In 1851, the first attempt at a zipper was patent and named the "Automatic Continuous Clothing Closure." This device would take on different reiterations, a Worlds' Fair, and finally a 1930's children's clothing sales campaign to introduce the zipper as we know it. Adding zippers to children's clothing promoted self-reliance making it possible for little hands to dress themselves. In essence, the zipper helped to revolutionize wearing clothes for the young and old alike. Hence, our self-reliance, security, and convenience still somewhat depend on that interesting piece of tape with teeth. Besides, few things when used make the delightful sound in which they were named. Zip!
It is easy to take a zipper for granted until it no longer works, relegating a "broken" garment to the "to mend" box or worse. There is no need to shy away from this simple to use, yet ingeniously engineered device. In this blog you will see how to add a zipper to your sewing and hopefully help replacing one less daunting.
While there are different types of zippers meant for varying applications this blog will concentrate on adding the commonly used invisible zipper to a center seam. In Part One of this blog, the Folkwear 220 Garden Party Dress was adjusted, so it's authentic buttons and placket could swapped out for a zipper. Keep reading to learn how the 220 Garden Party Dress will get a zip up the back.
The key to a successful and stress-free zipper installation is in part about orientation. In this blog you will learn a few simple steps and tips to make installing a zipper easy!Getting Started
You will need an invisible zipper at least 24” (61cm) long (depending on your back length), fusible interfacing, thread, and a zipper foot for your sewing machine. Either an invisible zipper foot or a standard zipper foot will work. I will be using both types of zipper feet in this blog.
If you are not familiar with using an invisible zipper foot, give one a try, because they make installing zippers a breeze.
They come in varying lengths, colors, and coil or teeth sizes. The coils/teeth are made of either metal or plastic. The tape is typically made of polyester, nylon, or cotton. You can purchase zippers in predetermined standard lengths or have a zipper cut to the length you determine.
Tip: If you use a custom-cut zipper, a thread bar-tack will need to be added to the end of the zipper tape to keep the slider hardware from slipping off.
A regular zipper with visible teeth (made of metal or plastic) can also be used, but if you prefer a less obvious zipper, then an invisible zipper is best.
Prepare to Add the Zipper
Invisible zippers close with interlocking coils or teeth made of plastic. Because zippers remain zipped-up until they are ready to be used the teeth tend to be tightly curled and need to be opened up to make stitching easier. Use your fingers to uncurl the teeth while pressing the coils/teeth flat with the tip of the iron. Be sure to turn down the heat (synthetic setting) on your iron to avoid melting the plastic coil/teeth. The coils should retract back a little bit. Do not try to press the coils so they remain perfectly or permanently flat.
Be sure the waistband, or any seams, a zipper will be added to are neatly pressed before adding the zipper.
Zippers take a lot of use; therefore it is a good idea to add a lightweight fusible interfacing (according to manufactures instructions) to reinforce each side of the zipper tape and the seams. Add the interfacing to the wrong side of dress center back, aligning the tape to the top and side edges of the fabric. I like to cut the interfacing 1" wide (if using a standard 3/4" width zipper) and cut the interfacing length equal to the zipper.
Be sure to fold and pin the waistband facing out of the way before adding the interfacing and for stitching the zipper to come.
Properly Orient the Zipper to the Fabric.
You may find it useful to orient yourself the same way every time for this process. I try to be consistent and start working with the right side (as you wear it) of any garment project. All the directions and photos that follow, use this orientation. But it does not matter which side you start with. The important part is to take your time and get the orientation correct.
Start with the right side of the dress/garment facing up.
Take note that the zipper has a right and a wrong side. Inspect the construction of the zipper and the right and wrong side will become evident to you. I find looking at the slider hardware to be the quickest way of determining the sides.
Place the wrong side of the zipper facing up, with the zipper open to the dress. Check that the right side of the zipper is to right side of the fabric.
Next, be sure the coils face away from the center back edge and towards the dress. The edge of the zipper tape should be positioned, running parallel to the center back edge of the dress.
Orient the zipper to the center back of the dress as seen below with the zipper completely open.
Use a seam guide, measuring tape, or ruler to make sure the zipper coils/teeth line up with the seam allowance. Align the coil/teeth at the 1/2" (6mm) seam allowance (1/2" from the center back edge), as seen in the photo below. Always use the seam allowance indicated on a pattern (in this case, it's 1/2").
Measure and pin the zipper tape to the fabric with the pins inserted parallel to the zipper. This will allow for easy pin removal when stitching. Check again to be sure the alignment is correct down the entire zipper tape and be sure the tape is not accidentally twisted.
Stitching with an Invisible Zipper Foot
Align the left groove of the zipper foot over the coil/teeth. With your fingers move the coils/teeth so it stands upright and fits in the groove of the zipper foot before beginning to stitch.
Use a medium length stitch. Avoid a stitch that is too tight (short) or too loose (long). Use Polyester thread because it is less likely to break.
Begin the stitching with a back stitch to secure the top of the zipper tape. Take your time and slowly stitch (to help prevent fabric from puckering) the full length of the zipper, removing the pins one at a time, before they reach the foot. Stop when you reach the slider hardware. make a back stitch about 1/2" (13cm) long. You will be unable to stitch any further, because the slider hardware will be in the way.
Notice the close-up view below, of how close stitching is made next to coils. The nice thing about an invisible zipper foot, is that the groove ensures the stitches are made at the correct distance from coil.
If using a regular zipper foot be sure to not stitch too close the coil/teeth. If the stitches are too close, the zipper will not open and close properly. If the stitching is made too far away from the coil/teeth, the zipper will show and not be held securely to the fabric.
Once one side of the zipper tape is sewn in place, go ahead and test the zipper by closing it. It should open and close easily and smoothly. If not, access the problem, unpick the stitching, and try again if needed.
This is also a good time to mark on the free zipper side where it will align with the waistband. This will keep the zipper from getting out of alignment when attaching the other side of the zipper to the dress. If you have a waistband, as this dress, does, mark on the zipper tape where it should meet the waistband so the right and left sides of the dress match up.
Unzip and add the opposite side of the zipper to the opposite side of the dress edge.
For the opposite side, pin the zipper (unzipped) to the fabric, making sure the right side of the dress is facing up. The wrong side of the zipper should still face up. Check that the right side of the zipper is to right side of the fabric.
If you started with the right side of the dress (as you wear it), then this is what your orientation should look like. (See photo below).
Remember the coils/teeth should be facing towards the dress and the edge of the zipper tape should be parallel to the center back edge.
Position the tape from the top edge of the fabric as before. Align the zipper at the waistband as marked.
Measure so that coils fall on the seam allowance as before.
It is easily for the zipper to get twisted, so check to be sure the zipper tape is laying flat.
Use the opposite groove of the invisible zipper foot to stitch this time. If you are following along, then the right groove is used.
Begin and end the stitching as before.
Test the Zipper
Now that the zipper is installed, zip it up and down to test that is closes easily and smoothly.
Give the zipped-up, right side of the dress a gentle press before continuing.
Stitch the Remaining Skirt Seam
With the back of the zipper still closed, lift the zipper tape out of the way. Sandwich the zipper in the seam allowances and pin the seam allowance down the remaining length of the skirt seam.
Switch the invisible zipper foot out for a more narrow standard zipper foot. Position the foot as close as you can to the left of the zipper. Start 1/2" (6mm) to 1" (2.5cm) above the end of the zipper stitching. Slowly stitch forward and then make a small back stitch.
The zipper causes bulk in this spot, making beginning the new stitch line on top of the zipper stitch line difficult, if not impossible. Do not try to force positioning the needle on top of or right next to the sandwiched zipper. Just get as close as you can. (See the photo below). This small amount of space is generally not enough to prevent the zipper and seam from looking nice once finished.
With the seam allowances matched and pinned, stitch down the remaining length of the skirt seam and end with a back stitch.
Press the seam open below the zipper.
Lift the zipper tape tail and press the seam with the tip of the iron. This area can pucker, so go gently.
With the right side of the dress back facing up, press the zipper seam lightly to create a smooth finish.
Finish the Waistband Facing
With the zipper successfully installed it is time to finish the interior waistband facing. Begin working with the wrong side of the dress back facing up, and with the wrong side of the waistband facing, facing up and laying flat. The long bottom edge of the waistband facing (top when open as seen below) should be turned under 1/2" (6mm).
Fold under and pin the short ends of the waistband facings on either side of the zipper. Be sure that the zipper slider hardware can easily move past the folded under edges. If the edges are too close to the zipper slider, the fabric may get caught. Press the edges.
Fold the down each of the waistband facings and align the long turned under edge of the facing using the parallel skirt stitching line as a guide. Pin the facing in place for a clean finished look.
Hand whip-stitch the the turned under short edges of the waistband facing to the zipper tape. Hand whip-stitch the turned under long edge to the skirt, using the stitch line as a guide.
I hope this blog has helped ease any zipper installation apprehension you may have had. It is easy to add an invisible zipper to clothing or so many other projects. Once you have tried installing a zipper a time or two, hopefully you will not hesitate to expand your sewing repertoire. Don't be surprised if you never look at a center seam the same way again.
February 14, 2024