While looking through MOTHER EARTH NEWS the other day — and being amazed at the variety of information that passes through her pages — I realized that I too have a skill that should be shared. It's a humble accomplishment, but one that few people seem to know: zipper repair.
Inevitably, it's the zipper do your favorite pair of pants that pulls apart . . . and even if you have some sewing skill, you probably dread the thought of replacing the device. (It always seems harder to fit a new closure into an already-put-together opening than it is to make the trousers in the first place.) One option is to sew buttons on the underside of the fly and make buttonholes on the overlapping flap — but if you like zippers better, don't, for heaven's sake, banish the garment to the ragbag. The damaged fastener may well be fixable.
The usual problem is that the zipper head has pulled off one side of the teeth and ceased to connect the gap. Well, all is not lost. Turn the pants inside out and look at the lower end of the fastening. You'll probably see two, three, or four metal prongs or a metal rectangle (depending on which side the fitting was put in from). This is the stop, which keeps the head of the zipper from, scooting off the track at the bottom.
With pliers (needle-nosed are the easiest to use), pry open the prongs and remove the stop. Don't lose it! There may be stitching across the zipper tapes instead of, or in addition to, the metal barrier. In that case, take out enough of the thread to free the inside and lower edges of the cloth tabs.
The next step is to slip the head off the zipper. If the device will move only upward, unsew just the edges of the garment's waistband to permit removal of the slider from the top.
A look at the zipper's head will show you that either the top or the bottom — but not both — is divided into two holes, and that a pull-tab is mounted on the front. With the double-holed end up, and the tab raised and facing the front of the pants, ease the end of the left tape into the left hole on the slider. Then, keeping the head below all of the zipper's teeth, work the right tape into the right hole. This is the hardest part of the business and calls for a lot of dexterity and maneuvering on occasion. In case the bits of cloth are frayed, you can help matters by trimming or wetting them. Be patient and keep trying.
Once the head is on the tapes, hold the cloth tabs with their ends even and slide the zipper's moving part up onto the teeth.
Pull it along far enough to see how the fastener behaves. Are the tapes still aligned properly? If not, slip the head back onto the cloth and start again. Do the teeth mesh? No? Try moving the head farther up the track. Still no luck? It may help to interlock the portion of the zipper below the head by hand, and then run the slider up and down. Don't worry about any teeth that are missing near the bottom — just get the gadget working above that point. Even a zipper with gaps in the middle may operate once you get it started, if you're gentle enough. In any case, keep trying! I often don't get the zipping action going on my first attempt.
When you've finally persuaded the zipper to mesh properly, close it halfway. If you had to undo part of the waistband, safety-pin the tapes together at the top so the head won't fall off.
Replace the stop by poking the prongs back through the tape and clamping them down with pliers. The guard will be stronger if you place it over some of the lower teeth (and be sure to bypass any that are defective or absent, by locating the metal barrier above that area).
In case the stop is missing — or too mangled to use — sew the tapes together securely near or over the bottom teeth. Finish the repair, if necessary, by redoing the sewing at the zipper's lower end and on the waistband.
Trouser zippers aren't, of course, the only ones that can be mended. They just happen to be on my mind right now because I found my favorite old pants — the ones with the busted fastener — in the basement while visiting my folks. I fixed them up just fine and am enjoying the reunion.
Actually, I learned the above process at the National Outdoor Leadership School, where we used it to repair fastenings on tents and pack bags. It seemed complicated at first but saved the time, effort, and expense of replacing a myriad of zippers that had been derailed by hard use. And there was rarely any need to baby the equipment after overhaul, either. (Incidentally, coil zippers — commonly used on outdoor equipment — like to come unsprung from their tapes and can often be resewn. Just study the device to figure out how it's fastened, and replace the stitches neatly.)
Oh, yes, one more thing: A sticky zipper will run smoothly if you rub it with paraffin.
I hope this information proves useful. I've learned a lot of handy things from MOTHER's readers and would like to return the favor.
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