Threads, Needles and Pins

In this blog I am sharing some things you may not know about threads, needles and pins.

Much of this information was in an article which I wrote for Dressmaking with Australian Stitches.  This article was first seen in Australian Stitches magazine  Volume 22 Number 11. Permission has been sought and granted for Electronic use and the photos and text remain the property of Alison Wheeler – Sewing Lady.

Threads:

Selecting the most suitable thread for a project is not just about the best colour match. Threads vary in composition and thickness.  Using a thread that is not compatible with the fabric (too weak or too thick) can spoil the finished result as the thread will not do its job of holding the garment together while remaining an invisible part of the construction.

There will be times when thread is used in a decorative context but, for the main construction, the thread’s smoothness, strength and ability to blend and meld into the fabric are the most important requirements.

Types of thread:

Most threads intended for general construction are either polyester or a polyester wrapped cotton thread.  They are usually very strong and suit the majority of fabrics.  Cotton thread is readily available and gives seams a softer feel making it ideal for heirloom sewing and quilting.  Silk thread is extremely fine and very strong – and threading needles is a breeze with such fine thread!

The main things to consider are the thickness and strength of the thread.

It is interesting to compare threads as the thickness can vary widely

Threads arranged according to thickness - finest to heaviest. From left: Gutermann polyester topstitching Gutermann polyester all purpose Metrosene poly sheen embroidery Metrosene polyester all purpose

Threads arranged according to thickness – finest to heaviest.
From left:
Gutermann polyester topstitching
Gutermann polyester all purpose
Metrosene poly sheen embroidery
Metrosene polyester all purpose

.

If you are sewing a fine, lightweight fabric it is best to use a finer thread. Thicker threads are more suitable for heavier fabrics.

Threads are identified by numbers indicating thickness– #100 very fine, #50 fine, #40 medium, #30 thick.  Most common machine sewing thread is #40.  When you see a thread marked for example #50/3, the first number indicates the thickness of the thread and the second number is the number of filaments wrapped together to make up the thickness.  A thread with 3 filaments is not necessarily thicker but will be stronger.

Silk thread comes in a variety of thicknesses from #100which is wonderful for hand-sewing hems – it is so fine that hemstitching is not visible from the right side of a garment  (provided of course that a very small stitch and fine needle are used!). #50 weight silk thread blends into the fabric beautifully with machine sewing.

Left - 50 weight silk for hand or machine stitching Right - 100 weight silk for hand stitching

Left – 50 weight silk for hand or machine stitching
Right – 100 weight silk for hand stitching

Decorative and specialty threads are available for specific purposes – fine rayon machine embroidery thread, topstitching thread, fine cotton heirloom thread, #50 quilting cotton.

Tips for Usage:

  •  Always use a good quality thread.
  • The thread colour looks darker on a reel than when it is unwound so choosing a slightly darker thread to match the project will give a better match.
  • If you are unable to match a colour in topstitching thread, you can use two regular threads through one needle to add the required thickness – just be sure to use a needle with a larger eye to accommodate the extra width and do not use your machine’s needle threader.  The two threads can be blending colours for multi-coloured garments.
  • Use fine thread for buttonholes – heirloom or #50 cotton work well for machine buttonholes; use silk buttonhole thread if making hand-worked buttonholes.
Top - #50 silk thread - all purpose Bottom - silk hand buttonhole thread

Top – #50 silk thread – all purpose
Bottom – silk hand buttonhole thread

  • Use topstitching thread to sew high use buttons in place e.g. coat or jacket buttons.
  • Most general purpose threads are cross-wound and work well with horizontal feed.
  • Some specialty threads are not cross wound and will work better with vertical feed.
  • If your machine does not have provision for two spools feeding in the same direction, there are separate thread guides available for a reasonable cost – these can also be a great sanity saver when using twin needles or two threads in one needle.
  • If you have difficulty threading a machine needle, place a small piece of white paper directly behind the needle and the hole will be more visible.
  • Cutting thread on an angle also helps with easier threading.
  • If bobbins are wound at high speed, there can be problems with the thread stretching as it is wound on to the bobbin, resulting in puckered stitches – slow down to around three quarter speed to avoid possible problems.
  • Make sure the thread is securely in the bobbin tension as you are winding a bobbin – it should be loose between the thread reel and the tension mechanism and taut from the tension mechanism to the bobbin. If you end up with a “squishy” bobbin, failure to do this is the most likely cause.
  • “Squishy” bobbins can be rewound from the thread spool to a new bobbin.
  • Avoid adding thread to a bobbin which is already wound
  • Always make sure the thread type being used in the needle is exactly the same as the thread wound on to the bobbin. Different colours can be used but, for perfect stitching, the thread brand and weight needs to be the same – unless of course you are using decorative techniques.
  • Press seams and darts flat as sewn to blend the thread into the fabric.

A few words about thread tension:

Many sewers are wary of thread tension, often resulting from “never touch the tension dial!” warnings in their early sewing experiences.

I hope that an explanation of how thread tension works will help your understanding.

All machines have tension discs (some times visible, sometimes not) to control the speed at which the needle thread passes through to make a stitch. Basically, it is about the needle and bobbin threads being in perfect balance so there are no loops on either side of the stitched seam and the fabric pieces are lying exactly on top of each other with no gap forming when they are exposed to the pressure of wear.

If the tension is too tight, bobbin threads can be pulled through to the opposite surface of the fabric and, if the tension is too loose, needle thread will show on the underside of the seam.  Tension which is too tight will result in puckering of the fabric and tension which is too loose will allow gaps between the layers.

The tension is adjusted using numbers either with a lever, dial or button on an LED screen:

  • small number = looser stitches/lighter tension = no puckers
  • larger number = tighter stitches/heavier tension = no gaps between layers

Universal tension (the automatic setting) is 4 and this works well on the majority of medium weight fabrics.  When using fine, lightweight fabrics, a lower tension (looser stitch) is required and setting is around 3.  If sewing heavy fabrics (for example some heavyweight denims), the stitches need to be tighter so that the layers are held firmly together – a setting of 5+ may be needed.

When sewing buttonholes, lower the tension to 3.

All of this is a guide and making a test seam before starting a project is essential.  Take two pieces of fabric approximately 30cm/15″ long and cut on the same grain as your seam.  Stitch the strips together, press to meld the stitches and inspect the result.  Make any necessary adjustments (using the information above) and test again.

Needles:

Machine needles are identified by type on the package by both their type name and a type number which is common to all brands. The needle size is also marked on the package.

An assortment of machine needle types and sizes.

An assortment of machine needle types and sizes.

An excellent resource to learn about machine needles is the Schmetz Needles website –http://schmetzneedles.com which provides an wonderful illustration of their colour coding system for download as a PDF as well as the following diagrams and information for which they give permission to reproduce in blogs.

How to Read the Needle Package

Home sewing machines require a flat shank needle with a scarf. These characteristics are known as needle system 130/705 H. All needles in system 130/705 H have a scarf and a flattened shank for perfect positioning in the needle bar in relation to the hook.

How to read the needle package.

How to read the needle package.

The anatomy of a machine needle.

The anatomy of a machine needle.

With machine needles, the smaller the number, the finer the needle.

Schmetz also have an app for iPads/iPhones which would make needle choice when shopping for notions very convenient.

Tips for machine needles:

  • Most machine needle threaders will not accommodate a needle smaller than Size 75. If using a finer needle, it needs to be threaded by hand.
  • Needles should be changed regularly at approximately 6-8 hours of actual use. Be guided by your fabric as polyester fabrics dull needles much faster than natural fibre fabrics. If your machine is making a louder sound as you stitch or is skipping stitches, consider changing the needle.
  • Dispose of bent or broken needles (and pins) in a sharps container (readily available at pharmacies) and when full place in the bin.
  • Do not store needles in a pincushion. It is very easy for them to disappear into the pin cushion and if the filling is a type of fibre-fill, they can rust. Emery powder or fine, dry sand is a better filler but be aware that in very humid climates, moisture can be absorbed by the sand and can also resulted in rusted needles.
  • Needle sharpener "Strawberry"

    Needle sharpener “Strawberry”

    Use an emery strawberry if you think your needle may have a burr which is most often caused by hitting a pin.

  • Do not sew over pins and, if you do accidentally hit one, stop and check the needle immediately.  If working with very fine fabric, change to a new needle regardless or you will risk pulling threads in your fabric.
  • For storage of needles which have been used but are still usable, mark needle types with a permanent fabric marker on an inexpensive pin cushion.
Needle storage options - I have added needle types for machine needles.

Needle storage options – I have added needle types for machine needles.

Needle storage idea

Needle storage idea

Hand needles: 

The sizing system for hand needles is the opposite of that for machine needles (why this was done I have no idea! Doubtless there was a good reason which has been lost in the mists of time).

Assorted hand needles and needle threader

Assorted hand needles and needle threader

#3 is a large needle; #6-7 is medium and #9-12 fine to very fine.

When selecting needle size, match the size of the needle to the thickness of the thread and type of fabric being sewn.  Most hand needles (except Milliner’s) have a thicker width at the eye.

Needles come in different types for different techniques

  • Sharps are general sewing needles
  • Crewel are intended for embroidery
  • Milliner’s needles (formerly called straw needles) are used for making bullion stitch but are also wonderful for dressmaking purposes because they are an even width from end to end and therefore pull very easily through the fabric
  • Quilters/Betweens are used for stitching in smaller spaces.

Tips for using hand needles: 

  • Use the finest needles that will suit the thread and fabric and do the job – no big holes when using fine thread and it is much easier to pull thicker thread through a larger hole.
  • Long needles are best for basting/tacking and running stitches.
  • Short needles are best for fell-stitch and slip-stitch, especially in tight spaces.
  • Sharps have a small eye so if you have a problem threading them, use a Crewel needle of the same size as it has a longer eye and similar tip.
  • Keep your needles in a needle case or piece of wool flannel – the lanolin in the flannel will reduce the risk of needles rusting.
  • The emery strawberry can be used to sharpen hand-needles.
  • Discard bent needles and always store them separately from pins.

Hand-stitching Technique:

There are many resources available to assist in learning hand stitches and their uses and I will cover my favourites in a future post.

Twisting thread is one of the most common problems encountered when hand-stitching.

To minimise twisting:

  • cut thread on an angle.
  • when using thread from a reel, thread the end through the eye of the needle and cut off the required length.
  • when using thread from a bobbin, cut the required length and thread the cut end through the eye of the needle.
  • thread the needle and then iron the thread before stitching.

Technically Speaking:

  • Use a single thread for all handstitching except when attaching fastenings (e.g. hooks and eyes, press studs, etc.).
  • Keep thread length to approximately 50cm (20ins).
  • If you need to do a lot of hand-stitching, prepare several threaded needles before starting.
  • To increase thread strength for permanent stitches only, wax the thread – thread the needle and run the thread through beeswax; place between two pieces of paper towel.  Place iron over the towel and pull the threads through and iron while pulling the thread – this melts the wax and embeds it into the thread.

Pins:

There are many schools of thought about the direction of pinning and the comments I am offering are methods I have found work well for me.

As with needles, there are numerous types and sizes (in both thickness and length) of pins available.

I prefer to use glass head pins because they are generally quite fine and sharp and not too long.  The heads do not melt if I am pressing around pins.  They work well for most general dressmaking.

L - Stretch glass head pins R - magnetic pin dish

L – Stretch glass head pins
R – magnetic pin dish

If using fine silk, I prefer to use silk pins.  Flower (or novelty) head pins are very fine but they are also quite long and care is needed where they are used as it is very easy to catch the fabric with them.  They bend very easily so they are not suitable for use in the fitting process.

Ball point pins are available for use with fine knits.

Fork pins are excellent in helping to prevent slippage of layers when sewing fabrics with nap (for example, velvet) or matching patterns (for example, plaids or stripes) or previously sewn seams.

For pinning thicker garment sections together, it is necessary to use longer, thicker pins which are usually stronger and less likely to bend.

L to R: Flower head pins Extra long glass head pins Fork pins

L to R:
Flower head pins
Extra long glass head pins
Fork pins

Small gold safety pins can be useful to indicate wrong side of fabric or to pin garment pieces between sewing sessions as they will not catch on other pieces.

Tips for Using Pins:

  • As with needles, do not use bent or blunt pins – dispose of them immediately you find them.  It is a good idea to “sort” pins every now and then, removing any that are blunt, marked, bent or burred.
  • If using different types of pins, keep them in separate containers so they do not become all mixed together.
  • Never store fabric which is pinned together for long periods – a recipe for rust marks in a humid climate! – as this can leave permanent marks or holes in some fabrics.
  • When pinning seams ready for machine stitching, I prefer to pin at right angles to the seam line – especially in curved seams.
  • From the side of the fabric to be sewn, pin both the beginning and end of the seam; pin match points or centre point; pin in the middle of each remaining section.
  • Take a small bite of fabric right at the position of the sewing line to control the fabric.
  • To pin a garment ready for fitting, pin parallel to the cut edges right along the seam line and have the pins pointing towards the floor to avoid injury.
  • When machine stitching, try not to sew over pins. Simply sew up to the pins and remove them as you go.
  • If working with delicate fabrics or lace, be sure to use glass head pins as it is very easy to lose track of metal head pins which can be left in the garment.
  • I like to use a magnetic pincushion or dish because I find it easier to grasp and quicker to use the pins as I am working.
  • When preparing to hand stitch, pin the fabric in place and hand tack so the pins can be removed. This saves lots of frustration from hand thread getting caught around pins.

One last tip, invest in a magnetic pin wand! – great when accidents happen and for finding that “lost” pin or needle.

Telescopic magnetic wand - great for finding and picking up needles and pins.

Telescopic magnetic wand – great for finding and picking up needles and pins.

Hope this information will encourage you to explore the wonderful range of threads, needles and pins to make sewing more pleasurable and achieve the great result you are seeking.

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Inserting Zippers Part 5 – Exposed Zipper and Separating Zipper

Exposed zippers have been in fashion for the past few years and they can add a dash of fun and surprise to otherwise plain or tailored garments.  Try using them at the bottom of a sleeve or at the hem or a skirt of pants for a stylish accent.

Separating zippers can also look great horizontally to join a removable piece to the bottom of a jacket hem or sleeve hems.

They inserted into any seam where an opening is needed and can also be used to establish an opening where there is no seam.

I can be difficult to find a big variety of different colours or zips with printed tapes and when I seem them, I usually buy one and I can then add it where I choose to any future garment.  Sckafs Fabrics at Indooroopilly and Sewco Sewing Centre at Macgregor in Brisbane have a small selection of the more decorative styles.  Otherwise it will probably be necessary to source them on line.

A selection - Left to right are metal zip; decorative tapes; regular dress zip; lightweight dress zip; metal zip

A selection – Left to right are metal zip; decorative tapes; regular dress zip; lightweight dress zip; metal zip

Most of those used in ready-to-wear seem to have metal teeth which can be quite heavy and rough against the skin; and sometimes the zips are inclined to ripple – most probably because they are used with either knit fabrics (usually double knit) or lightweight fabrics.

Choosing a zipper which is of comparable weight to the garment fabric and taking the time to stabilise the area where the zipper is to be sewn would greatly reduce this problem.

Partially Exposed Zipper:

Since the zipper will use part of the width of the seam allowance, it is important to measure the width of the amount of the teeth and/or teeth plus zipper tape and to subtract half this amount from each seam allowance.  If this is not done, the garment will be bigger across the garment piece.

Mark this measurement from the cut edge of the seam and stay stitch 15mm / 5/8” towards the bottom of the zipper opening, across the opening and up the other side by the same amount.  Use small machine stitches (Length 1.5) to protect the corners.

Mark seam line and position of stopper on interfaced seam.

Mark seam line and position of stopper on interfaced seam.

Measure width of teeth.

Measure width of teeth.

Divide measurement of teeth by 2 and mark this width on the garment side of the seam line.

Divide measurement of teeth by 2 and mark this width on the garment side of the seam line.

Top left - stay stitched corner Bottom right - clipped and turned seam allowance

Top left – stay stitched corner
Bottom right – clipped and turned seam allowance

Stitch the remainder of the seam in place.

Stitch to close seam below zipper opening.

Stitch to close seam below zipper opening.

Centre the zip under the opening; pin and baste in place.  Turn the top ends of the zipper tape under and hand stitch in place.

Edgestitch and/or topstitch from the right side, catching the zipper tape in place.

Position zipper and edgestitch and/or topstitch in place.

Position zipper and edgestitch and/or topstitch in place.

If the garment fabric frays easily, place a small piece of silk organza over the fabric when stay stitching as above.  Clip and press the organza to the wrong side, slightly favouring the fabric to the wrong side.  Stitch in place as above.

Place a small piece of silk organza over the fabric when stay stitching

Place a small piece of silk organza over the fabric when stay stitching

Clip through all layers to reinforced corner. Turn to wrong side and press in place.

Clip through all layers to reinforced corner. Turn to wrong side and press in place.

This technique works well to establish a decorative opening in a garment where there is no seam and also with knits where other zipper applications do not give an attractive finish.  Use a lightweight dress zip in knits to minimise distortion.

Finished zipper with just the fine teeth showing.

Finished zipper with just the fine teeth showing.

Mark the fabric where the centre of the teeth will sit and fuse a strip of interfacing (centred on this mark) to the wrong side of the fabric.  Measure the width of the zipper teeth and draw fold lines an equal distance away on both sides of the centre mark.  Mark where the zipper stop will rest.

Mark centre of opening and on either side to cater for total width of the teeth. Stay stitch the whole area of the opening and cut down the centre and into corners.

Mark centre of opening and on either side to cater for total width of the teeth. Stay stitch the whole area of the opening and cut down the centre and into corners.

This is how the zipper will look

This is how the zipper will look

Stay stitch down one side of the fold line, across the base of the opening and up the other side.  Clip to the corners and fold the fabric under.  Press slightly favouring to the wrong side.  Position the zipper and edgestitch and/or topstitch in place.

Fold fabric at the bottom of the zipper up over the teeth to reveal the triangle at the base of the zipper. Stitch across.

Fold fabric at the bottom of the zipper up over the teeth to reveal the triangle at the base of the zipper. Stitch across.

Underside of zipper.

Underside of zipper.

Totally Exposed Zipper:

Stitch the bottom of the seam up to the base of the zipper opening.  Increase stitch length to 4.0-4.5 and machine base the rest of the seam.

Press the seam flat and open.

Turn under the zipper tapes at the top and bottom and baste or glue in place.

Position the centre of the zipper over the seam; pin and baste in place.

Topstitch around the zipper.

Reverse of exposed zip. By keeping the full width of the seam allowance, there will be no chance of the harsh metal teeth rubbing skin.

Reverse of exposed zip. By keeping the full width of the seam allowance, there will be no chance of the harsh metal teeth rubbing skin.

Centre zip against wrong side and stitch in place.

Centre zip against wrong side and stitch in place.

Separating Zipper:

These zippers are one of the easiest types to use and are available in various lengths and thicknesses.  Some have metal teeth and others plastic teeth.  The teeth can be chunky or finer.  Rhinestone teeth are also available (Sckafs have some great ones in black, white and black and white).

They are also available as invisible zippers making them a great option for edge-to-edge jackets.

A selection of open-end zips - Left to right are large plastic teeth; wide chunky teeth; narrow teeth; open end invisible zip.

A selection of open-end zips – Left to right are
large plastic teeth; wide chunky teeth; narrow teeth; open end invisible zip.

A selection of open-end zips - Left to right are large plastic teeth; wide chunky teeth; narrow teeth; open end invisible zip.

A selection of open-end zips – Left to right are
large plastic teeth; wide chunky teeth; narrow teeth; open end invisible zip.

Always buy the length which is closest to the opening.  It is often easier to lengthen or shorten the opening rather than try to lengthen or shorten the zipper.

The zipper can be exposed, partially exposed or hidden entirely.

Concealed front closure with open end zipper.

Concealed front closure with open end zipper.

Textured wool jacket with invisible open end zip.

Textured wool jacket with invisible open end zip.

Simply  fold the seam allowance to the inside of the garment.  Press in place.

Separate the two sides of the zipper and position each side under the folded edge exposing as much of the teeth as desired.  Baste and topstitch in place.

For an unlined garment, finish the seams as desired – overlocking or binding both work well and give a tidy finish.  You can also use a facing with the zipper teeth sandwiched in place between the facing and the garment.

If you choose to line the garment, you can attach the lining to the facing edge or line to the zipper teeth.  In both cases, understitching will keep the fabric away from the zipper teeth when the zipper is being raised or lowered.

Lining stitched close to underside of teeth and understitched by hand.

Lining stitched close to underside of teeth and understitched by hand.

Open invisible zipper.

Open invisible zipper.

Facing side of zipper which has been sandwiched between layers.

Facing side of zipper which has been sandwiched between layers.

I have seen photographs of garments featuring separating zippers with two pulls – one opening down from the top and the other, up from the bottom of the garment.  They are available on line and would be inserted in exactly the same manner as I have detailed above.

I hope these posts have been helpful and next week I will start a series on a different construction element.

Inserting Zippers Part 2 – Lapped Zipper Inserted by Machine

In this post, I am sharing the method I use when installing a lapped zipper application by machine.

Finished Lapped Zipper

Finished Lapped Zipper

A lapped zipper is well suited to garments which will be worn often (especially if sitting all day or getting in and out of the car all day) or which are made in a thicker fabric.  They are stronger than an invisible zipper and therefore less likely to fail.

The average length of a lapped zipper opening in a skirt is 18-20 cm (7-8”);  in the centre back of a dress  50-55cm (20-24”) and in pants 20-23cm (8-9”).  Of course these lengths may change depending on the proportions and personal preference of the wearer.

Unless you are intending to sew authentic jeans/jeans skirt or use the zipper as a decorative feature, use a dress zip (nylon tapes and teeth) for this application.  This will eliminate some of the bulk caused by using a front zip over the tummy.

Side zips in dresses are not common in today’s patterns (except for reproduced vintage styles) but are often useful in strapless styles or where the pattern of the fabric looks better if it is unbroken in the centre back, particularly in lace bodices.  Side zips can be used in sleeveless or short sleeved garments as long as the neck opening will accommodate the head.  A minimum neck opening of 55cm/23” is usually required (extra may be needed to accommodate your hair if wearing a fancy up do).

Preparation:

I use a wider seam allowance (23mm/1”) in the area of the zipper opening.  This results in a flatter zipper application.

An important step in any zipper installation is stabilising the zipper opening before insertion.  A 23mm/1” strip of fusible interfacing, cut with the strongest grain parallel to the seam, can be used.   Photo 3 Depending on the fabric, it may be necessary to use a lengthwise cut strip of firm woven fabric or lining selvage instead of a fusible.

Stabilise seam allowance and finish with overlocker

Stabilise seam allowance and finish with overlocker

I stitch the seam with the stitch length used for permanent seams up to the bottom of the zipper opening, being sure to backstitch at that point.

Key top of zipper placement

Key top of zipper placement

The seam allowances are pressed flat and then open.  I place the  garment on the ironing surface with the wrong side of the garment facing upwards and the end of the zipper opening to the left and  make a tiny  fold (about 3mm/ 1/8”) in the seam allowance on the left hand side of the garment  and press in place.

Seam allowances pressed open full amount on RHS and 1cm/ 1/2

Seam allowances pressed open full amount on RHS and 1cm/ 1/2″ on LHS.

If necessary the zipper is shortened to the length of the opening plus 6mm/ 1/4″.

Shorten zipper to desired length; cut excess and cover

Shorten zipper to desired length; cut excess and cover

Attaching the Facing:

On left hand side, fold facing back by ½”/1cm – this is the depth of the stitching line for the zipper from the seam line.

On right hand side, fold facing back flush with zipper seam line then fold back 3/8”/9mm towards right side of garment, over the folded facing.

Pin mark CB and topstitching line for zipper

Pin mark CB and topstitching line for zipper

Fold seam allowance back over the facing and pin in place

Fold seam allowance back over the facing and pin in place

Stitch both sides of facing in place through all layers.

Stitch seam through all layers

Stitch seam through all layers

Trim the seam allowance before pressing and under stitching the facing.

Trim seam allowance and understitch

Trim seam allowance and understitch

Installing the Zipper:

I position the left hand side of the zipper under the pressed fold slightly away from the teeth and the stop level with the bottom of the zipper opening and either  pin or baste in place.

Position LHS of zipper under folded seam allowance

Position LHS of zipper under folded seam allowance

If the fabric is thick, the fold should be further away from the teeth to allow for the turn of the cloth and for the zipper pull to slide easily without catching the fabric.

The stitch length should be adjusted according to the thickness of the fabric and zipper tape.  A longer stitch will be needed if the fabric is thick.

Attach the zipper foot – a lot of today’s modern machines have a zipper foot with a single blade and it is intended that you attach the foot on either the left or right hand side of the needle.  A good way to check whether it is positioned correctly, is to remember that the blade of the foot should never sit on top of the zipper teeth. 

Stitch in place allowing space for zipper pull

Stitch in place allowing space for zipper pull

Fold top of tape above coil under and stitch to top

Fold top of tape above coil under and stitch to top

I position the garment and sink the needle into the fold, close to the edge of the zipper.  Once it in position, I check how far the foot is from the zipper teeth and use this measurement as a guide for stitching.   Lower the presser foot and stitch from the zipper stop and up to within 5cm/2” of the top end of the teeth– do not backstitch but pull threads to the underside and knot securely.

Turn the garment right side up and place it on a flat surface.

Pin the fabric on the right hand side of the garment and hand baste where the topstitching line will appear on the garment (usually at 1cm/ ½” from the seam line).   Turn the garment over and check that nothing is caught underneath before stitching.

Align fold on RHS with CB on LHS and pin in place

Align fold on RHS with CB on LHS and pin in place

Personal preference will dictate whether the stitching at the bottom of the zip is placed at right angles or diagonally from the seam line.  Regardless of the direction of these stitches, do not backstitch.  Simply sink the machine needle into the sewn seam line and set your stitches to a length of 0.5.  Stitch a few stitches and change to the regular stitch length.  Hand wind the stitches so they end precisely at the topstitching line for the zipper.  Pivot and continue stitching parallel to the zipper up to the top of the opening.

After zip is set,  I steam press to remove any creases or wrinkles – if fabric is inclined to mark easily, I apply steam only (no iron) and then press gently with my hands – placing garment over a seam roll or tailor’s ham.

The facings are turned to the inside and handstitched to the zipper tape on either side before applying hook and eye.

Underside when both sides of zipper stitched in place

Underside when both sides of zipper stitched in place

Thread bar on underside; hook on upper side.

Thread bar on underside; hook on upper side.

Finished top of garment - no bulk.

Finished top of garment – no bulk.

Finished zipper insertion.

Finished zipper insertion.

I hope you find this helpful and next week, I will talk about setting in invisible zippers.

Inserting Zippers Part 1

One of the techniques which I often find causes a lot of angst for students is inserting zippers.  As with lots of other sewing techniques, there are numerous ways to insert a zipper and I am sharing the methods that I have found give consistently good results in various situations.  There will always be exceptions and these will be covered in future posts.

Wherever possible, inserting a zipper into the garment while the sections are flat and before it is fully assembled will make the process easier.

In this post, I will cover some general things to consider when choosing a zipper and preparing to insert it into the garment.

Assorted zippers

Assorted zippers

General Tips:

  • Be sure to buy the correct type of zipper for the garment:
  • Dress or invisible zip (polyester zipper coils) for ladies garments, including pants
  • Use a metal zip and fly protector in ladies jeans only if they are worn tight, otherwise a dress zip is much softer and less bulky in the garment
  • Check the zipper type information listed on the packaging. (Invisible zippers can also be open-ended which is not suitable for a regular application)
  • If using an open ended zipper, try to purchase a zip the exact length required (up to 2cm tolerance) as they are not easily shortened. If this is not possible, it will be necessary to modify the garment.
  • To avoid a “home-made” look, use below the waist zippers that are 20cm long or shorter, unless you are very tall – the exception being the use of a zipper as a feature on the face side of the garment.
  • To shorten a zipper:
  • Close the zipper and, beginning at the top stop, measure and mark the desired zipper length
  • Using a zigzag (SW5.0, SL0.4) sew a bar tack across the zipper end closest to the metal stopper at the marked length OR thread a hand needle with topstitching thread and make several passes over the coils at the desired length
    Centre foot over zipper coil

    Centre foot over zipper coil

    Machine bar tack

    Machine bar tack

    Photo 2c Machine Bar Tack

    Use thicker thread to make a hand bar back

    Use thicker thread to make a hand bar back

    • cut off the zipper about 20mm below the bar tack
    • stitch a piece of ribbon or fabric binding at the bottom of the zipper
    Folded piece of fabric used to cover cut end of zipper - stitch in place on one side

    Folded piece of fabric used to cover cut end of zipper – stitch in place on one side

    Fold to other side and stitch in place

    Fold to other side and stitch in place

    • When using a lapped zipper application, cut 2cm (1inch) seam allowances in area of zipper opening to allow  for easier insertion and room to cover the zipper coil properly
    • Set the zipper before assembling the garment while the sections are still flat
    • “Stay” the zipper opening with a 1.5-2.00cm wide strip of fusible interfacing on the wrong side of the seam allowances

     

    Fuse straight grain strips of interfacing to support the seam allowance where zipper is inserted

    Fuse straight grain strips of interfacing to support the seam allowance where zipper is inserted

    • Finish the seam allowances, either by overlocker or seam finishing stitches on sewing machine, before the zipper is set
    • When a zipper is inserted into a side seam in a top, it can be reversed so that the pull will not rub under the arm – the zipper will open by drawing the pull upwards towards the armhole
    • When a separate waistband is being applied,  use a zipper which is a couple of centimetres longer than the zipper opening – this will avoid sewing around the zipper pull
    Avoid difficulty sewing around zipper pull if attaching a separate waistband

    Avoid difficulty sewing around zipper pull if attaching a separate waistband

    • When using a facing, do not sew the zipper tape beyond the stop at the top of the zipper – tapes are folded back and stitched in place to later be covered by the facing – this results in a neat finish at the top without lots of bulk from the zipper tape (this technique will be covered in my next post)
Fold top of tapes  back below level of seam line and stitch in place.

Fold top of tapes back below level of seam line and stitch in place.

  • When inserting an invisible zipper, key the ends of the zipper tape and the garment in contrast thread to mark the stitching/seam line
  • Stay stitch garment just inside the seam line and clip the stitching between
Keeping cut edges even, stitch just inside the seam allowance across both garment pieces.

Keeping cut edges even, stitch just inside the seam allowance across both garment pieces.

Keeping cut edges even, stitch just inside the seam allowance across both garment pieces.

Keeping cut edges even, stitch just inside the seam allowance across both garment pieces.

  • Clip stitching to separate.

    Clip stitching to separate.

    align the stitching on the zipper to the stitching on the garment when setting the zipper

Align top of zipper just under the keyed stitching line

Align top of zipper just under the keyed stitching line

  • allow 3mm between the top stop and the seam line when using a waistband, and
  • 6mm between the top stop and the seam line when using a facing

Next week, I will cover a lapped zipper application and how to deal with a facing at the top.