Friday, 18 October 2013

Hand Sewn Zips - How-to!

Wherever possible, I put zips in by hand. Why? Machine sewn, lapped zips just never look good to me; I think the stitching looks harsh, especially along the centre the back of a dress. And when you sew a zip in by hand, you can carefully manipulate the fabric to lie flat such as on curves at side seams, something that's hard to do on a machine. I like the individual touch it gives to my projects; its never been my aim to make my clothes look like they're shop bought. Finally, since I tend towards a vintage look in most of my clothes, hand sewn zips fit in perfectly.

Let's start. This is for a lapped zip insertion, which can be used on a dress, skirt, or top  - 

First, we'll be stitching the 'hidden'  or under side of the lapped zipper. Using chalk or something similar that will dust off, mark 5/8"/1.5cm from the raw edge on the right side of the fabric:

Now we'll position the zip. I do this slightly differently to most- place the zip face down on the fabric, positioning the teeth central to the chalk line, with the base of the zip at the base of your opening:

Pin the zip in place:

Now it's time to stitch. I use a small running stitch, close to the teeth of the zip, but not too close. Stitch through all of the layers -

You'll probably find it helps if you wax the sewing threads, because they can get a bit tangled! Once you stitch the length of the zip, fold it right side up:

Right side of zip
See how sewing the zip from the wrong side, then turning it, gives a lovely stitch free edge?  Give it a light press with your iron so that it lies flat, but take care to avoid your zip teeth - you don't want them to melt! You can finish - or not finish - the back however you want:

Wrong side of zip
Next we do what I call the 'top' part of the lapped zipper. Turn under 5/8"/1.5cm on the free side of your opening. I usually press this so it lies flat and is easier to work with. Make sure the zip is closed. Lay your garment flat (or as flat as you can) and place the free edge over the top of the closed zip, so that it covers the zip:

Overlap pinned in place

You can use the chalk line from the previous side as a guide for placing the overlap
Make sure the top edges match, then start stitching. The aim is for your stitching to be as inconspicuous as possible. I use what's often referred to as a 'prick' stitch - you bring the needle up through all the layers, then back through as close as possible to where it came up, leaving just a tiny little dot of a stitch on the surface:

Stitch the full length, through all layers. And that's pretty much it! As I said I use this method most of the time - here are some I made earlier - 

The wrong side of a hand stitched zip - ignore the messy facings!

An Alexander Henry dress from years ago

An tropical dress

The same tropical dress with the zip closed; you can just about see the stitching lines.
And that's how you hand stitch a zip! Next time you have to put a zip in, especially on the side seam of a dress or anywhere that has a difficult or curved seam, I would recommend this technique.

Hope this helps and see you soon!


  1. I love a hand picked zip and they really are so easy to put in. I did one recently on my not yet blogged bowling dress after invisible zip fail to to piping and love how it it looks!

  2. I have a small stash of old zips so will have to try this to get more use from them :o) Thank You

  3. This is a great tutorial, I often encounter problems when sewing invisible zips so will try hand sewing one on my next project.

  4. Fabulous! I am going to have a go at this on the next dress I make as I am always disappointed / embarrassed with machine inserted zippers they never look neat, no matter how hard I try to line everything up!

  5. Lovely zips! Thanks for sharing! ~Laurie

  6. Thanks great tutorial. Do you find them as strong as a mined zip.

    1. They're definitely as strong as machined. Never had one fail yet!

  7. thanks for this hun!! have been wanting to do lapped zips and this has helped me make sense of it!! x

  8. this is so helpful thank you hun :) xx

  9. This is great, thank you for sharing it. I did a machined lapped zip once, and it was a disaster! This looks much better.

  10. I worry that if a garment is tight fitting, that a hand sewn zip won't sit as neatly as a machine sewn zip. Do you find that your stitches gape at all when you do a hand sewn zip?

    1. I've never had that problem - the stitches should be small and pretty close together, no more than 1/4" apart.


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