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:
- 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.
- Think about using seam binding or fusible tape to stay the edges of stretchy fabric before installing a zip for a better finish.
- 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.
- As with cotton dress fabrics, pre-wash zips with cotton tapes to avoid shrinkage.
- 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.
- And, lastly, always close zips before washing.