Pillow Sham (with zipper and piping)

Removable pillow sham with a zipper and piping
1 yard main fabric for pillow front and back
1/4 of a yard of fabric to cover the piping
24″ zipper in a plain or coordinating color
about 2 1/2 yards of piping (some call it cording or welting)
rotary cutter or scissors
ruler or straight edge
a pencil or chalk for marking
seam ripper tool
sewing machine with a zipper foot

The pillow I am covering is 22″ square. The pillow form is down and therefore not very firm, so I cut the pieces for both sides (we’ll call them A & B) of the pillows at 22″ square so with seam allowances, the finished size will be more like 21″ square but will be a tight fit. I would recommend erring on the too small side in the case of covering pillows, the pillow form will look better if it fits snugly, better than loose and baggy. Set these pieces aside.

Lay out the fabric you will be using to cover the piping. Use the whole width of the fabric, from selvage to selvage (I have it folded in half in the picture), most fabrics are about 45″ wide so you will need to cut 2 strips to make it all the way around the pillow.

Use a rotary cutter (if you have one) to cut two 2″ wide strips. Otherwise, mark the cut line with a pencil and use scissors. Nice and straight will make a difference.

You will need to sew the two strips together, so they will make it all the way around the pillow.

With an iron set on high, press the seam open and flat.

Using a regular presser foot but moving your sewing machine needle all the way to the left, sew the piping inside it’s housing. Making sure the seam you just ironed is on the inside, begin sewing in about 1-2 inches from the end. Stay tightly against the cording as you sew. This is more of a basting stitch and won’t look or feel very snug, this is on purpose. Your final stitch will be sewn close and tightly against the piping, in a later step. Sew to within 3″ of the end, but leave the end open.

The piping should look like this when it has been all sewn into it’s casing, both ends left open.

If your fabric is directional or has a specific pattern you’d like to match up on the front and back, like the fabric shown, it is a good idea to mark with pins, on both the front (A) and back (B) pieces, the bottom edge where the zipper will be sewn. That way you won’t forget the special circumstance as you sew and have one pattern going one way on one side and the pattern on the flip side going the other way.

Lay out the piping around side A of the pillow, make sure it’s long enough to make it all the way around. The piping and it’s casing will be sewn with the raw edges facing out, right on top and matching up to the raw edges of the pillow face.

Start with the end of the piping in the middle bottom edge of the pillow. It’s easier as you go to finish off the ends to be far away from the corners, the finished product will look better too- if you start in the middle.

Continue using the regular presser foot on your machine. Starting about 2″ in from the end of the piping, begin sewing the piping to the pillow. The raw edges of pillow and piping casing should match up as you sew.

As you are sewing but before you reach the corner snip out 3 notches (not too deep) in the raw edge of the casing fabric to ease it around the corner. Try and line up your notches with the corner and then on either side of the corner. This should make the piping neatly follow around the corner.

When you’ve made it back where you started, measure and cut off the piping so that the ends match neatly and tightly together. You can even tape the ends together to keep them tidily stuck together.

Their should be about an 1-2 inches of overlap when covering the piping (the picture shows not nearly enough overlap in the ends, it will pull apart to reveal the piping underneath when the fabric is moved, I had to fix it later). Leave a generous amount of at least 1-2″ of fabric overlap to work with on each side.

Lay one end of the fabric down, then with the other end, fold over the edge to make a nice, neat finished edge. Tuck this finished edge into place over the unfinished edge and sew in to place completing the attachment of the entire circle of piping and casing.

The corners will look like this when finished, once again, the piping will feel loose in it’s casing. At this point, it’s still fine and will be tightened up in the final steps.

Get the zipper ready by first making sure that you are attaching it to what will be the bottom of the pillow, the same side you just finished sewing together the ends of the piping casing. Turn the zipper right side down against the right side of the fabric.

Now it’s time to switch to the zipper foot of your sewing machine, keep the needle in the far left position. I find it is easier during this step to keep the zipper in the unzipped position. Beginning by matching up the first teeth of the zipper and the previous stitched area of the piping/casing corner. You are going to sew the zipper as closely to the piping as you can.

When you get to the end, stop when you reach the inside of the corner, where your previous stitches turned the corner.

Zip the zipper back up. Both ends of the zipper will probably have bits hanging over, this is just fine and can be dealt with later.

Fold back the zipper and examine the stitching from the outside. If if feels loose or there is a big gap between the piping and the zipper, fix it now by restitching it more tightly.

Lay side B (no piping) down on top of side A  (the side you just finished sewing the zipper to), right sides and patterns together. The side you previously marked with a pin should match up with the side you just sewed the zipper to- the bottom of the pillow.

Flip the project over and line up the stop end of the zipper, face down, to the right side of side B. It is easier to sew this way, zipper on top, with no zipper pull getting in the way. you Leaving the zipper closed helps side A & B to line up nicely, making a nice square pillow in the end.

Toward the end of the side, unzip the zipper a bit to allow for a nice straight seam and no bulge around the zipper pull. Stitch close to the zipper teeth, about 1/8 of an inch away from the edge of the teeth.

When you open up the two pieces, the zipper, all sewed into place, should look like this.

For a finished look, press the fabric of side B neatly up next to the edge of the zipper teeth and top stitch close to the zipper opening.

Tip: At this point, avoid using an iron next to the zipper, it could melt away all of your hard work.

This is what the finished, bottom, zipper edge shoud look like after it’s been top stitched.

Fold the sides A & B back on top of each other and line up the other three sides of the pillow. Pin in place, if you would like the added security.

This is how the preparations for the final seam should look, side A & B right sides together, zipper finished on the bottom side.

Both right sides of side A & B should be facing one another, with all the corners lining up, zipper closed.

Begin stitching the sides together at the end of the zipper. Continue to use the zipper foot on your machine because now is the time to sew as tightly against the piping as possible. Use your fingers to pinch the piping into the corner of it’s casing and smooth the fabrics for sewing.

Take your time. One common problem is having the feed dogs (under your fabric) moving the fabric through faster than what the presser foot (on top) is pushing. You get to the corner and the edges aren’t matching up. If you sew fairly slowly and watch to see if the fabrics being sewn together are staying properly matched up, you can save yourself a lot of trouble and headache in the end. I like to keep my seam ripper handy to use as a guide in easing the fabric through the needle area and around the corners too.

When you’ve made it all the way around, make a note of how the zipper ends naturally sit together. Then, unzip the zipper at least 4″ to get the bulky pull part out of the way and to allow an opening to pull the pillow right side out. Referring back to your mental note on zipper ends and where they naturally fit, place the two zipper sides next to each other and sew right up next to the top teeth finishing the sewing up of the three sides.

The seam you just sewed should look like this as it comes around the corners.

Snip off the inside corner of the 2 corners that aren’t next to the zipper, this will help the corners to look good when they have been turned right side out.

You may have excess zipper on the end, you can leave it or snip it off.

If you decide to snip the zipper off, keep two things in mind: if it’s a metal zipper it could do some damage to your scissors, be careful. And, plastic or metal, make sure you have sewn over the top of the zipper teeth to create a new stop for the end. Otherwise, when you unzip the pillow the pull will zip right off the edge with nothing to stop it.

Turn the pillow right side out and from the inside push the corners out with your fingers. You may have this problem (pictured above) where the stitching isn’t close enough to the piping, this is especially likely to happen near the corners.

To fix this, turn the pillow wrong side out again and sew even closer too the edge of the piping. It helps to maneuver the piping with your fingers, pushing it to the inside as much as possible. If you feel the final seam around the whole pillow isn’t tight enough up against the piping, simply resew around the whole thing focusing on staying as close to the piping as possible and knowing that you know the corners of side A & B already match up.

When you are happy with the look of the pillow, unzip and get the pillow form ready.

If the fit is tight, ease the sham carefully and slowly over the pillow form… you don’t want to break the zipper and ruin all your hard work.

This is what the finished zippered edge should look like.

The finished product. Now pat yourself on the back, you just pulled off some advanced upholstery sewing moves, well done!!


  1. Geneviève

    April 25, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    I can’t thank you enough for posting such a detailed tutorial. So complete versus the others online, supported by very clear picture.

    1. NoelleOlpin

      April 26, 2013 at 9:23 am

      I’m so glad it was helpful!

  2. Jodi

    May 23, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    Best tutorial I found for sewing a zipper with piping! Helped me figure out the best way to replace a broken zipper on a duvet cover. Thanks very much for your clear instructions and great photos! I might have to add piping to all pillows and duvet covers from now on!

    1. NoelleOlpin

      May 29, 2013 at 9:40 am

      I’m so glad to hear it! It was a heck of a tutorial to put together 😉

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