Finally. Sewing Mid Century Modern Chair Cushions

I finally got around to sewing new, r e a l, cushion covers for my mid century modern chairs. I've had the fabric for months, a bright purple upholstery flower design we picked up at a San Francisco fabric outlet, and 'sewing cushions' has been on the List shamefully long.

I enlisted to Jesse to draw a layout of the pieces I would need. Since I measured and came up with about 4 yards of fabric (3 and a half, plus half for error margin) I had to plan this a lot better that the 9 yards of brown fabric I had to hack away at.

I thought about doing piping on the sides – the original ugly orange had thick piping. Stitching it in would require a zipper foot, which I don’t have. I generally have a hard time finding parts for a 1922 machine. Might be it’s ONLY drawback.

I brought home some samples of cord I could hand stitch from the outside into the seam, but I am not convinced that the amount of work involved is proportional to the aesthetic benefit.

The following is probably only useful, nay, fascintaing if you’re interested in making chair cushions. If you are making mid century Danish lounge chair cushions, and have little to no sewing skills, its downright invaluable. I think, cause I looked all over the net for a tutorial and never found one. Otherwise, you can follow the picture trail to the finished product.

It’s a basic pattern of two squares for cushion (top and bottom), a long strip to comprise 3 sides, and shorter strip for the zipper top. With the seam allowances, the top “zipper strip” is made of two strips, each 3.5” as opposed to the one 5” thick “long side strip” that runs most of the way around. The cushions on the original chair were 4 x 23.5 x 24, so I went with that.

To make the top zippered side, I sewed the two fabric strips together, either because you’re supposed to do it that way, or because there would be no way I could keep them in place while I sewed the zipper on. So, I stitched them with the large stitch setting an inch from the edge, folded out the edges, and pressed.

From the wrong side, I laid the 36” zipper on top, centered. I found out too late that it’s the type of zipper that opens from either side. At first, I was disgruntled, but then I grew to like it. I don’t have a zipper foot, so being able to open it and move the ‘tongue’ down was really convenient when anchoring the ends of the zipper to fabric. The conventional one way zippers in longer lengths looked flimsy, with the small metal teeth that eat batting, thread, and get all stuck.. (In a related story, I heart JoAnn’s Fabrics 40% off coupons!)

I anchored the base of the zipper on one end, and trying to keep is centered (basting would be really good, if one had patience for that sort of thing) I stiched all the way down, about a ¼ inch in, anchored the other end the same way, and stitched back up along the other side, trying to keep same distance.

I was really tempted to rip out the stitches holding the zipper shut, but didn’t. I find if I stop and play, it extends the time exponentially.

Now, with the zipper strip down, it is to be attached to the long strip, which is to be sewn onto the square base. I wanted the zipper edge to look professional, so I closely inspected some porch furniture cushions on my aunt’s porch the afternoon prior.

The long strip is 68 inches long. You can make it up of shorter segments, but I was going for a seamless look. That, and I can’t be trusted to piece things together, that’s how things get out of control. The less pieces I have to work with, the better.

The zipper base is “hidden” in a pocket of a sort, and this pocket is attached to the zipper, perpendicularly, to stabilize it, not just along edges where it attaches to the cushion base. In order for this perpendicular stitch line not to show and spoil my seamless look, I sewed the zipper strip and the long strip right sides together at the bottom, and then folded the long strip back onto itself.

The math involved:
The zipper strip is 37”. Zipper itself is 36”, so half inch allowance on ends.
The long strip is 68”. Minus 23.5 of the bottom center width, leaves 44.5 to be divided into the sides.
44.5 divided by 2 is 22.25. So, coming up from the bottom center, I have 22 ¼ “ fabric strip.
The zipper strip is 37”. Subtract 23.5 of cushion top width is 13.5. Divided by two is 6.25”. So, from the top of the cushion, I have 6.25” of zipper strip.
I had decided that I will have 4” of zipper showing (to be able to open the cushion cover wider). I actually wanted more, but I liked the look of less zipper.
My cushion length is 24”. So, to have 4” of zipper showing, I need the rest of the long strip for that side at 20”.
I had 22.25, so I would fold 2.25” inches under. (A portion of this 2.25 is anchored to the zipper strip on the inside.
A picture shows it better. I ironed the fold, because I don’t baste.

The same is done on the other side of the cushion. They are completely symmetrical, so all the math is the same on the other side. 4” of zipper showing, 2.25” folded under, 20” remaining for the side. Bottom of zipper strip and long strip are anchored together with a perpendicular stitch line, that ends up hidden by the fold.

Now, all that’s left is stitching the side to the cushion.

I started at top center, making sure the center of the zipper strip is aligned with the center of the cushion. I had ½” allowance on the cushion, so once I stitched there, I would have to make the corner. Amazingly, it lined up with my mark on the zipper strip corner. I clipped the corner of the fabric to make turning it 90’ easier. I keep the square flat, and turn the strip 90 degrees.

Turning the corner, I stitched through the 4” of the remaining showing zipper side, and then stitched the fold that covers the remaining zipper and zipper base onto the cushion front (four layers of fabric for 2.25”). 24” inches later, I turned another corner, stitched the bottom, and came up to the other side. I stopped on this side just short of the fold. I wanted to make sure the fabric didn’t stretch as I sewed, and I wouldn’t have excess side strip (or, slightly worse, not enough side strip). I stitched from the beginning, top center cushion, going the other way along the zipper strip.

Once I turned the corner, and was a couple inches into the side, I stopped, and made sure that when folded, I had exact amount of ‘side strip’ as I did cushion side. I pinned it in place, since I don’t baste. Again, basting would probably help tremendously, and you can just stitch merrily your entire way around the cushion. I have a psychological thing about undoing stitches, of any kind though, so I am left to measure obsessively, pin, and hold my fingers crossed. (And sometimes undoing the finished product…)

Voila. It’s a cushion bucket of a sort:

Keeping in mind my pattern orientation, and for sake of uniformity, I simply sew on the other square cushion side, just as the first one, turning corners, notching the corners if need be. I started at top center, and I make sure when I get to my seam allowance, it lines up with the”corner” mark on the side strip.

Amazingly, everything lined up right. I guess that’s what happens when you only leave yourself a ½” seam allowance as opposed to “3-4 inches margin of error area” approach I like.

I probably should have ripped out the ‘basting’ stitch holding the zipper together, BEFORE I stitched the cushion shut from every side, because it’s a little hard to do from the inside, since the zipper tongue is sandwiched between zipper teeth and fabric stitched shut. I guess once the zipper is sewn in, there’s little value to keeping it closed while you sew.

I took out the stitches, and it looks beautiful. Had a used the flimsy zipper, it would be completely hidden, but it was a trade off – I like the bigger plasticky zipper teeth.

Less likely to eat batting and foam, I think. I love how much better, stiffer, and more stable the upholstery fabric makes the cushion as opposed to my temporary cotton fix.

Finished dimension: 24 x 23.5 x 4.

The chair back cushions are same, but only 15” tall. I got a 30” zipper, instead of 36”, because I won’t have it go as far down the sides. May be only an inch of zipper showing. It was midnight when cushion #1 reared its finished head. Tonight is cushions #2, 3, 4 time.


Chair 1 complete!


  1. Oh, thank you for this!!!! I am a sewing klutz, and terrible at math, but am about to attempt this same project. I think you just saved my sanity. ;-)

  2. Hi! I live in LA and would love to make cushions for a great DUX FRAME I FOUND ON THE STREET!

  3. Thank you - ive been looking all over the net for a tutorial like this! looks fantastic now time to give it a go :)

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