Sewing Resources, or how I learned to properly sew a zipper into a pair of pants

I hate sewing zippers. I mean hate with the big letters. HATE HATE HATE. It’s not that I don’t like zippers in general. I do. I’m very much a jeans and sneakers kind of gal, so zippers feature very heavily into my daily life. They make getting in and out of clothes so much easier. If you want a fairly close-fitting garment that doesn’t require the skills of Houdini to get on and off, you need a zipper. I have to say, I love that feeling when you slip on a dress and it’s all breezy and wobbly (yes, I’m using “wobbly” as a positive, technical term here), and there’s no real definition to the garment. Then zip up and voila! A whole different look. And all because of a zipper. Even the way zippers are constructed is kind of interesting to me. They don’t work like those zip-loc bags. If you press the two sides together they don’t all of a sudden interlock. If you were a caveman and someone handed you a zipper, you probably would never think that those teeth could ever come together.

Of course, if you were a caveman you probably wouldn’t be sitting there playing with zippers in the first place. I really don’t know why I decided to use cavemen for this example. Let’s just forget I said that. The point is, to some extent, zippers are kind of a magical thing.

They are also incredibly hard to sew. They were for me, anyway. By this point, I’ve done a number of projects that call for zippers, so I’ve had a lot of practice. Well, a lot of practice at getting them wrong.

You’d think “zippers…straightforward enough, right? Sew one side to one half of the garmet, and repeat on the other side.” You’d have to be a complete dunce to not be able to do it – especially since all the zippers have instructions inside the package on how to sew them. Well, call me a dunce, then. I apparently can’t follow the (not entirely clear) directions included in the package.

Don’t get me wrong. I could at least put them in the garment. You could zip them up and wear the skirt, dress, pair of pants…whatever. But to me – with my ocd tendencies – the problem was always obvious. Try as I might, I could never get both sides of the zipper to line up completely even. When you looked at it, one side was consistently higher than the other. Usually only by a millimeter or two but, to my eyes, that’s enough. My zippers also have a tendency to kind of take a gentle curve off to one side or another. It’s like they have really bad posture. And, of course, if the zipper going down the back of your dress isn’t straight, it’s going to alter the fit of said dress and basically make you look like a fool.

So, where is all this going, you might ask. Well, I’m proud to announce that, after years of sewing zippers that ended up looking a bit wonky, I have now managed to sew two zippers in a row that came out even and avoid looking like the flashing neon signs of the sewing world, pointing out shoddy construction! The first was on a flouncy, girly skirt I made for myself (it’s got a rather bright Hawaiian-like print, and I absolutely love it!). Part of it is machine sewn, part is hand-sewn. And, before you question whether hand-sewing is easier than machine sewing, I’ll tell you – in the case of a zipper, it’s not. The print is just one that mixes a lot of color, so I wanted to do smaller stitches where the thread wouldn’t be as visible.

The second zipper was on my steampunk pants. Quite honestly, I was dreading putting in the zipper. I was worried it was going to be the worst part of the pants. I read and re-read the instructions included in the pattern and even looked up techniques and suggestions online. I didn’t bother looking at the directions included in the zipper package again. With the pattern directions and online suggestions to guide me, I managed to sew my first lapped zipper on the machine, and have the whole thing come out straight and even. (The problem with the pants turned out to be the enormous fit around the lower leg…I need to bring them in big-time).

The point of this post is simply this: Use the resources available to you. There are so many places out there where you can find help with techniques. The sewing community is really helpful and sharing. It’s not like the biology and med students at Ohio State, who would steal each others textbooks from the library (True story. My father went there and students from the two schools used a lot of the same books and, rather than share, they would steal the books so they could only be used by specific students). Sewing enthusiasts like to share their wealth of knowledge. So many of us have problems with certain techniques that, when we finally have that “AHA!” moment and a technique finally falls in place, we want to share it with everyone we can.

One of the sewing resources I frequently turn to is Threads Magazine. I don’t remember when I was first introduced to them but I know that I’ve learned a great deal from them by now. Every issue tries to incorporate at least one special sewing technique – some of them are basic, some of them are more advanced. The folks who publish Threads also publish a magazine called Sew Simple. I’ve looked through a couple of issues and I recognize some of the articles as ones that have previously been in Threads, though perhaps with some of the language and images made easier to follow. Both are good resources.

I’ve got a couple of sites I visit when I’m doing research for a costume or need help with a technique. Most of them are already listed off to the side. The Renaissance Tailor is a perfect example of this kind of site. It’s got the best tutorial on how to do hand-sewn eyelets – a mainstay of my costuming now.

I’d also suggest getting out and reading some of the sewing blogs that are out there. I subscribe to the Sewing Divas, as well as a couple of others (Newman’s Needle, CoutreMode, etc). Most of them are above my current level, but they are also good for inspiration.


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