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Craft a Unique Lampshade and Matching Pillow Covers

Author Photo
By Rebecca Martin | Jun 27, 2019

Not long ago, we turned some open space in the Capper’s Farmer offices into a lounge area, complete with an area rug, a couple of chairs and end tables, a sofa and throw pillows, and a floor lamp from the 1950s. The lamp had character, but the shade was torn and yellowed, and the pillows were just boring.

Not wanting to purchase a new lamp or pillows, we decided to re-cover both of them, and we made them office redecoration projects. They were both easy projects, and they were easy to tailor to our rural lifestyle décor.

Re-Covering a Lampshade

Our lamp had a drum shade — a smooth, circular shape that flares slightly from top to bottom. We assumed there was a one-piece frame underneath the fabric and liner, but soon discovered there were two separate rings instead. That meant we had to use a polystyrene sheet for our shade liner, because the stiff polystyrene provides the structure to support the rings. Polystyrene is sold in sheets by online retailers. You’ll want to purchase the pressure-sensitive type so you’ll be able to peel off the cover sheet and press the new fabric against the adhesive. Be sure to measure the circumference and height of your existing shade before buying the polystyrene, because it’s sold in different sizes.

Some lampshades have panels and fabric linings. If this is the case, be sure to save a panel for a pattern.

Our finished lampshade measures about 11 inches tall by 19 inches in diameter at the bottom ring. We saved money by reusing the rings from our old shade. A set of new rings would’ve cost about $20. We bought 3 yards of rooster-themed fabric and used about half of it — we’d have found it difficult to get by on less fabric, though, because of the shade’s shape. We used the remaining fabric to make matching pillow covers. The pressure-sensitive polystyrene cost about $23.

Our total expense for this project was about $50. For what we spent, we could’ve purchased a plain white replacement shade at a big-box store. Instead, we got a colorful shade that’s customized to Capper’s Farmer.

Photo by Allison Sarkesian

Following are the steps we used for the transformation.

Materials & Tools

  • Lampshade rings (recycled)
  • Fabric for shade cover
  • Pressure-sensitive polystyrene
  • Pencil
  • Fabric glue
  • Narrow craft brush
  • Tape measure
  • Binder clips
  • Scissors
  • Bamboo skewer
  • Ribbon trim (optional)

NOTE: Fabric glue is usually water soluble, so you should wash your brush immediately after use if you wish to use it again.

Step 1: We carefully removed the old fabric and liner from the lampshade rings. You’ll want to keep the old liner as intact as possible so you can use it as a pattern to cut the new liner. Our lampshade came off in two pieces: the outer cloth cover and the inner polystyrene liner. Both were in bad shape. We used a knife to separate the seams, and then noted that the liner ends overlapped about 3⁄4 inch (this is important information for Step 2). We didn’t keep the fabric as a pattern because it was gathered and we wanted the replacement to be smooth. At this point, we also cleaned as much glue residue as we could from the shade rings with our fingers.

Step 2: We laid out the new polystyrene and placed the old liner on top of it. As we’d suspected, our unfolded shade curved so that the bottom corners extended about 1 inch off the edges of the new polystyrene. That meant we couldn’t cut a one-piece replacement.

2a: That being the case, we measured the old liner, marked its center, and cut it in half. Then we arranged the two halves so they’d fit on the new polystyrene sheet. Using the halves as our pattern, we traced around them in pencil, and added a 3⁄4-inch margin to both ends where they’d overlap and be glued to each other.

Photo by Allison Sarkesian

2b: Before we cut out the new liner, we double-checked to make sure the adhesive sides of both the old pattern and the new polystyrene were facing up. This is important because the fabric needs to adhere to the outer side of the shade. We cut out the liner along the marked lines with scissors. Then we clipped the two pieces together with binder clips to check one last time that the curvature was correct for our recycled rings.

Photo by Allison Sarkesian

Step 3: We pressed the fabric with an iron, and then spread it out upside down on a table. To make sure we had enough fabric, we positioned the two pieces of polystyrene on the fabric, adjusted them so their curved edges didn’t run off the fabric, and marked the correct starting point in pencil. Then, we began to adhere the first piece of new polystyrene liner to the fabric by peeling its cover off the adhesive side. This is where a second set of hands comes in handy — one person can peel off the cover, and the other person can smooth the polystyrene down on the fabric and make sure there aren’t any puckers or bubbles. We were surprised at how easy this step was, but it helped that we were using a quality fabric with a tight weave and a good drape. When we reached the end of the first polystyrene sheet, we overlapped the second sheet by the 3⁄4-inch margin we’d planned for, and continued to adhere the fabric until we reached the end of the polystyrene.

Photo by Allison Sarkesian

Step 4: Now that our fabric was adhered to the shade, we were ready to trim it. But first, to make sure we’d done everything correctly, we used binder clips to temporarily hold the shade together. This confirmed that it was the correct circumference for the recycled rings. Then we cut around the polystyrene, leaving a 1-inch flap of fabric on all edges. In hindsight, a 1⁄2- or 3⁄4-inch flap would’ve actually been better, as we ended up trimming the flap to that measurement later in the project. However, at the time, we wanted to leave as much fabric as possible to account for any errors we’d made.

Photo by Allison Sarkesian

Step 5: On one short edge of the shade — the edge that would end up on the inside of the shade — we trimmed the fabric to the edge of the polystyrene. On the other short edge, we trimmed the fabric to 1⁄2 inch, wrapped it over to the back of the polystyrene, and fixed it in place with fabric glue. Once more, we double-checked our shade by using binder clips to overlap the short edges and verify our measurements before gluing. When we were sure the shade’s circumference was the same as that of the rings, we glued the shade’s short edges together. We applied glue to the outside margins of the close-trimmed short edge and overlapped it with the fabric-wrapped edge by 1⁄2 inch. We clipped this seam at the top and bottom, and let the glue dry for about 30 minutes before proceeding.

NOTE: Be careful to keep the glue off your fabric. We wiped up all glue oozes to keep our shade clean and dry.

Photo by Allison Sarkesian

Step 6: Although we had a fledgling lampshade, it still needed to be secured to the metal rings so it would hold a circular shape. Plus, the top ring needed to be in place to hold the shade atop a lamp. So, we turned the shade on its side and pulled the rest of the fabric flap over the top ring and onto the inside of the polystyrene. (At this point, we realized we didn’t need a 1-inch fabric flap and decided to trim it to 1⁄2-inch instead.) We clipped the top ring inside the fabric flap on top of the polystyrene inside the shade, and secured it in place with binder clips.

6a: Our shade’s top ring has three spokes radiating out from a central ring, a style known as a “spider.” Carefully, we snipped the fabric just enough so the flap could wrap around both the ring and the spoke.

Photo by Allison Sarkesian

6b: Then we began dabbing fabric glue onto the unprinted side of the fabric, and spreading it to the edges with a narrow brush. As soon as one of us had finished spreading the glue, the other pressed the fabric into place on the inside of the shade, and used the pointed end of a bamboo skewer to tuck the fabric around the ring. We replaced the binder clips as soon as we’d finished tucking, and left them in place on the shade until the glue had dried completely.

Photo by Allison Sarkesian

6c: After the glue on the top ring had set for about 30 minutes, we repeated this process with the fabric around the bottom ring.

Step 7: We liked the look of our newly covered shade, but we decided to trim it with complementary ribbon to hide the shadows cast by the rings and fabric flaps. So, using binder clips again, along with fabric glue, we glued, wrapped, and clipped the ribbon in place along the top and bottom edges of the shade. Be careful to press out any ripples or bubbles as you work. To give the trim a finished look, and so it wouldn’t fray, we folded over the cut end by about 1⁄2 inch, and glued it in place over the ribbon where we started. Then we set it aside and let the glue dry thoroughly.

Photo by Allison Sarkesian

Step 8: When the glue was dry, we removed the binder clips and placed our new shade on the lamp.

Making Envelope Pillow Covers

Changing your pillow covers is an easy and inexpensive way to update a room. Instead of buying furniture or a new rug, you can add fresh splashes of color and texture by sewing new pillow covers in just a few hours.

Photo by Allison Sarkesian

These instructions show you how to sew a simple style of pillow cover known as an “envelope.” You won’t have to install a zipper or buttons on an envelope cover. Instead, the cover stays on the pillow form because the edges of the two-piece back overlap each other at the center. If you don’t have a sewing machine, you can hand-stitch this project, but a machine will make things go faster, and machine stitching is also more durable than hand stitches, so your pillow covers will last longer.

We had just enough fabric left from the lampshade project to cover the fronts of two 20-inch-square pillow forms, so we used it to make envelope covers. Like us, you can use different fabrics on the front and back for different effects. The green piping around the pillows’ edges adds a nice pop of color and brings out the green in the printed caterpillars in the rooster fabric. If you’re not feeling confident in your sewing skills, or you simply don’t care for the look of piping, skip Steps 3 and 4.

This project is a great way to use up smaller pieces of fabric. Be sure to use cloth that’s sturdy enough to stand up to heavy handling on a sofa, if that’s how you’ll be using the pillow. We used a tightly woven cotton fabric for the front, and a heavier-weight cotton flannel for the back. If you’re a beginning sewer, you may want to use the same fabric for both front and back, or fabrics that are similar in weight and weave. Wash and iron all fabrics before you begin.

These instructions will make one envelope cover for a 20-inch-square pillow form.

Materials & Tools

  • 1 yard fabric
  • Piping
  • Scissors
  • Rotary cutter, cutting mat, and quilter’s ruler (optional)
  • Pinking shears (optional)
  • Sewing machine (optional)
  • Steam iron
  • Seam ripper
  • Thread (we used 100 percent cotton)
  • 20-inch-square pillow form

NOTE: Adapting these instructions for a smaller pillow form is easy. For the front, cut a piece that’s exactly the same as the pillow’s dimension; for example, for a 16-inch-square pillow form, you’d cut a 16-inch-square piece. For the back, you’ll need two pieces that overlap. One of the dimensions for these pieces will be the same as the pillow — in this example, 16 inches. For the other dimension, you’ll have to take the overlap into account. For our 20-inch-square pillow described below, the overlap is 4 inches; this is divided between the back pieces, each of which measures 20 inches by 14 inches (half of 20 inches is 10 inches, plus 4 inches of overlap on each back piece, for a total of 14 inches). For a 16-inch-square pillow, you’ll probably want less than a 4-inch overlap — more like 3 inches — so the dimensions of each back piece would be 16 inches by 11. If you prefer more overlap, just add 1 or 2 inches to each back piece’s smaller dimension.

Step 1: For the pillow front, cut a 20-inch square. For the back, cut 2 fabric pieces, each 20 inches by 14 inches.

Step 2: On each back piece, fold over one of the 20-inch-long edges to the wrong side of the fabric 1⁄4 inch. Press with the iron. Fold again 1 inch, and press. Topstitch a 7⁄8-inch seam to hem. Backstitch at beginning and end of seam. Repeat this step on the remaining back piece.

Photo by Rebecca Martin

Step 3: To make our piping, we used 3⁄16-inch cable cord and double-fold bias tape quilt binding. We unfolded the bias tape and laid in the cord along the center fold. Then we folded the tape again and machine-basted the tape closed with the zipper foot installed on our machine, as close to the cord as possible. We made about 90 inches of the piping to make sure we had enough to make it around the pillow and overlap at the join (Step 4).

NOTE: You can purchase ready-made piping, if preferred, or you can make your own binding tape by cutting fabric strips on the bias, and then following the instructions above to insert the cord. Or, you can omit this step altogether if you don’t like the look of piping.

Photo by Rebecca Martin

Step 4: On a flat work surface, lay down the front fabric square right-side up. Starting at the middle of one side, pin the piping to the front about 3⁄8 inch from the edge around the square. When you reach a corner, gently curve the piping around, taking care to keep it aligned. Clip the piping in several places so it’ll lie flat, but be careful not to cut the basting stitches that keep the cord inside the piping.

4a: After you’ve worked the piping all the way around the square and are back at the beginning, overlap the ends by about 2 inches and cut off any remaining piping. Machine-baste as close to the original piping stitching (that is, next to the cord) as possible. Stop sewing several inches from where you overlapped the ends.

4b: Next, you’re going to join the ends of the piping so the connection will be nearly invisible on the finished pillow. To begin, use a seam ripper to open up both ends of the piping so you can see the cord inside. Place both ends next to each other. Cut the cord so the ends can butt up against each other and lie flat inside the binding tape. Pick up one piece and trim its binding tape to be even with the end of the cord. Place this piece of piping inside the other one. Check again to make sure the cord ends will lie flat; trim if necessary. On the outside piping, turn under the end of the binding tape by about 1⁄4 inch, and press. Fold the outside binding tape over the inside one. Finish basting the piping in place.

NOTE: Again, if you don’t want to use piping, simply omit this step.

Photo by Rebecca Martin

Step 5: Place the front square, right-side up, on a flat work surface. Pick up one of the back pieces and lay it on the front square, right-side down, so its three unhemmed edges align with the raw edges on the front square. Pin the back piece to the front, making sure the piping lies correctly (turning inward between the front and back layers).

Photo by Rebecca Martin

5a: Repeat with the second back piece on the opposite edges of the front square. Its hemmed edge will overlap the underlying piece’s hemmed edge by several inches.

Photo by Rebecca Martin

Step 6: The final step is to sew together all layers of the pillow cover. If you’re sewing with a machine, use the zipper foot and stitch a 1⁄4-inch seam around the edges, getting as close to the piping’s cord as possible. At the corners, you’ll follow the curve of the piping. Backstitch at the beginning and end. Trim any excess fabric from the corners before turning the pillow cover right-side out.

Photo by Rebecca Martin

Step 7: Press, then insert the pillow form.


Capper’s Farmer editor Rebecca Martin has been sewing for many years, and enjoys tackling all kinds of new sewing and crafting challenges.

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