Zippers 4 Ways

Me in my Sewing Summit Zippers class – shot by Faith from Fresh Lemons Quilts. See, zippers *can* be funny.


I had a great time this past weekend at Sewing Summit. One of my classes was ‘Zippers’, however, the class was very quick and we only got through 2 out of the 4 zipper techniques (and even the 2nd one was a bit rushed).
For those of you in the class, and those of you that weren’t able to make it to Salt Lake City, here are the 4 different zipper techniques, complete with step-by-step photos.

I have tried to word the steps so that they can be applied to most any bag or pattern that you are working on. If you need additional help adding a zipper to particular bag that you know the dimensions of, please feel free to drop me a line anytime at

The following will be covered in this post:
1. Top Zip (such as for a zippered pouch)
2. Zippered Panel (like in a 3-dimensional bag where you sew the exterior and lining independently)
3. Zippered Pocket (I’ll show you 2 different ways to do it)
4. Invisible Zipper

1. Top Zip
This is, in my opinion, one of the easiest zipper applications to do. It is most commonly used in simple zipped pouches. Use fabric scraps to make zipper tabs so that your zipper will begin and end neatly at the top of your bag.
            1.         Take two pieces of 1 1/2″ x 3″ fabric scraps. Press in half, wrong sides together, so that both short edges meet. Press. Fold the top of the fabric down to the crease. Open out again, then fold one edge in to meet the crease and press. Repeat with the other side. You should have created a tiny piece of double-fold bias tape.
2.         If needed, trim your zipper so that it is exactly 1” shorter than the edge you are inserting it on (including the zipper tape; do not cut the zipper end off or the zipper itself). Slide one end of the zipper in between your pressed fabric, with the end of the zipper hitting that center crease. Pin in place. Topstitch the fabric 1/8″ from the zipper. Repeat for the other end of the zipper and the remaining piece of bias tape.
3.         Trim the excess fabric on either end of the zipper so that it is the same width as the zipper.
4.         Place 1 of your bag front piece right side up. Take your zipper and align it with the top, 1/2″ in from each side edge. Pin in place. With your zipper foot on and using a 1/4″ seam allowance from the top of the bag, stitch the zipper in place, including both zipper tabs.
5.         Place your lining front piece right side up.  Place your bag front piece right side down onto the lining front piece, with the zipper at the top. Pin in place. Sew directly on top of the stitching from the previous step (do not sew the initial or ending 1/2″).
6.         Turn the fabrics from the previous step so that they are wrong sides together. Press. Topstitch along the edge of the main fabric pieces from one end of the zipper to the other, 1/8″ away from the zipper tape.
7.         Repeat the previous steps for the other side of the zipper. Remove the zipper foot from your machine.
8          Depending on the pattern, the next steps will usually direct you to sew your fabrics, bag right sides together and lining right sides together, along the 3 unfinished edges.

2. Zippered Panel
This method for inserting a zipper is usually used in a 3-dimensional bag, where you will assemble the exterior and lining of the bag independently before attaching them along the zipper on the very last step. A bit of hand sewing is involved in this method, but nothing too drastic. These instructions are for a zipper that will be centered along the zipper panel.
1.         Take your bag zipper panel and cut it in half, lengthwise (or you may already have the 2 separate pieces).

2.         Place the resulting 2 pieces right sides together. With your fabric marker, along the long edge, measure and make a mark that is 1″ in from the left-hand edge. Do the same for the right-hand edge. Sew from the mark to the corresponding bottom edge (each line of stitching will be only 1″ long), using a 5/8″ seam allowance.
            3. Set your machine to a basting stitch. Baste, using a 5/8″ seam allowance, in between the 2 lines of stitching from the previous step. Press the seam open.
            4.         The wrong side of your bag zipper panel should be facing you. Take your zipper and place it face down on top of the zipper panel. The zipper teeth should be approximately on top of the basting stitches. Pin in place.
            5.         Put the zipper foot on your sewing machine, and sew all around the zipper. You should sew approximately 1/4″ away from the zipper teeth.

            6.         With the right side of the bag zipper panel facing you, remove the basting stitches with your seam ripper.

            7.         Repeat Steps 1-2 for the lining zipper panel. Instead of basting in between the 1” lines of stitching, press the fabric toward the wrong side by 1/2”.

3. Zippered Pocket
I have learned to install a zippered pocket two different ways. The first, which is the first kind of zipper I ever installed, resulted in all raw edges of the zipper being enclosed. Although it sounds nicer, this way is a bit trickier to get the right side of your fabric to look nice and neat. The second way allows for the bag and lining to be sewn right sides together, but when you open the pocket, the edges of the zipper will show. Choose whichever way suits you!
Method #1 (no raw edges of zipper showing, but more difficult)

            1.         Draw a rectangle on the wrong side of the fabric piece of the bag that you will be attaching the pocket to. It should be at least 2” below the top edge of the fabric (my example shows a pocket that is down 3″ from the top of the panel). The rectangle should be 1/2” wide and 1/2” shorter than your zipper, centered. In the middle of the rectangle, draw another line; this line should start and stop 1/4” from the ends of the rectangle. Draw a ‘V’ at each end.

            2.         Cut down the center line that you drew, also cutting the V’s. I like to use my seam ripper to get the opening started, before I use my scissors. Press the fabric toward the wrong side of the fabric.

            3.         Place the zipper face up, with 1 edge of the zip flush with the bottom edge of the pocket. The pocket piece will usually be double the height of the desired finished size of the pocket.

            4.         Place the opening in the fabric directly over the zipper. The pocket will point up and away from the fabric. Pin in place. Sew along the bottom edge of the opening only, using a 1/8” seam allowance. Press the Pocket toward the bottom of the fabric.

            5.         Turn the unit over so that the wrong side of the Lining fabric is facing you. Flip the unsewn edge of the pocket up so that it aligns with the unsewn edge of the zipper. Hold the pocket and zipper in place with your fingers.

            6.         Flip the unit back over so that the right side of the fabric is facing you. Pin the top area of the zipper in place. Sew along the top and sides of the opening, making sure that the pocket is pushed out of the way toward the bottom of the fabric.

            7.         Flip the unit back over so that you can see the pocket again. With right sides together, sew along the 2 side edges of the Pocket, keeping it clear of the fabric.

Method #2

1.         Take the pocket. The pocket piece will usually be double the height of the desired finished size of the pocket. On the wrong side of the pocket, measure and mark a horizontal line that is halfway (plus 1/2”) down from the top short edge of the pocket. My example shows a line that is 8″ down.
2.         Draw another horizontal line that is 1/2″ below the one from the previous step.
3.         Draw a vertical line that is 1″ in from the left-hand side (this line will connect the horizontal lines from the previous steps), and another vertical line that is 1″ in from the right-hand side. Now you should have a rectangular box.
4.         Take out your fabric piece that you are attaching the zippered pocket to. Place it right side facing you. Now place the pocket (with the rectangular box still aligned horizontally) on top of the fabric. The bottom raw edge of the pocket should be at least 1″ higher than the bottom raw edge of the fabric, and the pocket should be 1 3/4″ in from the from the left-hand edge. Pin in place.
5.         Sew along the lines that you drew to make the rectangular box.
6.         Cut a slit in the center of the box (through both layers of fabric), starting and stopping approximately 1/4″ from the edges of the box. Cut a small ‘v’ at each end, making sure not to cut into your seam allowance. It is helpful to use your seam ripper to get the cut started.
7.         Push the pocket to the wrong side of the fabric and press.
8.         With the right side of the fabric facing you, center the zipper, right side facing you, underneath the opening and pin in place. Make sure that the pocket is lying flat and away from the opening.
9.         Stitch along the opening, 1/8″ from the edge of the fabric.
10.       Fold your Pocket in half along the long edge, right sides together. Sew along the side and bottom edges.

4. Invisible Zipper

Sewing with an invisible zipper is deceptively easy. No special foot is needed, you can use your regular zipper foot for this one! Invisible zippers can be used in dresses, skirts, etc.!

1. Take out your zipper. With your iron, flatten out the coils on each side. The flatter the better!

2. Normally in a garment, you will finish the edges that the zipper will be installed on. In my example, I have used my serger to finish the edges, but you can also use a tight zig-zag stitch on your sewing machine. My zipper is positioned according to the seam allowance (which is why it’s pushed to the side of the serging in this photo). The zipper is face-down, with the teeth furthest from the finished edge. I left a gap at the top because I will theoretically be adding a facing to finish the neckline. Sew all the way down to the bottom of the zipper.

3. You will repeat the previous step for the opposite edge of the zipper. It can be helpful to place your fabrics right sides together, so you can easily see how you need to pin the zipper against the fabric.

4. To finish the bottom of the zipper, sandwich your fabrics right sides together. The bottom of the zipper might seem like it is in the way, but as long as you can sew 1/8″ away from the previous seam allowance (from attaching your zipper), you should be okay.

Hope this has helped you a little bit! I know a lot of people don’t like working with zippers, but once you’ve sewn with a few, you’ll be able to show it who’s boss. Spend an evening working with scraps, like I did, and you’ll never look back.

Share this post

26 replies on “Zippers 4 Ways

  • emedoodle

    Wow! What a great comprehensive list of instructions! I’ll certainly be using this as a reference! I’ve done a lot of zippers but never an enclosed pocket. I actually understood your directions for it! 🙂 Thanks for sharing! PS are you still saying no to social media?

  • Elsa

    Great tutorial Sara!
    I made my clothing as a child ~ started at 8 years old ~ and zippers would make me cry. I had such a hard time with them. I didn’t give up tho. Love making things with zippers now.

  • biloxibird

    For your zippered pockets, both method one and two, using interfacing on the wrong side, twice as large as the zipper box, will make things easier and give more stability to the zipper edge. A light weight fusible with pinked edges should not show on the right side or, fuse the entire piece.

  • Beth

    Great tutorial!!! Glad I went back a little bit to catch up on the blogs I missed all week. I will be doing some bags for holiday gifts and your designs and your zipper info will make it so much easier for me.

  • capitolaquilter

    So nice of you to create such a comprehensive post. I was so inspired at Sewing Summit to expand beyond quilting and having this resource for bags and garments will be invaluable. Great to meet you in person.

  • Hanna B.

    First let me say thank you for this tutorial. Second, I have a question about method number 1. I like the idea of the fabric tabs on the end of the zipper – it would allow the zipper to lay better in the bag and is easier to sew over. I also think it would allow for the corners to be turned out better.

    However, I can’t figure out why your fabric for the bag is a 1/2 inch longer than the zipper. Even with a 1/2 inch seam allowance you are still going to have a small hole between the bag and the end and beginning of the zipper. I would think that the end of the zipper (or, I should say, the end of the fabric tab on the end of the zipper) would be equal to the width of the bag. I am sure I am missing something very simple so don’t laugh 🙂


  • struwiggy

    thank you very much for this tutorial. I consider myself still a beginner although I’ve got my machine for my 18th Birthday 2 years ago. Since then I always made stuff that don’t enquire zips because they always come out crazy and then i lose interest and they stay unfinished… This morning I decided I’m going to make myself a pencil skirt and I’ve used your instructions on an invisible zip and for the first time I’ve actaully finished something with a zip and I’ve start pulling all those crazy stuff lose and I’ve finished 4 more items that I lost interest in before. Thank you very much!!! This is by far the tutorial that made my life so much easier and For the first time I can save money by making instead of buying clothes.

    Thank you very much!!!
    Kind Regards
    Benita for South Africa

  • maryg

    I recently was in a class to make a wallet. The instructor told us that the zipper pull, when closed, should be on the right (as you look at the zipper.) She said most people think it should go the other way, but they’re wrong. I had never heard of this and reluctantly sewed it in per her instruction. I thought that I’ve been doing it wrong “all these years.”

    But I find it awkward zipping from my right to my left. I looked at other zippers in purchased items and they zip left to right to open.

    I searched to see if any other patterns had directions to put the zipper in this way. But didn’t find anything. But I did find your tutorial and I found it to be very clear and informative. Thank you! I also noticed on your finished products, the zipper opens left to right.

    I am curious on your thoughts of what this instructor said about it being wrong.

  • Tammy L.

    Thanks so much for this tutorial, Sara. I haven’t been able to find anywhere else where you can install a zippered pocket without even no zipper tape showing. This tutorial helps me to do that for bags I’m selling.
    Thought you’d like to know I add a little facing that makes it easier to make the front look nice, and it keeps the fabric more secure from raveling at the corners. Before installing the zipper, I use a rectangle of ShapeFlex, drawing a little rectangle on it and stitching it to the fabric and clipping down the center of it just as if I were installing the lining. Then when I turn the ShapeFlex to the inside, pressing will keep my layers together easily and keep the edges of the outside fabric flat and secure. Then I install the zipper with its lining. It adds an extra step and an extra layer, but I think the resulting appearance is much sharper.


Comments make my day and I love to reply!