Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How to Insert an Invisible Zipper into a Side Seam

Here it is (finally)...the how-to I've been promising for months! Here is an easy way to keep an invisible zipper invisible in a side seam. This zipper starts and stops along the seam--let me show you how to sew it in with seamless results! By the way, this is coming to you from my "poolside" sewing location! (It's just off the left end of the photo--that way I can watch the kids and work at the same time!)

Let's get to it. The first thing you need to do is finish the side edges that you will be inserting the zipper into. Run each edge through the serger individually, that way you can press the seam open after the zipper is in. (I skipped this step because I was in a huge hurry to finish my top.)

The next step is to sew down from the armhole approximately 2"-3". Here's trick No. 1--Use a seam allowance that is a generous 1/8" larger than the seam allowance you're going to use to sew the zipper in with. I used 1/2" to sew the seam and 3/8" to sew the zipper. The reason why you want to do this is to make a tiny "garage" of sorts for the top of the zipper pull to "park" in. All you'll end up seeing from the right side is the dangle part of the zipper pull.

Place the zipper face up next to the side seam. Unzip the zipper all the way. To position the right side of the zipper with the right side of the fabric, turn the zipper over by twisting it toward the fabric it needs to be right sides with. As you turn the zipper over, the zipper teeth will "wave" to you. ***If you twist the zipper the other way, the zipper teeth will "scratch" the cutting board and you'll sew it in backwards! (As me how I know!) Anyway, I alway envision the zipper teeth waving hello to me as I twist it towards the fabric right sides together, a little whacky, but it works!

Here's a close-up of what an invisible zipper foot looks like. This particular one is my fav...(while I am a Pfaff girl at heart, Bernina rings in with the best invisible zipper foot on the market!) If you don't have an invisible zipper foot in your accessory box, it's very likely that you can get one from your local sewing machine dealer--definitely worth it, no matter what brand of machine you own, they all work great.

Snap it on your machine and select a straight stitch (length = 3.0 mm). The goal is to get the teeth of the zipper into the grove so you can sew close to them.

Starting at the very top of the right side of the zipper, position the zipper under the foot so that you can wiggle the teeth into the groove. ****Many sewers press the zipper teeth flat with an iron--I think that's a throw back from the days of the generic plastic feet that you can still find in the zipper section of the sewing store. If you're working with a brand specific invisible zipper foot like the one pictured above, you don't need to press the teeth flat. The grooves in the foot do a great job positioning the zipper for the needle. If you do press the teeth flat, you might end up sewing too close to the teeth and your zipper won't zip up!

With the teeth sliding through the groove, stitch down the length of your zipper (I'm using a 7" zip.) Stitch until the front of the foot hits the zipper pull (which is unzipped all the way.) Back tack and trim threads.

Here's how the right side looks before it's pressed.

Repeat these steps to sew the left side of the zipper. Make sure that the top of the zipper tape is positioned evenly with the right side.

After the zipper is sewn in you need to switch the invisible zipper foot for the regular zipper foot. Here's what the Bernina zipper foot looks like.

To finish the top of the zipper, position the side seam into your sewing machine so that you can line the needle up with the end of the short side seam that you stitched earlier. The zipper foot should be on the inside of the seam so you can nudge the needle over to the left to line it up with the seam. (We are going to make the "garage" for the top of the zipper pull that I mentioned earlier.) Back tack and continue the seam until it overlaps the top of the zipper seam 1/4", back tack to secure the seam. When you zip up the zipper the top of the pull will pull right into that tiny space, concealing it from view.

Finish the bottom of the seam under the zipper. Position the seam into your sewing machine so you can line the needle up a stitch or two below the end of the seam. ***Trick No. 2--Don't try to line the needle up with the end of the seam exactly...it's too hard to sew straight down from there and you can end up with a bubble or some other unsightly thing. If you start just below the seam, leaving a tiny hole (which you'll never see from the right side), you're much more likely to end up with perfect results.

See, you really can't see where the zipper ends and the seam starts (or the tiny hole for that matter.) When you're done sewing the seam, press the seam allowances open and lightly steam the zipper right side and wrong. (Don't over press by using the weight of the iron...just hover and steam.)

If your first zipper doesn't come out perfect, don't fret...it just takes a little practice. Between you can me I had my good friend Marisa put all my invisible zippers in until the day I met the Bernina invisible zipper foot!

...Yes, I noticed that my piping doesn't exactly match up...I was in a hurry to finish this top for my wedding! (The funny thing is that it was threatening thunder and lightning that day, so I wore something more "wet weather friendly"...Happily, the heavens cooperated with our nuptials and the storm started 5 minutes after we were done with pictures!


  1. Great tutorial, thanks Jennifer! I hope you will do more videos too. I turn on the t-shirt video everytime I make one (3 now!).

    I'm sure the wedding (and the bride)was beautiful!

  2. Thanks Jennifer! I still hate putting in an invisible zip, but I"ll print off your tutorial to hold my hand on the next one! :D Just a note about feet...I don't have #35 for my Bernina, but I found a tip from another sewing instructor who said you could find another foot with the same "grooves" underneath, like #3 for Bernina. I think that's the buttonhole foot. It's been working for my invisible zips just fine!

  3. Thanks for sharing this great tutorial!! I posted a link to it on Craft Gossip Sewing;

  4. Many best wishes!!!Thanks for posting this, Jennifer! I've collected many suggestions about invisible zippers, but never anything that discussed inserting them in a side seam, which is so important nowadays. I sure wouldn't bother to put a conventional zipper in a side seam--even in a vintage inspired garment. I too LOVE the #35 foot for the Bernina. Will we see a wedding photo or two in the future?

  5. My very best wishes to you, Jennifer. I can't believe you took the time while sewing for your wedding to make a tutorial for the rest of us. I remember sewing for my first wedding. (I was still hand-sewing lace onto the edge of my mantilla an hour before the wedding.) The possibility of putting together a tutorial on the process would have been unfathomable. Again, my best wishes for your future, and THANKS!

  6. My very best wishes to you, Jennifer. I can't believe you took the time while sewing for your wedding to make a tutorial for the rest of us. I remember sewing for my first wedding. (I was still hand-sewing lace onto the edge of my mantilla an hour before the wedding.) The possibility of putting together a tutorial on the process would have been unfathomable. Again, my best wishes for your future, and THANKS!

  7. This is fantastic!

    And seriously, I don't know how I survived before my #35 foot!

    Thank you, Bernina!!


  8. This looks so great...I just wish I understood it! Just had a disaster trying to insert an "Easy" pattern dress side zipper. Sigh...Ruined it!

    I'm going to bookmark ya, though, since I hope this will "click" for me soon!

  9. If it is a hip length top, you can insert the zipper "upside down" so it zips downwards and the pull dangles at the hem - no lower seam needed. Be sure to use a long enough zipper. I encourage everyone to make friends with invisible zippers - once you get the hang of it they are super easy, go in right the first time every time and the best part: You don't have to do any TOPSTITCHING! You can practice by making make-up or travel pouches and pillow covers.

  10. Thanks for the tutorial! I just have some questions... I have the #35 foot, but the last times I've tried to sew in an invisible zip, the teeth seems to get stuck in the grooves of the foot, and everything turns out wobbly and not very nice. I'm using regular YKK zips, so what am I doing wrong? I haven't been able to find any good videos of the #35 in use, do you have any ideas?

  11. I love the little "garage" at the top of the zipper. And I'm glad I found this post of yours; it was very helpful to me today as I sewed an invisible zipper into a side seam. Thank you!