Your guide to zip fitting like a pro – part 1

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Regular YKK dress zip
YKK zips are durable, resist stretching, and include a helpful stitching guideline.

Having honed their sewing machine skills on a tote bag project, participants in my 6-day ‘No Fears’ beginners’ sewing course are given a choice of three easy dressmaking patterns to make up in a fabric of their choice. I’ve deliberately chosen ‘Easy’ patterns rather than those specifically designated ‘Learn to Sew’ or ‘Beginner’. My rationale is that they allow students to practice a range of typical dressmaking skills and all of them include a zip.

While many people will go to great lengths to avoid patterns that require a zip, my students get no say in the matter. In fact, those who choose to make a dress, rather than a skirt or trousers, get to use an invisible or concealed zip. Far from being more difficult than a regular zip, invisible zips require no tacking or basting, and are almost foolproof to install (thanks to the specially-designed concealed zip foot). They look great, and give the student a great sense of achievement at a point in the course where they might otherwise be feeling a little overwhelmed.

However, for the beginner sewer particularly, successful zip installation does depend somewhat on the quality of the zip used. Before I started selling my own haberdashery, I would see a great variation in zip quality, with the majority of students buying theirs from the same well-known High Street store. In shorter lengths, these lightweight nylon concealed zips worked fine. But the dress patterns we use in class require a 22″ (56cm) zip, and we frequently found it impossible to get a truly invisible finish. I now recommend (and sell) YKK zips.

Anatomy of a zip

Let’s take a closer look at the regular YKK zip above. This type is probably the most commonly-used. It features nylon teeth on a durable, non-stretch tape, and is suitable for a wide range of dressmaking, bag-making, craft, and lightweight home-furnishing applications.

In common with all zips, this regular zip has

  • a top stop – to stop the slider from running off the top of the tape
  • a slider and pull tab – as the name suggests, this is the part that slides up and down, drawing the teeth together or parting them, in the course of normal zip function
  • the tape – the strip of fabric to which the teeth or coil are attached. It can be made of a variety of materials, depending on intended usage
  • a guide line – an indicator of the correct stitching line. This can appear as either a raised line or a change in weave and, while not unique to YKK zips, it is extremely useful – especially when sewing invisible/concealed zips
  • the teeth or coil – these interlock to close the zip and can be made of nylon, metal or polyester
  • the bottom stop – a small bracket or bond that stops the slider running off the bottom of the tape

General tips for successful zip installation

Before I launch into my first zip tutorial, here are some general zip tips:

  1. Press the zip before installation. This is an essential step in the fitting of an invisible zip but, in general, prevents zip tapes from wrinkling and skewing off-centre while basting. When pressing a zip from the right side, use a cloth to prevent impressions from the zip teeth showing through.
  2. Think about using seam binding or fusible tape to stay the edges of stretchy fabric before installing a zip for a better finish.
  3. Even in well-fitting clothes, zips take a fair bit of strain. Avoid risking tearing your dress fabric by reinforcing and extending narrow seam allowances with seam binding or ribbon, before installing your zip.
  4. As with cotton dress fabrics, pre-wash zips with cotton tapes to avoid shrinkage.
  5. Change the position of the zipper foot to allow stitching of both sides of the zip in the same direction. For best results, sew from bottom to top.
  6. And, lastly, always close zips before washing.
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