Most patterns with zippers provide instructions for installing zippers in a way that hides the zipper teeth (such as a lapped or invisible zipper – tutorials on those coming soon!). However, there are some really fun zippers out on the market. Some have colourful teeth, patterned or embellished zipper tape, or maybe you’ve just found a perfect contrasting colour zipper to the fabric you’ve chosen for your project and you want to show it off. An exposed zipper reveals the zipper teeth and some of the zipper tape (you can choose how much tape to reveal, if any). And installing a zipper in a way that allows you to expose these fun details takes only a few adjustments to your sewing plans (and no adjustments to your pattern). The Long Sleeve Tunic is a great pattern to add a fun exposed zipper to the centre back seam, especially with warmer weather on the way!
Before you begin, you will need to determine how long you want your zipper to be. If you’re installing an exposed zipper in place of a different style zipper recommended in your pattern, you should begin by selecting one with the same length as your pattern requires. For dresses, it’s important that the zipper extends from the top (generally at the centre back at neck, and sometimes at the side seam at the base of the armscye) all the way down through the waist and to the hip line. This will ensure that you can get the garment on and off with ease. For zippers that will be installed for a more decorative purpose (and not needed to get the garment on and off), you can be creative and use your discretion for the zipper length. For example, adding a zipper along a sleeve seam to open it from the wrist adds interest to a design but doesn’t impact the garment’s function significantly, so can be made in a variety of lengths.
Step 1: Once you’ve identified your zipper length, cut a 2.5cm (1”) strip of fusible interfacing about 2.5cm (1”) longer than the length of zipper that will be exposed (so about 2.5cm (1”) longer than the zipper teeth – not the zipper tape). For a 25cm (10”) zipper, you’d cut 27.5cm (11”) of fusible interfacing. This fusing will support the seams that hold the zipper in place and help maintain the garment’s integrity during wear and laundering.
Step 2: Align the fusible interfacing with the edge of your fabric where the zipper will be installed, on the wrong side of your fabric, with the sticky side of the interfacing toward the fabric. Then iron it in place. To avoid any mishaps, I like to use a press cloth to ensure I don’t accidentally fuse the interfacing to my iron.
You can also use a fusible interfacing tape, available in rolls at various widths. You can even use a width less than 2.5cm (1”), but if you do, be sure to position the tape where the seam will be (and don’t align it with the edge of the fabric). The point of the interfacing is to support the seam, so you want to make sure it is positioned to do so.
In the next steps, you will position your zipper on your fabric by marking directly on your fabric with chalk or a water-soluble pen. Even if zipper placement is included on your pattern (all TAL patterns include a notch that aligns with the base of the zipper), I recommend laying out your actual zipper on your fabric pieces to align it precisely for the zipper you will use. There are two things to consider when marking your zipper placement: the seam allowance at the top of the zipper, and the position of the stopper at the bottom of the zipper.
Step 3: Close your zipper and position it on the wrong side of your fabric so that the zipper head is positioned away from the top fabric edge the same amount as the seam allowance at that part of the garment. For example, the Long Sleeved Tunic neckline has a 0.5cm (1/4”) seam allowance, so I’ve positioned the zipper on this sample 0.5cm (1/4”) from the top edge of the fabric.
Step 4: Then, keeping the zipper in position, make a mark on the wrong side of your fabric at the below the lower edge of the zipper stopper. The stopper will be exposed when you’re finished sewing. If you’re using a metal zipper, you cannot sew through the zipper so it’s important to ensure that you are marking the right spot. Do this on both pieces of your fabric that will be sewn to the zipper.
Step 5: Next, you will need to decide how much of the zipper teeth and tape you want to expose, and mark your fabric to prepare for sewing the zipper in place. You can sew very close to the zipper teeth and minimize the amount of tape that is showing on your finished garment, but be mindful of your fabric thickness because you still need that zipper to open and close (sewing the fabric too close to the teeth can cause your zipper to get stuck while zipping). Use a ruler to measure from the centre of the zipper teeth to the position on the zipper tape that you want to expose. For example, I placed my ruler and decided I want to show approximately 0.5cm (1/4”) of the zipper tape and teeth, but you can show more (or less) according to your preference.
Step 6: To figure out placement of your seam line, next you will add the amount you just measured to the seam allowance width for that seam. For example, the seam allowance of the centre back seam on the Long Sleeve Tunic (where I’m installing the exposed zipper) is 1cm (3/8”). Adding this to the previous zipper teeth/tape measurement equals 1.6cm (5/8”), which I will mark on my fabric to show where the seam will be placed. You can use chalk or a water-soluble pen. Draw one line from the top edge of the fabric to the mark you made for the zipper stopper. Draw another line across from the end of the first, passing through the stopper mark. If you are serging your garment, you can serge these seams separately now for a clean finish.
Step 7: The next step is to sew the lower portion of the garment pieces according to the indicated seam allowance. The Long Sleeve Tunic has a 1cm (3/8”) seam allowance, so I have sewn from the bottom of my fabric to the zipper stopper mark at 1cm (3/8”) and backstitched to secure the seam at both ends.
Step 8: To allow the fabric to remain tidy at the corners on your exposed zipper, use sharp scissors to clip through both layers of your fabric on a 45 degree angle toward the corner point you drew earlier. Be sure to cut to the corner, but not through it.
Step 9: Press the fabric along the guidelines you drew earlier, turning the right sides inward (to the wrong side) along both sides and at the bottom of the zipper area. Press the lower seam open and flat, as pictured.
Step 10: Lay your zipper flat on a surface, and position your fabric on top. You may wish to use a water soluble double-sided tape such as Wonder Tape to hold your fabric in place for the next steps. Alternatively, you may wish to use a glue stick to adhere your fabric to the zipper tape. Both of these options are a substitution for using pins or clips – I recommend using what you’re most comfortable with. I used glue along with some pins for this sample. Be sure to apply the glue only to the folded edges of the fabric.
The next steps are the trickiest because they involve small seam allowances and manipulating multiple layers of fabric. Take your time! You can try this with a practice sample if you want to test the technique before trying on your “good” fabric.
Step 11: With your fabric secured to your zipper, flip one length of the fabric up to expose the zipper and the fabric seam allowance. Using a zipper foot, sew along the guideline you drew previously, through the fabric and the zipper tape, stopping at the clip point. Backstitch both ends of your seam to secure.
Step 12: Repeat this process on the other side of the zipper, backstitching at both ends of the seam to secure.
Tip: to maintain a straight seam when sewing near the zipper head, stop stitching, put the needle in the down position, and lift the presser foot to slide the zipper open or closed and out of the way.
Step 13: Flip up the fabric to expose the bottom of the zipper tape. Sew a short line of stitching across the lower edge of the zipper, just under the stopper. Be sure to catch the pointy ends of the fabric. Be mindful not to sew through a metal zipper stopper – that is a recipe for a broken needle and a potential injury!
Step 14: Turn the fabric over and gently press for a clean, smooth finish. Use a press cloth to minimize risk of over-pressing and embossing your fabric with the zipper tape edge.
You may also choose to add decorative topstitching around the edge of the zipper seam, but you can also leave your zipper without those details – it’s your preference. You’re now ready to continue assembling your garment according to the pattern instructions.