How to Sew a Lapped Zipper

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Hey, you!

Are you mystified about how you sew in a lapped zipper?

Well, the mystery ends here. There are essentially two steps to a lapped zipper after you’ve sewn the center back (CB) seam. STEP 1, edgestitch the underlap to one side of the zipper tape.  And STEP 2, topstitch the overlap to the other side of the zipper tape. Done!

Vintage Factoid: Back in the day before there were invisible zippers, a lapped zipper was de rigueur in skirts and dresses.

Okay.

Now that you’ve been introduced to the lapped zipper, let’s learn the anatomy of a zipper, a few bonus tips and then learn how to sew the underlap and overlap of a lapped zipper step-by-step with images…

NOTE: If you’re ready to begin this journey and would like to buy my recommended tools and supplies, please click HERE!

Zipper Anatomy

All zippers share a similar anatomy.

zipper-anatomy

Garment zippers have two stops at the top; one stop at the bottom; two rows of teeth just like us; a chain;  a pull tab + slider; and tape on either side of the teeth or chain. To get detailed descriptions of the parts, please check out this article How to Sew a Centered (Slot) Zipper and come back!

Once you can identify the parts of a zipper, let’s learn about…

Zipper Feet

You can sew a lapped zipper using your standard or narrow (ski style) zipper foot.

zipper-feet-standard-and-narrow

The standard zipper foot (left) is usually included with the accessories of modern sewing machines. But the narrow zipper foot (right) typically has to be purchased separately.

Inserting any kind of zipper is easier with the narrow style zipper foot, because it allows you to stitch close to the zipper teeth without any fuss! It is a worthwhile purchase!

RELATED: Click HERE if you want to learn more about zipper feet and the other basic presser feet!

Zipper | Bonus Tips

  • Lapped zippers are an invisible and super strong option for shorts, pants, skirts, and dresses!
  • For ease of application, buy a zipper that is at least two (2) inches longer than you need. This will allow you to keep that bulky slider and pull out of the way, so you can sew in your zipper smoothly and with the absolute minimum of frustration. With nylon coils you should have no worries cutting off the excess AFTER you’ve finished the waistline or neckline edge!
  • Plus, using a too long zipper and cutting off the excess AFTER finishing the waistline and neckline edge eliminates the need for a hook & eye! I sort of hate hooks & eyes, so for me, this is a big win!
  • To strengthen the zipper opening, ALWAYS interface the zipper opening with a strip of interfacing or silk organza.

  • Skirt zippers are usually from 7 to 9 inches long. And dress zippers can be 14 to 22 inches long.

So now that you know the anatomy of a zipper and are privy to these bonus tips, it’s time to learn…

How to Sew a Lapped Zipper

You should know that a lapped zipper and centered (slot) zipper are first cousins. In fact, the start of the insertion process is exactly the same for each…

Now, before we begin, I have to ask you to inhale and exhale slowly.  I would love it if you approach this skill building with confidence and just a tiny bit of patience…

Step 1. Mark the bottom of the zipper.

When you cut out the pattern pieces, make sure to transfer the notch at CB to the fabric of where the bottom stop of the zipper will be positioned.

In the image below, I used a blue water-soluble pen to mark the position of the bottom zipper stop for a size 10 garment; and I snipped the three notches that indicate CB.

zipper-transferring-construction-marking-bottom-stop

Step 2. Interface the SAs of the zipper opening.

First, cut two strips of fusible tricot interfacing that is 1 inch wide and 1 inch longer than the zipper opening. You want the interfacing to overlap the zipper’s seam line.

Interfacing the zipper opening improves stability and prevents distortion and rippling over time!

Now, fuse one strip to the zipper opening at the garment FRONT and the garment BACK.

zipper-opening-interfaced

(In the image above, I am using a solid-coloured fabric so you can clearly see how to interface a zipper opening.)

As an extra assist, once the interfacing is fused to the zipper opening, you can go ahead and transfer the construction marking to the interfacing where the zipper’s bottom stop is to be positioned.

Sew easy tip: For silks, use silk organza — NOT fusibles!

Step 3. Finish the SAs of the CB seam (not shown).

Finish the the SAs BEFORE you sew in your zipper. Choose the seam finish you prefer or what is appropriate for the fashion fabric used in the project. Options include zigzag, pinking, or serging.

But for accuracy and ease of insertion, do NOT trim off any of the SAs!

Sew easy tip: If I choose to pink the raw edges, I mark the 5/8 inch SA at the zipper opening BEFORE I pink the edges. This way I make sure I sew the CB seam using the correct SA!

Okay, it’s time to…

Step 4. Partially sew the CB seam.

Using a regular stitch length, with the right sides together (RST), sew the CB seam, from the hem up to the point where the bottom zipper stop is to take up resident.

Make sure to backstitch at the top of the CB seam — because that area will be under a lot of stress during the life of the garment!

zipper-sewn-center-back-seam

In the image above, the blue arrows are pointing to where I backstitched!

Step 5. Press the SAs open. STOP!

This is where the lapped zipper diverges from the centered (slot) zipper.

Instead of pressing the SA open evenly along the 5/8 inch seam line as you do with a centered (slot) zipper, I want you to do this…

First, with the garment facing wrong side (WS) up, press the LEFT SA over by ½ inch all the way down — this will be the underlap.

Then, press the RIGHT SA over by 5/8 inch — this will be the overlap.

zipper-lapped-pressed-seam-allowances

To ensure you get crisp, pressed folds, use a lot of steam or water spritz.

Step 6. Edgestitch the underlap.

At this point, I like to fold my garment in half so that the underlap is on the bottom and the overlap is on the top.

Then, align the fold of the underlap with the zipped up zipper until it kisses the zipper teeth like this…

zipper-lapped-pinned-to-underlap

In the image above, the SA of the overlap is on top. Did you notice that the bottom zipper stop is positioned ever so slightly above the backstitching at the top of the CB seam?!

Once you’ve got the underlap kissing the zipper teeth, anchor the zipper to the SA with a single straight pin at a midway point. (Oops, in the image above, that pinhead should be facing the other way.)

Now, over at your machine, place the needle on the RIGHT side of the zipper foot. And starting two or three stitches beyond the the bottom stop of the zipper, stitch forward and then backstitch. For precision, I like to complete my first stitches manually!

zipper-lapped-starting-point-stitching-underlap

Now, continue to SLOWLY edgestitch  the fold as close to the zipper teeth all the way UP to the top edge, removing the pin when you need to…

Once you’ve completed stitching the underlap to the zipper tape, remove the garment from machine and snip the thread tails away.

zipper-lapped-underlap-stitched

Okay, I have to ask you…

How pretty is step 1 of a lapped zipper?!

Step 7: Mark the topstitch guideline on the overlap.

Now, choose a marking tool that can easily be removed without a trace.

Then, from the RS of the garment and on the overlap, mark a short 3/8 inches in length topstitching guideline ¼ inch below the bottom and across from the CB seam.

And continue marking the topstitching guideline up the remainder of the overlap side of the zipper 3/8 inch from the fold like this…

zipper-lapped-topstitching-guideline-marked-on-overlap

Next, make sure that the stitching line of the underlap is covered ⅛ inch by the overlap all the way down the zipper opening like this…

zipper-lap-making-sure-overlap-overlaps-underlap

And then, anchor the overlap in place with a straight pin

zipper-lapped-overlap-pinned-to-zipper-tape

Sew easy tip: If you are sewing a lapped zipper into a curved seam, skip the pin and  just carefully align the fold of the overlap over the stitching of the underlap as you stitch up the zipper opening.

Guess what?!

We’re ready to commit and finish this lapped zipper…

Step 8. Topstitch the overlap.

Position the needle on the LEFT side of the zipper presser foot.  Place your garment RS up under the zipper foot.

At the CB seam, lower your needle into the seam. Stitch across two or three stitches and backstitch. Then, continue to stitch across 3/8 inch at the bottom and pivot like this…

zipper-lapped-pivoting-bottom-overlap

Now, lower the zipper foot and continue topstitching the overlap to the zipper tape all the way to top edge…

zipper-lapped-stitching-overlap-to-zipper-tape

And voilà! You’ve sewn a lapped zipper!

zipper-lapped-complete

So pretty!

Super Bonus Tip

Once your zipper is sewn into the CB seam, you can finish your neckline or waistline edge…

Keep this in mind: Once the zipper is installed, do NOT cut off the zipper excess at the top BEFORE finishing your neckline or waistline edge!

Because if you do, the zipper’s slider and pull tab might come off the zipper teeth. Then, you will need a new zipper, have to unpick the useless zipper, and repeat the zipper insertion process again. And you’ll be pissed!

zipper-slider-pull-tab-off-chain

And one last thing…

How to Shorten a Too Long Zipper

If your zipper is too long, you can shorten it. And if you need a zipper in a non standard length, you can create a custom length. It’s sew easy!

Take your extra long zipper, whipstitch a new bottom stop at the desired length, and then cut off the excess with pinking shears to help stop fraying. Here’s an image from a Coats & Clark zipper packet on how to do just that…

zipper-shortening

Sew easy tip: You can use an extra thick thread like topstitching thread instead of a double strand to whipstitch!

The End

That was sew easy! Don’t you just love easy?!

Now, you’ve met the first cousin of a centered (slot) zipper and you know how super easy it is to sew in an elegant, hidden lapped zipper.

My work here is done, I think!

Anyhoo, remember this…

Life is the ultimate red carpet event! Dress for it!

RELATED: Click HERE to learn other basic garment construction sewing skills!

RELATED: Click HERE to learn how to sew a centered (slot) zipper!

RELATED: Click HERE to begin the 5-Part How to Sew a Basic Dress – Vogue 9237 | A MEGA-Series!

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