Sewing zippers is something every sewing beginner will have to try when making clothes as they are a key garment fastening type.
But, it can feel quite daunting if you’ve never sewn a zipper before! This guide provides an overview on the different ways that zips can be inserted!
Zipper Types & Uses
I’ve previously discussed the different types of zippers, sizes and uses of zippers in sewing but a quick overview:
- The size options are based on the width of the teeth (Eg. #3 is 3mm, #5 is 5mm)
- The tape can be made from many different fibres (cotton, polyester, mesh)
- The teeth can be nylon, plastic or metal (coil or molded)
- They can be closed, continuous or open ended
- They can be used on everything from clothing to bags to tents
As well as being functional, zippers have also become more and more of a design feature over the decades, helping to make a big statement about the clothing piece you are wearing.
A leather jacket given to me was covered in beautiful metal zippers. There were seven chunky silver zippers in total:
- 2 horizontal pocket openings
- 2 slanted pocket openings
- 2 on the sleeve to give more arm manoeuvrability
- And the biggest and shiniest was for the actual jacket opening
Even the zipper pulls were large and shiny silver metal too. It was a jacket using zips for their design elements more than their functionality!
Other uses of zippers may be more discreet, hidden away so they’re invisible to all! This might be in a dress or skirt opening, the side seam opening of a pair of trousers or even a very cleanly finished coat.
Methods For Sewing Zippers
Inserting a zip can be tricky if you’re completely new to them. It does take some practise to get the hang of it and have that professional looking finish to your hand sewn clothing. I practised often on a few pieces of calico when starting out, and just unpicked the same zipper again and again until it came right.
Even now – several decades into my sewing experience – and I have been known to mess up the trouser fly!
My biggest tip when it comes to inserting a zipper is to hand tack your zip in place before sewing it on the machine. This will lessen the chances of something going wrong.
If you have one, you’ll want to change your regular sewing machine presser foot over to a zipper foot. Hopefully your machine came with one!
There are numerous ways to insert zippers, and the method used will really depend on the zipper you have chosen to use in your garment, but here are some examples of what each method looks like:
- Concealed / invisible
- Open ended
- Trouser Fly
Predominantly used as a centre back seam on dresses and skirts, this zipper is centred in the seam and is then stitched with an equal distance on both sides.
As you can see in the photos below, there is a visible line of stitching with this zip insertion method.
Centred Zip Sewing Steps:
- Select a suitable zipper
- Mark the fabric with a notch for the zipper end point
- Sew the two pieces of fabric together with your chosen seam allowance, from the hem to the notch
- Press the seam open
- Continue pressing the seam allowance to create a fold on the unstitched section
- Place the zipper teeth side up on the table
- Lay the fabric on top, making sure that the centre of the zipper is in line with the folded edge / seam
- Pin to secure
- Stitch down from the top to just below the zip end point, across, and back up to create a nice uniform ‘box’ around the zipper.
Concealed / Invisible Zipper
When inserted correctly, the concealed / invisible zipper is not visible from the right side of the garment.
Concealed Zip Sewing Steps:
- Mark a notch on both pieces of fabric level with the zip stopper
- Sew an open seam from the hem to this point and press open
- Place the right sides of the concealed zipper onto the right sides of the fabric and pin to secure
- Using an invisible zipper foot, carefully stitch the zipper in place, keeping the teeth within the channels
The exposed zipper is one of my favourite ways to insert a zipper. The exposed part simply means that the teeth of the zipper are exposed.
If you’re wanting the exposed zipper look, make sure to opt for a nice zipper. I generally go for Riri zippers. They are made with a heavy metal, but look fabulous!
Exposed Zip Sewing Steps:
- Decide where the exposed zipper will be and mark on fabric (I use drill holes on my pattern and then a fabric marking tool when ready to transfer)
- If required, trim the zipper down to size
- Add interfacing to the area that is to have the exposed zipper inserted
- Carefully cut into the rectangle – you’ll want to mark in a line in the centre almost the full length (stop 1cm from each end!) and then into the corners at a diagonal
- Turn these four sections under to the wrong side, and press in place
- Pop the zipper on the table in front of you
- Position the prepared fabric over the top, so that the zipper is exposed
- Pin to secure (you could also use a fabric adhesive if desired)
- Carefully top stitch the zipper into place.
Trouser Fly Zipper
Similar to the lapped zipper, one side of the zipper is stitched to the overwrap wrap, the other side is stitched to the underwear.
The underwrap protects the undergarment from being damaged by the zipper teeth.
Trouser Fly Sewing Steps:
This is the method that I have consistently used with success:
- Start by ensuring that one side of your pants has a ‘step’ of about 1cm
- Prepare both under-wrap and overwrap pieces – use interfacing to provide stability to the fabric
- Sandwich one side of the zipper between the under-wrap and trouser leg – edge stitch along the edge of the zipper to secure in place
- Attach the overwrap to the other trouser leg along the centre front edge
- Place both front leg pieces together and sew from the crotch up to the zipper notch
- Press the seam
- Place the front legs on the table right side up, and with the zipper closed, pin the overwrap into position so that the zip is covered
- Be careful not to pin through completely however!
- Open the zipper using the pull, and sew the zip tape to the overwrap section
- Finally, close the zip, and topstitch on the right side from the waist down and then towards the centre front with a slight curve
Mostly used on jackets, but also on skirts and dresses too, an open ended zipper opens completely. They are usually stitched in such a way that the teeth are visible which can make for a nice contrast if the metal or plastic teeth are in a different colour.
Sewing Zippers In Clothes
Sewing zippers can be tricky, but it’s worth the effort involved to make sure that the clothes you’re sewing have a good method of fastening!
Always consider the type of zipper you’ll be inserting – the width, length, and tape are important considerations – and have fun getting to grips with the different methods of zipper insertion!
Eve Tokens (aka The Creative Curator) is a fashion designer, creative pattern cutter and sewing pattern designer.
Eve graduated with a 2:1 in Fashion Design from the University of The Creative Arts in the UK, has a BTEC diploma in Creative Pattern Cutting, a Foundation Degree in Art & Design from Wimbledon College of Art and gained extensive experience in the fashion industry by interning and freelancing for London based fashion brands – Hardy Amies, Roland Mouret, Peter Pilotto and others.
As well as running her own small sustainable fashion brand, Eve has more than 25 years experience sewing and making clothes for herself and family members.