You love sewing with and using zippers, right? Well, if you’re new here, let it be known that I love zippers. Sometimes zippers can seem like some crazy contraption that’s out to get you, but if you know your way around a zipper, you’ll feel much more confident working with them. I’ll be covering a few common types of zippers and what the parts of the zipper are named.
Plastic coil – plastic coil zippers are quite easy to find at big box craft supply stores. They’re often referred to as an all-purpose zipper. I think they’re the easiest to use and get great results. Plastic coil zippers are easy to shorten. You can sew a few stitches (by hand or machine) over the zipper teeth where you need the length to be and then simply trim the zipper with a scissors 1/2″ past the stitches.
Metal – metal zippers have metal teeth and end stops. They come in many different finishes (nickel, brass, antique brass to name a few) and zipper tapes of varying colors. I love the look of a metal zipper. They are more difficult to shorten, but it can be done – with a little elbow grease and a needle nose pliers.
Zipper tape is the ‘fabric’ that runs along the sides of the zipper teeth. Zipper tape lengths and widths vary my manufacturer and by zipper type. For example, the width of a purse zipper is approximately 1/2″ wider than that of a standard plastic coil zipper. Usually the wider the zipper teeth, the wider the zipper tape. Zipper tapes come in a variety of colors to coordinate with your project! Most commonly, zipper tape is polyester, but you can also find cotton and a few other specialty materials.
Separating zippers do just that, they separate when fully opened. Think of a jacket, that is a separating zipper. Non-separating zippers stay connected at one end when fully opened. Some non-separating zippers stay closed on both ends (such as a coverall zipper). It’s important to pay attention to what type of zipper a pattern calls for. If you try to use a separating zipper in place of a non-separating zipper, you could run into trouble. For example, separating zippers do not have extra zipper tape at the open end of the zipper, and if you would try to use one in place of a non-separating zipper you wouldn’t have enough zipper tape to properly install the zipper, thus leaving a gap or even making the zipper much more difficult to use. Non-separating zippers are also sometimes called closed bottom zippers.
There are many ways a zipper can open. Most zippers are a one-way zipper. There are also head-to-head zippers, coverall zippers, and two-way separating. When purchasing a zipper pay close attention to what type of zipper the pattern calls for.
The end stops are very important. Not only do they help you measure your zipper (see below for how to determine the length of a zipper), but they tell the zipper when to stop opening. The end stops of a zipper are usually metal on both plastic and metal zippers. You can buy replacement end stops and install them yourself, this comes in really handy when shortening a metal zipper. The end stops are located at both ends of a zipper, the pull-side (referred to as the top stop) as well as the end of the zipper (referred to as the bottom stop).
An invisible zipper is a great choice for, you guessed it, installing a zipper where you don’t want it to show on your finished project. Garments and pillows are both common projects that utilize invisible zippers often. You can install and invisible zipper using a regular zipper foot, but I find it’s well worth it to have a specialty invisible zipper foot. For my Janome, the invisible zipper foot only cost a few dollars and it really saves time. There are special channels that guide the invisible zipper coils and keep the needle in the perfect position. When the zipper is correctly installed, you can’t see the zipper – thus it’s invisible, like magic!
Measuring a zipper:
Teeth/Coil Size – It’s true, zippers are also measured not only by length, but also the width of their teeth/coil. For example a #3 size zipper’s teeth/coil is smaller than a #5 zipper, a #3 zipper teeth/coil is 3mm wide whereas a #5 zipper is 5mm wide. Most metal zippers I use in my projects are a #4.5. A #5 is fairly wide and is most likely designed for a project where you need a heavy-duty zipper. If you’re shopping online and the listing doesn’t tell you what teeth/coil size a particular zipper is, contact the shop owner.
Length – To determine the length of a zipper you measure from the top stop to the bottom stop. On a separating zipper, measure from the top (pull-side) stop to the end of the zipper tape (where the zipper would separate). That is the length! Easy, right?!
While this isn’t an exhaustive list of zipper types and features, I have tried to cover most of the common parts and types of zippers. Hopefully this information will help you next time your project calls for a zipper!
I’d like to thank Jennie from Zipit for helping me verify the information within this post and giving me permission to use a couple of her photos (teeth/coil size photos).