The other week I was setting in a zipper for a finishing project, and I thought I’d document my method for other intrepid zipper-lovers.
Setting in a zipper is a process that takes time, patience, and a certain amount of willingness to fiddle. Not everyone likes to do that, which is why so many of the finishing projects I do involve setting in zippers. But if you’re willing to take the time, setting in a zipper can be very satisfying!
To set in a zipper you will need: a zipper, yarn to match the garment, yarn (or embroidery floss) in a contrasting color, a sewing needle (with a sharp point!), pins, and the 2 sides that you are attaching to the zipper.
Please note: When purchasing a zipper, make sure you get the correct one. You don’t want a zipper for a bag, as it is attached together at both ends – you’d never be able to get your garment off! Same thing with double ended zippers. Take time to read the package and know what you are getting.
The first thing I do is block the two fronts to the garment I’m attaching the zipper to. Make sure the front is blocked to the correct measurements, and that your zipper will match those measurements, or be slightly longer. You can always cut a zipper, but you can’t make a zipper grow longer.
Next, pin the zipper into place on the inside of the garment. Make sure that you are not pulling or distorting the knit fabric at all. If you pull the fabric to stretch to the zipper, it can cause the zipper to pucker or wave.
Next, baste the zipper to the sweater with the lighter weight yarn. Basting involves sewing two pieces together with big long stitches. It holds the two pieces together without pins. While basting is an extra step, I do it because I hate having the pins poking me, and because my results end up looking much tidier each time I baste the zipper down. When everything is finished, you can pull the stitches of the basting out, since they were sewed so loosely.
After I’ve finished basting (and this is another good reason to baste your work, because you can’t do this if the zipper is pinned), I check to make sure that the zipper can zip up and down without catching on any fabric. Better to find this out now than after I’ve sewed everything together.
Finally, you can sew the zipper to the piece. Depending on the piece, sometimes I use the yarn the sweater was worked in. Other times, if the yarn is delicate, loosely plied, or extremely fuzzy, I’ll use sewing thread in a color that is close to the color of the yarn. Either way, I use the same technique.
Working from the back, I secure the yarn. When I sew, I make sure that each time I’m going over only a single strand of yarn between two stitches basically, the purl bump if viewing from the back). Mostly, I choose the space between the first and second stitches against the edge.
Working very slowly, I sew my way up one side, then up the other. Be patient. Take your time. Check your work often. Use small stitches. Because the zipper is located at the front of the sweater, I’m super careful to make sure that my sewing doesn’t show. Sometimes, if the fabric is wide, I’ll run a second set of stitches further out along the zipper band, so it doesn’t flop and lies nicely down. You can see I did this from the picture below.
When you’ve finished attaching the zipper to both sides of the fabric, I check my work. Then, and only then, if I’m happy with what I’ve done do I remove the basting stitches.
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