How to Replace a Broken Zipper
When a zipper breaks, you don’t have to replace whatever it’s holding shut. In fact, you can save quite a bit of money by learning how to replace or mend the zipper yourself, instead.
I recently discovered that one of the cushions on our couch was in need of some attention. The zipper pull was gone, and some of the seams had come completely undone.
Here’s how I replaced that zipper. I’ve successfully used this method to replace the zipper on my husband’s winter jacket, and it would also work on decorative pillow covers, as well.
Step One: Prepare the Piece
In this case, all I had to do was wrestle the cover off and turned it inside out. Regardless of what you’re mending, it must be turned inside out before you start. You do this to more easily remove the old zipper, and to hide the stitches when you install the new one.
If you hadn’t laundered what you’re working on already, do that before starting in on the mending. This may just be a personal preference, but working with clean material is much easier than when it’s dirty.
Since I had initially discovered the damage when I was laundering the cushion covers, I didn’t need to clean this one again.
Step Two: How to Remove the Old Zipper
Using a seam ripper or a small pair of scissors, remove the stitches holding the old zipper in place. Take care not to accidentally tear the fabric with the ripper.
As you remove the stitches, note of any anchoring points on either end of the zipper. It may help to take pictures of these areas to refer back to if you have short term memory deficits, or won’t have time to do the entire project in one sitting.
You’ll want to replace those reinforcements as accurately as possible with the new zipper, so it will stay in place and last a long time.
The original manufacturers of this cover included a little piece of fabric to anchor the bottom end of the zipper. When I removed the zipper, I just set that scrap of fabric aside.
When I replaced the zipper for my husband’s winter coat, there were reinforcements on both ends. Pants and jeans have specific anchors, as well.
Common Sewing Terms
The side of the fabric visible when in use. More commonly known as the outside of a garment or cover.
The side of fabric not visible when in use. This is the inside of the garment or cover.
A product used to add strength and shape to a sewn product. Sometimes used with zippers to help them withstand the pressures of use.
Step Three: Place New Zipper
If you’re replacing a zipper on a skirt, pants or shirt, press the seams flat with an iron before taking this step. I skipped that part in this case, because the fabric was so thick, and the seams were firmly in place.
To place the new zipper, open it up part of the way, and align one side first.
To do this, place the top tooth of the zipper where you’d like the pull to rest when closed. Put your first pin just below that spot, and line the zipper up with the hem you’re applying it to as you put in the rest of the pins.
Once you finish the first side, close the zipper, mark where the top tooth is one the other side, open the zipper again, and repeat on the other side. It’s important you keep the item as flat as possible while doing this, so it’ll close properly when finished.
If you’re putting a new zipper in a bag, consider using basting to add a little extra strength and to hold the shape more firmly.
When pinning the new zipper in place, remember to put it face down. It may seem obvious, but since the item is inside out, the pull must be accessible from the right side. This is an easy, frustrating, mistake to make.
If you’re working with a cushion cover or pillowcase, make sure to keep the zipper opened at least partway throughout the process. You’ll need to turn the item right side out again, and I can tell you from experience that it’s very hard to open a zipper without access to the pull.
Step Four: Sewing the Zipper
You can either sew the zipper in place with a machine, or by hand. If you use a sewing machine for this step, use the zipper foot.
This handy little attachment is shaped to make it easier to keep a straight line as you sew and allows an area specifically for the zipper to go as you feed the fabric through.
I’ve found the easiest way to do this is to unzip the zipper completely, and sew from the top down with the item’s right side facing down. However, you can try sewing one side first, and then turning the item so the right side is facing you to do the other side.
Unless you try sewing the second side on the right side, you’ll need to change the position of the zipper foot when you switch sides. If your machine came with the zipper foot, instructions about how to attach it should be in the manual.
If your machine isn’t strong enough to cope with the fabric you’re working with, of course you’ll need to sew it by hand. This isn’t that hard to do, but I’d suggest going over the stitches at least twice to make sure the zipper is securely in place.
A simple straight stitch works well with this mending job, but some people prefer more complicated stitches for a little added stability.
There still may be some areas in which you’ll need to sew by hand. Because I didn’t want to risk breaking the needle in my sewing machine, I decided to add the piece of anchoring fabric by hand.
Depending on what you’re mending, you may want to stitch over the first set again for extra durability.
Zipper Foot vs Regular Foot
Use This Stitch For the Zipper's Stopping Point
How to Shorten a Zipper
Sometimes, it’s hard to find a zipper that matches the length of the one you’ll need. The one I found for this project was a bit too long, but I couldn’t find another closer to the exact measurement.
Shortening the zipper isn’t that difficult when you follow these steps:
1. Measure the zipper from where the pull rests when the zipper is closed, down to how long you want it to be.
2. Cut the zipper half an inch longer than your measurement.
3. Using a double thread, whip-stitch the zipper in one spot eight to ten times at the spot that you want the pull to stop.
If you can’t find a zipper the exact length you’d like it to be, always get one that’s a bit longer. Remember, you can shorten something that’s too long, but you can’t lengthen something that’s too short.
Learning how to replace zippers can save you the expense of buying expensive things like winter coats, some types of furniture and even jeans. This skill will help you get the most use out of your possessions without needing to pay someone else to do your mending for you.
© 2014 Emilie S Peck