Most makers seem to agree that zippers can be a little tricky to work with, especially when you’re first getting started. (I remember my first zipper bag — it was an absolute disaster!) I hope you’ll believe me when I tell you that with some basic tools and knowledge, a few easy-to-learn techniques, and a little practice, you can become a zipper sewing master. And once you can confidently install zippers, you’ll have so much fun challenging yourself with new bag patterns and designs! This post will cover types of zippers and how to choose the best one for your project.
Types of zippers
First, let’s talk about types of zippers. I often get asked what kind of zippers I use and I love sharing about my favorites! (Please note, there are so many different variations of zippers — too many to cover here — so I’m going to focus on the ones I use in my own projects for bag making.)
There are two main types of zippers — nylon coil and metal.
Nylon zippers are essentially made from a tiny plastic(ish) coil. They’re very flexible, open and close smoothly, and can easily be sewn over or cut without damaging your needle, scissors, or rotary blade. Nylon zippers are also really versatile — for example, they can open and close in either direction so with two zipper pulls, they can be used as two-way zippers, great for larger bags and backpacks. In general, nylon coil zippers are quite affordable and come in every color you can imagine.
Metal zippers, obviously, are made from metal. They do not have a coil but rather tiny metal teeth. Metal zippers are available in different finishes such as brass, bronze, or nickel. I think they give bags a very professional and polished look that sometimes is not as easily achieved with nylon zippers. They’re also super durable and perfect for bags that are going to get a lot of wear.
Some challenges that I find when using metal zippers are that they are a bit clunkier to open and close and are generally more expensive. It can be risky (for your sewing machine needle and your eyes!) if you sew over metal zippers too — so beware! They also cannot be easily cut to shorten them. While you can use pliers to remove some of the metal teeth and shorten the zipper, I just don’t want to do that so I tend to buy them the exact length I need (which can be inconvenient, since I make many different sized bags).
Parts of a zipper
All zippers, whether metal or nylon coil, are attached to zipper tape. Zipper tape is the fabric (usually polyester but sometimes cotton) along each side of the zipper. Zipper tape comes in many colors for both nylon and metal zippers. When you buy a zipper with a specific length, it will generally have approximately 1/2-3/4” of zipper tape that extends beyond the end of the actual zipper that is not included in the length (you can see this in the photo below).
Every zipper has a slider, also called a zipper pull. The zipper pull is used to separate and close the coils or teeth to make it zip or unzip.
At the top and/or bottom of some zippers is a zipper stop that keeps the zipper pull on the zipper coil or teeth. If your zipper doesn’t have a stop (such as with zipper by the yard, or if you have trimmed it off) then you have to be cautious to avoid accidentally pulling the slider off — although you can usually re-attach it. Zipper pulls and stops are usually made of metal too— so don’t sew over them.
Zipper by the yard
My newest favorite type of zipper to use is zipper by the yard. I love zipper by the yard because it is versatile and reduces waste in my sewing. I can cut my zippers to whatever length I need for each project. You do have to thread the zipper pull onto the coil when using zipper by the yard, which can be fiddly at first, but rest assured, it gets easier with practice.
Zipper by the yard is made with nylon coils and comes in many different colors. They are even made with metallic finishes — including brass, nickel, rainbow — and my favorite, rose gold! I have loved the results I get when using metallic nylon zippers. They look very classy like metal but have all the advantages of nylon.
Sizes of zippers — length and width
You already know that zippers come in many different lengths — from 3” to 108” or more — but the coils and teeth can also vary in size. You may notice when shopping for zippers that some are labeled #3 or #5, for example. This refers to the width, in millimeters, of the zipper when it is closed. If you’re making something very small or dainty you may prefer a more narrow zipper. Conversely, if you’re making a bag that’s going to get stuffed full or hold heavy items, you may want to opt for a wider zipper.
My favorite places to purchase zippers
Here are some of my favorite places online to shop for zippers, in case you’re in need of recommendations:
Zipper Valley — An amazing variety of zippers by the yard and cute zipper pulls to go with them (also other fun bag making supplies)
ZipIt Zippers — ALL the colors, wide variety of metal and fixed length nylon zippers, lightning fast shipping
Me! — You can find our zippers by the yard in the shop
I’d love to know if you found any of this information helpful, if you have additional questions, or if you’d like to tell me about your own zipper experiences! Leave me a comment here or on Instagram!