Welcome. You are about to enter the inner sanctum of the invisible zipper tutorial. For years I’ve thought about this blog post only to throw my head back and laugh my evil laugh. Broooo-ha-ha! Why? Because I made a dang good living selling pillows with perfectly installed invisible zippers on my etsy site. Who knew you could make thousands a month selling pillows? And I ran into no other competitors that could do the same thing. (There are a few now, but none three years ago.)
design below is Asian Branches. click here to see details of this embroidery design.
Up until now I have a kept a tight lid on how to install zippers. I would get emails and conversations all the time on etsy asking me how I install them. Or rather, what pattern I used. I would quickly reply, “I am brilliant and taught myself”. Well, fabric-loving bloggy friends, I am not brilliant, just clever. And only sometimes.
What makes me an expert? Nothing really. But in looking over my inventory records I noticed I have purchased over 500 invisible zippers since 2007. So maybe installing 500 makes me an expert. Nah, you can do it too. I can install a zipper in less than 2 minutes and sew the entire pillow in 20 minutes. (Shameless bragging.) I say this in hopes that you’ll get over your fear of sewing pillows. And I know there is always a better way to install an invisible zipper than what I am about to show you—but this is how I do it. And have done it for years. I’ve tried other methods, but always come back to this one. (Cocky)
I only sell a handful of pillows on etsy now as I have switched gears to selling embroidery designs at http://www.meringuedesigns.net/. Plus I have constant and uncontrollable pain in my arms now—but you’ll never read a blog about that because nothing is more boring than hearing about a stranger’s aches and pains. So I teach you in hopes that you’ll buy tons o’ my designs and make your own embroidered pillows.
First a little advice: You gotta have an invisible zipper foot. I used to do this with a regular zipper foot but it will not yield the same results. Invest $30 and buy foot #35. (Bernina owners) You will use it all the time for skirts, dresses and pillows. Invisible zippers are the easiest to install—much easier than a centered or lapped zipper.
Also try not to stretch the fabric as you install the zipper. I like to install my zipper on one of the sides where the fabric does stretch—against the grain line. If you install your zipper on a side with the grain line (the tight un-stretchable part) then the zipper has a tendency to looks puckered and wavy when done since there is no ‘give’ in the fabric.)
First, cut your fabric. (Any medium or light weight fabric will work. I don’t recommend invisible zippers for heavy weight or thicker fabrics like chenille and tapestry.) If you are making an 18”x18” pillow cover then cut your fabric 19”x19” or even 18 1/2” x 18 1/2”. Nothing screams homemade more than a baggy pillow with too small of a pillow insert, so don’t cut it too big! Serge or zig-zag the bottom of both halves of your fabric. (Seen in orange thread below.) Do not skip this step! The last thing you want is fabric unraveling around your zipper only to get caught as you zip up and down.
With right sides together, sew approximately 2 inches in from the edge of your fabric using a 1/2” seam allowance. Do this at both ends, back stitch really well. You will not be turning your fabric right side out at all during zipper installation. You will always be working with wrong sides facing you.
Now grab your zipper. You want a zipper that is much longer than your pillow. In this case, my pillow has been cut 19” inches but my zipper needs to be at least 21”. This zipper is around 24”. You have to be able to sew around the chunky zipper head and this is impossible with an invisible zipper foot, so buy a zipper nice and long to avoid having to go near the zipper head. (I buy my zippers from http://zipperstop.com/ and have for years. Love that site!!! I pay about 70 cents a zipper in bulk of 100+. I always buy them extra long as you’ll see why.)
Change your foot to your invisible zipper foot now. You do not need to move your needle over at all during this entire tutorial—your needle stays centered. Open up the invisible zipper and lay it face down. I do not iron my zipper open, I want it to stay curled up. Makes it easier to slide through the grooves of the zipper foot. The black arrow is pointing to the end of the stitching from where I already sewed it shut. This is the spot you want to place the ‘plastic-y’ part of the zipper. See photo below. Place zipper face down under the left groove and begin sewing at the top of the zipper tape, backstitch of course.
Continue sewing all the way down (see below) until you get an inch or so past the point where the pillow is sewn shut. Backstitch, remove from machine. (As you can see, I use about a 3/8” to 1/2” seam allowance. Doesn’t matter a ton. Just be somewhat consistent.) Notice how my finger kind of flattens the zipper just a little bit before it goes under the groove?
Now you’ll be sewing the other side of the zipper, starting at the other end. (I can not stand to sew with fabric to the right of me, so that’s why I start at the other end from where I began so that my fabric is always to my left. ) Zip up your zipper to within 2” inches of where your pillow is sewn shut. Pin the zipper in place—making sure there is no slack in your zipper. You want it to line up perfectly with the other side of the zipper that you just sewed. I am not a perfectionist but this part has to be done right.
Place under your zipper foot as seen below, you’ll have to remove the pin to do this. The pin you see in this picture is just to mark where the pillow is sewn shut so that I know where to begin sewing. Start sewing an inch before your marked point, backstitch of course.
Sew all the way to the other end, ending when you run out of zipper tape, backstitch of course. Remove from machine.
If you have done this right, the two plastic parts will meet up nearly perfectly—see black arrows. Notice the smiley face. Pop a piece of dark chocolate in your mouth because you rock. The zipper install is done. If the plastic-y parts didn’t meet up perfectly, but within 1/2” inch of each other, no problemo. Give yourself some milk chocolate though. Clip all your threads to prevent them from zipping into the zipper.)
This is the part where if you are an arm-wrestling champion you need to show restraint lest you break stitches. Carefully zip up your zipper from the backside, going sloooowly past the black arrow where your pillow is sewn shut. This will be tight, especially if you are using a medium weight linen like I am. If you are using a thin quilting-weight cotton, this shouldn’t be tough. What makes this tricky is that you are zipping from the backside of the zipper. Once you get past the danger zone, turn your pillow over, zip up all the way.
If everything looks nice, turn back over and snip excess zipper tape away using your crappiest scissors. Or use the kids scissors. Pay back.
Turn over and iron flat over the zipper. Smile ‘cuz this looks wicked awesome.
Now you gotta finish the pillow. Unzip the zipper. Do not forget to unzip your zipper!!! Ask me how many pillows in the beginningI have sewn completely shut because I forgot to open up the zipper and therefore had no way to turn it right side out. Pin the pillow shut on the three other sides. This is how it should look now.
Sew your 1/2” seam all the way around the 3 sides. Then serge that same 1/2” seam all the way around. You can skip the serging at this point if you’d like. I would never sell a pillow with raw seams, but if this is for your own home and you don’t care about frayed seams that you’ll never see, then eh, skip it. My pillows have a short life span in my home (too many ideas in my head!) so I live dangerously and rarely serge the edges off. They just don’t have time in my home to fall apart. If you don’t serge the edges, clip the corners though. But if you’ll be washing this pillow cover a lot because your kids and animals are pigs, serge away.
Fill with a plump 18” or 20” pillow form. And admire your brilliance. (Sorry for the overexposed photo.)
Works just as well with an orange zipper on orange canvas.
Or with lightweight cottons on the top and canvas on the bottom.
I’ve even done this on quilted pillows (below) that contained a layer of cotton batting. If you opt to do this though, move your needle one notch to the right to accommodate the bulk. Zipper won’t be as “invisible” as the above samples, but good enough.
Did you learn something? I sure hope so because this took 2 hours to write. (*brushes back of hand across forehead*)