Square Bolster Tutorial…sort of

I’m back with a sewing post. These pillows are actually a project I finished awhile back for my sister’s 30th birthday. The two simple pillows I actually finished at Christmas time and sent home with Jillian so I could avoid storing giant pillow forms until February.

This isn’t the first pillow project that I’ve done for Jillian. The throw pillows on her couch are also my handiwork, but they were simple affairs, sew a square, stuff it, stitch the tiny hole closed. Not this time. This time my Jillian specifically asked for square bolsters. She couldn’t ask for circular bolsters — no, way too simple — pillow forms exist for them. There are quite a few tutorials online for them. Instead, she was adamant about wanting the bolsters to be square. This is what you get when your baby sister travels to one too many luxury hotels…

Disclaimer: If you have any actual sewing abilities that extend beyond quilting, you should look away now. I probably made these pillows in the most ridiculously convoluted way possible, but it worked. 

Jillian wanted the bolsters to be 8 inches on each side, so I bought a cushion from Joann. Then, I just drew lines on it with a Sharpie, and I started going over the line again and again and again…….and again and again…. with a utility knife. This step takes time and it’s messy, so put on a good TV show and do yourself a favor by putting  a fresh blade in your utility knife. If you use regular foam, you could try the old trick of cutting through it with an electric knife, but this cushion was more of a compressed batting, so I don’t think that method would work.

Jillian pillow raw foamIgnore the way the foam is chewed up on the back. Deogi decided he was bored on day while I was at work, and he tried to shred the cushion. He pretty much tries to eat all of Jillian’s presents because he tried to polish off her chocolate face mask at Christmas. The two of them have a hate-hate relationship.

Anyway, after all that cutting, I had two rectangles of foam that was basically equal size. I cut some of the cotton batting that I use for quilting to fit around them. Then, I took everything to the basement and used spray adhesive to stick the two pieces of foam to each other. Since the Joanne cushion was 4 inches thick, and I cut my rectangles 8 inches wide, I wound up with a square when I was done stacking the two blocks and adhering them. The knife (and the dog) shredded the foam a little, so to smooth everything out, I also used spray adhesive to wrap the foam block with batting.

pillow form covered with battingHere is what the block looks like once it’s wrapped in batting. I didn’t take pictures of the wrapping phase because my hands were sticky and I was half high from spraying the adhesive in the basement. My two pieces of advice would be to smooth the batting onto the block slowly. Work your way from one side to the next and smooth it down as you go. Also, work in a well-ventilated area.

Jillian pillow pin closeupNext, I had to cover the pillow lengthwise in fabric. I could have measured, but I wanted to get these things done, and I wanted to make sure the cover would slide on and off but still be snug. So, I put the fabric right side up on the table, set the block on it, and then pulled the fabric around the pillow. Imagine you are wrapping a gift, but you should have the wrong side of the fabric facing you once it’s wrapped around the pillow. Then, I pulled the fabric snug and pinned along the line I wanted to sew.

Jillian's pillow pinning the fabricYep, pin, pin, pin. Go all the way across the bolster. Then, gently slide the foam block out of the fabric. Sew along the pin line. This isn’t an exact science, but I think my pillow cover turned out snug enough.

Jillian's pillow end pinningNext, I had to put on the first end. I aimed for about a 1/2 seam allowance, so I think I cut the end squares to about 9X9. I turned the sewn tube of fabric so the wrong side was out and then I placed the end fabric wrong sides together with the tube of fabric. Make sure as you line the two pieces up that you are not putting the seam of the tube of fabric on a corner. I threw a few pins in at this point, but honestly, I just more or less pushed the pieces together as I ran them through my machine.

Jillian pillow end assembledHere’s what a side looks like when it’s sewn. As you can probably see, my 1/2 seam isn’t exact. There is no need to be uber precise since your foam is probably a little uneven as well.

Jillian pillow sewn cornerHere’s a close-up of the corner. I pretty much just held the fabrics together, careened around the corner with my machine, and hoped for the best. I warned you that this tutorial wasn’t for the faint of heart (or those who know how to properly do stuff like this). Also, the tension on my machine was off. Try to have your tension correct. Jillian is going to keep these unused in a basket in her room 99.9% of the time, so I think this seam will hold up until she’s ready to change decor.

Yes, I did just say that the pillows I made for her spend 99.9% of their time unused in a basket. Good thing I love that girl 🙂

Jillian pillow open endNow, turn everything right side out and slide the foam into the fabric tube. Be patient with this step so you don’t wrinkle the batting.

This is the part where things get tricky. Trim the tube of fabric so you only have about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch of fabric extending beyond the end of the foam block. You need just enough to fold over for a seam. Don’t try to leave too much extra, or your seams will get bulky. I think I actually took the foam out of the fabric and trimmed the fabric after I snagged this photo.

You could try to sew on two sides of the fabric by machine, but I don’t recommend it. I tried, and nothing was lined up right, so I had to rip it out. Also, you’ll most likely need to leave two sides open so you can work the foam back in. That means you might as well stitch the entire end by hand.

I lined up the fabric — this time right sides out –, turned on a good TV show, and stitched the end fabric to the tube fabric by folding in the raw edges of the fabric and using a stitch similar to one that I would use if it was attaching a quilt binding by hand.

Jillian finished pillowTa-da! There are a few minor bumps and wrinkles, but that is why the pillow has friends.

Jillian's pillows full viewSo, are you better at this type of sewing than I am? What are some of your tips to pass along in case I want to try something like this in the future? If you don’t have any tips and just want to muddle through these pillows, fell free to ask questions about anything that is not clear.

6 thoughts on “Square Bolster Tutorial…sort of

  1. I Loooove Them. Thank You! And The 0.1% HappenD Last Weekend When Dennis Was In Town. He Stacked Them Up Into A Mountain The Next Morning Though So I’m Sure That’s Any Better…

  2. Wow. You are my hero. That bolster turned out SO well, and I loved your improv process! I also giggled at imagining someone sticky and stoned, trying to get pics for an online sewing tutorial. Ventilation is definitely good for these projects… 😉

  3. I think that bolster looks great and very comfy! Thanks so much for sharing your process. I made bolsters for my house a while back and I can relate so much to this. It was kind of fun improving my way through! Mine where an odd shape so I made a pattern out of newspaper for them. I wish I would have taken some pictures because it all looked so ridiculous 🙂

  4. Actually, the square shape makes them tricky, no matter how you tackle them. I made rectangular bench cushions for my window seat and put zips in on the back, but zips might have spoiled the effect here, I think. As you say, these don’t need frequent washing so making the cover removable is not an issue (unlike my window seat, which is always covered in cat fur). Well done!
    Great tips about ventilation! 🙂

  5. I had to cover a very long tube of foam, 3″ x 3.5″ and had no idea how to do the ends. You gave me the first one and I’m just going to tie the other with decorative rope, as it will be out of sight. Thanks. Fun to find someone with the same outlook on sewing as I do!

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