Choose the right zip for your sewing project

Zips have been around in one form or another for longer than you might image. There were several iterations along the way before the product that we recognise today came into being. The first patent was in 1851, but it took 40 years to get the product to market. And even then it wasn’t until 1913 that the modern zip, designed by a gentleman named Gideon Sundbeck, was developed.

Zips were mainly used on boots and tobacco pouches, and it took another 20 years for the fashion industry to cotton on to what a splendid idea they were. The first zips were made with interlocking metal teeth. Now, however, there are many variations that are suited to particular fabrics or functions. The most common is still the nylon dress zip, which is the traditional choice for most dressmakers.

When choosing which zip to use, keep your garment in mind. How do you want it to look? Each of the zips below looks a little different from the outside because some have visible topstitching while others don’t. Typically in skirts, zips are located on the left side or the centre back. In trousers, depending on the style it can be in the front, back or either side. Choose the location based on your desired look or the sewing pattern instructions. 

Let’s take a closer look at the four most common types of zips.

Centred Zip

This zip is most commonly found in the centre back seam of dresses and skirts. It was a method widely used before the invention of the concealed zip, and is the simplest of zips, a good one to start with if you’re a beginner and new to sewing. It’s perhaps the most traditional method of inserting a zip.

Top Tip

You can use the sewing machine foot as a guide to sewing in the zip, but for a really crisp finish, draw in the stitching lines first. Draw one on either side of the seam allowance, 6mm (1/4in) from the seam, and the third across the base of the zip opening, where the zip stop mark is.

Watch our video tutorial in the Sewing Studio to learn ‘How to attach a dress zip’. This online sewing video is featured in the Sewing Techniques Section, supporting you to develop your sewing skills.

Build your sewing skills by joining The Sewing Studio today. Learn more here.

Fly Zip

This seems to be the zip that causes most apprehension, as it is assumed to be the most complicated. It can be tricky, but with careful consideration it is very straightforward to insert.

Fly zips are often sewn in facing different directions for men and women’s clothing. Similarly, buttons and buttonholes are on opposite sides of a garment in men and women’s clothing. This is due to the rather old-fashioned concept of a lady being dressed by her main. Most servants were assumed to be right-handed, so the fastenings were on the left of the garment, meaning the servant’s right. Nowadays, it is really up to personal preference; most of my jeans have the zip opening on the right-hand side. So, as with a lot of sewing techniques and processes, go with what you feel most comfortable with. There are few hard-and-fast rules.

Top Tip

It is a good idea to neaten the front crotch seam allowance first, as that allows for a cleaner finish inside your garment.

A fly zip is part of the process for making up the Portia Trousers and Ariel Cargo Pants.

Lapped Zip

The lapped zip, or semi-concealed zip as it is something known, is another more traditional way of inserting a zip. As the alternative name implies, it is partially concealed and works very effectively on a skirt or as a side fastening on a pair of trousers. Make sure that the lap of the zip sweeps over towards the back of the garment for a smooth finish.

Top Tip

You can use the sewing machine foot as a guide to sewing in the zip, but for a really crisp finish draw in the stitching lines first. One the right-hand side of the seam allowance, draw a line 1cm (3/8in) from the seam line to the zip stop mark and another line across the base of the zip opening where the stop mark is.

Concealed Zip

Concealed, or invisible, zips are found in a lot of commercially produced garments and are just that – concealed; all you should see if the zip pull. The big difference with putting in this type of zip is that, instead of being inserted into a gap in the seam, the zip is inserted first and then the seam is stitched afterwards.

It is possible to sew a concealed zip with an ordinary zipper foot, but to get the best results you will need a special concealed zipper foot for your machine. This helps to roll out the coil of the zip teeth so that the needle can sew just into the groove. No zip tape should be visible from the right side of the garment after the zip has been sewn in.

Click here to follow our photo-tutorial on ‘How To Sew a Concealed Zip’

Top Tip

As there can be a lot of stress placed on the bottom of a zip, sew the last 2cm (3/4in) of zip tape to the seam allowances only. This will secure the base of the zip and take the pressure off the stitching holding the zip in place.

A concealed zip is part of the process for making up the Miranda Dress and Celia Top.

Need more guidance on zips? Follow our online video sewing lesson on ‘How To Attach a Dress Zip’ in the Sewing Studio. Not yet a member? Learn more and sign up today.

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