Changing Your Clothes

Shopping, Sewing, Upcycling, Repairing: Make the most of your clothes!

In Re-Covery: The Great Pillow Makeover!


Yes, I missed posting last week’s Makeover Monday, but in a good cause: I was in Seattle, visiting my mom/making over the pillows for her new couch.

Why change the pillows? Well, that’s what I asked Mom: what was the actual issue with the existing pillows? Wrong colors, sizes, shapes? For her, it was a combination of wrong colors and too much of them, i.e. solid-color pillows creating large blocks of colors, as in this “before” picture:

Mom's pillows before

Mom’s pillow issues, pre-makeover: Not terrible, but… the reds don’t match, the patterned pillow seems out of place, the dark-gold pillow isn’t quite the right shade, and all the pillows are the same size. Inset: both the size and the colors of the solid pillows just look off somehow.

In addition to the pillows for the couch, Mom was hoping I’d have time to make a new cover for this seat cushion:

Seat cushion, before

Seat cushion, before. Nothing really wrong with it, but it seems a bit bland with this rug. And these pastel colors don’t relate to the overall palette in the room.

Here are the issues that I saw, along with possible strategies for fixing them:

1. That’s a lot of pattern on the rug, not to mention a huge number of contrasting colors, but only two colors (red and green) on the couch. Incorporate a few more accent colors?

Mom's rug

Mom’s rug, up close. This is an extremely high-quality handmade wool rug that fills most of the living room— with all this pattern and color.

2. Next to this rug, the solid color of the couch looks uncomfortably flat; so far, only the patterned pillow seems to integrate the two at all. Perhaps more patterns on the pillows?

3. Taking the bright, saturated colors of the rug and the warm gold of the walls into consideration, the colors on the couch also look dark, almost muddy by comparison. Brighten up the color palette?

4. There’s something about the size of these pillows (18″ square) that, to my eye, looks just a bit out of proportion with the size of the couch, but we didn’t want to start completely over with new pillows. Add one more pillow in a smaller size?

I only had 2 days in Seattle for this makeover, and after getting a few more details from Mom about what she did (and didn’t) want, we had a preliminary plan, so we headed out to look for fabrics. We went to Pacific Fabrics, near downtown; I remember being there several years ago, but neither of us had been there recently, so it was a gamble. From the outside, it doesn’t look very promising:

Pacific Fabrics

Pacific Fabrics. You have to know where to look for this store, but it’s definitely worth the trip, as we found out! (Click the photo to visit Pacific Fabrics’ website.)

Inside, it’s a bit warehouse-y, but I found it very well-organized, and I also have to say I was deeply impressed with their well-thought-out merchandise mix. For example, since I use invisible zippers a lot in garments, I’ve gotten used to the limited selection of both colors and sizes in typical fabric stores. But when I went to find all the invisible zippers I’d need for the new pillow covers, I was blown away by the color and size range being offered. (Wish I’d thought to get a picture of them!) Also, their decorator fabrics were grouped according to color families, making it easier to coordinate:

Fabric display

Coordinating fabrics in the store. We found these two beauties next to each other; I really liked the striped fabric, and to my surprise, Mom fell in love with the multicolored wavy one! She thought she’d like it for the seat cushion cover, and as you’ll see, she was so right!

We decided on a different striped fabric, a heavy cotton with a similar stripe, but with a jacquard weave (creating a tone-on-tone background pattern) and a brighter gold. And we also found a lovely wine-colored embroidered silk, which I thought would add a new textural dimension to the pillow grouping. Here’s a look at a small part of the decorator fabrics section, with some of our choices on the table in the foreground:


Fabrics in the store. Above the 2 big rolls of fabric at lower left, you can just see a bit of the aqua cotton we picked out for a possible accent pillow; there’s a lot of this color in the rug, and I also really like it in combination with the olive green of the couch. (The purple print on top of the aqua is going into a top I’m making for my mom.)

In addition to all the invisible zippers, some thread, and a 12″ x 16″ rectangular pillow form, we also picked out a beautiful pleated trim, destined for the striped pillow cover. Here’s a detail of this trim, and the invisible zipper, on the finished cover:

Striped pillow details

Striped pillow details. The unusual pleated trim is a perfect finishing touch to the boldly-striped pillow. In the bottom photo, you can just see the zipper pull— the only indication of the zipper that’s hidden under the trim! You can also see the beautiful jacquard design woven into this cotton fabric.

Tip: Mom and I discussed 2 options for the pillow and cushion covers. Option 1: Leave an opening in the cover, then stitch this opening shut after putting the cover on the form, making the cover non-removable. Option 2: Make the covers removable by inserting zippers. For me, putting in the zippers (about $2.00 each), especially invisible ones, is just as easy as hand-stitching the openings, so why not make the covers as versatile as possible? (It’s fun to change the covers around now and then, during the holidays, for example.) So we decided to go that route.

Here are each of the pillows I made:

Embroidered silk pillow

Embroidered silk pillow. Shown here with 2 of the original pillows, you can already see the difference made just by adding a little more pattern. And the luster of the silk looks so rich against the texture of the suede couch.

Striped pillow

Striped pillow. The thin green stripes pick up the color of the couch, while the wide gold bands add brightness; the gold also creates cohesion with the wall color.

Tip: With both the striped pillow and the silk one, I was lucky that I had enough fabric to center the stripes, as well as to match the stripes at the seams. To be honest, I didn’t think about this at all when purchasing the fabric— and I should have. Depending on the size of your pillows, you may need to purchase more fabric than you think in order to plan the placement of stripes; this is one of those details that makes your projects look more professional.

Now, along with the original floral pillow, here’s what Mom’s couch looks like:

New pillows

New pillows (with the original floral one). Just adding more pattern into the pillow covers helps to tie in visually with all the pattern in the rug, and the wall color, compared with the original solid-color pillows.

At this point, since I had to be conservative with my time, the priority was to make the seat-cushion cover. This, I may say, was far and away the highlight of this whole project, for me and my mom— this fabric, especially when we saw it in the context of the living room, just plain made us happy!

Seat cushion cover

New seat cushion cover. I don’t know how or why, but this fabric just works perfectly, with the wood of the chair, and with the rug as the background for it.

Cushion zipper

Cushion zipper. I placed the zipper along the short straight edge at the part of the cushion that sits at the back of the chair. (It almost looks like I deliberately matched the pattern, doesn’t it? I assure you, this was a happy accident.)

Tip: I chose a 9″-long zipper for the cushion cover because that was the length of the straight section on the back edge of the cushion; what I didn’t think about was how I would actually be able to insert the cushion itself into such a small opening! Fortunately, I was able to roll the cushion up tightly enough that I eventually worked it inside the cover, but if I was doing it again, I’d use a 14″-long zipper if possible. Moral: Choose your zipper length to accommodate the pillow form.

After the delirious success of the seat cushion cover, I thought I’d have enough time to make one more pillow, using the 12″ x 16″ pillow form we’d picked up at the fabric store. Initially, I was planning to just cover it with the aqua cotton fabric, but I noticed that, after cutting the seat cushion cover out of the wavy fabric, I had a piece left over that was just a little bigger than I’d need for the top of the rectangular pillow. So I made a reversible cover, with the wavy fabric on top, and the aqua fabric on the back:

Wavy pillow

Wavy pillow. Since Mom loves this fabric so much on the seat cushion cover,  we decided to use what was left over for the top of this 12″ x 16″ pillow.

Tip: See the trim around the wavy pillow? Since we decided on the fly to make this pillow, we hadn’t bought anything to trim it with. Considering all the pattern in the fabric, it wasn’t really necessary, but I had the idea to cut some strips from the striped pillow leftovers, piece them together to make one long strip, then fold it so that the thin red stripe was on the folded edge. I sewed this folded strip into the pillow as if it was piping. You can see details of my improvised trim here:

Wavy pillow details

Wavy pillow details. Here you can see the watercolor-y aqua fabric I used on the back of this pillow, the pull for the invisible zipper, and the striped “piping” I made using remnants from the striped pillow. With the invisible zipper, it’s possible to show either side of this pillow.

Ready to see the before and after shots of the whole couch? (I know I am!)

Before and after!

Before and after! Post-makeover, the entire couch area looks brighter, and there’s definitely lots more surface interest, between the varied textures and patterns. And it all relates to the colors in the wall, couch, blanket, and rug— without looking matchy-matchy.

Here’s another angle, so you can see how the couch fits in with the rest of the seating area:

Another view

Another view of the seating area. Here you can see the aqua armchair (with one of the original pillows on it); this also helps tie in the aqua on the back of the wavy pillow. And I love how the colors in the painting relate to everything. Doesn’t this whole area look vibrant?

And finally, since the only thing that really matters is that my mom is happy with the results, here she is, enjoying her new pillows:

Mom among her pillows

Mom among her (mostly) new pillows. (The floral one on the far left is one of the originals.)

Tip: I do realize that this has been all about pillows, not clothes, but the same principles apply to your wardrobe: if you want to perk things up, start with accessories. Like the changes in Mom’s pillows, try adding a little more pattern, in a floral-print shoe, houndstooth cap, or candy-striped scarf. If you’re happier with solid colors, try some hues that are new to you; how about a little Radiant Orchid to brighten up all those dark winter outfits?

Ultimately, I think we accomplished all my original goals: the color palette is brighter, there are more patterns and textures, we added aqua as an accent color, and managed to sneak in a different pillow size and shape! Between Mom’s adventurous fabric choices and my fast sewing, we made a great team, wouldn’t you agree?

Makeover Monday posts happen (well, normally) on the second Monday of the month. And lots of good stuff happens in between, so visit often!

Author: Colormusing

I'm a writer, color palette creator, and designer of fashion, lingerie, graphics, knitwear patterns, and yarn.

15 thoughts on “In Re-Covery: The Great Pillow Makeover!

  1. Oh, how pretty! I love makeovers like this! 🙂

  2. The little bit of pattern and color makes a great difference to the sofa and surroundings. I love the wavy fabric!

  3. Sometimes that one thing that you thought was a little too crazy turns out to be the one thing that makes all the difference! That wavy fabric is so fun!

  4. LOVE it – the addition of the striped patterns really makes a lovely difference – congratulations!

  5. These colors are so pretty together! I can’t believe all the work you do. 🙂 If I don’t talk to you, just wanted to wish you a Happy Holiday season and great new year in 2014. D

  6. Lindy I’m so impressed! I can’t do this with pillows or clothes!

  7. we love projects like these, the outcome is gorgeous and the process is enjoyable!
    have a great weekend!
    xoxo V & R

  8. I have doing interior design for 30 plus years..Yikes! Adding pillows is a great way to perk up a room. Love it!

  9. sorry..I meant have been doing!

  10. I would have thought that adding more pattern was not the answer. You opened my eyes and you helped me find an occupation for my new main character. Thank you!

    • Funny, because it’s not usually my inclination to mix patterns (including in my wardrobe, although I’m trying to be more adventurous). My mother happens to like patterns, and given all the existing solid colors in the room, it seemed like a good strategy. Thanks for the great comment! And I’m so curious about your character– is this for a story you’re writing?

      • I’m shy about mixing patterns in my clothing, too.

        Yes, I’ve got a new idea brewing for a novel-length fantasy romance. The woman in the couple is being quiet so far. When I saw your blog I thought, yes, she could this type of consulting. That fits with what I know of her. Your blog can be research and fun for me. Win-win!

  11. Pingback: Resolution 2014: My New Dye-It Regime | Changing Your Clothes

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