#zippers, Pattern Specific

How to Sew Zippers in Hand Knits: an Example from the Desert Belle Pattern

Hello readers!

Well, we’ve been very busy here at Knotty Bebe. Our very first pattern was published in the First Fall 2015 issue of Knitty Magazine! Check out the Desert Belle Wrap here.

This is a convertible wrap that features a separating zipper and can be worn long (with the brioche bottom) or short. For many knitters, sewing in a zipper is a painful task to be avoided at all costs. Trust me, I used to feel that way too! But, after learning the proper techniques (thanks to my teacher Pam Banks at Otis College), I now love installing zippers!

So, to encourage you to go forth and ZIP ZIP ZIP (it’s like conquering but with metal teeth), I’ve created a series of 5 videos that show exactly how I installed the zipper in the Desert Belle Wrap. I really hope this helps diminish any fears of the dreaded zipper and builds your confidence!

I like to use my sewing machine (a Bernina 380) to install zippers as it’s faster and produces professional results. There are plenty of instructions out there for hand sewing zippers for knitters but not so many that break down how to do this on a sewing machine. So, the instructions below are for installing zippers using your trusty machine.

A Nifty Trick for Sticky Zippers

Before installing the zipper, check to make sure the zipper pull isn’t sticking at any point. If you find that your zipper isn’t opening or closing easily, apply a little beeswax to one side of the zipper teeth and then slide the pull up and down. This should help smooth out any sticky points. I learned this trick from some very clever knitters at The Knitting Tree, LA. Many thanks to them!

Pin the Zipper

With the zipper closed, pin the zipper in place using sewing pins.

I start with the St st hem side. Place the zipper on the St st hem with right sides facing (garment RS to zipper RS). Then, pin the zipper in place with the zipper teeth about 1/8 inch from the edge of the folded row of purl stitches.

Note: If you like, you can stop here and baste this side before pinning and basting the zipper to the brioche side. I find it works well either way.

Then, pin the zipper to the crocheted edge of the brioche knit side. You don’t have to work the two rows of crochet but I like to do this as it helps stabilize the edge of the knitted brioche.

Pin the Zipper

Baste the Zipper

Next, single thread the sewing needle using a good quality polyester thread in a contrast color. As I baste the zipper, I ensure the knitted fabric stays about 1/8 inch from the knitted fabric.

Keep basting stitches long and somewhat loose as this is a temporary stitch and will be removed. Remove the pins once the zipper is basted.

Baste the Zipper IMG_2671

Check the Zipper

Once you have basted both sides, open and close the zipper to ensure it has been applied properly. If there are issues (snagging, gaps between the fabric and zipper teeth), do not undo the entire basting stitch. Rather, just release the basting stitches within the problem area and re-secure the stitch by knotting off on both sides where the stitch was released. Then, fix the area in question.

Its time to Sew!

Now you are ready to machine sew the zipper. Remember, before you put your wonderful hand knit fabric to any machine, sew a test swatch. If you are nervous about having your knit against the feed dog, then use Pellon’s Stick-n-Washaway on the wrong side of the fabric. It will protect the knit as it moves over the feed dog and will literally wash away after the first hand washing (or dry cleaning).

Place the garment with the knit side down and the zipper facing you. Using your zipper foot, align your needle close to the garment edge (about 1/8” from the metal teeth). I’m using Zipper Foot #4 for the Bernina. I have aligned my needle all the way to the left using the needle position button on the machine. Notice that the seam allowance (SA) is to the right.

If you have a hard plastic edge on the zipper, walk the machine slowly over this section.

On the St st hem side, sew the zipper to the folded edge (the row of purl sts) first.

Then sew the zipper to the outer edge of the hem.

Next, whip stitch the hem to the live stitches of the garment.

 On the brioche side,

  • If you did not work 2 rows of single crochet you will be stitching in the “ditch” of the brioche (the row of color that is receding).
  • If you worked the two rows of single crochet, stitch in the ditch between the two crochet rows.

Once you are about 5” from the end, insert the needle into the fabric, lift the presser foot and slide the zipper pull out of the way.

 Lastly, sew the outer edge of the zipper to the brioche. You can hand sew this to the brioche wrong side using the whip stitch or use your machine and stitch in the “ditch” of the brioche or crochet stitch

 Wa-la, you have a beautifully installed zipper! Have fun wearing your new garment.