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If you are just starting out making your own soft furnishings, cushions are a great way to begin. Cushions designs are extremely varied, but once you've mastered the basic techniques your skills can be adapted to produce a wide range of exciting designs

Before you dive straight in though, take a look at this simple checklist of things to consider before you start buying fabrics and other materials. These are short extracts from the Simply Furnishings sewing guide TEACHYourself CUSHIONS that we have adapted to give you a taster of what's to come.  We hope they're helpful!

Consider the design options

I've put this topic first, as I know you are thinking along these lines and can't wait to produce something really stunning. In theory, design options should come a little further down in your list of priorities, but here goes! Basic cushions come in all shapes and sizes, but it is best to start with a square or rectangular cushion that you can then adapt by using lots of exciting decorative techniques. The design options are almost endless, but here are some of the most commonly used effects:

  • Standard piping
  • Ruched piped band
  • Ruched padded band
  • Ruched trim
  • Embroidered or appliqué designs
  • Contrasting or coordinating border or braid
  • Tassles and fringing
Piped pintucked cushion - click to view a larger image Gold braid and top-stitching - click to view a larger image Fringed trim - click to view a larger image Pinch pleated cushion...click here for more
Top stitching, quilting and top-stitched borders - Click to view a larger image Embroidered and applique designs - Click to view a larger image Fringed and tassled trims and piping - click to view a larger image Fur trim - click to view a larger image
Consider the use of the cushion
Your first thought will probably be whether the fabric matches your sofa or bed linen! While that's a great place to start, your choice of fabric should also be based on several important factors. It is important to consider the use the cushion will get, as this may affect not only the design, but also the type of fabric used:
  • Is the cushion intended to be purely functional?
  • Will it get lots of abuse from the children? If this is the case, the quality and weight of the fabric will need to be robust and you may prefer to use a cushion pad with a synthetic filling rather than a more expensive, soft feather cushion pad.
  • Does the cushion cover need to be washable? To see your beautifully finished cushion covered in grubby finger marks or juice stains can be heart breaking!  Machine washable fabrics are a must with small children.
  • Or, is the cushion for decorative purposes only? Decorative cushions can be made of lighter, more delicate fabrics, such as silks or muslin.
Choose the right face fabric by considering the room setting

How you use your fabric is almost as important as the original choice itself. For a coordinating cushion made of a patterned fabric, to match curtains or other materials in the room, you should consider the following questions:

The purple satin cushion co-ordinates with the sofa fabric but in a stronger colour and contrasting texture
Here the checked fabric from an upholstered chair is used as a top stiched central panel on a rectangular cushion
The beige checked fabric used to upholster this foot stool is used in a matching cushion with coordinating beige striped section and cream dividing trim
Centralising this striking pink and brown raised leaf pattern was key to a successful cushion design
  • Which part of the pattern looks best on the cushion? For example, stripes and checks must be centralised for good effect.
  • With large bold designs, will choosing a small part of the fabric look effective on such a small item as a cushion?  Getting the scale right is essential.
  • Which way up does the pattern go? With some patterns, the cushion may well look strange when upside down!

On the other hand, plain materials that pick out one of the colours in another fabric used in the room can often be most effective. Remember that plain fabrics can be spiced up in many ways:

Using tassles, trims and pleats can enhance a cushion made with a plain fabric
Pinch pleats spice up this plain cream cushion, whereas the fuscia pink piped cushion catches the eye due to its striking colour contrast
A simple brown cushion looks great with contrasting cream piping and this plain cream cushion looks stunning with a bobble trim
Here the cream bed linen and cream cushions are complemented with a stunning single gold cushion
  • Plain cushions can be trimmed with a contrasting border, decorative braid or patterned piping
  • Tassles and fringing, embroidered panels, appliqué designs and quilting can all be used to give an impressive boost to a plain cushion
Next Steps
Once you have decided on the best design and fabric for your cushion you'll need to make sure that you have all the right sewing tools and that you understand how to acheive the basic (but essential) sewing techniques used when making cushions and other soft furnishings. These include the right needles and threads to suit different tasks, as well as the standard stitches and seams that you'll need to produce either by hand or with the help of your sewing machine. Simply Furnishings has a free guide designed to help you get organised and tackle these initial simple tasks. Basic Sewing Equipment and Techniques is a 30 page beginner's manual which you can either view online or download and save for later. Perhaps your first project should be to print off this handy guide and begin practising your sewing techniques ready for your next cushion making project!
SimplyFurnishings.com has virtually everything you'll need to begin making your own professional looking cushions (except the fabric, needles and threads of course!) TEACHYourself CUSHIONS is our comprehensive, easy to use sewing guide available to order online world-wide for just £8.99. Using tried and tested techniques, clear instructions and illustrations, we will guide you through each stage of the design and make process step-by-step. In no time at all you will be making your own beautiful cushions with a really professional finish. The full set of 8 individual guides are available to buy online now as an immediate download (PDF) or as a set on CD ROM!

Good luck! 
Wendy Molnar

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  Last modified: January 04, 2009