2015 Threads Challenge: Zipper Techniques

For the June/July Threads Challenge I considered “Zipper Secrets” (page 36) and “Perfect piping” in Essential Techniques (page 74). I decided on zippers because I was making a skirt and it needed a zipper. I would like to also study the perfect piping, but haven’t found a project for that yet.


Over my years of sewing, I am sure I have put in dozens and dozens of zippers. So why study how to put in zippers? Zippers are my nemesis. Whenever I am sewing, I always have to stop for a while before inserting a zipper. I need to gather my thoughts and my courage and be fresh and rested. And even then, sometimes zippers look wonderful and often, they don’t. My zipper work could definitely be improved. My research started with studying “Zipper Secrets” by Jacque Goldsmith in the current issue of Threads. She gives tips on measuring, “keying”, stabilizing, and preparing the seam. And then she gives appropriate techniques for lightweight and stretch fabrics, for sewing zippers in curved seams, and for lining up seams when the zipper extends across garment seams. Here are a few of her points:

  • Measure: determine the zipper length needed by measuring the garment’s zipper opening, not including seam allowances.  The zipper is measured from one stop to the other and should match this length or be a little longer.  (It is possible to shorten the zipper if necessary)
  • Keying a zipper enables you to align both tape sides perfectly. Keying is sewing nonstop through both tape sides 1/4 inch above the top stop.  The garment pieces should have been stay-stitched directly after cutting them out (see blog post:  2015 Threads  Challenge:  Staystitching).  The staystitching is used to help align the keyed zipper with the garment.
  • Stabilize.  This was news to me!  And it really helps with beautiful zipper insertion results.  She recommends weft-insertion interfacing for wools and heavier fabrics, lightweight tricot or Bi-Stretch Lite interfacing for most other fabrics.  In her article she gives details of how long and wide to cut the interfacing pieces.  The strips of interfacing are then fused to each seam allowance on the garment’s wrong side.
  • Prepare the seam below the zipper using at least a 5/8 inch wide seam allowance. Back-tack at the bottom of the zipper opening.

         I also studied the following articles: in Threads # 134 (Dec 2007/Jan 2008) Fundamentals by Rosebud “An Easy Lapped Zipper (finally)”, in Threads # 79 (Oct/Nov 1998) “Lapped Zippers Rulel” by Shirley Smith, in Threads # 89 “Basics: Sewing in a Zipper” by Celeste Percy. and “Tips for Better Lapped Zippers” by Gale Grigg Hazen (I think this was from Threads # 59 (June/July 1995).  

This is what I learned for lapped zippers, which is the kind I needed for my skirt:

  1. Cut wider seam allowances, 3/4-inch for light to medium weight fabrics and 1-inch for thicker fabrics.
  2. On light to medium weight fabrics interface the zipper area to support the weight of the zipper taking care to not stretch the zipper opening.  Insert a soft fusible interfacing from the cut edge to seam line extending 1 inch past the zipper  opening bottom.
  3. Anchor the zipper firmly in place before stitching. Pins compound uneven feed dog action, so it is best to baste the zipper after pinning it and remove the pins before sewing.
  4. Don’t guess at the stitching line. Just before stitching mark a line parallel to the seam about 3/8-inch from lap fold to use as top stitching guide.  (Be sure it clears the zipper teeth and catches the left seam allowance.  Top stitch zipper in place.
  5. To prevent diagonal wrinkles that often form on the overlap side manipulate the fabric with your hands while sewing.
  6. Use a single-hole needle plate and an adjustable single-toe narrow zipper foot. (Unfortunately, my machine does not have such a wonderful zipper foot. I will be searching for something that will work.)

Here is what I did:


I “keyed” the zipper by sewing straight across the top zipper tape above the stop and then cutting the thread. Later I lined up this stitching with the staystitching on the skirt to insert the zipper exactly where I wanted it. Clever, huh?

Next I fused interfacing to the zipper opening seam allowances. Sadly, I did not make the seam allowances wider when I cut out the pieces. I made up for that mistake by sewing “extensions” on. Not ideal, but it worked. After the interfacing was fused to the skirt pieces, the edges were serged to finish them. IMG_0393

The seam was sewn below the zipper opening and basted above the zipper opening. The seam was then pressed open and the basting was removed. The edge of the seam was lined up with the zipper teeth and pinned and then basted into place. I stopstitched close to the edge to secure this half of the zipper. Next the lap part was lined up to just cover the zipper teeth and the topstitching. I basted the layers together, drew my stitching line, checked to be sure it would miss the zipper teeth and still catch in the seam allowance and then topstitched the zipper in place. IMG_0396

And there you have it! A nicely inserted lapped zipper. IMG_0397

I made a quarter-circle skirt and was thinking that it might look better with a petticoat underneath to hold it out. I’ve made two petticoats now (look for a blog post to come about my adventures in sewing petticoats), but neither has turned out to be exactly what I wanted for the skirt. So the skirt remains un-hemmed waiting for just the right undergarment. IMG_0400


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