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Understanding Zippers

written by Sarah September 15, 2012

Ever stared at a wall of zippers and went blank? Me too! There are so many to choose from, where do you start? From the size, to the weight, to the color, it can get a little confusing. Well wonder no more! In this blog article, we’re going to describe the basics of zipper selection to get you back to what’s most important: Sewing!

The first thing you need to know about zippers is the interlocking style. Are they teeth or coils? Are teeth better than coils? Is metal superior to plastic? Well, it depends. One zipper may be better suited for your project than another. For example, zippers come in a variety of weights: Heavy, medium, light, and sports. A heavy metal zipper would cause a light weight sweater to sag. However, you want something stronger than a lightweight coil zipper for a heavy winter coat.

Secondly, let’s talk about length, and boy are there a ton of options. Some zippers can be as small as 3 inches to as long as 100 inches. Still not long enough? You can buy zippers premade on a roll and cut to the exact size you need! Generally, zipper lengths come in two inch intervals. However, you can always shorten your zippers or purchase zippers made-to-order.  Zippers are measured from the top stopper to the bottom stopped. In the picture below, the entire zipper reaches nearly 9 inches, but from top stopper to bottom stopped is only 7 inches. Thus, this would be a 7 inch zipper.

Before we get into shortening, let’s take a look at what kinds of zippers are out there.

Two Types:

Tooth Style – Individual interlocking teeth. Can be metal or plastic molded.

Metal – Commonly found in jeans. They can also be found as Fashion Zippers with embellishments, like rhinestones. Can be made from brass, aluminum, or nickel.

Plastic Molded – Works just like metal, but made from plastic. Commonly found in sportswear, robes, and sports bags. Can be made into any color plastic, where as metal teeth must be painted.

Coil Style – Continuous coil wrapped together.

Close-End – Can be used for most projects. Won’t rust or be damaged by heat. They’re lightweight, yet durable. Can be used for anything, from clothing to luggage.

Invisible – Most often used in skirt and dresses. When installed, the zipper is virtually invisible, resembling a seam. Because the coils are located behind the tape, only the zipper tab is visible.

Except for the invisible zipper, all the above mentioned zippers can also come in a variety of separating styles.

Separating  – One end of the zipper has a box and pin mechanism to separate the zipper and easily reassembled. These are often used in jackets and coats.

Dual Separating – zippers have two separate zipper tabs and can be opened from either end. For instance, if you have a long robe or coat and you need it unzipped from the bottom.

Coverall – This zipper has two pull tabs that can be unzipped from the top or bottom. However, the bottom zipper stopped does not open.

Reversible – the pull tab has the ability to flip to the other side of the slider. Great for reversible projects.

Bag – Both ends of this zipper are closed. The two zipper tabs meet in the center and can be pulled apart to open the bag. These are commonly found on luggage.

Specialty

Water Resistant – Great for rain coats or swim bags. Anything that may be exposed to water, like outdoor furniture. Some water resistant zippers are high tech and can withstand heavy prolonged water exposure, like with scuba suits or portable fabric structures.

Air Tight – These zippers have a variety of uses because they are both air tight and waterproof. These zippers can be found in protective clothing, water sports, and inflatable bounce houses.

You can shorten your zipper a variety of different ways. Let’s take a look how to shorten a metal zipper. You will need a pair of needle nose pliers.

In my opinion, it’s much easier to shorten coil zippers. All you have to do is sew in a new stopper! You can do this at the top or bottom. You can also trim the plastic coils and completely remove them with needle nose pliers.

If you have any questions or tips for selecting/sewing a zipper, please leave us a message in the comment section below!

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12 comments

Hannah Zolla May 19, 2017 at 7:56 pm

Is the sewing machine needle chosen according to the garment fabric or the zipper fabric? Thank you!

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Sarah May 22, 2017 at 9:14 am

For me, it’s a combination of both. If I’m putting an invisible zipper in a chiffon dress, I’m going to try to get away with a 70/10 universal or sharp needle, even though it will wear out really quickly. However, if I’m putting a zipper in a light jersey jacket, I’m just going to go with a 90/14 universal and call it a day. I hope that helps!

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Sharon Stevens March 15, 2017 at 8:27 am

I need to find the piece that goes under the slider on a zipper, so when you slide the other side into the slider and that bottom piece under the slider it will zip properly. I am missing that piece that holds the slider on the zipper! They do not come in the kits.

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Sarah March 16, 2017 at 2:03 pm

Hi, Sharon! sailrite sells zipper stops here: http://www.sailrite.com/Notions/Zipper/Stops

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Ann November 23, 2016 at 8:45 pm

Hi, I want to alter a pair of jeans from the outside, and fraying all the edges out, for a fashion statement. any ideas as far as what size needle and how to quickly do all that long fraying out of material? Thankyou!

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Sarah November 25, 2016 at 11:26 am

I would use a Jean needle in size 90/14 for medium weight demin and 100/16 for heavy denim. To fray your jeans quickly, get a block of sandpaper. Your washer and dryer will take care of the rest.

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Luke rogers September 26, 2016 at 9:55 am

Really useful stuff – I’m pretty confident to try and replace the zip on my favourite bag

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Colleen May 26, 2016 at 12:20 am

Hi Sarah! Can we use coil zippers for bags?

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Sarah May 27, 2016 at 8:15 am

Sure! I’ve made a couple simple cotton bags using a coil zipper closures and didn’t have any problems. Go for it!

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Cheryl November 19, 2015 at 1:17 pm

Are coil zippers strong enough to be used in jeans?

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Sarah November 27, 2015 at 4:09 pm

Hi Cheryl! Metal zippers are best for denim, however you can certainly try it and see what happens. Experimenting is half the fun of sewing. Good luck!

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Sue connolly October 7, 2014 at 2:40 pm

How do isewthrough the plastic piece on the beginning and end of my zipper,. As originally sewn.

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