Learn how to sew a zipper with this free sewing tutorial including video for visual learners
Hey y’all – today we’re going to talk zippers- specifically how to sew a zipper in a project. I know many new to sewing are scared of zippers and buttons, but there’s really nothing to be scared of, and being able to sew closures vastly expands the kinds of sewing projects you can tackle. From zipper pouches to floor pillows to dresses to zip flys, sew a zipper and you’re on your way. A zipper is often the first type of fastener sewing beginners attempt, with good reason! If you can sew a straight line, you’re already most of the way there to sewing zippers.
This video is the short version of a basic zipper application and shows how to sew a zipper centered on a seam. You can also watch on YouTube here. I’ll also break down these steps to sew a zipper in the pictures in this post, as well as instructions for a lapped zippers and invisible zippers.
Types of Zippers
Before we get too far into the process to sew a zipper, let’s talk a little about different kinds of zippers and zipper anatomy. Zippers fall into two general categories – separating and non-separating zippers. A separating zipper is the type you find on jackets, where the two halves come apart.
Below is an image showing the parts of a zipper. The one pictured is a separating zipper. A non-separating zipper doesn’t have the pin and box part at the bottom end of the zipper, instead it has a zipper stop so that the two sides of the zipper remain attached to each other.
Non-separating zippers are the types seen in the fly of pants, in skirts, on purses, etc. In addition to these two general use categories, zippers can also be classified by the materials that make them. The pull at the top of the zipper is generally metal, but can also commonly be plastic. The teeth can be metal, nylon coil, and molded plastic. The zipper tape can be polyester (most common) or sometimes cotton.
You probably assume that you’re going to need a sewing machine and thread to sew a zipper. But you may not expect these two tools I find indispensable for zipper installation. I always use my seam ripper and Scotch tape. Surprised? Keep reading.
You’ll also need a different presser foot for your machine. Most new machines come with a zipper foot – the one on the right in the picture below, and the regular foot is on the left. You’ll notice that instead of two “toes” the zipper foot only has one. This particular foot belongs to my vintage machine and it has a slider so that you can position the needle on either side of the foot. My newer machine has a snap on foot that you can snap to either side of the needle instead of the slider plate. Zipper feet are built this wayso that you can have the needle stitching right next to the zipper teeth without the presser foot getting in the way.
How to Sew an On Seam Zipper
This is how I install my zippers 90% of the time. Start by placing your fabric right sides together. Next, sew the seam you’re going to put the zipper in with a basting stitch. Backstitch at the bottom of the zipper length, and then continue stitching the seam with a regular stitch length.
Press your seam open flat.
Lay the right side of the zipper face down over the seam, lining the teeth up with the seamline. The side of the zipper tape will be close the the raw edges of the seam allowance.
Use a few pieces of scotch tape (no more than 1 every 4 inches or so) to hold the zipper in place.
Carefully turn your fabric right side up and stitch 1/4″ away from the seam on the right side of the fabric. Stitch down one side, stop with the needle in, turn, stitch across the bottom of the zipper just above the zipper stop (you may want to mark this with a pin) and then stop and pivot again, then sew up the second side. Don’t worry about the top part of the zipper where the pull makes it hard to keep your stitching straight – we’ll get to that in a minute.
Remove your tape.
Use your seam ripper to remove the basting stitches from the zipper opening.
Unzip your zipper and pin the top part of the zipper tape to the fabric, keeping the seams folded under.
Stitch the top part of the zipper to the fabric close to the fold.
You’re done! That wasn’t so hard, was it? Front side:
If you want to get all fancy, then you can do a lapped application. Warning – this won’t work with less than a 5/8″ seam allowance.
Sew your seam as you did for the on seam application, basting, backstitching, then regular stitch length below the zipper. Then press one seam allowance out and the other flat, as shown below.
Lay your zipper face down, with the teeth just to the right of the seam line. Stitch the zipper tape to the seam allowance that’s sticking out – on the right in the picture below. This is just a basting stitch and won’t be seen later, so it’s OK to curve your stitching around the zipper pull.
Tuck the zipper under, so it is face up and the seam allowance folds right next to the teeth. Stitch the seam allowance and zipper tape together right next to the teeth. If you need to, you can unzip the zipper to sew the part next to the pull, then stop with your needle down and zip up the zipper (you may have to raise the foot to do this) then continue stitching.
Press the seam flat. With right side up, sew down the unsewn edge of the zipper, securing it to the fabric and other seam allowance, then pivot and stitch to the seamline. Backstitch here.
Remove basting stitches and reveal your lapped zipper!
Here’s a video of how to sew an invisible zipper.
If you prefer written instructions, I have an invisible zipper tutorial with pictures in this post.