You Are Only One Zipper Away From Sewing Your Own Clothes:
A Pep Talk and Tutorial
The Pep Talk
Learning to install a zipper changed my life
Sewing for myself gives me control of what my clothing looks like and how it fits – how empowering is that! I’m so in love with the process and result of garment making that I’ve been averaging about two pieces a week. I can make a skirt in a couple of hours! It all started with the book Sew What! Skirts, which was written and packaged in such a way as to tempt me to overcome my fear of the zipper foot. Around the same time I read a blog post by a woman who had gained ten pounds over the holidays and had made herself a cute new skirt to fit her increased size. This concept rearranged my thinking. No longer was I going to wait to lose weight in order to reward myself with new clothes. I was going to draft a skirt pattern (learned from Sew What! Skirts) to fit my body as-is; choose a fabric that I love; and sew myself some tailored clothes. Custom-fitted clothing looks and feels better than off-the-rack, especially if your body shape doesn’t fit the industry standards.
The ruffler foot is not the zipper foot.
I was afraid of sewing in a zipper for about 30 years because I thought my mom’s ruffler foot was a zipper foot. A zipper foot is actually just a simple little foot that looks like half of a foot. One side is missing so that you can get close to the zipper teeth without bumping into them. My zipper foot (#4 Bernina) has two positions, left and right, so that you can sew up either side of the zipper. The zipper foot is not complicated and should not scare you away. The lesson here: get to know your sewing attachments, they are your friends. Be sure to read up on your own model of zipper foot.
Don’t hate me because I’m a beautiful zipper.
The most difficult part of zipper installation is making it look good. With the glue-set method you eliminate most of the challenges. The process becomes quite easy. The idea behind the glue-set zipper installation is to use adhesive to hold the zipper in place, while sewing, instead of pins. This allows you to top stitch the zipper without having to wrangle with the pins. And, since you are top stitching it into place, you have more control on how it looks on the outside, thus, more chances at zipper success.
The Glue-Set Zipper Tutorial: A basic side zipper for an A-line skirt
Step 1: Rough Zipper Layout
With the front and back panels of the skirt right sides together, lay a zipper on the side seam about 1/4 inch down from the stay stitching to get an idea of where the bottom of the zipper will be. A zipper between seven and nine inches is considered normal for skirts. The shorter the zipper is the harder it will be to get over hips. Got a big back side? Use a longer zipper.
Step 2: Mark Zipper Bottom
Place two pins at the bottom of where the zipper will end. You want these to be about where the zipper teeth end, not where the zipper fabric ends. The goal is to get as close to the zipper as possible without running your sewing machine needle into the zipper teeth or bottom closure. Continue to pin the two skirt pieces together in preparation for sewing.
Step 3: Sew and Baste Zipper Side Seam
Starting at the bottom of the skirt, sew with a regular stitch up to the two pins that mark the bottom of where the zipper will go. At this point back tack a little for reinforcement. Continue to the top of the skirt waist with a basting stitch. These stitches will be ripped out after the zipper is installed. Press the seam flat with an iron.
Step 4: Glue Zipper
With a regular glue stick apply glue to the right side of the zipper avoiding the zipper teeth. I have read that there are sewing adhesives, but have not tried any yet. The glue stick seems to work fine.
Step 5: Rough Zipper Placement
Gently place the glued side of the zipper onto the pressed side seam about 1/4 inch from the stay stitching. This isn’t the final placement so do not press it into the fabric.
Step 6: Final Zipper Placement
Starting at the top of the zipper, roll the zipper into place doing your best to center the teeth along the line of the seam.
Step 7: Set Glue
When you are happy with the placement and alignment of your zipper set the glue by pressing with an iron. Make sure it’s not too hot.
Step 8: Top Stitching (part 1)
On the right side of the fabric, with zipper foot set to the outside position, sew across the bottom of the zipper. You’ll be starting at one corner and sewing across the seam to the other corner of the bottom of the zipper. Stop at this corner, leaving the needle in the fabric. Make sure that you don’t hit the bottom closure of the zipper.
Step 9: Top Stitching (part 2)
At the corner of the bottom of the zipper leave the needle in the fabric and lift foot to turn the fabric for the ascent back to the waist. You want the distance from the seam to the stitching to be as far away from the seam as you can go without running off of the zipper fabric. This is one of the challenges of the zipper. If you are too close to the zipper teeth it’s harder to make a neat looking stitch. If you get to far away, your stitching falls off of the zipper, which looks bad and messes with functionality. This photo shows the distance that I normally use, I think it’s about 3/8 inch from the seam. Make sure to leave the threads long enough to work in when finished.
Step 10: Zipper Pull Work-Around (part 1)
One of the problems with putting in zippers is sewing around the bulk of the zipper pull. It tends to make for wonky stitching up at the top, with the stitching taking on a Y-shape as you sew around the pull. One way to fix this is to make the top stitch far enough away that the pull doesn’t affect the stitch. Another trick is to stop short of the pull; leave the needle in the fabric; and pull the zipper down a bit, so it’s behind the zipper foot.
Step 11: Zipper Pull Work-Around (part 2)
With needle still in the fabric and the foot up the zipper is opened to move the zipper pull behind zipper foot. Put foot down and continue sewing to the top of the skirt.
Step 12: Move Zipper Foot
Switch zipper foot to right side of the needle.
Step 13: Top Stitch Other Side
Starting in the bottom corner of the top stitching, place needle in fabric. Lower zipper foot and stitch along the bottom of the zipper following the previous stitches. At the corner leave the needle in the fabric. Lift foot, rotate fabric, put foot down, and top stitch up other side of zipper as before.
Step 14: Check Zipper
After top stitching is done check the underside of the zipper to make sure that you have sewn all away around the zipper without running off of the zipper fabric. I moved the zipper pull up and down according to where I was sewing in order to avoid sewing around it.
Step 15: Rip Out Basting
If you are happy with your top stitching you are now done with the hard part. If the top stitching looks funky, or the stitches didn’t catch the zipper, then you should probably rip out the stitches with a seam ripper and sew it again. This sounds difficult, but it’s really not that hard. Once you are satisfied with your work, you get to do the fun part: ripping out the basting to reveal the zipper.
Step 16: Pull Out Threads
Because it’s so fun to rip out the basting I took another picture. Don’t forget to pull out the little bits of basting thread.
Step 17: Sew in Ends
You should now have a working zipper. If a little glue has gunked up the zipper teeth, just wash it off with a damp rag. The last step in the zipper installation is to work in the threads at the bottom of the zipper. Use a regular hand sewing needle to run the threads to the inside of the skirt, tie off, and clip excess.
This is what my finished skirt looks like. When Kristin asked me to do a tutorial for Skirt Month I immediately thought of the glue-set zipper. As I planned the skirt and the tutorial I realized that I wasn’t sure which step to start the zipper tutorial with. I ended up making a start-to-finish photographic tutorial of how I sew an A-line skirt with glue-set zipper. Since it took 47 photos to document the process I’m paring this post down to the zipper-only tutorial — a mere 18 photos. The rest of the skirt tutorial can be found in this Flickr set. Good luck and happy sewing. — Michelle
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on Wednesday, May 16th, 2007 at 3:37 pm and is filed under Sewing Tips, Tutorials & Projects.
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86 Responses to “Installing a Zipper ~ Tutorial by Michelle”
Thanks for the lovely introduction. I hope the quantity of photos doesn’t overwhelm people — it’s really not that difficult. I just figured it was easier to photograph than describe in detail. It’s a luxury that the internet allows. Thanks, again, for the opportunity. I had fun doing it.
Fabulous tutorial! i JUST learned how to put in a zipper in sewing class, and the instructor has us hand stitching the thing in place THEN sewing it down….glue never occurred to me!! This will make life sooooo much easier!!
Thank you so much for this tutorial! I’ve used Scotch tape, but I think glue would work well.
Gosh, this is fab. I will study it well; I’d love to whip out little bags as quick & dirty projects when I’m too overwhelmed to make clothing, but have held off because I am not too confident about zipperage.
[...] I had to wing it with the waist…the pattern piece that i was supposed to use was long gone. So i just used bias tape and allowed it to hang long in the back so i could tie it in a girlie bow. The zipper was not hard to put in at all, thank to the fabulous tutorial by Michelle of Green Kitchen. [...]
That looks so easy, it never would have occurred to me to do it that way, thanks so much for doing this tutorial. Now I wish I’d read it before I spent this morning wrestling with putting in a zipper.
It’s funny but my first-ever zipper went in great and it was all uphill – or downhill – from there, so I’ve been avoiding them. But no longer! This weekend I may just have time to both buy a glue stick and sew something new. Thanks for the tutorial!
OK, I think this is finally going to give me the courage to sew a zipper! I can’t wait to give it a try!
oh god thank you so much. i’ve been scared of zippers for the longest time and now i’m not scared. i was confused about the feet too haha:]
I’m a visual person and this tutorial is just what the doctor ordered. Thank you for sharing!
Elaine Bridge responds:
Michelle you did a great job of explaining how to put a zipper in but this is the proper kind of zipper for the BACK of a skirt. If you look at skirts you will see that side zippers are not centered in this way. The front side overlap of fabric is wider and covers over the entire zipper teeth. The back side is stitched very close to the zipper teeth. Without being able to show you a picture here I hope that I have explained it well enough.
Thanks for this, I googled ‘zipper tutorial’ and yours was the second to come up. But as soon as I saw the Sew, Mama, Sew on it, I clicked. Knowing that it had to be a good tutorial and you didn’t let me down. Of all the things that I’ve learned from my mother about sewing, zippers weren’t one of them. I need to sew one now (ok, ripping stitches out first) and you just saved the day! PLUS save me long hours of frustration!
Thank you, thank you!! I started sewing, rather teaching myself how to sew 3 years ago out of the need for more modest appropriate clothing for myself and family, and I have had a fear of zippers. I have done a few and they turned out ok – but now after your explanation I will be on the right track for sure!!! I won’t even go into details about how I was doing them.
Oh my god, thank you so much. I’ve always had to rip out my zippers on everything I’ve ever made and start over because I never knew how to sew them and now they all look flawless. Thank you so muchhhh~!
Just used this tutorial. Loved it. Made the zipper so easy. Thanks for the great pictures. Beth
hey this is great, my brain remembers once i saw the pictures, you made it so simple i’m ashamed of me for forgetting, now the zippers will go in my dog beds easier. thank you so much for being there….linda
I made a darling dress for my daughter, but it’s been mocking me for WEEKS because I was too intimidated to try the zipper installation. I read this tutorial and just finished putting in my very first zipper — it’s a work of art! I’ve been sewing for 20 years, and you wouldn’t believe the lengths I’ve gone to to avoid zippers — no more! It seems that not enough of us have mothers who taught us to sew, so we’re kind of teaching ourselves as we go. This tutorial was beyond helpful. A thousand thank yous!
I am attempting to set a zipper in the side seam of a bias cut skirt. It ripples when tried on. IF I use interfacing on the placket will this help?
That was so useful, thank you so much. I just wish I read it before trying to sew my first zipper a couple of days ago. At least I’ll know for next time.
Thank you for this post. I found it by googling “how to sew in a zipper.” I love to sew, but have been scared of zippers until now! Your photos make the tutorial so much easier to understand. I will be trying my first zipper soon and have bookmarked your page to walk me thru it!
Lori Penland responds:
Yes!!! Finally, I can do a zipper! I used this technique to put in the zipper my first ever (successful) dress. I had already ripped it out once before I found this tutorial. I’m so excited that I can make decent looking clothes now.
One note, I wouldn’t recommend using Scotch Repositionable Glue Stick. It sort of defeats the purpose.
Thank you very much for this WONDERFUL tute! I have been so scared of zippers and just installed an invisible zipper with ease. THANK YOU!!!
This is exactly how my mom taught me to insert a zipper 30 years ago.
I think I love you. Of course, my family hates you because I am refusing to cook, clean, shop or play with anyone else because I am SEWING ZIPPERS!! Bless you and your Bernina loving heart.
Nan Auhll responds:
Wow, after 35 years of sewing, that was the first zipper I have put in that I did not have to rip out. My mom has tried for years to help me with my anxiety of putting in a zipper, this WORKED. I am so glad that I found this…..
Melanie Fitterer responds:
How do I install a two-way molded jacket zipper on a pair of coveralls that has a piece of fabric on the inside as a casing?
AWESOME! I’m going to try this, and hopefully cure my zipper phobia!
I am set to sew my very first zipper this weekend – I admit that I have COMPLETELY avoided patterns with zippers due to intense intimidation. Your tutorial makes it look so much more simple than I imagined. Thanks a million!!!
Thank you so much for this tutorial! Funnily enough, this was so much clearer to me than a video I found. Now I can finally get close to finishing my first sewing project for myself! Thank you so much!
Wow–you must have had a bad experience with photo theft. Where the pictures should be for the tutorial I can only see ownership statements.
I’m sure there’s a story there, but I guess I’ll have to go elsewhere to look at the process.
Lynda Christensen responds:
I have been visiting this site for a few weeks waiting for it to be up and running again. When will it be available????
Debbie Lowery responds:
I’m so bummed.. there’s been an error on this page for weeks.. ever since I found it.. I wd love to see a photo description of an easy way to apply a zipper.. boo hoo.. Is there anyway to send it in an email.. Ps I see it’s been posted for a very long time, sorry I didn’t find it sooner.. Regards, Deb
Thank you for the tips! I’m working on a skirt right now and this article is very helpful! =)
omg. i totally LOVE that fabric!! where did you buy it??? i have to have it!!! btw, great job on the tutorial!!! i’m working on a dress right now and it’s really helpful. thanks!
Oh my gosh thank you so much! This was more helpful than even the video tutorials I found on youtube. I’m going to go sew the zipper on my dress right now! Thanks
This is a wonderful tutorial!!!!!!!! thank you thank you thank you!
hi, thanksssss soooo much, your instructions are soooo good, i love the way you explained every detail so clearly, i spent ages on you tube but nothing worked out, by just looking at your pictures iv learnt how to do a zipper in seconds…thanks soo much….
I also came across this when trying to figure out how to use my zipper foot. This was sooo helpful. Thanks!
hi, thank u for this tutorial. i have been sewing for nearly 20 years and i have never heard of or thought of gluing the zipper down and starting at the bottom of the the zipper. this is an excellent idea.
I did it! I follwed your tutorial and i did it! My first one. It came out pretty darn perfect. Thank you so much. It really wasn’t even that hard. What was I so affraid of? Thanks again!
Nancy Obermiller responds:
WOW! This was such a terrific find. I am replacing a zipper and was so happy to find this page. Fantastic instructions and pictures.. I am a person who has a hard time following directions. The pictures did it for me. Thank you so much..
A-Mazing! I’ve been waiting for my mom to help sew a zipper into a Boppy cover I’ve made and I’ve been impatient. Found your tutorial and it worked wonderfully! I did have issues because I’d already sewn the body of the pillow together and then tried doing the zipper. I had to unpick the whole cover in order to get the whole 24″ zipper sewn in but now that it’s done, I just have to re-sew it all together and I’m FINISHED! Just in time for this new baby to arrive Thank you sew, sew, sew (haha!) much!
amazing! i started making a dress when my grandmother was down and was not able to finish it before she left and ive never sewn anything without her.. Think ill be able to finish this dress now!! So excited so excited
thanks so much! I’ve been sewing for nearly 40 years and have always avoided zippers (with one horrific exception)! I will no longer fear the zipper!
I love the idea of the glue and can’t wait to try it. Thanks!