Building a Better Box–a Cushion Tutorial

Along with the new paint job, the little bench just wouldn’t have been the same without a new box cushion and some snazzy pillows.

Garden Update August 6 006

While the process may seem intimidating, it’s really quite simple. Since this is the third time I’ve recovered this particular cushion, I figured I had it down pat. It still pays to be careful.

First of all, you measure the top and bottom of your cushion and cut two pieces of material to that exact size. My cushion had spent the last five years outside and was quite grungy, and we were having a worm crisis, so the garage floor was quite grungy. I figured a quick measuring while it was leaning against the shoes would be fine–not so much.

Garden and bend 003

Have you ever heard that old adage measure twice, cut once? Sometimes, I need to listen. Oh well, I’d bought fabric for the cushion and fabric for throw pillows, so I just rethought things a little bit, and decided to make the top of the cushion in one fabric and the rest in another. If I get tired of the contrast of the green, I can always flip the cushion over and give it a new look. See, I didn’t make a mistake, I was just trying to make it more versatile.

As you can see, I stripped off the old fabric–which went directly into the trash–and brought the foam inside to simply use it as a pattern. While we’re talking about the old cushion fabric, I just want to relive once more the beauty of the matching plaids from the cover to the cording to the side panel. I was quite proud of all that matching once upon a time.

Bench and Princess08072013_0000

OK, enough of living in the past. so we’re back to cutting a piece of fabric for the top and the bottom to the exact size of the cushion. Now you may be questioning this. Won’t it be too small? What about seam allowance? It’ll never work. Trust me. You know how your favorite jeans start out a little snug but end up looking great? Fabric tends to stretch, and you don’t want saggy, sad cushions (think baggy bottoms).

So I traced around the foam cushion with chalk, cut out the bottom, and then used that as a pattern for the top.

Cutting Collage

Then I pulled out the zipper for the cushion, measured it, and cut two strips the same size as the zipper about 3-inches wide. My cushion is only 4 inches wide, but I needed room to insert the zipper, and decided to cut it to size after I’d inserted the zipper. I basted the two strips together down the long seam, ironed the seam open, pinned the zipper on top, and then sewed both sides in place. After that I just trimmed the strip to the proper size.

Zipper Collage

Next it was time to make a ton of welting. I wanted to add welting to both sides of the cushion and to the back pillow. The great thing about welting is that it hides a multitude of sins while making your cushion look more professional and wear better. I tried to pick up some cotton cording at the fabric store but ran out of luck, so I decided to use some macrame cord. No, I don’t do macrame, but my grandma did. When someone in my family dies, I’ve become the default repository for anything “crafty”. It’s a little weird that I’ve had stacks of strange things from my Grandma GiGi for the last 20 years, but they do come in handy.

So with a rotary cutter, I cut a bunch of 2-inch wide strips of fabric in the blue, pieced them together, and then started sewing.

Making Cording

Next, I attached the welting to the top of the cushion and to the bottom of the cushion. You need to start sewing about an inch or so from the end of the welting. That gives you room to match things up neatly. Clip the seam allowance at the corners to get a nice turn, and stop just before you get to the end. Cut the cord so you have a bit of overlap. Cut the inner cord to the ends meet exactly, but leave an extra inch or so on the outside casing. Remove a little of the stitching, turn the edges to the inside. Pin it so it all matches up neatly with the beginning (this is why you started a little in from the end), and finish it off so pretty.

Cording Meet Up Collage

So I’d added welting to the top and the bottom, and now it was time to join everything all together. I had a strip of 4-inch fabric for the front along with the strip with the zipper for the sides and back. If you’ve pieced you side strip, make sure the front doesn’t have a seam. I started sewing the side strip to the front at the corner placing the seam there. That way I was certain it would be one unbroken piece along the front.

Start the side panel

When I got to the end of this strip, I turned it right side up and began sewing on the zippered strip. This hides the zipper tab from the outside. I didn’t worry about measuring the side strip lengthwise, so I didn’t have to be perfect. When the ends met up, I called it good. Then it was time to join the top and sides to the bottom. Make sure your zipper is open a little so it’s easier to turn your cushion right-side out.

matching the sides

Once the cushion was done, it was time to stuff the foam inside. My advice here is that a long zipper is your friend. Plastic bags can also help ease your foam into place.

Garden and bend 009

And then it was time to recover some pillows. The back pillow is a king-size pillow in fancy bird fabric with welting. I just cut two pieces of fabric the same size, added the welting to once piece, sewed the second piece of fabric together on three sides, shimmied the pillow in, and hand-sewed the remaining side.

I had some old throw pillows that I recovered in leftover pieces from the box cushion fabric, and for fun, I appliqued some birds on to these. I ironed on Wonder Under, cut out the birds, ironed them to the fabric, and zig-zagged around them in black for durability.


While the fronts of the pillows are all fancy, I left the backs plain. This gives lots of decorating options. Here are just a few in case I get bored.

Bench Collage

In case you’d like more specific directions, check out a decorating book from the library or search online. I’m sure you can find very technical directions with precise details. But if you have cushions in need of recovering, just do it. It’s so much easier than you think.

I used outdoor fabric for the pillows and cushions, so I hope they stay looking nice much longer than the old ones. During the winter, when the rains come, the little bench will be heading back to the portico. Now, I have a cool and comfy place to while away an afternoon in the shade.

What have you been sewing lately? Revamped any pillows or cushions?


4 thoughts on “Building a Better Box–a Cushion Tutorial

  1. You lost me at inserted zipper…a sewer I am not. Although I do own a sewing machine. My sister got all of those genes. (From my grandma.) Feel free to run on over and show me how to do this on my sofa cushion. Fourteen years ago I picked out that couch (and love seat) for our new living room. It is a Queen Anne style, I picked the fabric, and I love it. I am pretty sure I will own it forever. But the couch cushion is soooo worn. I think about reupholstering it, but it is intimidating.

    My daughter, on the other hand, is pretty handy with the machine.

    I think your bench looks fabulous!!!!!!!!!!!!1

    • Maybe your daughter could tackle it. Since it’s a piece you love and want to keep long-term, getting a professional might be worth it.

      Thanks Lori! Hope you had a happy birthday. We’ve celebrated two this week and our anniversary tomorrow.

  2. Thank you so much for the detailed account of covering a cushion. I have covered several chairs in the last 50 years, but this refresher course was wonderful. Aunt Linda and I even covered one for Granny one Christmas. It still looked good years later. It is truly a wonderfully whimsical greeting to your home.

  3. Pingback: August Is Over Already? | bigwhitehouseonthehill

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s