Understanding Zipper Types, Weights, Sizes and Parts

Are you afraid of zippers? Do you shy away from patterns that use them because you “just don’t wanna”? Do you deprive yourself the gratification of structured wovens because they require closures? If you answered “yes” or even “yeah…kinda” to any of these questions, then by golly this post is for you!

Sewing zippers is a lot simpler than most beginner sewists believe. Which is very unfortunate because there are so many reasons to love zippers. They open an entire sewing world to you that is otherwise shut without them. You can wear structured clothing – giving yourself all the controlled curvature you could ever dream of. You can sew custom jackets so you don’t have to smear makeup down your face pulling a hoodie over your head. Heck, you can even put on a dress or a pair of pants without having to do the hokey pokey.

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With a little coaching and a lot of awesomeness, you’ll be adding this suckers to your projects left and right!

The Anatomy of a Zipper

Before we really break down the anatomy of a zipper, you’ll need to understand the two basic classes of zippers – closed bottom and separating.

Closed Bottom – A closed bottom zipper has a bar that goes across both sides of the base of the zipper (called the bottom stop), which keeps the zipper in one piece.

Separating – A separating zipper, well, you guessed it – separates. These are typically found in jackets and coats.

Now that we know the difference between those two, let’s take a look at the anatomy of a zipper:

Pieces Explained

  • Top Stop – Prevents your slider from coming off the top of the zipper
  • Slider Body – Joins and separates the teeth as it slides up and down
  • Pull Tab – What you use to move the Slider Body up and down
  • Teeth/Chain – Hold the zipper together
  • Tape – The fabric that the Teeth/Chain is attached to
  • Bottom Stop – Prevents your slider from coming off of the bottom of the zipper (closed bottom zippers only)
  • Insertion Pin – Secures the opposing side of the zipper in the Retainer Box (separating zippers only)
  • Retainer Box – Secures the zipper together and prevents your slider from coming off of the bottom of the zipper (separating zippers only)

Editor’s Note: Enjoying this zipper lesson? Put it to use on our Bravado Jeans!


Different Types of Zippers

There are three main types of zippers that you will come across – coil, stamped plastic, and stamped metal.

Coil

Coil zippers are a popular lightweight zipper. The teeth are made of coiled nylon or polyester that is either stitched or woven into the tape. The way it is constructed makes is very flexible. This makes it a great choice for knit jackets or other lightweight projects. The texture of the teeth is a lot more subtle than the plastic or metal zipper teeth as well which may make it a good choice for bags and pockets where you don’t want your zipper standing out.

Molded Plastic

Molded plastic zippers have the teeth molded and melted directly onto the zipper tape. This construction uses very cheap materials which usually make them the most cost-effective option. The shape of the teeth makes them a bit stiffer than the coil zippers. Molded plastic zippers are great for children’s clothing, tote style bags and more.

Metal

Metal zippers have metal teeth that are clamped onto the zipper tape. This makes them incredibly durable. They are perfect for heavy-duty coats, duffle bags, and leather projects. While you might like the statement the metal teeth make in your apparel, be careful of the weight! They are far heavier than their nylon, polyester and plastic counterparts. Another thing to be cautious of is that they tend to “stick” a bit more than the others. Meaning the slider doesn’t move as smoothly up and down the teeth as the other two, especially when compared to the coil.

Invisible Zippers

Invisible zippers are a little different than the others. The teeth of an invisible zipper are on the backside of the zipper. This means that once it is sewn into your project, the zipper itself should not be visible from the right side. These are commonly used in formal wear and many styles of dresses.

Let’s take a look at the different types of zippers in action:

Zipper Size

When you are shopping for zippers you may see a little # symbol with the zipper size next to it. This number is referring to the size of the zipper teeth, measuring from one outer edge of the teeth to the other.

The width between these two edges in millimeters is the zipper size. In the picture below I have two different metal zippers in different sizes.

So how do you know what size to get? If your pattern doesn’t have a recommended size for you to pick up, use the chart below to get an estimate.

Zipper Number General Size Good For
1-4 small formal clothing. cushions. handbags. skirts. dresses. pants.
5-7 medium jackets. duffel bags. tents. purses. backpacks. luggage. boots.
8-10 large industrial clothing. vehicle covers. upholstery. canvas tents.

Weight Considerations

When choosing a zipper, weight should be a consideration. For example, I put two 24″ zippers on the scale – one nylon coil and one stamped metal:

As you can see, the metal zipper weighs just over 4 times as much as the nylon coil. If you are sewing garments with zippers, you will want to factor in this weight. If you are sewing with a lighter weight knit fabric, a metal zipper may be too heavy and pull down on the fabric. This can make it sag throughout the day.

Tools Necessary for Working with Zippers

If you are ready to sewing yourself some zippers, there are a few things you’ll want to snag first.

Zipper Foot

The only absolute necessity for sewing with zipper is a zipper foot. There are two different types of zipper feet – regular and invisible. These feet are necessary because they allow you to sew close to the teeth. An invisible zipper foot are made specifically for invisible zippers and are not necessary for other zipper types.

DO NOT USE A UNIVERSAL FOOT when sewing zippers. A universal foot will force the teeth away from the needle. It will result in curse words and tears.

Pliers for Shortening

Coil and molded plastic zippers can be cut through with scissors if you need to shorten them. Metal zippers, however, require you to snip and pull off some teeth prior to shortening.

I love the look of metal zippers, so I have a stash of 26″ lengths in a variety of colors and keep my zipper snippers and pliers close by to shorten them to whatever size I need.

Invisible Tape

Yes, tape. The clear tape you use to wrap your presents with. Tape those zippers down to keep them from slipping around as you sew.

Stabilizing Tape

If you are sewing a zipper onto a knit fabric, you will want to stabilize it with stabilizing tape (also called wonder tape, wash away tape or stay tape). This will keep the fabric from stretching as you sew it on.

So what do you think? You ready to sew up a zipper yet? Leave any questions or comments below!

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21 thoughts on “Understanding Zipper Types, Weights, Sizes and Parts”

  1. This is the most inclusive and informative information I have found regarding zippers! Extremely helpful and I have learned much.
    Thank you.

  2. Question: the pin fell off of one of my vests. I’m searching online for a replacement but can’t seem to find reliable information on what I should buy. Do zipper pins differ in size? Do they differ in material (and thus quality)? Do I need to replace the whole zipper or can I simply buy a new pin?

    1. They can be replaced from a company called repaireclair on Etsy, they have a variety of styles,sizes and colours. Measure the width of the teeth while the zip is closed to find out the size you need. Good luck.

  3. OMG I love this!!! I have been trying to find this kind of posts for a while, and I can’t find any post that shows clear images of the zipper itself! Thanks a lot! xx

  4. Hi Jessica,
    how is it called a zipper which is used in double-faced coats?
    Meaning its “handle” can be used both ways.
    I get confused with double sliders, two-way sliders… not sure which one I should use
    to describe what I want to buy.
    sincerely
    Alba

    1. Hey Alba! If you are needing the slider to work with a reversible coat, you’ll want a double-sided slider zipper. 🙂

  5. To my knowledge, coil zippers were not used widely in clothing until the early 1970s. Is this correct? I’m trying to date a dress and that is what I remember. Thanks!

  6. Nice summary, and informative.

    However, you forgot to cover zips that are used on for example, raincoats, where there is a second zip at the bottom which replaces the retainer box, into which the loose retainer pin is inserted.This bottom zip can be pulled up when using the coat while cycling, to allow for more freedom of movement.

  7. Excellent article! Thank you for posting. Everything I ever needed to know about zippers and more. I was never able to take home ec as a kid bc I was in band and we had to take p.e. So my electives were taken. This article is great and much needed! Thanks!

  8. Thanks for your website. I wanted to know the difference in a regular zipper and an Invisible zipper. I learned a lot.

  9. Thanks so much for your help on the difference between zippers. The web page is very easy to understand. I have sewn separating zippers, that was easy, now I’m going to try doing some invisible zippers. Thanks again for the help

  10. I hope you are doing well. i got too much information from your website. please keep posting such good information.

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