Hello everyone! Welcome back for another adventure in the world of creative minds, crazy fabrics, and trying something new that has always scared you (in case my Quilting For Hope blog entries from last October didn’t scare you enough). In this particular adventure, we will be conquering a fear that had plagued me up until a few weeks ago.  Specifically, there was always something terrifying to me about installing a zipper into a project. Anytime I was making a throw pillow or other item, I always sewed the “fourth side” by hand. And not that they weren’t beautiful, but I always felt there was something missing – some “professional” and/or “polished” look to my projects that made me think – “if only I knew how to install a zipper.”

One day, I decided I was going to go on the internet and learn how – both in terms of (1) how to sew the zipper in, and, equally importantly, (2) how to use a Zipper Foot on my sewing machine.

In Zipping (And Golfing) For Hope, we will be making two Golfer’s Throw Pillows that some lucky winner will get to take home via the silent auction at Cancer Hope Network’s Annual Golf Classic (this year on June 11 at Cedar Hill Country Club). (See above)

Here is the list of materials you will need to make them:

  • Sewing machine
  • Regular Foot and a Zipper Foot (usually both will come with your sewing machine)
  • Two zippers, ideally ones that match the color of your fabric. I found green zippers (at Joann Fabrics) that are a close to perfect match with the golf fabric.  They are 14 inches long. TIP:  You want to buy zippers that are four inches shorter than your pillow forms (which, in this case, are 18 inches). 
  • Also ideally that thread matches the color of your fabric and zippers, but so long as it works with the color scheme in general, you’re in good shape. I’m using white for this project – this way you can see the stitches on the zipper better for learning purposes.
  • Two pillow forms – the ones I am using are 18 inches by 12 inches
  • Fabric to cover the pillow forms. I have cut FOUR pieces of the Golfer’s fabric (purchased at Joann Fabrics) into pieces measuring 18.75 by 13 inches (I will explain why they’re slightly bigger than the pillow forms in a minute)
  • A tape measure/ruler
  • A Seamripper
  • Pins to hold your zipper in place while you sew it to your fabric.
  • A fabric pencil – I use it to mark where my zipper needs to start/end, and also to draw a stitch line where I will sew my two pieces of fabric together and create my zipper line.
  • An iron to flatten your zipper seam, de-crease your pillow covers once they are finished.


Let’s talk Zipper Foot…


If you look at the two “feet” in the picture to the left, the Zipper Foot is on the left, and the regular foot (the one you traditionally use for straight stitch sewing) is on the right.

In the regular foot, you’ll see this rectangular hole in the middle.  That rectangular hole is the space where your needle moves up and down to make your stitches. It works brilliantly assuming you are working with a flat piece of fabric.

The problem is that a zipper is NOT a flat piece of fabric. A zipper is a 3D piece of equipment.


Obviously the far right (and left) sides of our zipper are flat. But the middle part has “teeth” – and they are raised/bumpy. If you tried using the regular foot to sew the zipper, the left side of the foot would crush down against the “teeth,” creating a major problem and possibly causing damage to your machine (including breaking your needle).

Now look at the zipper foot in the two pictures. See how the left (and right) sides are “open?” In other words, nothing is there to crush down on the teeth.

So there you have it – a nice physics lesson as to why you need to use a zipper foot to install the zipper. The other piece of good news is that most user-friendly sewing machines allow you to switch your feet in a matter of seconds.

But we’re not going to switch to our zipper foot just yet… first we have to get our fabric ready!

Preparing to Zip

The first piece of advice I would give anyone sewing a zipper is… GO SLOW. These throw pillows, start to finish, will take no more than an hour. When comparing that to making a quilt or starting over if you make a mistake because you rushed, one hour of your time is practically nothing. So do not rush, measure, mark, pin, and when in doubt, set your stitch speed to slow.

For these pillows (18×12), I have cut four pieces of fabric – each one 18.75 x 13 inches. Usually I just allow for an extra half inch total on each side (to account for ¼ inch seam allowance when I sew everything together), but I like a little extra “flap space” on my seam where I am going to sew my zipper, so I went with ¾ extra fabric on the width, and a whole extra inch where the width of the zipper needs to be accommodated.


This is what I mean by “flap space.” The zipper I am using is exactly one inch wide. So when I sew my two pieces of fabric (right sides together) using a full half-inch seam allowance (and iron it flat as pictured above), I will comfortably be able to rest my whole zipper down without having to worry about spillover.

But we’re not there yet. First we have to mark/baste our zipper seam.


Lay your two pieces of fabric (right sides together) flat on your workspace. Take your zipper and center it (facedown). In my case, once I centered my zipper, the ends stopped two inches from the edges of the fabric. Pictured here.


Mark that spot with a fabric pencil. See how it’s about a millimeter to the left of the tooth edge. That’s important – you are going to sew that down to secure the ends of the zipper – but without hitting the tooth end.

Do the same thing on the other side. Mark where the zipper ends, making sure it’s equidistant from the edge as on the other side so your zipper is perfectly centered.

Take the fabric pencil and, between your two outer marks, draw a straight seamline a half an inch from the edge. That will give you the “half-inch seam allowance” I talked about earlier.

Now for the basting part.

See your mark two inches from the edge? Sew with a regular stitch (setting = 1.8 or 2.0 on your machine) from the edge of the fabric to that marked spot.

Now switch to a wider stitch – I crank mine up to 4.5. This is your “basting stitch.” You will end up ripping it open after the zipper is installed. Sew this basting stitch until you hit the OTHER mark two inches from the other edge of the fabric. Then switch back to the narrow stitch for those final two inches of the seamline. See the difference in the stitches?


Ironing and Pinning

Now take your fabric to the ironing board. Place it flat (right sides down), and iron your seam so it looks like the picture above where you can lay your zipper down flat on top of it.

Center your zipper as we talked about before, using the two-inch marker to line up your edges. Pin the zipper FACEDOWN on the fabric, spacing your pins a few inches apart.  Like this.


You’re officially ready to sew the zipper. Switch your foot from Regular to Zipper.

And stay tuned for next week, when we’ll take that part of the journey together, and finish up these pillows! Thanks for reading, and happy creating!