Hints and Tips For Perfect Zips

Zips are such an important way of fastening our clothes, however they are often feared by the home garment maker and frequently the thing that lets them down, making the garment look 'home made' rather than 'handmade'.

I have a few tips for sewing standard...traditional.... or whatever you call a zip where the teeth are on the top, unlike invisible zips where the teeth are underneath. However this type of zip doesn't have to show unless you want them to.

Also check out my invisible zip tutorial

I really don't like the clip on foot that comes as standard with most sewing machines. It's too wide at the back and means you can't stitch past the zip pull. Read my blog post called Not All Zip Feet Are Equal
old janome zip.jpg
For standard zips I always use an adjustable, narrow toed foot, available for most machines. It's also great for all widths of piping. I have one for low shank machines on sale from my shop 
adjustable narrow zip.jpg
A few places sell an adjustable foot that also doubles up as an invisible zipper foot.
combined narrow invisible.jpg

Scroll down for a lapped zip thats perfect for side seam openings in skirts or trouser... and the back of tops and dresses. It's my preferred method if I'm not using an invisible zip

Centred or Semi Concealed Zip

This style of zip is traditionally used at the centre front or back of a dress or top when you don't want to use an invisible zip.

I use this method with my narrow toed foot placing the top of the teeth 3mm below the neck seam.

Here I'll show you a way to use the clip on foot that comes with your machine........
HOWEVER................ because the teeth stick up above the top seam they're relly bulky.

The zip needs to be longer than the opening if you're using the clip on foot.

Stitch the seam below the zip. Then machine tack the opening, use your patterns seam allowance, on the longest stitch on your machine has. Press the seam open.
There are different ways to prepare the zip for sewing. You can pin, tack or use sticky tape. I've decided to us Wonder Tape. It's a double sided tape that washes away. Put a strip on both seam allowances about 5mm from the stitching or onto the right side of the zip tape. Remove the backing paper from the tape. Put the right side of the zip onto the wrong side of the seam with the teeth on the stitching line.
The zip pull needs to be just above the edge of the fabric.

The top stitching needs to be about 7mm either side of the seam. You can mark this in different ways:

  • If you tack, machine just to the side of the tacking so that it's easy to remove.

  • You can draw a line to follow, but it must be easy to remove from the fabric, always test before drawing on the right side of your fabric.

  • In this example I've used low tack Washi tape, sewing next to it. Any low tack tape will work, but never leave on your fabric as it might leave a sticky residue.

Stitch down one side of the zip, at the bottom, leave the needle in the fabric, turn the fabric and stitch straight across. Leave the needle down and turn the fabric again, ready to stitch up the other side.
When both sides are stitched, remove the basting stitch from the opening. You might just be able to pull on one thread.
  • open the zip before adding a waistband or facing
  • don't cut off the stops at the top of the zip before sewing over it....you don't want the zip pull to come off.............

Concealed or Lapped Zip

This is my favourite method for a traditioanl zip that I don't want to show. It's perfect for side seams on trousers, skirts and tops, and also brilliant for the back of a dress.

When finished only one line of stitching can be seen on the right side.

I'm going to use the narrow toed foot for this example, however if you don't have one, buy a longer zip and have the zip pull above the cut edge of the fabric as in the Centred Zip.

Stitch the seam below the zip opening.

Press the seam open below the opening.

On the front garment piece(or the left back for a centre back zip). Press the seam allowance to the wrong side

Press the other seam allowance of the other edge so the fold overlaps the front by 3mm.

You can pin, tack or use Wodner Tape to hold the next steps together.
Place the zip under the back so the fold is very close to the zip teeth. The top of the zip pull needs to be 3mm below the horizontal stitching line.
Using the narrow toed foot, stitch very close to the folded edge.
The stitching should be close to the zip tape, further in than the garment seam. Secure the stitching at the bottom.
Pin the other side of the zip opening so that it just covers the stitching. You can tack this if you prefer.

Machine 8mm from the folded edge. You can use low tack tape as a guide or a line of tacking stitches. It's important that the stitching goes through the zip tape, top fabric and the seam allowance.

Take out the top pin to the right of the zip pull before you machine, but leave the others in place.

At the bottom of the zip, leave the needle in the fabric, turn and stitch towards the seam, either horizontally or on an angle. Make sure you are below the level of the stopper on the zip!