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Zip Closures in Bag Making

Learn how to sew zip closures when making bags

This is written by Christine Down. View her other bag making tutorials by clicking on the ‘bag making’ tag on our techniques page. 

Zip closure on a bag is probably my favourite.  It gives a nice, neat appearance, it’s also secure and you can use it in a few different ways.  Probably the easiest way is to use an open end zip (like the sort you have on zipped tops and cardigans). In this bag making guide I show you 3 different ways to sew a zipper closure on a bag. 

Zip installation technique 1

The zip panels should be shorter than the top of the bag.  I make mine approximately 5cms at each end shorter than the width at the top of the bag. (10cms altogether)  The zip panels plus the zip should be slightly narrower than the depth of the bag.  Cut four identically sized zip panels in either all main fabric or main fabric and lining. (Allow 1cm seam allowance all the way round each panel).  You need two panels with a front and a back.  Reinforce all the zip panels with firm iron-in interfacing.

Bag making techniques for beginners
One set of panels - main fabric and lining reinforced with interfacing

Turn the seam allowance under all round and iron.  Stitch around three sides and secure the zip in the inside seam between the main fabric and the lining.  Leave 1cm free at the top of each short end so the zip will fit easily. If you want you can match the zip length to the panel but I like to leave the zip a bit longer as it makes doing it up easier.

How to add an open end zip to a bag
Turn the seam allowance under all round. Stitch around three sides and secure the zip in the inside seam.

Stitch around the rest of the zip panel encasing the zip as you go.  Repeat for the other side.

How to add a zip panel to an open top bag
Sew both sides the same with the zip in the middle.

Clip one side of the panel into the bag body equidistant from both ends.  This is when those wonderclips are really useful!

How to sew a recessed zip panel into a bag
Clip panel to bag body

Stitch down both sides of the panel to secure the zip panel into the bag.

Making a bag with a zipper closure
Easy to do - closes securely and opens the bag right up.

Zipper installation technique 2

The second method will be familiar to those of you who have made zipped pouches.  The zip is sewn directly into the top of bag and the bag and the lining are treated as a single item until turned out.

How to make bags
Zip inserted directly into the top of this bag.

To make the end tabs of the zip, fold the piece of fabric in half length-wise.  Press.  Then open and fold the raw edges towards the centre crease and press again.    Placed your zip end in the folded tab and pin. 

How to make zipper tabs
After you've sewn the tab onto the zip trim the tabs to the zip width

Stitch across the tab end to secure, repeat for other end.  The length of the zip with the tabs should be just slightly shorter than the bag top.  Now you are going to make a zip “sandwich”.  Placed the lining fabric right side up and centre the zip face up.   Place the main fabric right side down on top of your lining fabric and zip ensuring the edges line up. 

How to sew a zip as part of a bag
Lining right side up, then zip, then main fabric right side down.

Secure with pins or clips, the zip should be undone so the zip pull is on the right hand side as you look at the top.  Sew along the top edge.  Stop just before you reach the zip pull and manoeuvre the zip pull backwards to where you have already stitched.  Finish sewing the zip. 

Sewing a zip between a bag lining and exterior
Zip stitched on one side. I've pulled the lining out so you can see exactly where the zip is stitched.

Place the other piece of lining fabric right side up and centre the zipper face up with the pull zip on the left side this time. Put the other main fabric with wrong side facing up on top of the zipper. Ensure the edges are in line and pin in place.  Stitch as before.

Sewing bags with zips
You stitch the other side in the same way

Turn the bag pieces so that the main fabric for both sides of the zip is on top and the two lining pieces are on the bottom wrong sides together.  You should be able to see the tab ends.  

How to put a zipper into a purse
Tab end

Press the zip section flat and topstitch down both sides of zip. 

How to make a bag with a zipper
Press the zip section after the main fabric is on both sides of the zip

To sew the next step of the bag fold the bag pieces so that the main fabric is face to face and the lining is face to face.  You should have a long piece with the wrong sides uppermost and  with the right sides together inside. 

Zipper closure tutorial
Stitch around the bag leaving a gap in the lining bottom

OPEN THE ZIP.  You will eventually turn your bag out through the zip so make sure it is open.   Stitch around the entire bag leaving a gap in the bottom of the lining.  Turn out through the gap and then through the zip.  (You’ll see how to do this once you’ve stitched the bag and turned out through the gap.  The lining obviously goes inside the zip).

How to make bags

Zip Installation Technique 3

This method is used on bags with a curved shape, and although you can use one zip, two zips make a neat finish and easy access to you bag.

Adding a zipper to a curved bag
Single and double zip in curved bag

The curved section the zips are set into is a gusset.  The gusset will be two identical main pieces and two lining pieces.  Place the main gusset pieces together and stitch together for 12cms from each end using a 1cm seam.  Press the rest of the gusset 1cm on both sides right along the length of piece.  Use some glue to hold the zips in place and then stitch along both sides approximately 0.5cm from the teeth ensuring the zips meet in the middle.

How to add a zip to a curved bag gusset
Stitch zips into gusset

Cut the lining gusset to match.  Apply Thermolam to the wrong side with spray baste (505) and stitch the ends as before.  Fold over the remainder of the centre seams and press.

Making a zip panel for a bag
Gusset lining

Lay the pieces wrong sides together and topstitch over the zips again so that the lining is in place but not near the zip teeth.

Bag making - sewing gussets with zips
Back of gusset showing zip and lining.

The gusset is then sewn into the rest of the bag.

How to sew a bag with a zip closure on the gusset