Decorative Pillows 101

A Glossary of Decorative Pillow Types and Styles

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Couch with Orchid Pillow. Johner Images / Getty

Decorative pillows are probably the easiest way to add color, pattern and texture to a room, not to mention comfort.  Although they can be found at a variety of price points, pillows are certainly less expensive than curtains and rugs, making it easy to change them frequently to match the season. Sewing decorative pillows is also fairly simple, even for beginners.  While a room without pillows looks incomplete, layering pillows on a bed or couch can give your space a finished feel.

 

When shopping for pillows, particularly online, it helps to know what type and style you prefer.  Sure you could type "long, cylinder-shaped pillow" into Google and hope for the best; but, wouldn't it be easier to know that the thing you're looking for is called a bolster?  This glossary of decorative pillow types and styles will help you with your search.

There are four main types of decorative pillows:

  1. Toss
  2. Bolster
  3. Lumbar
  4. Box

For the purposes of this article, the "style" of a pillow refers to how it is sewn or "finished off."  There are five main styles for decorative pillows:

  1. Knife Edge
  2. Flange
  3. Welted (or Corded)
  4. Embellished
  5. Tufted

Types of Decorative Pillows

Decorative pillows are generally identified by their shape.  Here are the five main types of decorative pillows.

Square Toss Pillows

This one is a no-brainer and is likely the most common type of decorative pillow.  Toss pillows are almost always square, and can be plain-Jane, or embellished with anything under the sun, from embroidery and sequins, to buttons and rick-rack.

 Sewn for comfort, toss pillows are filled with down or synthetic fiber-fill.

Bolster Pillows

Bolster pillows are often firmer because they are intended as back or neck supports.  They are generally long and cylindrical; however, I've seen them long and rectangular as well.  This type of pillow works best on a large sectional sofa, or on a bed.

Lumbar Pillows

Lumbar pillows are more petite and are rectangular in shape.  Like the bolster, this type of pillow is intended for giving extra back support, although they can be purely decorative as well. 

Box Pillow

Box pillows are constructed with straight sides and can be square or round.  Because of their larger size and sturdier construction, they are more often used as floor or seat cushions.

Styles of Decorative Pillows

There are five main ways a decorative pillow can be "finished off."  A toss pillow can have a knife-edge or be tufted.  Similarly, a lumbar pillow could be self-welting or have a flange.  Mixing and matching styles of pillows adds interest to a bed or sofa.

Knife-Edge

A knife-edge pillow is the easiest to sew, and therefore is the most common and can be the least expensive.

 This type of pillow has a sharp edge and tapered corners because the fabric was simply sewn together with no embellishment at its edge.  This is not to say that knife-edge pillows are always plain.  Although they are simply constructed, they can certainly be embellished in other ways.

Welted or Corded

A welted or corded pillow has fabric-wrapped cording around its edge.  A pillow that is said to be self-welted is one that has cording made from the same fabric as the pillow itself.  A bit more difficult to sew, welted or self-welted pillows can have a professionally-made appearance.

Embellished

While a knife-edge pillow has no embellishment on its edge, and a welted pillow has simple cording, examples of an embellished pillow could be one that has an edge sewn with coordinating braided cording, rope or sisal cording, tasseled corners or pom-pom fringe.

Flange

flange pillow is sewn so that a piece of fabric extends beyond the seam of the pillow.

This piece of fabric can have a tailored look like the one pictured here, or a more romantic ruffle.

Tufted

tufted pillow has one or more buttons or sections of thread sewn onto the pillow and pulled taut so that the fabric gathers and puckers around it.  This creates sections of evenly spaced filling.