Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How to Insert an Invisible Zipper: A Tutorial

Here are a few tips to help you tackle invisible zippers! 

There seems to be an infinite variety of zippers out there – the exposed zipper is getting a lot of attention these days on the fashion front, but I generally prefer that the closure on a garment does not scream so loud.  An invisible zipper is an inconspicuous option – it hides in the seam of the fabric so that all that remains visible is the elegant pull tab.

If you need to shorten your zipper, now is the time.  [Something to keep in mind is that because the invisible zipper turns inward, it is difficult to stitch in that fold the closer you get to the zipping mechanism.  If I have an extra inch to work with and I am not fighting against the metal pull, I like to use it.]    

To make it easier to access the zipper stitching line and keep the folded invisible coils out of the way, you can iron the zipper open using a low/synthetic setting on your iron with no steam.  I usually take a quick pass at my invisible zippers with an iron, but do not attempt to flatten them since it can affect the integrity of the zipper.  Also, too much heat can melt the teeth together, ruining the zipper (please don't ask me how I know that!).

The trick I find most helpful for installing (any) zipper is to reinforce the opening edges of the garment.  Invisible zippers, especially, have a tendency to pooch out at odd angles in lighter weight fabrics that have not been stabilized.  

A strip of silk organza is an excellent option, as is a strip of fusible interfacing (make sure to choose an appropriate weight for your garment fabric).  The strip needs to be wide enough to extend beyond either side of the seam fold so that the stitching line will catch your chosen stabilizer.  For an invisible zipper, one inch is plenty.  Also make sure that the interfacing is longer than the zipper opening.  The point where the fabric seam meets the zipper opening is likely to get a lot of stress and the interfacing will help to reinforce that spot.

Mark just inside the seamline (depending on your fabric, a fabric pen, chalk, or even a pencil will do the trick).  For an invisible zipper, this line will need to be visible on the right side of the fabric.  

This particular fabric is not easily marked, so I drew my mark on the wrong side and basted that line with thread.  This makes the line visible on the right side of a highly textured fabric.

If there are horizontal seams that cross your zipper opening,  trim your fabric layers, and baste those horizontal seams in place.

I find the easiest way to figure out which way to insert the zipper itself is, with the right side facing and the zipper next to the opening seam, right side up.  When I begin to fold the seam allowance away from me (to the wrong side where it belongs) the zipper should disappear, leaving the pull tab visible.  In other words, the tape edge should be close to the raw edge of the fabric, and the zipper coil should be just hanging over the marked seamline.

The second most important part of zipper installation is basting, which saves a massive amount of time in the long run – so don’t skip this step!  I like to use a contrasting silk thread so it is easy to remove later on.

Once one side of the zipper is basted in place, it is time to stitch it down.  Many machines come with an invisible zipper foot.  If you do not have one, a regular zipper foot can do the trick, depending on how mobile your needle is.  The stitching line needs to get as close as possible to the plastic teeth without grabbing them.  I do not recommend the plastic invisible zipper kits that only cost a few dollars – the plastic slide can move around while you sew which is extremely frustrating.

Another option is hand stitching.  I know the first time I heard of someone hand stitching a zipper I thought they were crazy.  But a tiny backstitch/pick-stitch/prick-stitch is incredible sturdy and works beautifully.  It also gives you the most control.

One thing that will help to ensure a beautiful application is to stitch both sides of the zipper in the same direction.  If you start from the top and work your way down on the right hand side, work from the top down on the left side as well.  This will help to keep your fabric from shifting in opposite directions.  If you have trouble matching seamlines, this may solve your problem!

Speaking of seamlines . . . if you have any horizontal seamlines to match, you will want to mark those after one side of the zipper is stitched into place.  Close the zipper, and mark the seamline point on the zipper tape with a fabric pen or chalk (I prefer a fine point pen – the thinner the mark, the more accurate the placement).

Matching any seamlines necessary, baste the second tape into place.  

Now make sure to zip everything closed to check that those seamlines are matching up!  If not, remove the basting and try again.  

Once you are happy with the zipper placement, stitch it into place, remembering to stitch this seam in the same direction as the last.

Next you will need a standard zipper foot to close up the seam below/above the zipper.  Remove the basting stitches, and push the end of the zipper out of the way.  

Pin the seam closed below your newly installed invisible zipper.  The end of this seam should overlap the zipper stitching slightly.

As a final note, I will say that I prefer to install invisible zippers in an open seam.  I find it much easier than fighting with the twisting coil against a closed seam.  If possible, I will insert a zipper before adding other pattern pieces to the mix.  This is not always possible, but the less fabric you have to flip around, the easier it will be!

Things do not always go according to plan, as evidenced by this project.  As much as I love the look of an invisible zipper, they are far from sturdy.  I had a feeling that this fabric was too bulky for an invisible zipper, but my stubborn streak thought I could make it work – the dress had different ideas.  Instead of fighting to get it open and closed every time I wear the dress, I decided a lapped zipper would be a much safer bet.

The problem was that the loose weave of the fabric was coming apart and a lapped zipper needs plenty of seam allowance to work properly.  So out came the silk organza.  I ripped a two inch strip and applied it to the raw edges.  When turn under, it covered the raw edges

Crisis averted!

Invisible zippers are brilliant tools, when used with a suitable project; when installed properly, they are virtually undetectable.  But they are best used with light to mid weight fabrics.  

Close fitting garments may require an extra pair of hands to zip them up or the help of a hooked waist-stay.  I have a number of vintage invisible zippers with metal teeth which are a bit stronger, but they still have to twist inward in order to close which is not nearly as stable as a standard zipper. 

And should your invisible zipper application go completely awry, step away from the project for a chunk of time and then have at it with a seam ripper.  The invisible zipper is a fickle mistress – worth the effort in certain circumstances, but she definitely has a mind of her own!

Do you have any invisible zipper stories of your own?

[The fabric for this project was received in exchange for my contributions as a Britex Guest Blogger.]

Monday, April 14, 2014

How to Shorten a Zipper: A Tutorial

So many zipper possibilities, so little time!  These days, my first choice is often a regular zipper with a lapped insertion technique, with invisible zippers coming in a close second – there is something very tempting, after all, about a closure that disappears into a seamline.  I do my best to keep a variety of zippers on hand so when those weekend projects come up, no last minute trips to the fabric store are necessary.  And most of those stashed zippers are 18” or longer for one simple reason – I can shorten them if need be.

If you haven't already guessed, nylon zippers are a cinch to shorten!  Provided you have a strong enough wire cutter, metal zippers can also be shortened, although the rough edge of cut metal might create some issues if not properly covered or filed down.  So if your pattern calls for a zipper much shorter than what you are able to find, no problem! 

Mark the needed length on the zipper tape.  You can stitch in a makeshift zipper stop right at that marking, but I find that it is easier to work with a little extra length (especially with an invisible zipper that twists in on itself) so I mark a good inch below that point. 

Now is the time to create a new stopper for the zipper which will keep the pull from zipping right off the end of the cut/shortened zipper tape while you are sewing it in place.  

A simple length of thread will do the trick – just run the thread right over the teeth of the zipper a few times.  Those stitches create a new stopper for the zipper until inserted into the garment, where the seamline will create a permanent stop.

You can now trim the zipper one inch below the thread stopper.  I like to use pinking shears to keep the tape from fraying, but really any scissors will do (except for your good fabric sheers, of course – make sure to keep those away from the nylon coils!).

Something to be aware of is how much space the sliding mechanism that zips the teeth together and apart uses up.  This is not always a big deal, but that 16” zipper for that 16" opening may already be one-half inch (or more!) too short for your garment.

I have long suspected that zipper manufacturers have been cheating us out of the full length promised, so I did a bit of measuring with the zippers I had on hand.

Measuring from the top on down to the length stated on the package brings you to the bottom edge of the stopper for both invisible and standard zippers.

A nylon invisible zipper fuses the lower coils together so that the stopper is a short strip of plastic coils.  When you take the zipper mechanism into account , 5/8” is lost.

A regular zipper uses a metal stopper that looks like a chunky staple.  With the added zipper mechanism, a standard nylon zipper loses approximately ½” from the stated measurement.

It might seem petty to begrudge ½”, but that can make quite a difference on a side zipper opening, especially for someone like me who consistently has to add length to torso measurements. 

So perhaps that extra long zipper does not need quite as much shortening as you might expect . . . but if it does, the process is easy and completely painless!

[These instructions refer to standard zippers that are closed at the bottom edge and open at the top.  A separating zipper would have to be shortened from the top edge to keep the separating mechanism and specialized lower teeth in place.  
If you plan to use an exposed zipper application in your garment, make sure to account for the fact that your new thread stopper is going to need to be hidden along with the lower edges of the tape, and any marks you make on the zipper tape may end up visible.]

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Springtime Pastels

Here is my latest Britex project - I am rather pleased how this one came out!  My goodness, the weather has been beautiful lately, and working on a new Spring frock was just what I needed to push me out of a minor creative funk.  

I was certainly glad to have the capelet handy when I took these pictures last week because there was a definite chill in the air.

Between the lovely fabric and the fabulous dress design, I cannot really take much of the credit – both those elements really make the dress. 

I have had a couple of questions about working with the fabric, itself.  The linen blend is extremely ravely (as are most loose weave fabrics), but so worth the extra effort.  I am always drawn to the novelty category because the choices are glorious, although they do present their own challenges. 

The blend is comprised of 66% linen/17% cotton/13% viscose/4% acrylic.  Linen loves a good hot iron, as does cotton, but acrylic does not.  After studying the weave, it became clear that the acrylic portion is woven into the top layer of the fabric every inch or so.  This makes it easy to press from the wrong side of the fabric, but those synthetic bits had me worried about the right side.

It is rather embarrassing to admit, but I am not great about using a press cloth.  I have become much better about it over the years, but still get lazy about grabbing one most of the time.  For this project, however, it was essential.  My iron is a basic model, but I did not feel like picking melted bits of synthetic fabric off of the faceplate – and I certainly did not want to hurt the fabric!

As far as dealing with the shredding edges, the best bet is to handle cut pieces as little as possible until they are stitched up and finished off (my favorite method is seam binding).  Underlining with a denser weave linen/rayon blend also helped me out during construction - because the underlining did not fray as much, I still had a good idea where the original seam line was located, even when some of the fashion fabric was lost to the shred monster.

And now I am definitely going to say farewell to the Winter wardrobe - pastels and bright colors, here I come!

Dress:  Made by me, Colette’s “Parfait”
Capelet:  Made by me
Shoes:  Banana Republic
Earrings:  Banana Republic

[The fabric and pattern for this project was received in exchange for my contributions as a Britex Guest Blogger.]

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

My Favorite Kind of Leftovers

I get cranky if I can’t manage at least two projects from a length of fabric, even if I start with less than the first pattern calls for.  It’s silly, but each time I get away with it, I get more and more determined to continue the trend.

After cutting out my latest Britex Project, I had some leftovers – not enough for another dress, but enough to feel silly folding it up and putting it away to languish in a drawer.  And since Spring weather is somewhat unpredictable, a coverup of some kind seemed like a good idea.  Cardigans are lovely, but sometimes a girl needs something different.

I started with Butterick 4927.  I know I have another capelet pattern somewhere that is not double breasted, but this was the first one I found.  After coming across various examples of vintage patterns that utilize dress strap buttons as anchor points, I decided that I just had to have one!  

I love the shawl collar look of this design, so I set out to make my own.  

To help me figure out how to modify the collar, I pulled out the facing from Simplicity 3224, matched the inner corners up and gave myself plenty of fold over collar to play with.  I trimmed the collar down and rounded the front edges of one side before duplicating the look on the other.

Finishing the edges were the next puzzle to solve.  I liked the idea of binding them, but the fabric was way too thick and I did not have a suitable alternate on hand.  I pinned on a bit of the natural colored underlining as a contrast, but did not like the look of it.  In the end, I just stitched two complete capelets right sides together, leaving a few inches open at the center back to turn everything right side out.

After playing around with the fabric, I quickly realized that buttonholes were probably not a great idea.  I could reinforce a bound buttonhole with silk organza, but even so, was worried about the raveling.

A front closure was certainly a possibility, but not my preference.  In the end, I used those buttons as anchor points. but in a different manner.  With a loop of elastic attached to the inside of the cape, I can move around without worrying that the capelet is going to fall off my shoulders.  Not the most beautiful solution, but it works!

[The fabric for this project was received in exchange for my contributions as a Britex Guest Blogger.]