A Zip Type Guide: Everything You Need To Know About Zippers

How confident are you sewing zips?

Do you avoid them altogether? You’re not the only one! 

They’re one of the tasks our seam-star community frequently asks for help with.

So fear no more… We’re here to give a helping hand!

(Grab a cheeky 10% discount off your next Zip purchase with ZIPPEDUP10 One time use per customer.)

Most beginners believe sewing them is hard… when in fact it’s a lot simpler once you’ve learnt some basic principles.

There’s a range of zips, with SO many different types out there so we’ve put together this guide to talk you through the different types of zips available and help you sort your concealed from your chunky…

All of these zips are available from our online fabric and haberdashery super store!


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Different Types Of Zips

First off… did you know there’s two basic types of zips?

The closed bottom and the separating zipper.

(Left: close ended zip – Right: open ended zip)

What is a closed ended zip?

It has a bottom stop which is a metal bar that goes across both sides of the bottom of the zipper and holds it together in one piece.

These kinds of zips can be used in making pouches, bags, dressmaking, cushions and lots more.

Closed ended zips are a great jumping off point into the world of sewing zips – they’re one of the easiest to get the hang of.

What is a separating or open ended zip?

Does pretty much what it says on the tin, this zipper separates at the bottom – great for fastenings that require opening/closing.

These are usually found in jackets and coats.

You can cheat and use these zips in place of a closed ended zip if you like the style… you simply just treat them as you would a closed ended zip and bury the separating end in a seam or cover with a zip tab!

What type of zip do I need?

The 4 most common types are nylon coil zip, plastic moulded zip, metal zip and invisible zip.

What’s a nylon coil zip?

Made how it’s named, nylon monofilament is coiled and then stitched or woven into the zipper tape.

(Nylon coil zip)

Nylon zippers are flexible, with a subtle texture compared to other zip types. They also have strong horizontal strength, this is ideal because they’re easily fixed if broken.

These are the zips of choice for luggage and outdoor products due to their strength, you’ll likely find them on suitcases, backpacks, tents or jackets! Thanks to this bad boy you can overpack your suitcase and STILL close it shut without ripping the whole thing apart!

Nylon zippers are also very forgiving if you sew over them – it’s unlikely your needle will break if it’s a size 80 or stronger.

What does an invisible zip look like?

As the name might imply – these are (almost!) invisible! These zips are also known as concealed zips.

Usually with very fine teeth, they’re sewn into the seam in garments to give a clean finish – with only the pull tab showing (if installed correctly!).

You ideally need an invisible zipper foot to insert this zip type more easily and accurately.

(Invisible zip)

Where to use a moulded plastic/chunky zip?

These zippers are usually constructed from acetal polymer plastic and have symmetrical teeth that interlock together. They are also have more substantial & defined zip teeth than other zips – hence the name chunky! These are most commonly seen on clothes like jackets and also handbags.

Sadly, if one of the teeth breaks over time it’s very difficult to fix.

However the shape of the teeth makes them slightly stiffer/stronger than nylon coil ones – it’s a balance!

(Plastic moulded or chunky zip

Have a browse at one of our customers Wyatt & Jack bags to see our zips in action!


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What are metal teeth zips?

Probably the most sturdy and durable of the bunch, they have teeth made out of metal that are clamped onto the zipper tape, however they can be relatively heavy and are a lot more difficult to shorten.

Often seen on denim jeans due to their resistance to withstand multiple washes, and due to the rough nature of how people wear/treat their jeans. This style is also used for heavy-duty items such as duffle bags, leather products and suitcases. 

There is a huge trend towards adding metal teeth zippers to pouches – they add a feeling of luxury.

(Metal teeth zip)

What are continuous zips?

These zips don’t have a beginning or end, you can cut them to the length you need as there’s no pull tab or bottom stop and you can purchase the zipper tape by the metre.

Zip pulls are purchased and added separately giving you more control over the look and design of your project.

These are great if you need a very long zip. Perfect to reduce waste and for those niche projects, you can also customise it to your needs and add zip pulls to either side!

(Continuous zip)

The Anatomy Of A Zip

Top Stop:

A small bar at the top that stops the slider from coming off of the top of zipper tracks.

Slider:

The most common part of the zip, it separates and joins the tracks as you slide the pull tab up and down.

Pull Tab:

The second part of the slider body, used to pull the zipper up and down.

Zipper Tracks:

These are what allows the slider body to move up and down and holds either side of the zip together.

Bottom Stop:

A small bar at the bottom that stops the slider from coming off of the bottom of the zipper tracks.

Insertion Pin:

Holds the opposite side of the zipper in the retainer box – this only applies to separating zips.

Retainer Box:

Secures it together and stops the slider from coming off of the bottom – this only applies to separating zips.

What does a #3 or #5 Zip look like?

Ever wondered what a size 5 zip actually is?! For the uninitiated it might seem confusing but the reality is it’s very simple…

Zip sizes are expressed in numbers (#) and the width of the zip teeth is measured in millimeters. The most common are size #3 and size #5. 

In most cases the overall size is an approximation of the zipper teeth width in millimeters when the zip is closed.

(Right: 5mm – Left: 3mm)

When sewing your makes, if your project doesn’t include a recommendation for the size of the zipper, you can use the table below:

Zipper Size Chart

Zipper No.SizeBest Suited For
1 – 4 SmallSkirts, trousers, cushions, clutch bags, dresses

5 – 7

Medium 
Jackets, tents, sleeping bags, boots, golf bags, purses

8 – 10

Large
Wetsuits, upholstery, heavy-duty clothing, boat covers 

Don’t forget when it comes to measuring the length of your zip, you should start measuring from the top stop and finish measuring when you reach bottom stomp, this will give you the most accurate measurement of your zip.

How heavy are zips?

Weight is an important factor to consider as you want to match a suitable weight to the project you’re working on. 

Usually metal zippers will weigh a lot more than moulded plastic ones.

So for example if you’re sewing some children’s clothes with a zip on the front, metal may not be suitable as it would be too heavy and weigh the whole garment down.

Zipper Tools

Grab the tools below to help you with your zip sewing!

What does a zipper foot look like?

A recommended prerequisite before you start sewing zips is getting yourself a zipper foot. Although some seam-stars agree it’s not a necessity – it does make life a lot easier and you are more likely to get a nice finish.

You can get 2 different zipper foots, an invisible zipper foot and a regular zipper foot. 

The difference between both is self-explanatory, the invisible zipper foot is to be used when sewing invisible zips, and the regular zipper foot is to be used with all other types.

(Two different types of regular feet)

(Invisible zipper foot)

Pliers

Some zippers such as nylon coil and chunky zips can be cut with scissors to shorten, however metal ones need a little more work to shorten & pliers are the perfect tool for this. 

All you need to do is snip & pull off some of the metal teeth with pliers.

Clear Tape

An easy tool most of us have in our homes, the same sellotape we use with wrapping paper! We like Scotch Magic Tape as it doesn’t leave a residue on your project.

Use this to stick down the zip whilst sewing for ease to keep it from slipping.

Check out steps 10-11 in our piped cushion tutorial for an example on how to tape your zipper down whilst sewing.

Wonder Tape

Ideal for holding together seams, zips or hems when stitching knit fabric, it’ll also keep the fabric from stretching as you sew.

Even better… this tape disappears after the first wash!

Did you find this Zip guide helpful? Let us know in the comments.

We’ve got more zip insertion guides and tutorials planned this year so subscribe to our newsletter below so you can get a notification when we have a new blog post live!

If you prefer watching rather than reading, check out our video version of this guide over on our Youtube!

(Grab a cheeky 10% discount off your next Zip purchase with ZIPPEDUP10 One time use per customer.)


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