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1/20/12: Tutorial — How to Insert an Invisible Zipper without an Invisible Zipper Foot

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A few years ago zippers were one of those mini sewing annoyances. In case you don’t know, mini sewing annoyances are those necessary steps in sewing we all have to do but wish we didn’t. (e.g. Basting, easing in a sleeve, pattern alterations, ironing a mile and a half of yardage. . .)

But over the past two or three years they have, for me, been turning into a diamond in the rough. I’ve been having more one-on-one time with them lately because of the manyzippers I have to replace and I am learning more about them every time we sit down together.
So invisible zippers entered the picture a couple days ago. Catherine came to me with a twill skirt of hers (from Chadwicks), and said that the zipper needed help. Ever since she got it the zipper has been a problem due to the fact that it wasn’t inserted smoothly. It appears that the zipper tape shifted during the sewing process and created a “blind curve” so to speak.

So she gave it to me to take a look at and as soon as I spotted the fraying zipper tape—which was caused by repeated abrasion by the slider going over the “blind curve”–I knew it had to be replaced. “Great,” I thought, “An invisible zipper.” To this date, I have never correctly inserted one of these; by my standards anyway. But because zippers, both separating and closed end, have been showing me their good side recently, I thought invisible deserved my full attention.
One big problem. I don’t have an invisible zipper foot. Now how would I do this job? Since I really wanted to get this skirt repaired now I went and did some internet searching. It turns out that invisible zipper feet aren’t as simple as I thought they are. They come in different sizes. Different sizes? Yes. It is because invisible zippers themselves differ from company to company, so a Coats and Clark would be different from, let’s say, Talon or YKK.
OK, right around then I felt like I must find a way to do this without a specialty foot. You can say that I was kind of impatient but really the fact is I’m cheap when it comes to sewing machine add-ons. I like to do with what I have and buy when it is absolutely necessary.
So I searched and searched some more and I found a nugget of info by way of Kay Whitt from Serendipity Patterns. She wrote a blog tutorial on how to insert an invisible zipper and guess what? She used her regular zipper foot. And as I soon discovered for myself: it works like a charm.

How to Insert an Invisible Zipper 
without an Invisible Zipper Foot

Materials: 
  • Invisible zipper, any length or brand
  • Regular, all-purpose zipper foot 
  • Ordinary sewing supplies (e.g. tailor chalk or soluble marker, ruler, pins, thread, etc.)
Here is the fabric and zipper I will be using to demonstrate:

I will be using contrasting pink thread for my machine stitching and a black thread for hand basting.
And this is the zipper foot that I will be using. It came with my machine:
It can be positioned left or right of the needle. This is so it can work along the zipper teeth no matter which way you’re stitching:

OK, let’s start!
Zipper Placement: You need to make three markings (using chalk, water soluble marker, etc.), for proper placement of zipper:
1. Mark the seamline that you will be inserting the zipper along.
2. Mark the top seamline that will be sewn above the zipper.
3. And then finally, mark the location where the zipper slider will stop. We’ll call this the end marking. Don’t worry if excess zipper tape goes beyond this spot, you can sew the excess to the seam allowances (which I will be showing), or shorten your zipper.
Pressing the Zipper: Removing the wrinkles from zipper tape is important for creating a nice, smooth insertion, but it is even more important in the case of invisible zippers. With invisible zippers you need to press the small zipper teeth to one side–flatten them in a way–so you can sew close to them. This is the normal position of zipper teeth:
    This is when the teeth are pressed flat:
    When I am pressing the zipper, I hold the teeth flat with my fingers and work the iron towards me. Use lots of steam and a moderately hot iron.
    Basting the Zipper: Open out the zipper and place right side of zipper against right side of fabric. Place zipper’s left side along seamline marking you made so that zipper teeth are just beyond it. And have zipper tape in seam allowance. Pin and baste.

    First Line of Stitching: Using your regular zipper foot and a 2.5 mm stitch length, stitch from top portion of zipper to end marking you made. The trick here is to stitch as close as you can to the zipper teeth. Help yourself by stitching very slowly and use your thumbnail to press and flatten the zipper teeth as you go along. I find that the best position for your thumb is right alongside the presser foot.

    I’ve found it difficult to stitch at the end when the zipper slider is in the way. In the past, I’ve tried moving the slider up and out of the way, but I couldn’t get close enough to the teeth when the zipper was closed. My solution is to leave excess zipper to extend beyond the end marking. Something like 1/2″-1″. Whipstitch the zipper teeth at the end marking so the slider cannot, without a doubt, slide pass this point.

    Second Line of Stitching: To make sure the tape is securely attach to the fabric, make a second line of stitching roughly 1/8” away from the zipper tape edge.
    Stitch all the way to the bottom of the zipper, passing your ending mark. Side note: I’ve seen some people finish their seams and the zipper tape at the same time. I rather finish my seams and then stitch the tape to the seam allowances later because there may be a time when I need to replace this zipper and I want to easily remove it. But it is really up to you!

    Sewing the Other Zipper Tape: Repeat these two lines of stitching for the other zipper tape. Things to keep in mind: make sure the teeth are just beyond the seamline marking, the tape is in the seam allowance, and you start from the end mark and work your way to the top.

    Here’s a view of the second tape pinned in place:
    And here are the back and front views once the zipper has been sewn in:
    Sewing the Seam Below the Zipper: In most patterns they say to make a seam by stitching from the hem to a dot or marking, and leave the rest of the seam for the zipper. Most of the time this works out just fine for me but there have been occasions when the zipper just didn’t fit in the space provided. And I was left with a zipper with puckers. That is why I am going to make that seam below the zipper now–after the zipper has been inserted.

    So pin the bottom section, right sides together:

    And using the zipper foot, sew from the zipper end marking to the hem. Sew as close as you can to the excess zipper that extends pass the end marking:

    And here is the finished seam:
    If you like, you can whipstitch across the zipper teeth at the end marking now to prevent the slider from ever passing this point.
    And now for the finished zipper. The back view:
    The front:
    See, you really can do it without a specialty foot! Now my stash of invisible zippers can be put to good use!
    Tutorials and photos all rights reserved to the writer, Rebekah Fox. If you are interested in propagating this tutorial, please contact me to ask my permission.

    5 Comments

    1. Very nice! My Bernina has its own invisible zipper foot and I’ve never had a problem using it with any brand of zipper. But I’m saving your instructions in case I ever find myself needing to sew an invisible zipper on some other machine.

    2. Thank you – just helped with a dress I was making. I really appreciate you taking the time to help beginner sewers!

    3. Thank you so much. Just did first invisible zip, on my friend’s wedding dress (!) and it’s beautiful. Very clear instructions, much appreciated.

    4. I watched your YouTube video on how to sew darts and was impressed with your careful attention to doing a good job all the way. Then I followed the link there to your blog site and went through the invisible zipper tutorial looking at all the photos. BTW, thank you for including relevant, in-focus, up-close shots of the particulars as you went along. That makes a lot of difference in my being able to learn.

      I’m taking a Craftsy video course by Diana Rupp, and am making a skirt that I’ll never wear, but I do want to do a good job for the sake of learning how to do the various operations. I’ve already made the mockup, and put in an invisible zipper there, following Diana’s instructions. It came out pretty well, but I can see that it’s a learning thing. Today I went to amazon.com and ordered a dozen (!) invisible YKK zippers for six bucks, and plan to practice until I can nail it without sweating, and with confidence that I’m going to do a good job in a piece that I’ve already put a lot of work and money into making.

      Good luck with your farming.

    5. Awesome instructions, thanks! The directions with my pattern are incomprehensible but yours make perfect sense.

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