Zipper Basic Training

Sew Hot is now going to interrupt your regularly scheduled pre-Christmas frenzy, for this little refresher course on zippers. Indispensible and a sewing basic, this little item, at the best of times, can appear seamless, hidden and non-important. However, use the wrong one, either size, style or quality, and then it becomes a big problem. Your once awesome project has just become a failure.

I recently had a discussion with my Sew Hot partner, Rebecca, (if you have ever called Sew Hot, you’ve talked to Rebecca!) about all the different zippers we carry. “Are all these really necessary?” I questioned, after observing rows and rows of the colorful strips in the shop. Short answer was a resounding “Yes!” Being a bit of a zipper newbie, I asked her to explain the zippers to me, and below is Rebecca’s great description of zippers and their purposes.

Basically, there are 2 types of zippers – 1) separating or open-end (like in jackets, etc. – completely opens) and 2) non-separating or closed-end (like in bags, pouches, jeans, etc).

Zippers are made up of 3 parts – the coil (or teeth), the tape, and the slider. These elements can all be made of different materials.

There are 3 types of zipper teeth – metal,  coil, and vislon. Metal teeth are often used in jeans and for fashion. Vislon is for outdoor use like sports clothes, jackets, sleeping bags, travel bags, etc and are usually chunkier and more durable than regular zippers. Coil is the most generally used zipper for everything else.

We carry a few Vislon zippers as they are required in some of the Sew Sweetness bag PBAZIP24-245 24in Tahitipatterns. We don’t currently carry metal zippers (though maybe someday…). Most of what we carry are coil zippers. Coil zippers are available in a wide variety and include regular zippers, concealed zippers, etc. Here is what the YKK website says about coil zippers:  A coil zipper is made of spiral plastic elements, such as polyester or nylon. This is the most popular zipper among the three types of zippers. This versatile zipper can be used in anything from apparel garments to luggage or sporting goods to automobiles.

At this point I should also mention that YKK is by far the biggest manufacturer (and most trusted) in the world. The handbag zippers and the Atkinson Designs zippers we have are all made by YKK. Our economy zips are not.

The variety in coil zippers is based on the size of the coil (the larger the coil the more durable the zipper but it’s also a chunkier appearance so size of coil depends on desired use), the width of the tape (wider tapes are easier to sew in to your garments, etc), the type of tape (though for our purposes ours are all the same – this can be important in different garments, etc), and the type of slider.

Our economy zippers are just that – an economical product madeTaylorszipshades to sell at an inexpensive price. They are not made by YKK, they have only a thin width of tape and the material doesn’t feel as strong as the YKK tapes, they have a small coil, and a standard size small zip pull. They are adequate for quick projects that will not get a lot of use – or use for only a limited amount of time (think children’s clothes that will soon be outgrown), but these are not durable and will not hold up to a lot of use.

The Atkinson Designs zippers are a step up (and therefore more expensive). They are made by YKK, they have a standard width of tape and a small coil (they’re not designed for large projects), and a standard size small zip pull.

The Handbag Zippers (through Patterns by Annie) are also made by YKK. They have a wider tape so they are easier to insert, a thicker coil, and a special larger zip pull with a wide oval opening so it’s easier to insert a zip pull or fabric tag/decoration of your choice.

We also carry the Designer Accents zippers which are directly from YKK. They are identical to the Handbag Zippers in tape width, coil size, and zip pull but are only in 14″ length (where the handbag zips are available in 24″, 30″, and 40″ lengths as well as in 4-yard packs with multiple zip pulls).

YKK will manufacture zippers for people to their exact specifications – tape width, coil size, zip pulls, colours, etc. This is why there are different ranges from Atkinson Designs and Patterns by Annie; they have had them manufactured to their specifications.

It’s also important to note that coil zippers can be cut down to any size. The Atkinson Designs zips are all 14″ but their patterns call for zippers in a variety of sizes – these are still fine to be used and can be cut down to size as you are making the project. I believe that metal zippers can’t be cut down to size from what I’ve read, but need to be the exact length.

Personally I think if you’re going to all the trouble to make something that you want to use a lot and last a long time, I would rather put a quality zipper in it so it’s less likely to break.

So there you have it! I hope Rebecca’s descriptions of different zipper types are helpful to you. Let us know if you have anything else to add, or what experiences you may have had with different types of zippers!

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