How To Install A Zipper

Red and green zipper

Zip it! Photo courtesy of kennyrivas

Are you the type of sewer who keeps everything buttoned up?  Do you have projects languishing in your to-do pile because you are afraid to tackle your dreaded, toothy nemesis, the zipper?

If so, here are a few tips on how to install a zipper to help you overcome fear of the zipper.

Types of Zippers

Some items call for a hidden or sewing an invisible zipper that shows a smooth seam when closed.  A special zipper foot for this type of zipper makes the work much easier.

Exposed zippers have become a fashion statement, where the teeth, usually in a bright metallic, are exposed as an accessory.

A lapped zipper is used for side seams with the widest lap almost covering the smaller lap.  This gives a front and back effect to your zipper.

Choosing the Zipper

First, choose a zipper that matches the color of your project.   If you have a hot pink pillow cover, you don’t want a pea soup green zipper showing through.  Fortunately, the notion section of your sewing store—brick and mortar or online—offers a dizzying array of colors that rival the biggest crayon box in your child’s imagination.

Next, choose the correct length.  When you are making garments, you won’t find this too much of a challenge because patternmakers and zipper executives are in cahoots to standardize skirt, pant, back and other lengths.  You just need to follow the notions list on your pattern envelope to purchase the correct zipper size.  Most of the time, that is.

From time to time, though, you will have a project with a zipper opening that is shorter than any standard zipper.  What do you do?  Try to close the opening with duct tape?  An ingenious trick will make any zipper fit your project.  Find a zipper in the appropriate color that is longer than you need.  Notice the bar at the bottom of the zipper that keeps it from running off the rails?  Well, simply stitch a new bar, either by hand with a whipstitch (small, overlapped stitches) or using your wide zigzag stitch on your machine with the stitch length on ‘0’.  Cut off the excess, leaving an inch or so at the bottom as your zippers always do.

The Zipper Ate My Needle!!!!

If I had a nickel for every time I have rammed my sewing machine needle through the pins keeping my zipper in place—well, at my age I’d be rich. As we have mentioned before, you must NEVER sew over pins because you risk damaging your machine and project.  But how do you keep a squirreling zipper in place and sew a straight seam?  Simple.  Clear plastic tape.  Close your zipper and seam with pins you will remove shortly and center the teeth of the zipper over the seam line.  Place a piece of tape across the zipper at the bottom to mark the piece of metal or plastic that locks the zipper in place.  You don’t want to stitch over that.  Tape the rest of the zipper to the fabric at 1 ½ inch intervals.  Remove the pins.  When you sew, you can stitch right over the tape and then peel it off when you are done.  You will find that the tape holds the zipper in place more securely than pins, that can wiggle and distort your sewing line.

Sew On The Right Side Or Wrong Side?

There are two schools of thought here.  If you sew with the zipper facing you (face down on the wrong side of the fabric), you will be sure to keep your stitches from wandering on to the teeth.  If you blind  on the right side of the fabric, you will have a nice even sewing line, but can’t tell if the zipper has wandered off track and you are sewing only fabric but not the zipper.  For novices, it is a good idea to sew with the zipper facing you until you have the technique down, but with practice you will learn which is most comfortable for you.

The Zipper Foot Is Your BFF.

The zipper attachment has notches on both sides of the foot to allow you to get your stitches close but not on the teeth, no matter which side of the zipper you are attaching.  Never attempt a zipper without it.

Sewing The Zipper

First, of course, you want to baste your seam closed, unless you are using an invisible zipper.  The zipper will run off track and pull the edges out of alignment otherwise.  Start sewing at the top of the zipper, opening the zipper to get started, then closing the zipper (you have to maneuver around the needle) down to a quarter of an inch above the bar that holds the zipper closed.   Put your needle into the zipper tape, lift the zipper foot, turn the fabric, put the zipper foot down and sew across the zipper, put needle back into the fabric, lift zipper foot, turn the work so that you are sewing back up to the top, and continue.  Once again, open the zipper as you get close to the top.

If you are attaching a zipper to a delicate or tricky fabric, such as velvet, a better option to machine sewing is installing the zipper by hand.  Use small, overlapped stitches to give a seamless look.

If you are attaching a zipper for the first time on your own versus in a class, be sure to watch a tutorial first and, if possible, practice on a swatch first.  Then you are ready to zip it up!

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  • Header image, Two Little Fabric Cottages, courtesy of peregrine blue