How to Install a Zipper

Learn the basics of how to install a zipper for dresses and skirts.
By Buffi Jashanmal
June 2014
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Learn how to install a zipper using both common application methods for dresses and skirts.
Photo by Fotolia/mihalec
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Project Runway contestant Buffi Jashanmal shows fashion design fans how to sew their own custom-fitted dresses from start to finish in Buffi’s Dress Design (Storey Publishing, 2014). Beginning sewists will learn industry secrets to basic patternmaking and sewing for unique, wearable pieces. The following excerpt, found in the illustrated glossary, explains how to install a zipper using the two most common types found in dresses.

How to Install a Zipper

There are many different types of zippers and the type you use will depend on the style of the dress and the weight of the fabric. For instance, metal zippers are heavy and best suited for jeans and heavier fabrics. Separating zippers open at the bottom and top and are used in jackets and coats. However, we won’t be using any of those. For the most part, dresses, made in medium-weight fabrics, require a nylon coil zipper.

Nylon coil zippers are available as regular zippers and invisible zippers. The regular zippers, sometimes called “self-healing,” are easy to use and the first choice for most dresses. If the zipper teeth come apart, you simply open and close the zipper to realign the teeth. The teeth of the invisible zipper are behind the zipper tape, so when the zipper is in place, the teeth do not show on the outside of the dress.

There are a number of ways to install zippers, but the dress projects that require a zipper will use either a regular coil zipper or an invisible zipper and a centered application. The application method is different for the regular and invisible zippers and you will need different zipper feet. However, regardless of the zipper style, they all have the same basic construction:

Zipper tape
This is the fabric part of the zipper and it is sewn to the garment seam allowance.

Zipper teeth
The teeth, in the center of the zipper, are also called coils and they are what opens and closes the zipper.

Slider
The slider is the metal piece on the zipper that actually zips and unzips the teeth. It has a pull tab on it to make it easier to manipulate.

Stops
Metal stops on the top and bottom of the zipper keep the slider from sliding right off the zipper ends.

How to Install a Centered Zipper

This is a good method for beginners to try first. A centered zipper is a popular choice for the center back of dresses and skirts.

1. Prep the seam. Pin the zipper seam with the right sides together. Starting at the top, sew a basting stitch from the raw edge to the notch that marks the zipper end. Switch to a regular stitch length at the notch, backstitch, and finish stitching the seam. Press the seam open.

2. Baste the zipper. Center the zipper teeth over the seamline of the basted seam allowance with the right side of the zipper facing down and pin it in place. Align the top edge of the tape with the top of the garment. Using your machine’s zipper foot, which allows you to stitch close to the zipper teeth, baste the zipper tape to the seam allowance as shown. Baste the whole length of the zipper on both sides to hold it in place.

3. Mark the stitching guidelines. Turn the garment right side up with the zipper underneath. Use tailor’s chalk and a ruler to draw stitch lines for the zipper 3/8" from the center back seam on both sides of the zipper opening. Draw a line across the bottom about 1/4" below the zipper stop.

4. Topstitch the zipper in place. Beginning at the bottom of the zipper at the seam, backstitch and then stitch to the corner, pivot, and stitch up along the zipper, following the chalk line. Backstitch at the top of the zipper. Repeat for the other side of the zipper.

5. Carefully rip out the basting stitches and you’re all set!

How to Install an Invisible Zipper

Once you understand how to install a regular coiled zipper, the next step is learning how to install invisible zippers. You can apply any facing or lining after the zipper has been installed just as you would if the zipper was not there. Remember, you don’t baste the seam closed before installing an invisible zipper.

1. Prep the zipper. Unzip the invisible zipper. Press the coils flat using an iron set at a medium cool heat. Don’t worry, the coils won’t melt!

2. Prep the seam. Mark both sides of the zipper seam on the seam allowances with tailor’s chalk as follows:

• Top of zipper: mark 1/2" down and 1/2" in from the seamline.

• Bottom of zipper: mark 1/2" in for the bottom stop of the zipper.

3. Pin the zipper in place. Pin or hand-baste the zipper to the seam allowance as follows. With the dress right side up, place the open zipper face down, so right sides are together as shown. The zipper coils should be 1/2" from the open edge, as marked.

4. Stitch the zipper with an invisible zipper foot installed on your machine. Line up the coils in the invisible zipper foot so that the needle falls close to the coils. The zipper foot will keep the needle the correct distance from the coils to prevent stitching too close to them, so the fabric doesn’t get caught when you open and close the zipper.

• Starting from the top of the zipper 1/2" down from the edge, stitch down to the bottom of the zipper (to the zipper stop), backstitching at both ends of the seam.

• Repeat with the left side of the zipper, but this time the coils will be on the right side of the zipper foot.

• Close the zipper and make sure that the fabric from the dress does not get caught between the coils.

5. Stitch the rest of the seam below the zipper. Then, with the right sides together, press the end of the zipper tape to the right. With your invisible zipper foot to the left (so the needle is coming down to the right), stitch for about 1", starting 1/8" up and 1/8" to the left of the base of the zipper seam as shown. Then switch to your regular presser foot and finish the seam with a 5/8" seam allowance. Press the seam open.

Zipper Trap
If you close the zipper and your dress fabric gets caught in the teeth, don’t panic. It just means you stitched too close to the coils. This is what a seam ripper is for. Simply rip out the entire length of the stitches and restitch, making sure that you are a little farther away from the coils.


Zipper Tip: Cut Your Zipper to Size

A zipper can be any length you like. If you’re looking for a nonstandard size, all you need to do is buy a long zipper and cut it to the desired size.

1. Measure and mark the desired length directly on the zipper tape with tailor’s chalk.

2. Hand-sew a new bottom stop across the zipper teeth (at the marking) with heavy thread and a whipstitch or several straight stitches.

3. Cut off the extra zipper, leaving about 1/2" of zipper tape below the stop.

Warning: Be sure to securely sew the new stop before cutting off the excess zipper tape, or you risk entirely losing the slider off the end of the zipper.


Excerpted from Buffi’s Dress Design: Sew 30 Fun Styles © Buffi Jashanmal, technical illustrations by Missy Shepler used with permission from Storey Publishing.


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