Sewing Zippers 101 – Back to Sewing Basics

Sewing Zippers


Sewing zippers can be intimidating, confusing and downright scary! But today I’m going to give you some tips and tricks that might make you reconsider sewing zippers! Now, if you know anything about me, you know that I LOVE snaps. I will choose snaps over buttons or zippers any day, but sometimes you just can’t avoid sewing zippers.

Let’s start off with the basics of what types of zippers there are. I’m sticking to zippers that mostly relate to clothing, but I’ll mention a few others. I’ve also linked to for the most common zippers so you can get a feel for what to buy when you’re faced with a pattern that requires one of these!

Types of Zippers for sewing

This is your typical Nylon Coil zipper. The teeth on these zippers are a continuous coil down the length of the zipper. You can find these in a bit more heavy-duty size, but the use on those would be more for bags, upholstery, etc. This particular coil zipper is a close-ended, non-separating zipper. See that little square metal clamp at the bottom? You would not use this type for a jacket, since you can’t separate it completely.

nylon coil zipper

Zippers 101

These are great for dresses that only have a zipper in the bodice, pant or skirt zippers, pockets in jackets, and half-zippers. These are often installed centered, but occasionally you might find a pattern that utilizes a lapped seam installation. Here is an centered zipper example:

zippers 101

You can find these as separating zippers (sometimes referred to as a jacket zipper, because of it’s separating capability) as well.

Molded Plastic Zippers! These are a bit of a chunkier zipper that you mostly find as a separating zipper. It’s the one you would use in outerwear, hoodies, snow pants, etc. This is a separating plastic zipper:

molded plastic zipper

You may also see these with two zipper pulls; that’s a two-way separable zipper – they can unzip from the bottom and the top. Also available are reversible separating plastic zippers. That would be handy in a reversible jacket.

The last kind I’m going to talk about today is the Invisible Zipper:

invisible zipper

These aren’t used very much in children’s wear, except in some fancy dresses, but they’re very good to use in skirts or dresses where you don’t want to see any sign of a zipper. These never separate at the bottom. You can see how the teeth are on the underside of the zipper, instead of on top. That brings the outside fabric really close together (when installed properly) to make a clean finish. These can be installed using a regular zipper foot, but an invisible zipper foot does a FAR better job. I’m not covering the installation of this zipper, but a little trick I learned about in my tailor shop days was this: unzip the zipper and iron the teeth flat using a cover cloth, warm iron and lots of steam. Once it’s flat like that, it is SO easy to fit the teeth right into the groove on the invisible zipper foot. Works like a charm!

Now a little bit about The Zipper Foot. Ha. It really will make your life easier when installing zippers!

zippers 101 zippers 101

Please note that the zipper foot up there is upside down….this is what happens when I sew at night! Ok, here’s a visual for how the zipper foot sits on the zipper:

zippers 101

You can see that there are two sides to the zipper foot, and it depends which side of the zipper you are sewing as to which way you attach the foot to your machine. Also, be sure that your needle clears the foot…ask me how I know…

zippers 101

This is how your regular general-purpose foot sits on a zipper – it puts your needle too far away from where you should be stitching! That’s why it’s important to use the right tool for the job 🙂

zippers 101

So that’s a little round-up of the common zippers we use! There are tons of tutorials out there for sewing zippers. I do have one last tip for you. Ever finish the zipper in a jacket or hoodie and your front pockets don’t line up? or maybe something else is off? Here is how I sew zippers so that everything lines up almost perfectly!

This is what I started with: a mashed-up High Five Hoodie with some Grand Slam sleeves and a Downton Duffle hood! Oh, and a too-long molded plastic zipper. And a nylon zipper.zippers 101

You can see that there are three important seams that I will need to match up:

Zippers 101

If your zipper is too long, mark where it needs to stop and pull the extra teeth off with some needle-nosed pliers.

Zippers 101

Next, pin your zipper in place on ONE side of your jacket.

Zippers 101

Sew or baste in place.

Zippers 101

Zip up the other side of your zipper:

Zippers 101

Now, using chalk, an erasable fabric marker or other fabric pencil, mark on the unsewn side of the zipper where each of the seams are on the sewn side. Be precise and consistent. Transfer the marks to the opposite side of the zipper.

Zippers 101

Unzip the zipper again, and using the marks, line up and pin at each seam first.

Zippers 101

Test your matched seams by zipping up the zipper and make any adjustments as needed. Once it’s perfect, sew up the second side of your zipper.

Zippers 101

There you go! A perfectly matched up zipper! I hope this helps take some of the scariness out of sewing zippers!

Here is the completed mash-up:

Zippers 101 Zippers 101 Zippers 101

Happy Sewing!

9 Responses

  1. I am interested as to how you finish the bottom band after inserting the zipper? It looks attached on either side of the zipper but not attached to the bottom of the garment.

  2. I keep breaking needles as I see over nylon zippers and heavier materials. What kind of machine needles do you recommend to keep them from breaking? Frustrated! Thanks!

  3. I’d like to sew a box zippered pouch. The directions call for sewing slowly over the teeth of the zipper. Can this be done with a chunky molded Sport zipper? I’m afraid to break my needle, but I really love Sport zippers. Please help!

  4. I bought a zipper for my granddaughters jacket . The zipper states all purpose. But it is a closed end. Is there away to make it work in her jacket?

  5. I have issues with the zipper foot being pushed aside when you get to the stopper at the end. Also, is there an easy way to transition the zipper ?clip? from the unsewn side to the sewn side otherwise it will also push the zipper foot to the side and result in a wonky seam.


    1. I like to stop with my needle down and then lift the presser foot up and move the zipper stop out of the way. Then you can put the presser foot back down and keep sewing

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