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How to Sew in a Zipper

Kate Miller-Wilson
finished zipper

Whether you're making a skirt for your toddler or a slipcover for your couch, knowing how to sew in a zipper comes in handy. For many beginners this skill can seem intimidating but it's actually much easier than it looks. If you work slowly and use a good set of instructions, you'll find that you can install this type of closure and have it look professional and polished.

Sewing a Zipper by Machine

Machine-sewing a zipper is fast and easy, and it's a good skill to know. Depending on the length of the zipper and your experience level, you can expect it to take about 20 to 40 minutes. You'll need a zipper foot for you machine since your regular presser foot will get in the way as you work.

Things You'll Need

Before you begin, gather the following supplies:

  • Your project
  • Zipper
  • Sewing machine and thread
  • Zipper foot for your sewing machine
  • Pins
  • Clear tape
  • Dressmaker's pencil or disappearing fabric marker and ruler
  • Seam ripper
  • Iron

What to Do

  1. Identify the seam where you'll be installing the zipper. Placing the right sides together, pin the seam. Measure the zipper, and use a dressmaker's pencil to mark where the zipper will fall on the seam.
  2. Baste the part of the seam where the zipper will be using a straight stitch and a stitch length of about 5.0. When you get to the mark you made, change to a regular stitch length and backstitch. Then continue sewing as usual for the remaining portion of the seam that won't have the zipper. If you're using a pattern, the seam allowance will already be set for you. If not, a 5/8 inch seam allowance is a good choice.
  3. Remove the project from your machine and trim the threads. Press the seam open using your iron. In addition, press the zipper to eliminate any creases from packaging. Turn the seam over and draw two straight lines, each 3/8 inch from the seam, with your dressmaker's pencil. Flip the project over again so the seam is facing up.
  4. zipper and tape
    Place the project on a surface with the seam up. Place the closed zipper face-down on top of the seam, making sure it lines up with the seam vertically and is located exactly where you want it to be. Use several pieces of clear tape to hold the zipper in place on the seam. Use a straight pin to secure the bottom, just below the metal closure at the end of the zipper.
  5. Install the zipper foot on your sewing machine. Turn the project over so it's now zipper-side down. You should be looking at the right side of the fabric, and you'll see the pin marking the bottom of the zipper. Carefully position the bottom of the zipper under you sewing machine foot. Lower the foot, and remove the pin. Sew across the bottom of the zipper to secure it, starting at one of the lines you drew and ending at the other one.
  6. zipper foot
    Lift the foot with your needle still down, and turn the fabric so you are ready to sew up one side of the zipper. Lower the foot again, and carefully sew right on the line you drew in step 3, continuing almost all the way to the top of the zipper. When you get near the zipper pull at the top, lower your needle again.
  7. Raise the zipper foot and carefully slide the zipper pull down a bit so it is behind the place where you lowered your needle. The project should still be anchored to your machine with your lowered needle. Lower the foot again, and continue sewing to the end of the zipper. Back stitch and remove the project from the machine. Pull the zipper pull back up to the top.
  8. Place the project under your needle again, this time starting at the bottom of the zipper on the side you haven't sewn yet. Depending on the style of your zipper foot, you may need to switch it to the other position to allow you to sew on the opposite side. Sew along the line you drew in step 3. Once again, stop when you get near the zipper pull and move it out of the way before you continue. Back stitch when you reach the top.
  9. Turn the project over and inspect your work. Your stitches should be securing the zipper neatly to the seam. Remove the tape and discard it. Turn the project so it is right side up again.
  10. seam ripper
    Use your seam ripper to carefully cut the basting stitches holding the seam closed. Remove the loose threads so they don't interfere with your zipper. Test out the zipper. It should work perfectly and look neat.

Sewing a Zipper by Hand

finished zipper by hand
Zipper sewn by hand in contrasting thread

If you don't have a sewing machine or you really need to hide your zipper, you can also hand sew it. Some seamstresses prefer this method, which allows them to go slowly and keep everything extra neat. However, hand sewing is often more delicate than machine sewing, so this may not work for projects that will get some abuse. Expect to spend about an hour installing a zipper by hand.

Things You'll Need

Gather the following supplies:

  • Your project
  • Zipper
  • Hand sewing needle and thread
  • Pins
  • Seam ripper
  • Iron

What to Do

  1. Hand sew the seam with a basting stitch in the portion where you are installing the zipper. Use the iron to press the seam open. Also press the zipper to remove creases from its packaging.
  2. Place the closed zipper face-down on the seam, carefully lining up the zipper teeth with the center of the seam. Use pins to secure the zipper to the fabric, folding the top zipper tape over if needed to finish the top edge.
  3. Thread your needle and double the thread. Knot it carefully. Start sewing at the top of the zipper. Use a prick stitch to take tiny stitches on the right side of the fabric and longer stitches on the back side of the zipper. You'll find that a 1/4 inch stitch length on the back of the zipper works for most projects.
  4. Continue to the bottom of the zipper, and then go up the other side using the same method. Knot your thread carefully at the end.
  5. Use the seam ripper to remove the basting stitches. Test the functionality of your zipper.

Professional Results Every Time

Whether you choose to machine sew or hand sew your zipper, you'll find that this is a very helpful skill to know. You can use zippers to close almost any project, from handbags to throw pillows. With a little practice, you'll be able to install these closures confidently and quickly, getting professional results every time.

How to Sew in a Zipper