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A Guide to Decorative Pillows

Geometric decorative pillows on a bedDecorative pillows are a wonderful way to transform a sitting area by providing color, texture, and shape in a way that is both pleasing to the eye and comfortable to use. We’ll start out this brief guide by going over some identifying terms before moving on to a bit of decorative pillow theory. We want to encourage you to explore the world of decorative pillows, and who knows, you might just get inspired to make a few of your own. Let’s dive right in!

Pillow Construction

There are four primary types of pillow construction:

Knife-edge: The most common pillow structure. Two panels are sewn together to create a pillow which is thicker in the middle than at the edges. This construction is what you’re most likely sleeping on at night.

Box edge: Two panels are sewn to a uniformly thick band, creating a pillow which is the same thickness at the edge as in the middle. Most commonly in rectangular or square shapes, circles and triangles are also popular.

Bolster: Also known as neck pillows, bolsters are cylindrical, made of a tube sealed with disks on both ends. Ends are often adorned with welting, ruffles, tassels, etc.

Flange: A construction similar to knife-edge where the panels extend beyond the stuffing, creating a framing effect. The extended fabric is usually straight, scalloped, or ruffle finished to aide in the effect it creates.

Key Choices and Embellishments

Especially if you’re looking to have some pillows custom made for your home, you should familiarize yourself with the types of embellishments you can find. We’ve included a number of them, and clarified where their meanings aren’t immediately clear.

Trim: Embellishments which usually cross the middle of the pillow, though can also be around the edges.

Beaded trim, braided rope trim, feather trim

Fringe: Embellishments which are sewn to the edge of the pillow along the seam

Brush fringe: akin to a very soft brush. You will recognize this fringe from rugs.

Bullion fringe: similar to brush fringe, but with tightly twisted ropes instead of loose bundles of fibers

Leather fringe: small strands of leather are used rather than fibers

Buttons and Ruffles

Pillow form: What is the pillow stuffed with? Down, polyester, foam, wool?

Whether you’re shopping for the perfect pillow or creating your own, we encourage pillow covers with zippers. It makes it so much easier to clean your pillows when you can just yank them out of their covers.

Formal Pillow Decorating

Decorative pillows on a white couch in a large roomIf the space you’re decorating has a formal purpose which you would like to be reflected in your pillow choices, there are a few rules to follow. Firstly, pillows should be used in even numbers wherever they are used. Create symmetry with your placement and layering with an eye for consistency. Orient patterns uniformly. Secondly, select only a few colors and designs. Two is a good place to start, but if you have a lot of space to cover, more patterns can be chosen. Colors should be complementary and be shared across pillows. Patterns should be elegant and fine enough that they aren’t distracting. Lastly, pillows should be in one or two sizes. The key here is avoiding irregularity in everything.

Informal Pillow Decorating

eclectic blue and white pillowsThere are far fewer rules for informal decorating, though general design principles still apply. Look for patterns and colors which complement or contrast with each other and a variety of textures, details, and shapes. Find a compelling motif – dragonflies, plant life, geometric patterns – or color set that you like and run with it. Consider mixing solid color pillows in to provide a counterweight to bold patterns, or bright white botanical pillows to contrast a color and texture heavy ensemble.


One of the most important things to look for in decorative pillows is reversibility. Pillows and cases which have one design on one side and another, often complementary, design on the other side provide incredible flexibility. The more reversible pillows you have, and the more deliberate you are about buying pillows which go together, the more possible options you have for beautiful decorative pillow accents.

Custom Pillows

If your perfect pillow isn’t available from retail stores, it’s time to start thinking custom. If you have sewing or upholstery experience and the requisite equipment, you can make your own pillow covers relatively easily. For those who want gorgeous pillows without the work, find someone in your area who does custom pillows and talk with them about your design ideas. They’ll help bring your perfect pillow to life!