Making pillows is one of my all-time favorite DIY projects.  You can save a lot of money by making your own pillow covers.  Earlier this week I shared my source for inexpensive feather pillow inserts.  Tomorrow I will be sharing a video tutorial on how to make pillow covers.  Today I want to discuss how much and what kind of fabric to buy for pillow covers.

How much fabric do you need?

When you see the price tag on a yard of some designer home decor fabrics, you might not believe me that you can almost always make your own pillows for less. The trick is knowing how much fabric to buy, and that you do not need to buy a full yard of fabric, unless you want several matching pillows.

Let’s start with some basic terminology on fabric cuts, along with some visual aids.

Yard – 36″ long piece of fabric, the width will vary.  Quilting fabrics are usually about 42-45 inches wide.  Home Decor fabrics, on average, are 54″ wide, with some being much wider.  The one yard cut of fabric shown below is 36″ x 56″ wide.


Half Yard – 18″ long piece of fabric, the width will vary.  The half yard cut shown below is 18″ x 56″ wide.


Fat Quarter – A fat quarter will always be 18″ long by half the width of the fabric. The fabric width will vary depending on the fabric type and manufacturer.  The fat quarter cut shown below is 18″ x  28″ wide (half of the 56″ fabric width).


Importance of the Fat Quarter

The fat quarter is an important cut to know.  It is superior to a regular quarter yard cut for making pillows.  A quarter yard cut would yield a piece of fabric only 9″ long by the width of the fabric.  That might be great for quilting, but pretty useless for making a pillow cover.  A fat quarter on the other hand is large enough to make the front of a pillow cover, as I will illustrate below.

Pillow Yield

Now, let’s look at how many pillows each fabric amount can yield. Yields below are based on 18″ square pillow covers. This is my favorite size, because you can get the most out of the typical fabric cuts.  I make two types of pillow covers.  The first type uses a continuous piece of fabric 18″ x 42″ wide to wrap around the pillow.  The second type, uses a different fabric for the pillow front and back, requiring only an 18″ x 18″ piece of fabric for the front.

Yard – Yields 2 continuous fabric pillow covers or 4+ pillow fronts depending on fabric width.  My example fabric is 56″ wide, so it yields 6 pillow fronts.



Half Yard – Yields 1 continuous fabric pillow cover or 2+ pillow fronts depending on fabric width.  My example fabric is 56″ wide, so it yields 3 pillow fronts with a half yard cut.



Fat Quarter – Yields 1 pillow front.   A fat quarter will not be wide enough for a continuous pillow cover.


The most economical way to introduce an expensive fabric into a room, is to buy a fat quarter and use the fabric on the front of one pillow. Use a less expensive fabric (cotton or linen) for the back.

What type of fabric should you buy?

Fabric type is a matter of preference and budget. Let’s begin with terminology again.

Quilting fabric – generally a cotton or cotton blend fabric intended for quilting. There is a dizzying amount of color and pattern choices in this category.  Quilting fabrics usually feature smaller scale prints.

Home decor fabric – This category is intended for curtains, pillow covers, and light upholstery (stool, bench, dining chair). These fabrics are not recommended for traditional upholstery on sofas or armchairs.  Home Decor fabrics come in solids, prints, and textures.  Prints are usually medium or large scale, as compared to small prints on quilting fabrics.

Upholstery Fabric – The thickest or heaviest of fabrics used for upholstery.  These fabrics are the most durable.

I prefer making decorative pillows from Home Decor fabrics. I find quilting fabrics too thin, which leads to a sloppy pillow.  I also feel like quilting fabric are thin enough to be see through and require lining to be used as a pillow front.   However, I think quilting fabrics are fine for pillow backs. Upholstery fabric can be used for pillow covers, but it is generally more expensive and more difficult to sew, because of the weight or thickness of the fabric.  Home Decor fabric is intended for pillow covers and comes in a great selection of prints.

Both quilting fabrics and home decor fabrics are generally available in half yard and fat quarter cuts, especially from Etsy sellers. Upholstery fabric is generally only available in one yard increments. Fabric stores, like Joann’s and Hancock Fabrics, will cut one yard and half yard increments. They will not cut fat quarters off the bolt.  I purchased the fabrics pictured in this post from Sew Fine Fabric.  Jodi carries a large selection of modern home decor prints available in one yard, half yard, and fat quarter cuts.

Checkout the video tutorial on how to make two types of easy envelope pillow covers.  I will show you the continuous fabric method and the separate pillow front method!



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6 Responses to Pillow Cover Fabric Purchasing Guide

  1. Lisa says:

    That was such helpful information. Too bad I already bought my fabric. I probably got more than I really needed. It’ll be a good tip for next time. Looking forward to your video.

    • Jackie says:

      Glad to help Lisa. Buying fat quarters of pricier fabrics is a huge money saver. And, then you don’t have a bunch of leftover fabric. I am editing the video now :)

  2. Andrea says:

    Very helpful post! Thanks!!!!

  3. lynn says:

    i made one last night and it was such a quick and satisfying project! thank you. i have a stack of pillows waiting for new covers. if i’m using quilting cotton, do you recommend using some interfacing or another heavier fabric as a liner of some sort to make it more stable? thanks!

  4. Christine says:

    So could I use this same method if I wanted to make my own pillow cases for a standard pillow? Any idea how much fabric I would need for those if I did the separate front piece? I’m so new to this but like the idea of being able to DIY some pillowcases! Mine don’t match my new bedspread.

  5. Brittany says:

    This is so helpful! Thank you!

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