When you sew a zipper you are connecting two things that you want to have closed, open or somewhere in between. 

It might be a dress, your jeans (if you are industrious enough to sew your own jeans!) or my favorite – a bag.

I have found that zippers cause a lot of people undue stress – they can feel daunting but with some patience and practice you can make zippers your friend!

TEETH: interlocking metal or plastic that creates the closure in a zipper

ZIPPER TAPE: the two strips of fabric along each side

PULL: the slide that connects or disconnects the teeth

STOP: metal or stitching that goes between the zipper tape and across the teeth to stop the pull from coming off completely.

RIGHT SIDE: when the zipper is “face up” and you can grab the pull and open the zipper

WRONG SIDE: when the zipper is “face down” and you can't grab the pull.

ZIPPER SIZE: the length of a zipper is measured from the top zipper stop to the bottom zipper stop, not the length of the zipper tape itself. So if you buy a zipper that says it is 6″ and measure the tape and find it to be 7″ – don't be surprised!

In this post I'm going to show you how to sew a basic zipper.

There are more advanced techniques, like for an “open wide zipper bag” but it's best to start with the basics and then move on from there!

You will need 5 things:

  • an outer fabric (two pieces)
  • an inside fabric (two pieces)
  • a zipper with plastic teeth (while metal teeth are cool, it's cheaper and easier to learn with zippers with plastic teeth.)

The outer and inner fabrics should all be the same size and for this technique the zipper should be an inch or two longer than the fabric you are sewing it onto.

While this may seem like a waste of zipper and money (the longer the zipper the more in costs) I have found the extra expense to be well worth it. Doing it this way allows you to have the zipper pull well out of the way when you sew, keeping things lined up and your stitching results better.

PART 1: SEW THE ZIPPER TO THE FABRIC

STEP 1: PIN THE FABRICS AND ZIPPER TOGETHER

Place the outer fabric right side up.

Place the zipper on top of the outer fabric, right side down, with the edge of the zipper tape lined up with the edge of the outer fabric. Center the zipper over the fabric so there is extra zipper going off each end.

Place the inner fabric right side down on top of the zipper, with the edge of the outer fabric lined up with the zipper tape.

Lining up the fabrics and zipper is the place to spend time and be as much of a perfectionist as possible.

If you don't get the 3 edges lined up your zipper won't look amazing when you are done. And who spends the time sewing to make something that looks so-so? Let's shoot for amazing!

You can secure the 3 pieces with straight pins but I prefer to use fabric clips. They hold more of the fabric (instead of one skinny point where the pin is) AND they are fast and easy to put on and off. (There is a link to where you can find the clips at the bottom of the post.)

ZIPPER TIP:

If you don't feel confident about lining up 3 things and keeping them secure enough to achieve amazing results, you can add a step and baste the zipper onto the outer fabric (use a 1/8″ seam allowance so the stitching doesn't show when you are done) and then add the inner fabric and sew.

This is a great technique as you get used to doing zippers or a great way to teach kids and avoid frustration.

STEP 2: SEW THE ZIPPER IN PLACE

Step one is the place to spend time and be as much of a perfectionist as possible.

If you don't get the 3 edges lined up your zipper won't look amazing when you are done. And who spends the time sewing to make something that looks so-so? Let's shoot for amazing!

You can secure the 3 pieces with straight pins but I prefer to use fabric clips. They hold more of the fabric (instead of one skinny point where the pin is) AND they are fast and easy to put on and off. (There is a link to where you can find the clips at the bottom of the post.)

Using your zipper foot, move the needle to the side closest to your zipper. Sew the three layers together getting as close to the zipper teeth as possible.

Fold both pieces of fabric to one side of the zipper and press away from the zipper teeth.

STEP 3: REPEAT STEPS 1 & 2 FOR THE OPPOSITE SIDE

Repeat with the other side.

When placing your first fabric down on the zipper, make sure you line the fabric up with the fabric you already stitched in place.

This detail is important since you are using a zipper that is longer than the fabric – you want to have everything lined up when you are done and not off-center.

STEP 4: (optional) EDGESTITCH ON EITHER SIDE OF THE ZIPPER

With the zipper foot still in your machine, edgestitch next to the zipper to keep the fabric away from the zipper teeth.

Edgestitching can also be decorative as well as functional – consider thread color to accent or hide within the fabric you have chosen as your outer fabric.

PART 2: SHORTEN YOUR ZIPPER

STEP 5: ADJUST YOUR STITCHING TO CREATE A BAR TACK

Since you used a zipper that is bigger than your fabric, you now need to adjust it and make it perfect. You will add a “bar tack” at the top and bottom of the zipper, close to the edge of the fabric.

Start at the BOTTOM of the zipper – the part with the metal holding the teeth together and zipper tape in place.

Change to your standard sewing machine foot that will allow you to use a zig zag stitch.

Adjust your zig zag settings to be as wide as possible and very short (I usually put mine to .2 or .3).

You want the stitches short because you don't want the sewing to actually move up the zipper but rather have a lot of stitches back and forth in basically the same place.

 

STEP 6: SEW THE BAR TACK TO SHORTEN YOUR ZIPPER

Before really going for it, put the needle down and make sure it goes to the right or left of the zipper teeth and into the zipper tape. Next take up stitch to make sure it goes into the other side – this basically checks the width of your stitches and avoids broken needles and adrenalin rushes!

When you know things are set up correctly, take 9-10 stitches to create the “bar tack” (a fancy, sewist way of saying “stitches that tack things together that are in one place, and look like a bar).

Cut off the excess zipper tape and teeth – but NOT WITH YOUR FABRIC SCISSORS (or they will no longer be your fabric scissors.)

You have now changed the length of your zipper at the bottom.

STEP 7: SEW THE BAR TACK AT THE TOP OF THE ZIPPER (if needed)

There is one crucial step to take before you do the same thing on the top end: OPEN YOUR ZIPPER!!!

You don't want to beautifully tack the zipper permanently shut! (been there, used a seam ripper to correct that!)

Once the zipper is open you need to put the zipper teeth as close to together as possible before sewing your bar tack. You can line it up and hold it in place or pin the fabric together in front of where you will be sewing. (Also make sure the pin won't interfere with the machine foot).

That's all there is to it! I'd love to see what you make – be sure to tag #tarareeddesigns on social media!

Have a happy & creative day!

– Tara Reed

Materials Used in this Project:

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I used my Homestead Life fabrics in the sample photos – ask for them where quilt fabric is sold

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