Learn all about the types of zipper and how to measure zippers. When you are learning to sew, sewing zippers can be a little daunting but with my 4 part zipper tutorial series you will gain confidence and skills in no time.
So let’s start with breaking down the different types of zipper.
Types of zipper
Here are 3 main types of zipper you will use for garment, accessories and homeware sewing.
- Nylon Coil (Plastic)
1. Nylon coil Zippers
Nylon zippers are flexible and are the most common types of zipper used in clothing, bags and homewares. They look plastic and they tend to be monochrome colors with matching tape. The tape is tightly woven and the heads are usually small.
In sewing patterns, nylon zippers are often referred to as plastic zippers. The stopper at the end of the zipper is usually metal but the rest looks plastic.
For beginners. these are the easiest zippers to sew as the teeth are small and there is only a small amount of metal to worry about your needle hitting.
Nylon coil zippers are easy to shorten by cutting and sewing across the ends. Here is a tutorial on how to shorten a zipper.
2. Metal Zippers
Metal zippers have metal teeth (Is that a surprise?) These types of zipper have teeth that generally come in different metallic colors such as brass, gold and nickel. I love the look of a brightly colored metal zipper with gold teeth.
They are mainly used in bags and jeans and trendy exposed zips for clothing. The advantage of using metal zippers is that they are long lasting and are the least likely to split apart.
The larger heads used in metal zippers make them a little harder for beginners to sew as you often have to stop sewing, move the head and then start again.
Metal zippers can also be shortened if necessary but it takes a little more time than nylon zippers and involves using pliers. Here is a tutorial on how to shorten metal zippers.
3. Invisible Zippers
Invisible zippers also have nylon coil teeth but the teeth are at the back of the zip so that when you sew it in your garment, there are no teeth showing on the outside.
If you look at the photo above you will see that the invisible zipper marked number 3 has a distinctive long-shaped, solid head while the ordinary nylon coil zipper has a rectangular head with a hole in it. While there are small differences between brands, this is fairly typical. Most invisible types of zipper have a mesh style of tape on the sides making them flatter and less noticeable.
Dresses, skirts and pants commonly use invisible zips.
Invisible zippers can be sewn with specialty sewing machine feet or with a regular zipper foot.
Further Reading: How to Sew Invisible Zippers
Molded Plastic Zippers
Molded zippers are made from plastic and have large interlocking teeth. They are mainly used in jackets or bags.
Types of Zipper - Openings
Zippers can be open-ended or closed-ended and cut to size or continuous.
Open-ended zips are used on jackets and sweatshirts where you need to separate the ends to open your jacket.
Closed-ended zippers are used on dresses skirts and cushions where the zipper is sewn into a back or side seam.
Closed-ended nylon zippers can also be bought on continuous rolls instead of preset sizes. This is especially useful for large cushions or as an economical alternative for the production sewing of clothing. Fabric stores sell them by the yard or meter and heads may be included or sold separately.
You just cut the length you need and then sew across the bottom to stop it splitting. Don't use your good scissors to cut through the tape as they will go blunt very quickly.
Heads are manually put on which I find a bit fiddly to do but my mother is great at. There is a definite knack to putting on the heads.
Purchasing the heads separately for continuous zippers is a definite advantage as there are a lot of fancy zipper heads that you can use instead of the boring rectangle ones.
Types of Zipper - Coil Sizes of Zipper
Zips come with different sized teeth called coils. The zipper coil width is measured across the actual teeth and not the fabric tape. Larger numbers mean larger teeth!
YKK zips which is one of the better-known zipper brands has numerous types of zipper with coil sizes from 2 to 10. If you are sewing clothing or handbags you will usually use a size 3. Handbags and clutches use a size 3 or 5. The larger the coil size the wider the fabric tape on either side of the teeth and the larger the head.
Here is coil size 3 compared to a size 5. Notice the difference in the teeth size, tape width and head size.
How to Measure Zippers
The length of a zipper is measured from the bottom metal stopper to the top stoppers. In other words, you measure the length of a zipper along the teeth and NOT the fabric tape.
Most sewing patterns don’t specify the width of the zipper tape needed but you will notice that the larger the teeth the wider the zipper tape.
Extra Zipper Tips
- Take care when pressing a garment with a zip. Use a pressing cloth on top of it to protect the teeth
- If your zip gets stuck, try rubbing the teeth with a graphite pencil.
- Be careful when sewing your zip that you don’t sew over any of the metal stopper pieces. These are bound to break a needle.
How to Sew a Zipper
How you sew a zipper depends largely on the types of zipper you are using. Nylon coil or plastic zippers are the easiest to sew.
Parts 1-3 of my Zipper Series
- How to Sew a Zipper (Best tutorial for sewing nylon zippers and an easy method for beginners)
- How to Sew an Exposed Zipper (Tutorial for sewing metal zippers on the outside of clothing)
- Sewing an Invisible Zipper
Regardless of the types of zipper you are sewing, you will need a zipper foot. These specialty feet come with most machines and allow you to sew to one side of the foot rather than in the center like the all-purpose foot.
Sewing with the needle to one side of the foot means you can get closer to the edge of the zipper teeth resulting in a flatter and more attractive fastening.
Other Useful Zipper Tutorials
I hope you enjoyed this article on the types of zipper. Here are some more tutorials you might be interested in.
- How to Shorten a Zipper
- How to Shorten a Metal Zipper
- Zipper Pouch Tutorial (This tutorial will show you how to sew a zipper in a small lined pouch. )
- How to Cover Zipper Ends (This technique is used for sewing bags and clutches)
- How to Sew a Zipper Pocket (This will show you how to insert an inside zipper pocket into any bag or purse)
- Zippered Cushion Covers (How to make a cushion cover with a zipper on the side)