Notions to Know: How to Sew a Zipper

Zippers are pretty much ubiquitous in our everyday lives – from clothing to accessories to home goods, we’ve all encountered a zipper at some point. But many people I’ve met who sew as a hobby and are great with many different sewing notions struggle with figuring out how to sew a zipper!

There are a few different techniques for attaching different kinds of zippers. but today we’re going to look at the most common and basic way to sew a zipper. It’s going to involve basting, covered in this post, and topstitching, mentioned in this post. You should also dig up your zipper foot if you’re sewing by machine. A zipper foot looks like this:


A zipper foot is essential in learning how to sew a zipper, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

To demonstrate how to sew a zipper, I’ll mimic a zip-open back of a dress. Here are the materials I’ll be using:

  • Fabric of choice, cut into 2 equal rectangles
  • Zipper of desired length (Note: if you’re unsure about the length you need, it’s safer to buy a zipper that’s too long so that you can trim it later!)
  • Thread
  • Zipper foot

It's important to learn how to sew a zipper, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

When you sew the back of a dress, before you attach the zipper you’re going to stitch the seam below where the zipper will be. Notice in this picture how I line up the zipper with the edge of my fabric to see where the bottom stop will be and then mark it.

It's important to learn how to sew a zipper, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Since my zipper is going to be 7 inches, I’m going to start the stitch 7 inches from the “top” of the fabric (minus the seam allowance) and stitch all the way to the “bottom.” Use your regular presser foot for this.

It's important to learn how to sew a zipper, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Next, press the seam open, including the unstitched seam allowances. (Review this post if you need to see how to press a seam!)

It's important to learn how to sew a zipper, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Now grab your zipper. Press the zipper tape flat, being careful not to touch the metal coils with the hot iron! Close the zipper and flip the pull tab upwards.

It's important to learn how to sew a zipper, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Position the zipper face down on the wrong side of the fabric, with the zipper teeth centered on the seam and the bottom stop where the stitched seam ends.

It's important to learn how to sew a zipper, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Baste one side of the zipper to the seam allowance, and place a pin right below the bottom stop.

It's important to learn how to sew a zipper, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Flip your fabric right side up, and position your zipper foot so that the foot is to the right of the needle. Set up your sewing machine to begin stitching at the pin, but remove the pin before you stitch.

It's important to learn how to sew a zipper, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Starting at the seam below the zipper, stitch across and up the length of the zipper on the right-hand side through all layers. I recommend starting the stitch with the zipper closed then opening the zipper once you’ve gotten about halfway down the zipper. You can’t sew around the zipper pull very easily, so you’ll want it out of the way.

It's important to learn how to sew a zipper, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your StuffIt's important to learn how to sew a zipper, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Now repeat on the left-hand side, moving your zipper foot so that it’s to the left of the needle.

It's important to learn how to sew a zipper, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Now just remove the basting. Congratulations – you now know how to sew a zipper!

It's important to learn how to sew a zipper, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

This is just one method of attaching a zipper, but it’s the basic technique that can be adapted to many different situations.

Happy sewing!


Learni.st
 – Learn how to sew starting from step one
Pinterest & Twitter – Follow for tips, ideas, and more
Etsy – Shop Sew Me Your Stuff

Choosing the Right Interfacing for Your Project

When I first started to learn to sew with interfacing, I just looked for “fusible” and grabbed the first one I saw, thinking they were all basically the same aside form fusible/non-fusible differences. However, there are several (and I mean several) different types of interfacing for different projects and fabrics.

Now that you’ve learned how to attach fusible and non-fusible interfacing, how exactly do you choose the interfacing you need?

Choosing Interfacing Based on Fusibility:

So you know the basic differences between fusible interfacing and non-fusible interfacing, but you want to know when to use one over the other. As a general rule, fusible is better for beginners. Non-fusible (sew-in) interfacing can add bulk to a project that may be difficult for a beginner to handle. Attaching fusible interfacing is also a great way to practice your pressing! It uses less thread and is ( at least I think) a little less time-consuming.

However, sew-in interfacing looks more natural than fusible. Also, if your fabric cannot be pressed you obviously cannot attach a fusible interfacing to it. Here is a handy guide to fabrics that you generally should not hit with an iron or fusible interfacing.

Choosing Interfacing Based on Composition:

There are three basic classifications of interfacing based on composition: woven, non-woven, and knit. The differences are pretty easy to remember!

Knit interfacing is generally used for very stretchy knit fabrics, like jersey, because the interfacing can stretch with the fabric. Using a woven interfacing on a very stretchy fabric will inhibit its movement.

Woven interfacing should be used on very fine fabrics like silk. Woven interfacing has a grainline just like a woven fabric, so you have to cut the interfacing to match the grainline of your fabric, which helps the garment or craft stay true to its shape but can be a little challenging and takes up more of your material. Don’t use woven unless you absolutely need it!

Non-woven interfacing is a nice all-purpose interfacing for most projects, unless you’re using a very fine or very stretchy fabric. It does not have a grainline, so you can cut it in any direction, which makes it a more economical choice. As a beginner, this is what you should choose pretty much every time you have to buy interfacing.

Choosing Interfacing Based on Weight:

Finally, you have to consider the weight of your fabric and how it will be used when choosing interfacing. Aside from some specialty types of interfacing, interfacing is basically classified into a few groups based on weight:

  • Featherweight interfacing – Also called “sheer.” Use featherweight interfacing for very, very light fabrics.
  • Lightweight interfacing – The go-to for most garments.
  • Medium-weight interfacing – I would recommend medium-weight interfacing for crafts that you need to hold some shape but don’t want to be too stiff, like tote bags.
  • Heavyweight interfacing – This is best for most home decor, and when you need a project to hold a rigid shape.

In general, you should simply match the weight of your interfacing to the weight of your fabric. I’ve also heard that when in doubt between two types of interfacing, go with the lighter weight to play it safe. An interfacing that’s too heavy for your fabric will give it a strange appearance when finished.

If all of this seems a little overwhelming, don’t worry! You’ll get the hang of it soon. Plus, several fabric stores actually have an interfacing guide next to their rack of interfacing bolts to help you choose the right one for your project.

Happy sewing!
Learni.st – Learn how to sew starting from step one
Pinterest & Twitter – Follow for tips, ideas, and more
Etsy – Shop Sew Me Your Stuff

September/October 2012 Summary

Hello sewists! It’s November, which means it’s time to put the shorts away and stay warm inside while you get started on some Christmas crafts! If you’ve fallen behind on Sew Me Your Stuff posts, here’s a recap of what’s been covered the last couple of months.

Need to go back further? Past recaps:

Sewing Patterns:

Sewing Machine Help:

Notions and other Tools:

A Bag’s Life:

Remember, if you ever would like to see a topic covered by Sew Me Your Stuff, just submit it here!

Learni.st – Learn how to sew starting from step one
Pinterest & Twitter – Follow for tips, ideas, and more
Etsy – Shop Sew Me Your Stuff

Helpful Link: Sewing Patterns are Your Friend

I came across this blog post on Pinterest and thought it was absolutely great. I have covered how to use sewing patterns in a few past posts: Choosing a sewing pattern, A Bag’s Life parts 1 2 & 3, and this video on reading patterns.

I loved this blog post though and really wanted to share it. If you’re ever in a jam, it’s a helpful guide to reading all those numbers on the back of the sewing pattern.

Click the image to read: Tales of a Trophy Wife: Sewing 101: Patterns are your Friends

Learning how to use sewing patterns is important for beginners learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Happy sewing!

Learni.st – Learn how to sew starting from step one
Pinterest & Twitter – Follow for tips, ideas, and more
Etsy – Shop Sew Me Your Stuff

How to Attach Fusible Interfacing

It’s time to take a little break from the sewing machine and talk about fusible interfacing. It is a very handy tool that is really worth your time to learn how to use properly!

I first mentioned fusible interfacing in this post about important notions and tools you’ll need to know as you expand into new crafts and projects.

Interfacing is used to stiffen fabric so that your finished project will hold a certain shape. It’s usually used in collars and buttonholes but has many applications. Interfacing can be fusible or nonfusible. Fusible interfacing can be attached to fabric using heat, but nonfusible must be stitched to the fabric.

This post will help you learn to apply fusible interfacing using your iron. Remember, you can click any of the pictures to enlarge for clarity.

Things you’ll need:

  • The piece of fabric on which you need to apply the interfacing
  • A piece of fusible interfacing cut slightly smaller than your piece of fabric, typically about 1/4 inch from the cut edge
  • Your iron on a medium/high setting
  • A pressing cloth
  • Some water, in a spray bottle if possible

Having the right equipment is important when learning how to attach fusible interfacing if you are a beginner learning to sew with sewing notions - Sew Me Your Stuff

Here I have set up everything that I need. I’m only attaching a small piece of fusible interfacing to fabric. Notice that the interfacing piece is slightly smaller than my fabric piece. When you trace a sewing pattern, generally you will trace the same size interfacing pieces as fabric pieces. However, before you attach the fusible interfacing, you’ll want to trim it to be about 1/4 inch from the edge of the fabric to avoid bulk.

Having the right equipment is important when learning how to attach fusible interfacing if you are a beginner learning to sew with sewing notions - Sew Me Your Stuff

Place your interfacing right side down on the wrong side of your fabric. In other words, place the fabric on your ironing board wrong side up. Then place your interfacing on top of the fabric right side down. The right side of the interfacing is the sticky side with raised bumps. The wrong side, which is smoother and not sticky, should be face up.

Then place your pressing cloth on top of both pieces. Your pressing cloth should be a thin piece of cotton fabric.

Attaching fusible interfacing properly is important for a beginner learning to sew with sewing notions - Sew Me Your Stuff

Next, spray the pressing cloth with water until it is damp. Dampen the entire area covering the fabric and the interfacing. If you do not have a spray bottle, you can wet your cloth in the sink, but a spray bottle will save you time. You don’t want your fabric to be soaking wet, and a spray bottle will help you aim right for the area that will be over the interfacing and fabric.

Attaching fusible interfacing properly is important for a beginner learning to sew with sewing notions - Sew Me Your Stuff

While you set up your fabric, interfacing, and pressing cloth, you should allow your iron to heat to a medium/high setting. Once your cloth is properly damp, press your iron firmly onto a section of the fabric and interfacing for 10-15 seconds.

Attaching fusible interfacing properly is important for a beginner learning to sew with sewing notions - Sew Me Your Stuff

Now there’s an iron-shaped dry spot right exactly I was pressing my iron!  If you have your cloth at optimal dampness and your iron at optimal heat, the pressing cloth should be dry when you lift your iron. Repeat this until you have pressed your iron onto every section of the fabric and interfacing.

Attaching fusible interfacing properly is important for a beginner learning to sew with sewing notions - Sew Me Your Stuff

And voila! Now the interfacing sticks directly to the fabric even as I bend it, fold it, and wave it around.

There are varying weights of interfacing to choose from based on the weight of your fabric and your desired stiffness. When you go to the fabric store, they may have a guide handy next to their interfacing bolts to help you choose the right weight for your project.

Happy sewing!

Learni.st – Learn how to sew starting from step one
Pinterest & Twitter – Follow for tips, ideas, and more
Etsy – Shop Sew Me Your Stuff

Machine Stitches to Know

Hello sewists! I hope you’re getting comfortable pushing fabric through your sewing machine and are ready to get more creative with your stitches, because now it’s time to look at the different stitches your machine can do and when to use them. There are approximately billions of different stitches you can do (estimation rounded up), but here are some of the basic stitches that will come in handy on your machine.

Straight stitch – I hope you’ve already been using this stitch by now as it is the most basic, simple stitch that a machine can do. It can hold together most basic seams and is totally sufficient for a beginner sewist working on early projects and crafts. If you choose not to finish your raw edges and seams, an entire project can be completed using only a straight stitch.

Straight stitches are also used for embellishments like topstitching. Topstitching is simply a straight stitch done on the right side of the fabric that is visible on the completed project. Usually, topstitching will be used to secure a seam allowance in a certain direction, but it can also be used purely for decoration. As covered in this post, you should use a longer stitch length for topstitching.

If your pattern calls for staystitching, this is simply a straight stitch done in the seam allowance that forces a pattern piece to hold its shape during construction. This is often used when a pattern piece cut in one direction will be attached to a piece that was cut in another direction. Use a normal stitch length if you need to staystitch a piece.

If you need to gather some fabric, simply stitch a straight stitch with a long stitch length and pull the ends to cause the fabric to bunch. For an illustration, see this post on stitch length.

Zigzag stitch – A zigzag stitch is exactly what it sounds like, a stitch that directs the thread in zigzag lines rather than straight lines. The primary purpose of a zigzag stitch when stitching a seam is to provide the fabric with more stretch than a straight stitch will allow. Remember these stitches from last week’s stitch length post?

Knowing what basic sewing machine stitches to use when is important for a beginner learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Well here is the same fabric, stitched this time with a zigzag stitch instead of a straight stitch.

Knowing what basic sewing machine stitches to use when is important for any beginner learning to sew - Sew Me Your StuffKnowing what basic sewing machine stitches to use when is important for a beginner learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Notice that the fabric not only does not pucker as it did with the straight stitch, but it is much more free to stretch.

Zigzag stitches are also used in finishing edges after stitching and pressing a seam. To achieve this, simply stitch a zigzag stitch right on the edge of a seam allowance.

Knowing what basic sewing machine stitches to use when is important for any beginner learning how to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Zigzag stitches are also used to sew the edges of buttonholes. If your sewing machine is equipped for buttonholes, you simply sew a zigzag stitch with an extremely short stitch length to create the buttonhole edges. Be on the lookout for a future tutorial on buttonholes!

Finally, you’ll want to use a zigzag stitch when attaching elastic directly to fabric. Using a zigzag will allow the elastic to stretch and will ensure that the entire elastic strip is attached if you adjust the width or your stitch to cover the entire band.

Knowing what basic sewing machine stitches to use is important for any beginner learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Blind hem stitch – This is actually a stitch I typically skip and do by hand, but it can come in very handy if you master it. If you look at a dress skirt or dress pants very closely, you can find a faint line of stitches on the outside of the garment where the hem has been attached. This was achieved using a blind hem stitch. The process of performing this stitch is slightly more complicated than a straight stitch or zigzag stitch, so I will have to write a full post on it in the near future.

Knowing what basic sewing machine stitches to use is important for any beginner learning to sew - Sew Me Your StuffKnowing what basic sewing machine stitches to use is important for any beginner learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Here is a picture of a blind hem stitch in progress and a completed blind hem stitch.

When I say that I do this by hand, I mean I use the stitch demonstrated in this post.

These three stitches combined are truly all you’ll need as a beginner to complete a plethora of different crafts and projects. Happy sewing!

Learni.st – Learn how to sew starting from step one
Pinterest & Twitter – Follow for tips, ideas, and more
Etsy – Shop Sew Me Your Stuff

Stitch Length & How to Use It

Now that you know what all (or at least most) of the knobs on your sewing machine do and how to get your machine started, it’s time to start looking at machine stitching itself.

To make a stitch, you place the fabric under the needle, slide down the presser foot, and hit the pedal. Easy enough! But to really get advanced with your sewing, you’ll have to learn different techniques in stitching to achieve different effects.

First, let’s talk about stitch length.

Part of this is probably intuitive: shorter stitches are more durable and tighter, while longer stitches are looser. So when do you need each?

  • As a beginner, there are pros and cons to each. A long stitch may be favorable because it uses less thread than a short stitch. Short stitches are generally more durable, but for your earlier projects you may be willing to sacrifice durability for resourcefulness. On the flip side, setting your machine to a longer stitch means that the feeder dogs will move more quickly. If you don’t yet feel comfortable using your machine at high speeds, you may want to stick with shorter stitch lengths until you have better control over your fabric as you feed it into the machine.
  • If you’re using a stretchy fabric, you’ll want to use a longer stitch. Shorter stitch lengths can pull and pucker your fabric. If you find that your stitches are puckering on a certain fabric, try adjusting the stitch length to allow for longer stitches.
    Knowing how to use different lengths of stitches is important as a beginner learning how to sew
    Notice in the above picture that the stitch on the left is significantly more puckered than the fabric on the right. The stitch on the left was done using the shortest stitch on my machine, while the stitch on the right was done using the longest stitch.
    Knowing how to use different stitch lengths is important for a beginner learning how to sew
    The fabric in this picture is a non-stretchy fabric. Notice that there is no significant difference in puckering between the short stitch length and the long stitch length.
  • For decorative stitches such as topstitching, which is visible on the finished project, a long stitch length is usually more favorable. Long stitches are generally more attractive than short stitches.
    Knowing how to use stitch length is important for a beginner learning how to sew
    In the above picture, the seam has been sewn and the seam allowance pressed to one side and then topstitched. More on this process later, but notice that the stitch is a long stitch length. For durability use short stitch lengths; for decor use long stitch lengths.
  • Another function of long stitch lengths is gathering. If a pattern calls for you to gather a seam, you stitch with a long stitch length and then pull the ends of the thread to cause the fabric to bunch.
    Knowing when and how to change your stitch length is important for a beginner learning to sew
    Pictured is the same non stretchy, long stitch length seam from the second picture. Because the long stitch length makes the seam looser, I can pull on the ends of the thread and gather the fabric.
  • So how do you change your stitch length? It depends on your machine. There are generally two types of stitch length dials: stitches per inch and millimeters.
    Knowing how and when to use different stitch lengths is important for a beginner learning to sew
    Pictured is the stitch selector and stitch length knob (top) on my machine. Mine uses a millimeter scale, as evidenced by the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4. These numbers simply indicate how many millimeters long each stitch will be with 1 being the shortest and 4 being the longest. If your stitch length knob has numbers ranging from 4 to 60, yours is a stitches per inch machine. This is the reverse from a millimeter machine because a higher number, 60 stitches per inch, indicates a shorter stitch because there are more stitches in a single inch than, say, 4 stitches per inch. For basic everyday sewing, a stitch length of 10-12 stitches per inch is typical. On a millimeter machine, this is about a 2.5 millimeter stitch.
  • To adjust your stitch length, simply rotate the knob to select the length you need!

I hope you found this helpful! Soon I will cover basic stitches and techniques with a sewing machine.

Happy sewing!

Learni.st – Learn how to sew starting from step one
Pinterest & Twitter – Follow for tips, ideas, and more
Etsy – Shop Sew Me Your Stuff