Saturday, 6 April 2013

Cushions: making a button back

Most of the cushions I made recently have a button back.  I like the button look and I'd never tried it before.  It turns out a zip would have been easier and used less fabric, but hey ho.  Buttons are awesome!

Choosing the back fabric

If you are not using the same fabric for the back and front of the cushion then I'd recommend choosing fabric for the back of the same weight, or even slightly heavier than the front fabric.  I feel this makes the front look more soft and squishy in comparison, and puffier.  You probably don't want the comfy-looking bit to be the back!

I prefer stiffer cushions that hold their shape in a living room, so I mainly chose fabric that was upholstery weight (or at least heavier than quilting cotton).  It's not always possible, and I did do some with quilting cotton for both back and front. 

In one instance, where the front was in heavy fabric and I wanted the print from some quilting cotton on the back, I used a trick to ensure the back was thick and heavy enough.  I placed the quilting cotton on top of cream curtain lining and sewed the two fabrics as if they were one.  This is the plaid cushion pictured at the top of this post.

For some fabrics, it makes sense to stabilise the areas around the buttons and button-holes that will be taking some strain.  I recommend fusible interfacing these areas.  I did this for the silk-effect fabric, but didn't think it necessary when I used the heavier upholstery fabric.  I'd certainly make the effort with fabrics that are easy to fray or crease, including quilting cottons.  I'll describe this step, but feel free to omit it.

Silk-effect fabric, stabilised around the button-holes.

Making a template

The following diagram shows a template suitable for cutting the front and back pieces for a 24" cushion pad.  I prefer firm puffy pillows, which is why the finished side is 20.5".  I found this acceptable, even if the pad measures a little smaller (e.g. 23") than the advertised size.

Template: click for larger image

You could use any large sheet of paper (or taped together sheets) for this, but I find it handy to keep a roll of lining wallpaper for these sorts of tasks.  It also comes in handy for pattern drafting and making templates that are more hard-wearing.  I used a piece of A4 paper to ensure my corners were right-angled.

Cutting the fabric

Be sure to have the template square with the selvedge of the fabric.  Cutting out at another jaunty angle will result in a cushion that pulls in a very funny way.  I had a commercially made shirt cut from the fabric "on the bias" once - it was really uncomfortable and looked a mess.  Don't be tempted by the promise of diagonal stripes!

Cut from the fabric using the whole template for the front.  Fold the template along A to cut for the lower back piece, and fold along B to cut for the upper back piece.  Have the arrows pointing upward on your fabric to orient the pieces correctly if your fabric has a directional design or a nap (like velvet).

Careful cutting may be needed to match patterns or stripes at the opening.
If you need to interface around the button holes and button area, cut two lengths of medium-weight fusible interfacing.  One of dimension 21.75" x 4", and one of 21.75" x 2".

If you want to make a long and narrower cushion, remove some of your template long the sides X and Y before using it.

Long and narrow version: re-positioning the buttons may be necessary.

Sewing the back pieces

Take the lower back piece A.  Fold the top edge under (wrong sides together) by 1/2" and press.  Fold again in the same direction by 4" and press.  You should now have a neat 4" turn-under on the wrong side of your fabric with no raw edge showing.

If you are going to strengthen where the buttons will be, open the fold and iron the 4" strip of fusible interfacing between the fold lines on the wrong side of the fabric, following manufacturers instructions.  The interfacing is now fused to a part that will not be visible from outside the cushion, so that even if the interfacing goes bubbly with age you won't see it.  Then re-fold the fabric along those creases.

Interfacing location on turn-under
Make a straight line of machine stitching just less than 4" from the top of the back piece (or about 1/8" inside the first fold) so that the doubly-folded fabric is held in place.

Stitched turn-under viewed from wrong side of back piece

Take the upper back piece B.  Fold the bottom edge under (wrong sides together) by 1/2" and press.  Fold again in the same direction by 2" and press.  You should now have a neat 2" turn-under on the wrong side of your fabric with no raw edge showing.  Interface as before with the 2" strip if necessary, and machine stitch just less than 2" from the bottom of the piece to catch all the folds and hold them flat.

Press both pieces to "set" your stitches.

Assembling the back

Place the  pieces on a flat surface, right sides up, and align them as they will be in the cushion.  B should overlap A and together the edges should produce a square the same size as your front fabric piece.  Pin the overlapped edges together and machine-baste (sew with a long stitch) up the sides, 3/8" from the raw edge.  This will hold the two pieces as one while you assemble the cushion.

Aligning back pieces

Assembling the cushion

If you wish to add piping, fix it to the front fabric before you attach the cushion back.  A good tutorial is at Make it & Love it, and you'll need to switch to a zipper foot for the next bit, in order to stitch close enough to the piping.

Pin the cushion back to the front, right sides together.  Sew around the square with a 5/8" seam allowance.  I sew around twice to make extra sure, and add even more stitches around the corners which take strain as you turn the work the right way.

Trim the corner fabric off, leaving a mm or so around the stitches.  Neaten your seams: I trim to 3/8" and zig-zag stitch all layers together over the edge to stop fraying. Turn your work the right way out and poke the corners out using e.g. a blunt crochet hook.

Trimming corners
Mark the location of your button-holes on the fabric with a dressmaking chalk or pencil.  I spaced mine by 5" and placed them centrally on the 2" band on piece B (i.e. 1" from the edge).

Make your button-holes on piece B.  I used the one-step button-hole maker that came with my machine; 29mm is pretty much the largest button diameter it can handle.  I practised a bunch of times first to make sure I could start in the right place to get my button hole centrally about the chalk mark I'd made.  Slash a hole in the centre of your button-hole stitching.  Once all holes are made, align your cover neatly and use a pencil to mark through the holes where the buttons will be placed.

Cover your buttons according to the packet instructions; I used three 29mm diameter ones.  Buttons this large are easier to cover and more robust if you get the metal ones, as the plastic ones I got were quite flimsy when this big.  Oddly, I found that for tiny buttons (10mm or less), the plastic ones were better...!  Sew your buttons to piece A at the marks you made.

You're done!  Shoehorn that big fluffy cushion in and do up the buttons!  It'll be a tight fit for now, but will be looser with age and use.

This tutorial is part of a series

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