Tutorial: Invisible Zipper Tips By Lilacs & Lace
Hello everyone! It’s Laura Mae from Lilacs & Lace here with a few tips to help you tackle invisible zippers. For this project, I am working with Colette’s Parfait Dress and this yummy textured basket-weave linen blend.
There seems to be an infinite variety of zippers out there – the exposed zipper is getting a lot of attention these days on the fashion front, but I generally prefer that the closure on a garment does not demand a lot of attention. An invisible zipper is a wonderfully inconspicuous option.
If the pattern calls for a shorter zipper than you have on hand, that is not a problem. Any nylon zipper is a cinch to shorten.
Mark your required length on the zipper tape. Because the invisible zipper folds in on itself, it is difficult to stitch in that fold the closer you get to the zipping mechanism.
You can stitch in a makeshift zipper stop right at that initial marking, but I find that it is easier to work with a little extra length, especially with an invisible zipper, so I mark a good inch below that point.
Now is the time to create a new stop for the zipper which will keep the zipper pull from zipping right off the end of the cut/shortened zipper tape while you are sewing it in place. A simple length of thread will do the trick – just run the thread right over the teeth of the zipper a few times. Those stitches serve as a stop for the zipper until inserted into the garment, when the seamline creates a permanent stop.
You can now trim the zipper one inch below the thread stopper. I like to use pinking shears to keep the tape from fraying, but really any scissors will do (except for your good fabric sheers, of course – keep those away from bulky nylon zipper coils!).
To make it easier to access the stitching line and keep the folded coils out of the way, you can iron the zipper open using a low/synthetic setting on your iron with no steam. I usually take a quick pass at my invisible zippers with an iron, but do not attempt to flatten them since it can affect the integrity of the zipper. Also, too much heat can melt the teeth together, ruining the zipper.
The trick I find most helpful for installing (any) zipper is to reinforce the opening edges of the garment. A strip of silk organza is an excellent option, as is a strip of fusible interfacing (make sure to choose an appropriate weight for your garment fabric). The strip needs to be wide enough to extend beyond either side of the seam fold so that the permanent stitching line will catch the stabilizer. For an invisible zipper, one inch is plenty. Also make sure that the interfacing is longer than the zipper opening. The point where the fabric seam meets the zipper opening is likely to get a lot of stress and the interfacing will help to reinforce that spot.
Mark just inside the seamline. For an invisible zipper, this line will need to be visible on the right side of the fabric. This particular fabric is not easily marked, so I drew my mark on the wrong side and basted that line with thread. This makes the line visible on the right side of this highly textured fabric.
I find the easiest way to figure out which way to insert the zipper itself is with the right side facing and the zipper next to the opening seam, right side up. When I begin to fold the seam allowance away from me (to the wrong side where it belongs) the zipper should disappear, leaving the pull tab visible. In other words, the tape edge should be close to the raw edge of the fabric, and the zipper coil should be hanging over the marked seamline.
The second most important part of zipper installation is basting, which saves a massive amount of time in the long run – so don’t skip this step! I like to use a contrasting silk thread which makes it easy to remove later on.
Once one side of the zipper is basted in place, it is time to stitch it down. Many machines come with an invisible zipper foot. If you do not have one, a regular zipper foot can do the trick, depending on how mobile your needle is. The stitching line needs to get as close as possible to the plastic zipper teeth without grabbing them. I do not recommend the plastic invisible zipper kits that only cost a few dollars – the plastic slide can move around while you sew making it difficult to gauge where the stitching needs to be.
Another option is hand stitching. I know the first time I heard of someone hand stitching a zipper I thought they were crazy. But a tiny backstitch/pick-stitch/prick-stitch is incredibly sturdy and works beautifully.
One thing that will help to ensure a beautiful application is to stitch both sides of the zipper in the same direction. If you start from the top and work your way down on the right hand side, work from the top down on the left hand side as well. This will help to keep your fabric from shifting in opposite directions. If you have trouble matching seamlines, this may solve your problem!
Speaking of seamlines . . . if you have any horizontal seamlines to match, you will want to mark those after one side of the zipper is stitched into place. Close the zipper, and mark the seamline point on the zipper tape with a fabric pen or chalk (I prefer a fine point pen – the thinner the mark, the more accurate the placement).
Matching any seamlines necessary, baste the second tape into place. Now make sure to zip everything closed to check that those seamlines are matching up! If not, remove the basting and try again. Once you are happy with the zipper placement, stitch it into place, remembering to stitch this seam in the same direction as the last.
Next you will need a standard zipper foot to close up the seam below/above the zipper. Remove the basting stitches, and push the end of the zipper out of the way.
Pin the seam closed below your newly installed invisible zipper. The end of this seam should overlap the zipper stitching slightly.
As a final note, I will say that I prefer to install invisible zippers in an open seam. I find it much easier than fighting with the twisting coil against a closed seam. If possible, I will insert a zipper before adding other pattern pieces to the mix. This is not always possible, but the less fabric you have to flip around, the easier inserting a zipper will be!
Things do not always go according to plan, as evidenced by this project. As much as I love the look of an invisible zipper, they are far from sturdy. I had a feeling that this fabric was too bulky and textured for an invisible zipper, but my stubborn streak thought I could make it work – the dress thought otherwise. Instead of fighting to get it open and closed every time I wear the dress, I decided a lapped zipper would be a much safer bet.
The problem was that the loose weave of the fabric was coming apart along the cut edges. So out came the silk organza.
I ripped a two inch strip and applied it to the opening edge. When turned under, it covers the raw edge and extends the seam, making it possible to insert a lapped zipper.
Even though they have their issues, invisible zippers are fabulous when used with a suitable project. When installed properly, they are virtually undetectable. That being said, they are best used with light to mid weight fabrics and do have their limitations. Just remember that most zipper applications can be swapped out for another should fabric choice or the style of a garment make one option less than ideal.
Happy sewing, everyone!