easy to follow.

  7. Lori K. Gibson (aka: Obelia Mercedes Gibson {OMG}) says

    Bravo!! Instead of making the edges of the zipper with chaulk – I was taught to use a strip of ‘scotch tape’ – it is the perfect width of the zipper – you stitch – then viola! ! Pull off the tape – you are done!!

    • I sometimes use scotch tape myself, but they don’t sell it in the correct width here in NZ (it’s a little too wide, and sometimes you miss the edges of the zip), and I find that it can leave a residue on some fabrics, so I don’t really recommend it to students.

  8. Narelle says

    Thanks for putting these instructions up Leimomi – they’re great! Will be using them this weekend.

  9. Nelly says

    Thanks for taking the trouble to present such a clear tutorial with good photos at every stage. Have just spent the morning trying to put in my first zip and really wish I’d seen your tutorial BEFORE I started! It’s a great help and hopefully my second attempt will be easier having read your instructions.

    • You’re welcome! Good luck with the second one – they are a matter of practice, but going very slowly and carefully can help.

  10. Louise says

    Thank you for this. So much clearer than anything else I have been able to find. It all makes sense now and I can see where I went wrong with mine. The next one will be so much better.

  11. I have used this method of setting zippers for years and find it very easy and accurate. Your tutorial is very well done! I am excited for everyone whom you have opened the door for to the world of zips!! Good Job!

  12. Geraldine says

    Fantastic instructions. I was a bit scared because I’m a novice , but not now.

  13. Vicki says

    Great tutorial. How do you adapt the measurements for the two back pieces for different sizes of cushion e.g. 20 inch (50cm) cushion?

    • To adapt the measurements, halve your finished size and add 3cm to both length and width) (e.g 50cm = 2 x 53cm x 28cm pieces).

  14. Lynn Anderosn says

    Fab way to do zips. Just tried it as I haven’t put a zip in for over 16 years and it was really straightforward and looks good!

  15. Emily says

    When you cut the corners off the cushion, are you cutting off the right angle edge of the stitching and therefore threatening unravelling, or do you sew back over this?

    • You are cutting off the edges of the zig-zag stitching, but because it’s on the inside of a cushion and doesn’t get much wear and abrasion, unravelling is minimal. If you are really worried, cut and then zig-zag, and backstitch at each corner.

  16. Cassie says

    Hi just wondering is sewing 1/4 inch from the centre seam of the zipper enough to get around the zip pull? I’ve read a few tutorials which recommend stopping and pulling the zipper back behind the needle in order to get a straight stitching line but I’ve tried this method several times and finding it very fiddly and not working…I’d much rather not have to do it! Thanks so much

  17. Emma says

    Fantastic instructions – first pillow came out perfectly!

  18. Done! (and pretty close to perfection too)
    The easiest/clearest zip/cushion cover tutorial I’ve tried – and I’ve tried a few 😉
    Thank-you VERY much Dreamstress.

  19. Ally says

    This tutorial is fantastic – I have been terrified of zips and it took me ages hunting around online to find a decent tutorial that I could really understand.

    I’ve spent three hours today slowly stitching away and have completed my project without any hitches at all. It looks great and I can’t wait to show everybody!

    • Yay! So pleased it helped you! Congratulations on your cushion, and thank you so much for coming back to tell me it worked!

      After you do a couple you’ll probably find that you have the fabric/hand control to be able to just pin the zip in, and then machine sew without needing to hand-baste.

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