Cushions and pillows in any space introduce color, texture and form — all vital design elements when you’re finessing a room. These days we are bombarded with all kinds of styles and shapes of cushions, and here you’ll learn the ins and outs of this surprisingly complex piece of decor from Spacio Designers. Then you can impress your cushion maker with your knowledge of terms such as “bobble fringe,” “knife edge” and “Turkish corner.”
The word “cushion” was used in writings as far back as the Middle Ages. Made of sackcloth or leather, filled with hair or wool and often embroidered, these large items were more like the floor pillows of today.In the U.S., the terms “pillow” and “cushion” can be interchangeable. In many other Western countries, a pillow is usually larger and for sleeping, while a cushion is used for lounging.
Most standard cushions on the market are 17 by 17 inches square. This is because a standard roll of fabric is 54 inches wide. Allowing for seams, three 18-inch pieces of fabric can be cut, avoiding wastage. Custom-designed cushions may cost a little more, but they open up a world of possibilities.
The knife-edge cushion is the simplest and most popular of all the cushions. It has just two pieces of fabric and four side seams that taper into sharp corners. Why not add a border in another color to an otherwise monochromatic cushion, as shown here?
If you want a zipper, get one that matches the fabric color. You can also ask for an envelope-back cover — as the name suggests, the back fabric is overlapped to create the closure.
The insert in a knife-edge cushion tends to look fuller in the middle and thinner on the edges. Use a feather-down blend, which will hold its shape and doesn’t need as much fluffing as a 100 percent down insert.
The box cushion has a top, a bottom and four sides. The sides are called the boxing, and can be from 1 inch to 10 or more inches deep, depending on the overall size and use of the cushion. This banquette has box cushions for both the seating and on top of it. Keep in mind that the seat cushion will flatten in half when you sit on it, so be generous with your measurements.
Piping, also called welting, can add structure. This can be either in the same fabric, known as self-piping, or in a contrasting color. If you have other cushions in the room, link that color to your piping.
The insert should be firm and enhance the structure of the cushion. Synthetic inserts, such as hypoallergenic polyester, are a smart choice for cushions that will suffer from wear and tear. Just as comfortable as feather-down inserts, they’re also great substitutes if you’re allergic to feathers.
The embellished cushion allows you to be creative. A room takes on a distinct personality when you think hard about your cushion design.
Embellishments are many and varied. Bobble fringes with pom-poms look playful. Ruched or cut fringes look soft and feminine. Braided and flanged cords in contrasting colors add elegance. All cushion makers carry an array of trims and give great advice.
Another tip when buying the insert: Make sure it is encased in a tightly woven fabric, like cotton. This will stop the feathers from popping through. The insert also needs to fill the corners of the cover. If you like the plump look, get an insert that’s the same size as the cover — if not, get one an inch or two smaller.
The Turkish-corner cushion, in my opinion, is not done enough. If you don’t like the sharp corners you get with a knife-edge cushion, try Turkish corners.
The treatment is called pinch pleating. This works on the knife-edge cushion and the box cushion when it is a scattered — not a seat — cushion. The pleats create neat, rounded tucks at each corner. This treatment is used to great effect on this blue-gray plaid back cushion.
Taupe Turkish Corner Pillow Cover
Here’s a closer shot of a Turkish corner. With this style, the insert fits right up into the corners, so this cushion doesn’t have the flat, pointy look of other cushions.
The bolster cushion has many uses. Its tubular shape with round ends is a great head support for something like reading in bed, and a helpful armrest on a banquette. Bolsters also break the visual monotony of traditional cushions.
As with round cushions, piping can help create a neat finish. Use a color that is already in the room for your piping.
Bolster cushions may or may not have zippers. After the loose filling is inserted, the seam is closed with a slip stitch. If you don’t go with a zipper, remember to choose hard-wearing fabric, as spot cleaning will be your only option.
The flanged cushion is also a change from the standard knife-edge cushion. A flange is a piece of fabric that extends beyond the seam, giving the cushion a gentle, fluttery effect.
Flanged cushion covers can be made with the same fabric as the cover itself (called a self-border) or as an integrated border with a contrasting fabric. These striped pillows sitting on the chairs have the flange on the vertical, rather than all sides. Using the same fabric but turning the pattern a different way includes both ideas and gives you a stunning result.