Zippers provide a strong and smooth closure for our garments and bags. We can position them to be virtually invisible or install bold, decorative ones meant to be noticed. Zippers come in a variety of types, colors, and lengths to suit every purpose.
The parts of a zipper
The tape This is the woven fabric part of the zipper that holds the zipper teeth. It’s what’s stitched into a seam to anchor the zipper in place. The teeth These are the little metal, plastic, or nylon pieces that come together to form the chain when the zipper is zipped (for more on zipper teeth, see further down). The chain This is what forms when the zipper teeth are joined. The slider This is the y-shaped channel that runs up and down the length of the zipper. It’s what joins or disengages the teeth. The slider has a way of locking itself to stay in place. The pull tab This is the tiny handle that’s used to move the slider up and down the length of the zipper. The stops Present at both ends of a zipper, these are pieces that block the slider from slipping off the end of the zipper. The Insertion pin Present on a separating zipper, it’s the end piece that’s inserted into a retaining box to join the two sides of the zipper together. The Retaining box This is a type of zipper stop on a separating zipper. The retaining box receives an insertion pin to join the two sides of the zipper together so it can be zipped.
Zipper teeth materials
Metal Individual pieces of metal, such as brass, nickel, or aluminum, make up the teeth of this zipper. This creates a strong zipper that’s often used in jeans and work clothes. The drawback to metal is that it can corrode. Plastic Individual pieces of molded plastic make up the teeth of this zipper. Plastic zippers are also strong and durable. Coil A continuous coil of nylon or polyester make up the “teeth” of this zipper. Each coil loop acts as a “tooth.” It’s more flexible than metal or plastic zippers, making it a good choice for curved areas. Coil zippers are generally lighter in weight than metal teeth zippers, are smoother, are “self-fixing,” and don’t jam.
Basic Zipper types
Conventional zipper (also called a standard or closed-end zipper) This type of zipper is closed at one end. It’s usually sewn into an area that’s covered by a placket so the zipper won’t show. Invisible zipper This type of zipper is also closed at one end. However, the zipper teeth are located behind the tape so they won’t show when sewn into a seam. This kind of zipper is often used in dresses and skirts. Separating zipper This type of zipper is sewn into seams that will open completely, such as the front of a jacket. The two sides of the zipper separate completely when unzipped.
Choosing a zipper
Zippers are numbered with sizes to indicate the width of their teeth when the zipper is closed. The smaller the number, the smaller the teeth. Zippers are also available in many lengths. The length of a zipper will be indicated on its package. Zippers can also be purchased by the yard, allowing you to make your own custom zippers. When choosing a zipper, choose a color that matches or compliments your fabric. Also consider the weight of your fabric and how durable your zipper needs to be. The back of your pattern will indicate the zipper length you need. But when in doubt, purchase a zipper longer than you think you'll need. You can always shorten the zipper before sewing it into your item (see below).
How to Shorten a zipper
A zipper can be shortened from the top or the bottom. To shorten a zipper from the bottom, create a new stop by sewing a bar tack across the teeth of the zipper where you want the slider to stop. Cut the zipper off about a half an inch below this bar tack. If the zipper is to be placed into a garment with a waistband, it can be shortened from the top. Sew the zipper in as you normally would. The waistband will automatically create the new stop. All you have to do is cut off the extra tape. Just make sure to unzip the zipper first so the slider is below your cutting line.
Preshrink your zipper prior to sewing. Either machine-wash and dry it, placing it in a lingerie bag so it won’t get lost, or submerge it in warm water for a few minutes and let it air-dry. Use a zipper foot to sew in zipper. The design of this pressure foot will allow you to sew close to the zipper teeth. To reduce wear and tear on a zipper, close all zippers in your garments and bags before laundering.