Pulling Teeth: Tips to Shorten Zippers
Get the latest including tips, techniques and special offers straight to your inbox.
Editor’s note: Jacque Goldsmith is known as “The Sewsmith” in the sewing world and to her students. Jacque has a wide experience in sewing instruction, ready-to-wear design, and creating custom clothing. In Threads #153, she shares her expertise in “Zipper Fixes,” a primer on repairing these tricky closures. Here’s some additional how-to information from Jacque – how she shortens replacement zippers.
Factories order zippers in huge quantities and specific lengths for each garment they manufacture. For home sewers, zippers are only made in a limited size range. There may not be a zipper available in the same size as the one that needs to be replaced.
You should always buy a replacement zipper longer than you need and shorten it. Closed bottom and separating zippers are shortened from the top. Invisible zippers are shortened from the bottom.
Shorten a closed bottom or separating zipper
1. Mark the desired length of the zipper on the tape. Measure from the bottom stop.
2. Remove the teeth for 1 inch above the mark. The tools and method will depend on the zipper type:
- For metal zippers, use the nippers to and cut and or pull each tooth.
- For plastic zipper teeth, use the nippers horizontally to cut off the “head” of the tooth.
Then snip the remaining plastic from the zipper tape.
- For coil zippers, use small scissors to trim the coil parallel to the tape.
Then use the scissor tip or an awl to remove the loops from the zipper tape.
3. After removing the teeth by any method, add new top stops with needle nose pliers. (If you want to match the color on your top stop, you can use nail polish or model paint before you attach it.) Use a soft cloth to cover the pliers’ teeth and protect the stop’s finish.
Trim an invisible zipper
An invisible zipper is designed to have the zipper pull sit on the top stop when the zipper is fully closed. The top stops are molded into the zipper and cannot be replaced, so these closures must be shortened from the bottom.
1. Measure the zipper’s length. From the teeth top, mark it 2 inches longer than the zipper opening it must fit.
2. Cut off the excess (I use paper-cutting scissors).
Then you need to secure the bottom teeth, and there are several ways to do so:
- Melt the teeth with a lighter or hot knife
- Wrap the bottom edge with a scrap of lining. (I call this the zipper diaper. It is used on high-end ready-to-wear skirts).
- Bar-tack across the bottom using a wide zigzag stitch.
Shorten a non-invisible zipper (closed bottom or separating) from the top. Measure and mark the zipper length from the bottom stop.
Use cutting pliers ("nippers") to cut and pull metal zipper teeth from the zipper tape.
Use nippers to cut away the plastic zipper teeth heads.
After removing the plastic zipper teeth heads, use the nippers to snip the rest of the plastic teeth from the zipper tape.
Use small scissors to trim the plastic coil close to the zipper tape.
After trimming the plastic coil, use an awl or scissor point to pry coil sections from the zipper tape.
Use paper scissors to trim an invisible zipper from the base.
Bar-tack a new bottom stop for an invisible zipper.
The invisible zipper should be 2 inches longer than the zipper opening. The bar-tack forms a new bottom stop on this trimmed invisible zipper.