In a past tutorial we showed you how to sew a covered zipper, but today we bring you something a little different and very BOLD. We are peeling back the fabric layers. Today we present to you the best tutorial on how to insert an EXPOSED zipper in a pillow!
Open letter to an Exposed Zipper,
I see you. It’s not hard to see you because you are an exposed zipper and your shiny goodness is put on full display. But, I want you to know that I really see you, and I’ve heard what people are saying. They think you are difficult. They are intimidated by you, or worried they won’t be able to do you justice.
It’s not you, it’s zippers in general. Invisible zippers, centered-zippers, lapped-zippers, and, especially fly-front zippers, have all justly gathered a bit of fear and intimidation and left you exposed to the same vulnerabilities. Let’s close those fears that have left you undone and show everyone how easy you are.
What is an Exposed Zipper?
These fancy-pants exposed zippers are commonly found in garment and bag construction. They are a fun way to add some pizzazz to a place that is sometimes undervalued. An exposed zipper is generally sewn one of two ways:
- Sewn into a single piece of cloth through a rectangular opening made in the fabric. OR
- Inserted between two seams.
If your zipper is not as long as your pillow top, I like to use an easy peezy method of adding length to the zipper by sewing small strip of fabric to the ends. Personally I find this much simpler than cutting a rectangular opening and inserting the zipper that way.
These narrow strips of fabric allow you to get creative as you can use a contrasting fabric or give your brain a bit of a challenge and match up a pattern in the fabric. Ready? Cue the pump up music!
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It's very helpful to have a zipper foot when sewing an exposed zipper into a pillow. The purpose of the zipper foot is that it allows your needle to get very close to the zipper coils without actually touching the coils. When your machine foot goes over the coils it can cause an uneven seam.
If you do not have a zipper foot, no worries, you can still put an exposed zipper in. Just move your needle position as far to the left as it will go. (Check your sewing machine manual if you don't know how to do that.)
Here's what you need...
- A pretty zipper. If you are new to buying zippers YKK is a nice, sturdy brand.
- Zipper foot for your sewing machine. Each brand of sewing machine will have its own. Many sewing machines come with a zipper foot, so check your sewing box or junk drawer before purchasing one.
- Quilted pillow top. (This means that you have already sewn a pillow top and quilted it with batting and a backing fabric. The backing fabric won't be seen, so using muslin is fine.) Baste the edges with either pinking shears, a serger, or a zig-zag stitch.
- Backing fabric. (If you choose to make a lumbar pillow, like the example in this tutorial, you do not need backing fabric.)
- Two small fabric scraps that will be sewn to the zipper ends.
- Temporary marking pen
- Basic Quilting Supplies
Pillow Pattern Options
- Modern Fans Quilt Pattern: Includes instructions for an 18" square pillow.
- Maypole Pillow Extension Pattern: Includes instructions for an 18" square pillow.
- Sugar POP Quilt Pattern: Includes instructions for an 18" square pillow.
- Reflections Wall Hanging & Pillow Extension Pattern: Includes instructions for a 30" square wall hanging and 18" square pillow.
- Bohemian Garden: This is the perfect design for a pillow because it can easily be made in any size.
- Kris Kross: Made from 6" quilt blocks, this pattern is stunning on a smaller scale, such as a pillow.
- Stars Hollow: Add border strips to the sides of a single Stars Hollow block to make a bold, pinwheel star pillow.
- Sew Mojo Minis: Use the improv techniques and designs from the 4-part Sew Mojo series to make an array of wonderfully unique pillows!
How to Insert an Exposed Zipper into a Pillow
In this example I turn the center block the the Mosaic quilt pattern into a lumbar pillow by folding it in half and inserting a 12" zipper into the parallel sides of the pillow. After my zipper is inserted, I center the zipper seam and sew the two side seams. (Don't let your head start spinning. I have pictures for every step.)
The only difference between this lumbar pillow and a square pillow is that in this example you sew the second half of the zipper to the other side of the pillow rather than the backing fabric.
This zipper tutorial is incredibly versatile and can be applied to pillows of any size and shape. The placement of the zipper can also change. See below for a couple more examples...
Note: If you choose to insert an exposed zipper into a pillow and it is the same length as the finished pillow, you can skip Steps 1-3 and begin at Step 4.
Step 1: Cut the Small Strips
Measure the width of your zipper and cut 2 strips of fabric the same width. The length of each strip is determined by subtracting the length of your zipper from the length of your pillow. You then divide that by two (to center the zipper) and add 1 1/2".
For example, if you have a 12" zipper and a 19" pillow top, subtract 12 from 19 (7) and divide by 2 (3 1/2). Add 1 1/2 (5). Your two small strips will each be 5" long.
Step 2: Sew Strips to the Zipper
Attach your zipper foot to your sewing machine. With right sides together, pin and sew a strip of fabric to each end of the zipper.
Unzip the zipper part way before sewing the strip at the top. Open up the seam and iron. Optional: Top stitch ~⅛" from seam.
Seam allowance is generally ½" around the edges of a pillow. When the zipper is sewn in, a ¼" seam allowance is used. To combat this difference in seam allowances you can either trim your seam allowances to ¼" or you can offset the zipper from the edge of the pillow by ¼".
Step 3: Make Some Marks
With a temporary marking tool, mark the center of the pillow on both seams that the zipper will be sewn into. Also mark the center of the zipper insert.
Step 4: Pin
With the zipper unzipped half way and with right sides together, and work from the center out. Pin the zipper to the seam, lining up the edges or off setting as mentioned in Step 2. We are just sewing the zipper to one side at a time.
Step 5: Baste the Zipper in Place
Change the stitch width on your machine to something large – like 5. Now, machine baste the zipper insert in place using ⅛" seam allowance.
It can be difficult to sew past the zipper pull even if you are using a zipper foot, so as you approach the zipper pull, stop. With the needle down, raise the foot and carefully pull the zipper pull up past the machine foot. Put your foot down and continue sewing.
If you are unable to maneuver the zipper pull past the machine foot you can raise the needle, zip, and begin sewing again right where you left off.
Step 6: Sew the Zipper and Press
Change your stitch length back to its standard setting (probably 2.5) and sew the zipper insert in at ¼". Raise the foot and pull the zipper past as mentioned in Step 5. Once you have sewn one side of the zipper in, open up the seam and press with a hot iron, keeping the zipper tape flat.
Step 7: Pin and Repeat
Let's do it again on the other side! Unzip the zipper half-way. With right sides together pin the other side of the zipper insert to the pillow seam. (In my example this is the side of the pillow parallel to the side I inserted the first part of the zipper into. If you are using a backing fabric for your pillow, you would insert the other side of the zipper into that.)
Repeat Steps 5-6.
Step 8: Trim
Trim any remaining fabric from the inserted strip.
Step 9: Finish the Pillow
You did it! Wasn’t that exposed zipper easy!? Now all you have to do to finish your pillow is sew the remaining side seams with the right sides together. Make sure you leave your zipper unzipped when you do this or you will have trouble opening up the pillow case to turn it inside out.
Stick your hand through the open zipper and flip the pillow so the right sides are out. Ta-daa!
If zippers were scary for you before this tutorial, I hope these simple instructions and step-by-step photos helped clear up all of your fears. Be sure to tell us in the comments if you use this tutorial and how things went!