Zippers... and TACOS! 😜🌮
(Disclaimer: there's no affiliate links here)
Having seen some folks in one of my Facebook sewing groups asking how to sew the zippers on Katwise-inspired coats, here's the way I do it... and while I break just about every sewing "norm" (spoiler alert - no zipper foot used), I think the result is pretty awesome.😎
Really quick first... super basic zipper terminology.. you only need to understand what I'm talking about when I say "slider" or "tape".. the slider is the thing you pull on to zip/unzip and the tape is that ribbon backing that you see. That's it, at least for this post. There are more terms for you zipper ninjas out there, but let's not overthink this too much just yet. 😊
On my newest coats, the zipper "tape" ends up fully encased on both the inside and outside of the garment, making for a softer wear. I've also noticed that the zipper on the finished garment is less "wavy" as the zipper tape has more structure supporting it since it's covered on both sides.
Here's what I mean.. you can see in this photo how the overlocked edge of the fleece is overlapping the zipper tape on the inside of the garment. 👇
Rest assured, it's on the outside too, of course.
For quick comparison to a commercially-made jacket, here's the inside of one of my old jackets. As you can see, the zipper tape is exposed on the inside.👇
I would be super super cool if I had videos, I know... but a video whiz I am not, so photos will have to do for now. So here's the coat and zipper at the start of this zipper-magic. If you're worried about the unfinished edges of the waistband/ "skirt portion" you can see here 👇, have faith and panic not! This will handle that. 😎
The first step is to sew all the encasing for the zipper, then serge it to the coat. I start by cutting out a couple pieces of the fleece. I'm not being super precise here about the length, but I make the two pieces slightly longer than the zipper I'm going to use.
I cut the long edges on both pieces as straight as possible (no, not with a rotary cutter... those things are the work of the devil, truly... Kai carbon-steel industrial-grade shears are WAY better, IMHO.) I then overlock (aka "serge") both of the long edges on both pieces... so now I have this:
This is where my home sergers prove useful, because it's a wee bit easier to adjust the stitch length. I use a longer stitch length so that the seams are straight and not wavy (which the shorter the stitch length, the more seams tend to be wavy... but likely you knew that already. 😉) Your machine may vary, but mine is usually set slightly above 3. Here's what that looks like on Buddha, my Babylock Enlighten:
Here's the finished seam next to my seam gauge:
This part is a little hard to explain, but first, I sew the part that will be on the inside first (the back of the zipper).. I basically place the front of the zipper face-down, and figure out placement lengthwise first, leaving extra fleece casing at both the top and bottom of the zipper. Rather than pins (which I find tend to distort the fabric), I actually prefer clips, so here's both right/left sides of my zipper, ready to have the back side sewn.. If you look at the zipper pull, you can see it's face-down. We are looking at the right side of the fleece because we're going to wrap it around the inside/outside of the zipper tape like a taco shell. 🌮 👇
I don't use a zipper foot at all. I just move my needle all the way to the right. My machine has a laser pointer which helps me see where the machine is going to stitch. You could flip this back over as well like it is in the photo just above (either way works)... the main point here is that you are sewing the inside of our "fleece-zipper-taco" first - and by inside, I mean the part that will be on the inside of the finished garment.
On my machine, the setting to move the needle all the way over to the right is over here (yours will probably be different):
Because my bobbin thread is going to show up in the finished work since I'm sewing the back side with the front side down, I highly suggest not using a wackadoodle color in the bobbin unless you're really keen on having contrasting thread. Here we are, mid-stitch.. (also remember... on the side that has the zipper pull, you have to pause and raise the presser foot -with the needle still down- to slide the zipper pull out of your way to finish stitching.. most folks who have ever sewn a zipper should be familiar with this part)
Here's what it looks like after I've finished stitching 👇:
Now, it's time to complete the zipper-taco and sew the front/outside. Maybe I could be more efficient sewing front/back at the same time, but this just helps me ensure that all of my stitches include the zipper tape so that's why I do this in two steps. While I wholeheartedly encourage the re-use of old zippers where possible, often times it's easier for just get mine from the folks at Wawak. I like their #5 nylon coil jacket zippers. That's what you're seeing here.
So after having sewn the back side (inside), here we are getting ready to sew the front (outside)... the side without the zipper pull is clipped in place and ready to go, and I'm working on putting the clips on the half of the zipper that has the zipper pull. 👇
When I'm done, here's what my nearly-complete "zipper-taco" looks like. If yours isn't perfectly aligned top/bottom, don't panic yet - that can fixed in the next step... but you should have something that looks like this.
As you can see, the right side of the fleece is on both the inside (back) and outside (front) of the zipper. 👇 At this point, if your top/bottom are uneven, unless they are miles apart, just trim 'em. ✂
On to the next steps to finish the top/bottom of the "zipper taco"... I always serge the top at an angle, and then the bottom either at at angle, or straight. Often I'll put a few basting stitches in with the sewing machine on the top end of the zipper casing before taking it over to the serger. Here's the basting stitches 👇:
And here's where I've gone and serged the top. I'll take a blunt needle and tuck the "tails" back inside the seam but they're hanging out in this photo. The end without tails, I've just cut those because that edge is going to be serged anyway when I attach this to the coat. 👇
On this one, I opted for straight on the bottom, so here's that. Same thing with the tails... the ones hanging out here will be tucked back inside the seam using a blunt needle... the other side I've already cut the tails, since that side will be serged when I attach this to the coat. 👇
So here is my finished zipper encasing, ready to be clipped (in lieu of pinned) to the coat:
When you do zippers this way, it'll dawn on you how much more convenient those clips are. I have a huge pile of them in both smaller and larger sizes.. as I'm putting clips to "pin" the zipper-taco to where it'll be attached to the coat, I focus on matching up the waistband seams. I've highlighted them in red so you can be clear on what I mean. The zipper's already matched up since it's zipped closed, so focus on lining up those seams at the top of the waistband that I highlighted in red. 👇
When I take the coat and zipper over to the overlock machine, here's the finished result. I've marked the seam in red so you can see how I serged it. Spoiler alert - I started all the way at the bottom... so I started serging down at the bottom, went all the way up (attaching one side of the zipper casing), around the neck and back down the other side (attaching the other side of the zipper casing) in one big really long seam. (Psst...it sort of goes without saying but... unzip the zipper before serging this seam.😉) 👇
Yet another spoiler alert... when I attach the hood, I actually serge over this same seam AGAIN.. so on the finished coat, the zipper "encasement" won't be as wide as it looks here. If you want to have a hoodless coat, stop here and you're good. (Why am I suddenly picturing the infamous story of the headless horseman..😂) If you want a hood, this is why that zipper encasement needs to be a bit wider, because that same seam is going to be serged twice, and it takes quite a bit of the material off. With the hood as well, I have found that it's less wonky to just start all the way at the bottom and go all the way around again.
Here's a close-up of the same coat after I've gone around again and attached the hood. Here's the inside 👇
And here's the view from the outside of that same seam 👇
Would this cool trick work with wovens? Eh, full disclosure - I haven't tried. It may not. Knits and stretchy materials are fun to sew with because they forgive you and you can get away with cool tricks like this. I owe you a future blog post on how I sew the arms to the coats... spoiler alert - it is WAY easier than normal "set in" sleevils*. (*Sleeves sewn the traditional way are evil - they are so commonly the bane of sewists).
For serging/overlocking thick seams like this (especially the hood portion!!), I highly recommend an industrial-grade serger.. my home sergers used to constantly snap threads and break needles struggling... it was sooooooo frustrating..... happy day 🥳 when I finally discovered that the Juki MO-6814D four-thread machine faithfully chomps through thick/fluffy seams like this. I have a blog post about sergers HERE.
Oh shoot - did I forget to tell you where to get the clips? Gah! 😱 Let me remedy that right now... I get those also from Wawak and you can get big clips, or small clips. Again, these aren't affiliate links... I just think these are awesome to sew with.
I've seen a few folks selling what kinda looks like knockoffs of Katwise's amazing sweatercoat tutorial (boo!😥) and my intent here is NOT to take patronage away from the fantastic Goddess of Sweaters... so if you haven't bought her tutorial and are trying to make a coat for yourself rather than buy a coat/hoodie, please consider buying her tutorial. Even if you give up and never make a coat, it's such a fun read! Katwise's Etsy shop is over HERE. The tutorial is only like $10.00. If you start emailing me with all sorts of coat questions and haven't contributed to the artistic world by buying her tutorial, this is me giving you the hairy-eyeball - don't be cheap. Brilliant people deserve to be paid for their brilliant ideas.
That said... if you're already bought Katwise's tutorial and are here looking for tidbits on how to further master sweatering techniques, and because no good deed goes unpunished 😏 if my explanation of zippering was in any way helpful to you, please feel free to throw me a bone🙏. My virtual 💲"tip jar"💲 is HERE. There are no affiliate links here, so my blog posts earn me nothing but your willing tips and my happiness if I earn you as a regular reader/visitor. 😇
Lastly and most of all, at zero cost to you, I always appreciate a shout-out on your social media, that's worth a TON to me... whether you follow me on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest.. and you are welcome and encouraged to tag me! Yay let's play tag! 🤩 Whether it's a dollar towards my Buy-a-Bag-'o-Sparkles Fund, or a shout-out on social media, really it means a lot to me as I do not charge enough for my work to have an advertising budget. I'd rather let the quality of my work sell itself, and I rely exclusively on word-of-mouth in lieu of further enriching giant companies like Google or Facebook. If you scroll down to the bottom, there should be little buttons there for Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter and I welcome you to share my blog post with anyone who might be interested or find it helpful. Spread the love! 🥰💖
There's no built-in function for me to reply to blog comments (@ intarwebs programmer people - booooo! 😥 Fix this please!) but if you read all this, I always appreciate comments. 💖 If you're really shy you can send me an email too. 😊