Working with zippers in outdoor items is fairly simple. My
first bit of advice is to forget everything you may have learned
in Home Ec ( if you took it) about installing zippers. You
don't have to baste, really! (more on installing later) There
are two types of zippers you might use: coil and tooth
. Both types are available in fixed lengths, and in a
continuous roll. Chances are pretty good that you won't be
using a continuous tooth zipper, so we'll leave that one out
of this discussion.
Coil zippers have little plastic coils that are stitched
onto the zipper tape. They are typically used on packs, tents,
and lightweight clothing. Tooth zippers have little
plastic "teeth" and are typically used on jackets.
Both types come in a variety of sizes, #2.5 being the
smallest coil, #5 being the most common, #8 and #10 being
heavy duty. #5 tooth and coils are commonly used for pocket,
jacket and tent zippers. #8 and #10 are typically used in
large packs, bags and anywhere you need a bomb-proof zipper.
YKK is the standard brand used in almost everything. You can
find other brands at the local fabric store, but in my experience
they just aren't as strong. All of the retailers listed on
the sources page carry an excellent
selection of YKK zippers.
Sewing zippers: If your machine has a variable
position for the needle, you may not need a zipper foot. When I put a zipper on,
I typically set the needle at the far left position, in order to be as close to
the zipper teeth as possible when stitching. You should be able to sew right
down the zipper tape, with the right hand side of the presser foot lined up
against the edge of the tape. Many times, the zipper slider will get in the way,
so you will need to raise the presser foot with the needle down, manually move
the slider out of the way, and continue stitching. If you try to go around the
slider you will not have a straight line. You will always want to sew zippers
with the zipper tape RS down to fabric RS up. Run a line of stitching from start
to end of zipper, and then, turn the zipper right side up, fold RS fabric away
from teeth, and topstitch an even distance from the fold and
Confused? Let's install a jacket zipper step-by-step.
Install a zipper: Let's assume you have a vest
completed except for the zipper and the finishing touches, and you have the
correct length tooth zipper.
- Separate zipper
- Lay one side of the zipper, RS down, on vest RS, matching
edge of zipper tape with fabric edge.
- Make top and bottom stops are at the right position for
hem and seam allowance
- Use just a few pins for anchors (top, bottom, center)
- 1/4" wondertape is a real cool notion to stick
- Set your needle all the way to the left position
- Sew one row of stitching from the zipper tape side
up. Go as straight as you can, lining up the presser
foot with the edge of the zipper tape. Be sure to lift presser
foot with needle down to move the slider. Backstitch to
lock your stitches when you start and end.
- This is important! Take a chalk pencil and make a dot
on the sewn tape where any features that need matching are:
horizontal seams, stripes, the seam where the collar attaches,
- Now, zip the other side of the zipper onto the sewn on
zipper. Transfer the dots to the unsewn side of the zipper
tape, and unzip.
- Sew the second side of the zipper on, matching any dots
to corresponding feature. Use a pin to anchor by dots (
this is how you get nice matched details when you are done!)
- Now you can topstitch both sides. Working from RS of the
fabric, turn the zipper tape under. You can either make
a crisp fold using the previous stitching as a guide, or
a soft fold using the zipper teeth as a guide. I keep my
needle set on the far left setting; this is a nice distance,
plus it secures the zipper tape smoothly on the underside.
Place the right edge of your presser foot against the zipper
teeth as a guide for nice, straight stitching. Be sure to
backstitch or do a little bar tack at the bottom and top.
Shorten a zipper: If the zipper you have to use
is too long, shortening it is a simple operation. First, mark the correct length
with a chalk mark on the zipper tape. Double-check this against where ever you
will be installing the zipper. For a tooth zipper you will need a pair of
pliers. Pull off 1" worth of teeth above the mark. You may have to actually
'crack" the teeth to get them off. Now, you need to make a new stop. You can use
a purchased stop from any mail order source or you can make a bar tack with a
wide zigzag stitch on the sewing machine. To do this, set the length on "0" and
use a fairly wide stitch. Your goal is to block the slider from sliding right
off of the teeth. When you install the zipper, the excess zipper tape needs to
be folded out of the way; the fold will also help 'stop' the slider. Another way
to shorten a tooth zipper is to just sew it into the seam. You need to fold the
tape, with teeth still intact, at a 90-degree angle. The excess should be aimed
towards the edge of the fabric. When you sew the zipper tape onto the fabric,
you will stitch right over the teeth (hopefully through the space
in between the teeth so you don't break a needle) then just
trim the excess off. Coil zippers can be shortened just by cutting to
desired length; just leave enough length to go into the seam allowance.
Typically, coil zipper are sewn in on both ends.
Zipper Repairs: Replacing zipper sliders is a nifty little trick that
will make your gear last a little longer. When the slider on a zipper fails, the
zipper doesn't stay together anymore. The field repair (for all you folks with
Leatherman tools in your repair kit) is to take a pliers and squeeze the slider
gently top-to-bottom. Hopefully, this will help, if not, you need to replace the
Replace a jacket zipper slider: Remove the top stop on the side of the
zipper that has the slider with a pliers. Save it if you can! Remove the slider
by sliding it 'up'. Now, take the replacement slider and thread it onto the
zipper the reverse of how you removed the old one. Replace your top stop or put
a new one on. see "shortening zippers" above) You can repair two-way zippers
this way, too.
Replace a slider on a coil zipper: You will need to undo one sewn-in end;
choose the end that is where the slider is 'down' when the zipper is open if
possible. Don't worry, anything that has been sewn together CAN be taken apart
and then resewn. Remove the slider by pulling it off of the zipper tape. If it's
really old and sticky and full of grit, you may need to tug it gently with
Threading a zipper pull is a little tricky: To replace a slider, unzip the
old one right off of the zipper, as if you were zipping it 'down' or open. If
the ends of the zipper are a little ragged or unraveled, trim them carefully.
Now, thread the separated ends of the zipper through the new slider, using the
wide end of the slider where the coils go in separately. You have to line up the
ends of the zipper so that the coils will 'zip' as they thread through. This
will make sense when you actually do it! Then, just sew the end of the zipper