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It was really fun working with Deborah, the owner of Whipstitch, while they sponsored our site this past week. Deborah is a really cool business owner. She gets so excited about teaching sewing skills and loves loves loves fabric. I’m so excited for her new Whipstitch fabrics & sewing lounge in Atlanta. It’ll be an amazing sewing community.
Deborah also kindly sent us an Invisible Zipper Tutorial to post. Thank you Whipstitch!
Many thanks to CleverNesting for allowing me to sponsor last week, and for inviting me to post this tutorial!
I vastly prefer doing zippers to buttonholes, and on apparel, my preference by far is for the invisible zipper. I’ve seen so many folks struggle with these, and was asked by a few to put together a photo tutorial on my process, which I’m flattered to do!
Today, I’m working with a sample fabric that was the discarded side back of a skirt with a center back seam; I’ve cut it straight up the middle to look like a center back seam skirt, but to still fit in each photo.
When installing an invisible zip, NO PORTION of the seam is stitched; we’re working with two separate pieces of fabric, and will complete the remainder of the seam after the zipper is installed.
The primary difference between the standard, universal zipper and the invisible zip is in the teeth: you can see in the image below that the teeth on the invisible zipper are on the BACK of the zip tape, which allows the fabric on either side to be brought together on a perfect seam line, with no teeth showing (hence the name).
To prepare the invisible zipper for stitching, the first step is to press the zipper teeth flat, allowing you to get your stitches as close to the teeth as possible and prevent any zipper tape from peeking out.
You can see in this image how the teeth on the right are flattened, and the ones on the left still curl up—we want both sides of the tape to have teeth nice and smooth after pressing. Don’t worry that you’ll melt the teeth, but don’t linger too long in any one place, either.
Once the teeth on both sides of the zipper have been pressed open, pin the open zipper to the seam allowance on one side of the skirt. In the image, you can see I’ve taken the RIGHT HAND SIDE of the zipper and pinned it to the LEFT HAND SIDE of the skirt back, with zipper teeth facing away from the seam allowance. This feels awkward and counter-intuitive, but it totally works.
Now, keep in mind that the zipper tape itself is 3/8” wide, but most standard seam allowances are 5/8” wide; placement is critical to your success with the invisible zip, so make sure you’ve got the edge of your zip tape ¼” from the edge of your fabric—that is to say, the zipper teeth should be on top of your seam line.
Now we take it to the machine to stitch. I have never used a special invisible zipper foot, although such a thing does exist. Instead, I use the weave of the zip tape to indicate my stitch line, and I run my standard foot right over those teeth we pressed flat.
If you look closely at the zipper tape, you’ll see that it has a herringbone weave to it. I use the line closest to my presser foot as my guide as I stitch. I’ve used white thread here for better visibility.
Notice that the edge of the fabric is on the 5/8” seam guide on my machine.
When you’ve stitched to the bottom of the zipper and reach the zipper pull, you’ll stop stitching, backtack (stitch in reverse for 2-4 stitches, then forward again to create a knot), and remove the work from the machine.
Here at the half-way point, your work should look like this:
Now we lay out the other side of the zipper in the exact same manner, with the teeth facing away from the seam allowance. Again, placement is CRITICAL—you’ll want to double check both your markings and compare the placement of the right-hand tape to be sure that the two sides will line up when you zip them closed.
From the wrong side, the zipper isn’t twisted at all, but from the right side, you’ll notice it flips over on itself; this is normal.
Head back to the machine, and stitch just as before, using the innermost line in the weave of the zip tape as your stitch line guide.
So here we are, with both sides of the zipper installed. Note that the remainder of the seam is not yet stitched—that comes next.
To complete the rest of the center back seam (or side seam or center front seam, as the case may be), place your two halves right sides together along the seam line. Pin in place, making sure to add one pin at the point where the seam you created to install the zipper ends.
Your prepared seam should look something like this:
Now we go and stitch the rest of the seam. At your machine, hold the zipper so that the two seams allowances are right sides together and the zipper is out of the way—but without distorting the seam line. I mostly just smoosh the zip tapes together.
To begin stitching, place the needle in the fabric ABOVE the point where you backtacked at the end of the zipper tape—this is to ensure that no section of the seam is left unstitched.
Stitch the length of the remaining seam, right along your 5/8” seam line.
See where the stitches (top) used to install the zipper and the stitches (bottom) used to complete the rest of the seam overlap a bit? That’s good.
Your completed skirt, from the wrong side, looks like this at first:
And, when pressed, like this:
Seen from the right side:
A perfect, invisible zipper!