Box Cushion Tutorial

Quite often, I have a hard time passing up a good deal.  Even though I didn’t need another set of chairs, the shape, style, lines, and potential these lovelies had made it impossible for me to pass up.  As if I needed more encouragement to just get the dang chairs, the $4.99 price tag did me in.


Clearly, their better days were behind with dings, stains, missing cushions and atrocious fabric.  With a dozen or more full refinishing projects under my belt, I knew the wood would come right back to life with a thorough sand and new stain color.  What I hadn’t done before was sew box cushions.


Measuring and math are seriously the worst in my opinion, and sewing precise covers almost made me lose my marbles.  To get started, I dug three yards of a heavy small herringbone patterned upholstery fabric from my stash.  Let me tell you, that was the most stressful part, knowing I had only three yards, without a possibility of getting more fabric since I’ve had this for a few years.  So, I carefully measured each section of my cushions and marked it on the fabric, leaving as little waste as possible.


The outer black shows the cut lines, while the inner gray shows where I’ll actually stitch.  For every piece, I added 1 inch to my measurement, leaving me with a 1/2 inch seam allowance on all sides.  This is just a little wiggle room to work.

As the chairs originally were, a stretched, worn out vinyl web was the support for the seat cushion.  This system offered zero support and sagged like a weeping willow.  Not going to work, so I decided a plywood base would offer the lacking support, but could easily be wrapped with fabric for a seamless look.

Starting with the seat cushion, I measured from front to back and side to side and cut out one 21 inch deep by 20.5 inch wide top panel for each chair.  The foam was only 3 inches thick, but I cut 5 inch pieces to wrap the sides, leaving extra to staple to the wooden base.  One option to make the side wrap is to cut one long, skinny strip to go around all sides.  With my patterned fabric, even a small, subtle pattern, I wanted to keep the design going the same direction.  When I cut the left and right panels, I cut in line with the design to match the top piece.

Once my pieces were marked and cut, I broke out the sewing machine.  Warning, don’t do exactly as I have pictured here.  This was my first round and while it worked, I did make one small adjustment to my method for the remaining three cushions.  First, pin everything right sides together, but don’t sew a single stitch.


Pretend that right side hadn’t already been sewn and there are only pins in place, because that stitched area adjusted my corner seam.  See how it doesn’t meet up?  Do as I say and not as I show!


On my remaining three covers, I pinned all the pieces together before stitching anything.


Typically, the side pieces would be stitched together first to create that single long, skinny wrap ‘belt’ piece.  I found it was easier to sew the side panels to the top section first, staying an inch or so away from the corner.  Then, I stitched the short box corners, going end to end and reversing to lock in the stitching.


With the sides sewn to the front and the box corners stitched, this is when the corners meet.  I found it easiest to first pin the pieces together like this:


Then to flatten out the seam for a tight corner.


To close the gap, line up the needle where the corner stitching (the brown thread in the above photo) left off.  Start sewing, reverse to lock it in, then continue until the corner where you’ll need to turn.  Leave the needle down, then pivot to continue until you’ve overlapped the side stitching, reverse and one corner is complete.


After sewing two base cushions, I set the foam on my wood base, then covered the top with the sewn box.  I followed the same upholstery process at that point, pulling tightly and making sure the seams fall in place.


To create double-sided, removable covers with a zipper, the process isn’t much different, just a few small changes.  First, rather than cutting four side panels, cut five: left, front, right, top of zipper, and bottom of zipper.  For the ease of it, I cut my zipper sections the same width, leaving extra to cut off before stitching it in place.  Secondly, the sides will be the thickness of the foam plus the seam allowance on either side.  For a two-inch cushion with a 1/2 inch seam allowance, you’ll need to cut a three-inch wide piece.

To create the zipper panel, start by marking where your zipper starts and stops on each piece, centering the zipper on the width.  Then, at a half-inch allowance, sew right sides together on a short stitch (between a 1 and 2) for the areas at the first end, until you hit the mark.  Without removing the fabric or lifting the presser foot, change the stitch length to the longest stitch possible and cruise along until you hit the other zipper end mark.  Change back to the original close stitch and finish down to the end.  Always reverse a few stitches at a starting a stop point of close stitches to create a ‘knot’ and lock everything in place.


Iron the seam flat before sewing the zipper in place for a smooth finished piece.  Center the zipper face down on the underside of that sewn strip and stitch into place as usual.


Once the zipper is in place, turn the panel over and carefully cut out the long stitch in front of the zipper.  This creates a tiny pocket/flap to hide the zipper under.


But the ends are tightly sewn shut still, thanks to the shorter stitch.


Trim off an excess on the sides of the zipper, making it match the width of the other side sections.


Then, follow the first steps, sewing sides to the top, followed by the corners until you’re ready for the back panel.  Open the zipper-this is crucial, or you won’t be able to turn the cover right side out.  Pin the back piece in place and carefully stitch along, working slowly around the corners.


Before turning right side out, snip away any bulky areas, but still leave enough fabric so it won’t tear with use.  If you’re feeling up to it, iron all the seams for really straight, tight seams and corners and then stuff the foam in.  Give yourself a big pat on the back and your favorite treat (chocolate, wine, beer, a nap!) for not giving up/throwing it in the trash/creating something that is a pain in the butt.

Helpful tips:

  1.  Use the longest stitch for the first corners, just to make sure it all lines up and looks good.  If it doesn’t, it’s easy to pull out and try again.  If it does look good, go back over that stitching with a shorter stitch to secure everything in place.
  2. If you’re cutting foam, wait to cut until the covers are sewn.  It’s better to have a tighter fit than to find out you have to stitch with a wider seam allowance to shrink the covers down.  I left my foam an inch wider and taller than my back cushions for a fuller look.
  3. Have extra needles on hand.  I broke one, then had to wait until morning to get extras and it was stupidly annoying to me.

As daunting as the covers seemed, after the first one, I had worked out the kinks and felt much more confident in what I was doing.


The subtle pattern of the fabric is noticeable up close, but looks like a nice neutral from across the room.


If, okay, more likely when I feel up to it, I still need to iron the seams for a straighter, clean fit.  Hashtag OCD problems-ha!


Honestly, sewing the covers went easier with each one.  It seems like a lot of steps and work, but once you get the hang of it, it’s really not so bad.  As long as you have extra needles.  And a good seam ripper.  Have you entered the Minted giveaway yet?

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