Friday, 2 December 2011

Zen and the Art of Zip Insertion

“Is it hard?'
Not if you have the right attitudes. It's having the right attitudes that's hard.”
Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values

If you have been flipping through this blog (thank you) or even been following the posts (thank you), then you will be aware of my difficulties with zips. I can manage to construct a fairly creditable garment up until the point of when I have to insert a closure. I particularly fret about invisible zippers because mine are NEVER invisible.

I break out in a cold sweat, I'll leave the skirt for days on Doris just so that I don't have to confront my demons, because I know that this is the crucial moment and everything done up 'til now could be wasted with a badly inserted zip. I put myself under such pressure that for sure - it will be a disaster and I'll be looking for coordinating long cardigans....(to hide the zip).

I have read every (and I mean every) blog, tutorial, book and magazine about How To Insert a Zipper. My brain knows what to do, but my hands don't seem to be very good at following orders. Added to that, the machine can feel my fear and regresses to a 3 year old throwing a tantrum. Then I regress to a 2 year old and my tantrums are so much more impressive that the machine's. Word goes out through the house, "Mummy's putting in a zip, let's leave quietly."

I read so many blogs illustrating perfect sewing projects - they are inspirational and create the desire in one to try harder and do better - but, if we are perfectly honest we all have sewing room mishaps, we all have to rip out and start again at some time; so this blog's intention was always to show the good with the bad - especially for sewers who are just beginning.

This was a recent misadventure in zip insertion - Paco's half-circle skirt. I even had the audacity to document on this very blog 'how to insert a zip' and this was the result!

Early projects had varying degrees of calamity:

1                                                                       2                                                                    3

1 - Resorted to stitching across the bottom of the zip to try to flatten the end and seal the seam
2 - This one was put in by hand to avoid annoying the machine and then topstitched for strength because my skirts are under a lot of pressure at the hips.
3 - Just crap and the zip doesn't even match

Then we move to the slightly better: but still..................
4                                                                               5                                                                           6
4 - Wiggly seam at bottom of the zip
5 - Uneven sewing (or something) at the bottom of the zip
6 - Straight, but visible.

The right tools are essential for invisible zips:

  • An invisible zipper foot, (metal, not plastic). Plastic ones do not have enough weight to hold the zip's teeth out of the way while sewing. I have a plastic one. See? But I'm thinking of updating the machine and don't want to buy accessories for the Janome if I'm moving to a Brother.
  • Normal zipper foot to close the seam beyond the zip's end. This allows you to get really close to the previous sewing lines.
  • A positive, can-do attitude. This is the hardest tool to acquire. A confident mental state and tenacity to achieve.
  • Practice, practice, practice (Art Attack's advice to me on inserting zips)

We all possess skills or talents that we excel at; for some it's designing, for others it's choosing fabrics that compliment, some have endless patience, some are just brilliant, for others it's all of the above and inserting zips.

And some of us are still searching.

Thanks for reading. Ruth


  1. Thank you Ruth, this is instructive. I try to "make do" with the tools I have and end up with zips that look like your examples. It is so frustrating to see the garment you wanted to create get "ruined" by zipper. I also need to practice. and practice some more. Have a good weekend!

  2. Hello Ruth, I understand how you feel. So, how do you actually insert zippers? Do you baste or just pin zipper when you sew? I do neither of them. Have you tried double sided basting tape? I always use it and hardly fail. You read how-to a lot so you might know about it... Let me know if you would like to know more detail. And my invisible zipper foot is plastic too! So this may not be the cause.

  3. How to insert a zipper -
    1. Pop it to the back of a lower draw.
    2. Select from your stash a handful of buttons, hooks/eyes, snaps, toggles or last resort velcro.
    3. Continue on making garment with 'new' way of closing the gap.
    4. Make a top to wear over the 'new' closure.

    Or, just keep on practising with that dreaded zipper. Once you perfect them you will never turn back. My Janome specific invisible zipper foot is my best friend - she has never put out a dud zipper insertion yet!!!

  4. Ladies, thank you for all your advice- I'm getting there one zip at a time.
    Doobee, interesting point - the vintage jacket I'm not making has a skirt which suggests buttons instead of a zip - must have been a shortage of them during the war.

  5. Handpick the zip in -

    And soooo couture!