Thursday, May 29, 2008

How To: Make a Knitted Cushion Cover

I feel like a little kid rushing home from school with my first, imperfect art-class project: Look what I made! Now, I know all you hardcore crafters are probably laughing at just how rudimentary this little project is, but I am so not crafty that to actually make something from scratch and not have it be a total disaster is a huge accomplishment for me. So don't be too harsh, OK?

Anyway, as I mentioned awhile back, I've learned to knit. My needle skills are pretty basic at this point, but I can at least cast on, cast off, knit, and purl. With those astonishing skills, one can make ... scarves. Lots and lots of scarves. And since every member of my extended family now has a hand-knitted scarf of his or her very own (and since it's not exactly scarf weather anymore), I needed to figure out what else I could do -- without having to kick it up a level by learning how to increase, decrease, knit in the round, cable stitch, or any of those other fancy maneuvers that sound complicated enough to make brain hurt.

I've long been a fan of Lauren Saunders' absolutely gorgeous knitted pillows, and for the first time in years we actually own a working sewing machine, so I decided that I'd try my hand at a knitted cushion cover (albeit a much simpler version than Saunders'). Plus, my mom's birthday was coming up, so that was the kick in the pants I needed.

The project was easy enough and it turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. (Just don't look too closely at the seamwork, Mom! And if you do, let me remind you that this is pretty much the first thing I've sewed since high school Home Ec class.)

Here's how I did it:

* Choose two contrasting shades of the yarn of your choice. (I used a skein of Misti Alpaca Chunky in Copper Melange, plus a half-skein of Misti Alpaca Chunky in Natural Cream, because that's the color scheme in my mother's living room. Misti's baby alpaca is absolutely my favorite yarn on the planet -- because, you know, I am such a yarn connoisseur. So soft! I knitted on 14-inch, size 13 needles, but in retrospect I think I should have used size 11 so the stitches would be a little tighter.)

* Cast on enough stitches to make your piece about 20 inches wide.

* Alternate knitting and purling, switching off after each row -- umm, I think this is called the stockinette stitch -- until the skein is finished or until you've knitted a rectangle that's roughly 20 inches wide by 13 or 14 inches long.

* Switch to your contrasting yarn, and continue knitting and purling until you have a 20-inch square that's about two-thirds one color and one-third the other, and then cast off.

* Cut two 20-inch squares from a half-yard of the fabric of your choice. (I used an ivory linen that matched the lighter shade of yarn.)

* Pin the knitted square, with the "good" side up, onto one of the fabric squares. Sew them together around all four edges, using a relatively tight stitch on your sewing machine. You now have a fabric backing for the knitted portion of the pillow cover.

* Place the knit-and-fabric square on the other fabric square, with the knitted side down and the "right" side of the fabric-only square facing up. Pin them together about an inch in from the edges, and sew them together on three sides and about half of the fourth.

* Trim off the excess knitting and fabric around the edges on the three sewn sides, and turn the pillow cover right-side-out.

* Roll up a 16-inch-square pillow form (I got one for a few bucks at my local fabric store) and carefully slide it in through the opening on the fourth side. Then open the rolled-up pillow and adjust it in the cover as needed.

* Fold the excess fabric and knitting on each side of the opening in toward the center, and pin it closed.

* As for the final step, I'm sure there's a "correct" way to do this (I told you I'm not a crafter!). But I simply shoved the edge of the pillow into the sewing machine and sewed it closed, trying to keep the stitches as close to the edge as I could.


P.S. If there are any knitting or sewing wizards out there with tips for improving upon my totally improvised instructions, please feel free to add them! And if anyone has suggestions for fun variations on this pillow project, I'd love to hear 'em. (For my next trick, I'm actually attempting a three-color cushion cover -- woo hoo!)

P.P.S. Have a DIY project of your own you'd like to show off? I'd love to share it here. Just e-mail me a snap or two, plus simple, step-by-step instructions.


Anonymous said...

What a coincidence - I just finished making a knitted cushion cover last night! I made an envelope back though (zips are too much hassle for me!) using two overlapping rectangles of fabric, so that I can remove the cover when it needs washing and so that I didn't have to sew it closed. You might consider that for your next project, although your first one looks great! I've been knitting for years and your one looks way cuter than mine!

kelly said...

Nice work! I recognized the Misti Alpaca right away -- it's one of my absolute favorites as well. Mmmm... alpaca. Your mom is one lucky lady!

Leah said...


An envelope closure? Fan-cy!



Anonymous said...

Believe it or not, knitting in the round is actually easier than knitting back and forth. Especially if what you want is stockinette stitch. The only "tricky" part is to make sure you don't twist the stitches when joining.

You should really give some of those techniques a try. They're what make knitting really fun.

Denise Kiggan said...

Well done. I love knitted cushion covers and many of my cushions at home are covered in knit. [But mine are all recycled jerseys!]

Anonymous said...

Leah, that looks fantastic! I've actually never made a cushion cover's one of those things I've always meant to do but haven't got around to. And VERY nice choice in yarn...alpaca is heavenly :)

If you are feeling just a little bit adventurous on the next one, you can try a knit/purl based stitch pattern. They just use different combinations of knits and purls (no increases or decreases) to create textured patterns. This site has some fun ones...just look under "Knits and Purls".

Nice work! And a very thoughtful gift.

Leah said...

Thanks, Katie! I'm off to check out that site right now ...



Anonymous said...

I know this is a late reply, but I've recently gotten pretty good at making sewn pillow covers, and now you've motivated me to try a knitted one. In terms of improvements you could make, you mentioned not knowing what to do with the closure. Standard procedure for permanent closure of a pillow is to use a slip stitch. Here's a tutorial for how to do one:

The idea is that you go back and forth from side of the gap, starting one stitch directly across from where the last one ended. If you make your stitches small and evenly lined up, when you pull to tighten everything at the end, the seam should about disappear. Good luck with future projects!

Leah said...

Thanks, Veronica!


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