Maine, United States

Making Backpack / Zippers
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Making Backpack / Zippers

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Today in part three on the Making Backpack I'm talking all about zippers! Where do we start when it comes to zippers? Let me think. Well, I can start by telling you that zippers on clothing aren't my favorite thing. I've never really enjoyed installing zippers, especially the invisible ones. Plus, I always feel like they're scratching me, so I tend to avoid them when I can. But there's a big difference between the types of zippers that are typically used for clothing, compared to the ones used for bags, and the more I started sewing bags, the more I realized that it wasn't all zippers I disliked, just mainly the ones used on clothing. 

One of the most significant differences when it comes to sewing zippers on bags compared to the typical ones used on clothing, excluding coats, is that bag zippers are hardy, beautiful (I love the brass ones), and are often incorporated into the design so they're meant to be seen, which means they're also easier to sew, in my opinion. Now that I've sewn quite a few of them into bags, installing zippers is one of my favorite parts because it's a little bit of a challenge, and always so satisfying when I see that beautiful topstitching in the end. I have a few tricks I like to use for neatly sewn bag zippers that I'm sharing in today's post. 

Zipper Foot 

The first thing you want to make sure of is that you have a zipper foot. If your machine doesn't come with a zipper foot and you plan to make more bags or clothing that requires zippers, I'd recommend investing in one because it makes a huge difference in making the process easier and getting better stitching. Just make sure that you get the right one for your machine as they can vary. The reason  that a zipper foot is so helpful is due to its unique shape and size. A zipper foot is very narrow which allows you to sew right up against the metal teeth of the zipper without having the foot get on top of the metal, which would make it hard to sew and get accurate stitching. 

Marking the Seamline 

Sometimes I like to mark where I'll be stitching, especially when I'm working with several layers of fabric and trying to keep them under control while sewing. Marking the seamline with a removable pen gives me one less thing to worry about and helps to ensure that I get a straight and even seamline. You can see an example of how I marked the zipper while creating the Making Bag and the type of pen I use here.


Sometimes a pattern will instruct you to baste a zipper into place, especially if it's being sandwiched between two pieces of material, but not always. Regardless of the pattern instructions, I like to baste my zippers into place whenever possible. When it came to installing the zipper on the gusset on the Making Backpack, I first basted the zipper to the lining piece before attaching the exterior piece.   

Pins and Clips 

I like to keep both pins and clips handy while installing zippers because depending on the type of fabrics I'm sewing, and where the zippers are being installed, I go between using both. 

Fabric Glue Pen

Using a fabric glue pen is a bit new to me, but I wanted to try it on this project. The fabric glue pen is very similar in consistency to a glue stick, but the glue starts out blue so you can see it, and then turns clear. It was interesting to work with, and if you use it on thinner material, like when attaching the interior zipper to the fabric, it works well. Just make sure you're using enough glue to make the fabrics stick! I ended up using a combination of the glue stick and pins because I found that to work best for me. 

Pocket Zipper 

When installing the interior pocket zipper, you'll find that the metal part of the zipper is shorter than the opening where it's being placed. This extra space is intentional, and the way it should be. But when I installed my first zipper in this scenario, I was unsure about how the zipper should be positioned. Should it be pushed to the left, right, or middle? After studying a few photos and experimenting, I decided to go with centering the zipper as best possible, which means there would be a little open space on the left and likely on the right. This is the look I liked, but if you prefer it differently, always go with what you like best! 

Stitch Length 

I find the use of various stitch lengths interesting. I love the way longer stitches look on thick fabrics like canvas because it gives the item more of an industrial and professional feel. When it comes to installing zippers, you want to take into account the type of fabric you're using. With this entire bag, except for basting, I used a medium-length stitch of about 2.5, and I found this to work well for attaching the zippers as well. This stitch length also worked well for attaching the interior zipper, but I probably could have decreased the stitch length a little there. 

Dealing with Zipper Pulls 

I like to start sewing a zipper with it completely closed, sewing from the opposite end, what I like to think of as the zipper tail. When I get close to the front, I stop sewing while leaving my needle down, lift my sewing machine foot as high as it will go, and slide the zipper open and toward the back. This gets the zipper pull out of the way so I can finish sewing with ease. Then when I go around the other side and end up back at the tail, I stop sewing, lift the foot again, and slide the zipper forward and closed so I can finish it off. 

Those are all the tips I have for zippers. I hope they were helpful! In the final post of the Making Backpack series, I'm sharing a tutorial for making your own bias tape!

 - Emily