Know Your Notions: Zippers

Posted in: Know Your Notions — By on August 4, 2012 10:02 AM

Know your notions: Zippers at Sewing School

If I can give one piece of advice to someone learning to sew, it is this: Zippers are your friend. They may seem scary and finicky to sew, but they help make better fitting garments, add more functionality to bags and help make things like cushion covers removable for cleaning. And trust me, nothing beats the feeling of putting in an invisible zipper that actually looks invisible! (…Can something look invisible? You know what I mean.)

I’m sure you’ve been zipping up zippers since you were a kid, but have you ever really looked at one to see how it works?

Anatomy of a zipper by Sewing School

It’s important to note that although this diagram shows a zipper with stops at the top and bottom, you can also adjust the length of regular zippers to fit your needs. You can shorten a zipper by using a zigzag stitch to go back and forth several times to create your own stop out of thread, or you can set the length of the zipper with a seam or seams.

In terms of pulls, a zipper can have two pulls so that it can open in either direction — you may have a zipper like this on a jacket or hoodie, or on luggage. A pull may also have a locking mechanism inside so that it will stay in place — for example, for a pair of pants.

Zipper Types

There are three main types of zippers — coil zippers, metal/plastic toothed zippers and invisible zippers.

Coil Zippers are made up of two coils of nylon or polyester that interlock when pulled together. They tend to be smoother and more flexible than metal/plastic zippers. A nice thing about this type of zipper is that your machine can sew over the coils without skipping a beat!

Metal/Plastic Toothed Zippers have individual teeth that are molded out of metal or plastic. If you look closely at this type of zipper when it’s zipped up, it almost looks like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle all fit together. These zippers can be stronger and more durable than coil zippers, and would be used for heavier fabrics like denim. You probably don’t want to cross these zippers with your sewing machine because you’ll end up breaking your needle (or worse!).

Invisible Zippers are coil zippers with the teeth hidden by the zipper tape. They can be added to the back or side seam of garments so that there is no visible stitching or zipper teeth, only the zipper pull is visible. Since invisible zippers are not available in as many colours as regular coil zippers, you may need to paint the zipper pull if you want it to blend in with the garment.

Open-Ended Zippers vs. Closed-Ended Zippers

Finally, it’s important to know the distinction between open-ended and close-ended zippers. Closed-ended zippers have stops on one or both ends — think the zipper in your jeans (one end), or in your luggage (both ends). On the other hand, open-ended zippers would be used for things like jackets that come completely apart. A “box and pin” is used at one end to attach the two sides of the zipper at the bottom. Open-ended zippers can be any of the above types – coil, metal/plastic toothed or invisible.

Required Reading:

  • For an overview of how to sew coil zippers and invisible zippers, check out this great article from Craftzine.
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