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How to Sew A Hand-Picked Zipper


A hand-picked zipper is a type of zipper insertion sewn with hand-stitches. From the right side, you’ll see a series of tiny dots down either side of the zipper opening. This type of zipper insertion is surprisingly strong and makes it easy to replace the zipper if it breaks.

Hand-picked zipper on Cambie Dress

Hand-picked zipper on Cambie Dress

Hand-picked zipper

Hand-picked zipper


A hand-picked zipper has vintage appeal, so it’s great for sewing vintage-inspired dresses and skirts. You can use the same technique to sew both centered zipper (page link) and lapped zipper (page link). Instead of two rows of dots on either side, a lapped zipper will have just one row of stitches on the zipper opening. Because you’re sewing by hand, you have a great deal of control over the zipper insertion. This is an advantage when there are a lot of horizontal seams to line up. If you plan to make hard-wearing garments, this type of zipper insertion makes it very easy to rip out an old zipper and replace it with a new one, without having to deconstruct the garment.

Tips + Notes

  • If your thread is getting tangled, or for an extra-strong zipper, you may want to strengthen your thread with beeswax. Thread your needle and run the thread through a cake of beeswax, then wrap your thread in scrap fabric or paper and press with an iron to seal in the wax.
  • For a decorative finish, add beads to your hand-picked zipper! Each time you start a new backstitch (page link), thread a bead onto your sewing thread. Poke the needle through to form the backstitch, and pull the thread to secure the bead in place.


Prepare the opening for the hand-picked zipper. This can be as simple as finishing the edges with serging (page link) or zigzag stitching (page link). If you have a lining, you can sew the lining to the garment fabric along the zipper opening with the right sides together, and turn it right side out for a cleanly finished edge. Sew the seam below the zipper opening, and press the seam allowances open. Turn under 5⁄8″ (1.5cm) along the edges of the zipper opening.

How to Sew A Hand-Picked Zipper (1)

Take your zipper and unzip it 2″–3″ (5.1cm–7.6cm). If the top edge of the garment is finished, turn under the top edge of the zipper tape toward the front, folding it down just above the metal stopper, and line up the fold with the finished edge. If the top edge is not finished, line up the metal stopper just below the seam line. Line up the zipper teeth with the folded opening edge, and pin through the garment and the zipper tape with the pin tips pointing up toward the top of the garment.

How to Sew A Hand-Picked Zipper (2)

Continue pinning all the way along the zipper opening. Unzip the zipper as you go. Once you finish pinning to the bottom of the zipper, zip it up! Doing so will ensure that the top edges meet when you pin the right side of the zipper to the garment, and the edges of the opening meet in the middle of the zipper teeth. On the opposite side, pin the zipper tape to the top edge of the zipper opening. Make sure the edges line up.

How to Sew A Hand-Picked Zipper (3)

Pin all the way down the right side of the zipper opening with the pin tips pointing down.

Thread a handsewing needle with thread, double it and tie a knot at the end. Start at the top on the left of the zipper, looking at the right side of the garment. Starting just below the zipper stopper, poke your needle through to the right side, about ¼” (6mm) down from the top edge or seam line, and ¼” (6mm) in from the center back opening. Make a tiny, tiny backstitch (page link) in the zipper tape; this is also called a prickstitch (or pickstitch). The backstitch portion that shows should be super small, and the part where the needle comes back out through the fabric should be about ¼” (6mm) away from the first hole.

How to Sew A Hand-Picked Zipper (4)

Continue making backstitches, or prickstitches if you like, spacing them about ¼” (6mm) apart.

How to Sew A Hand-Picked Zipper (5)

Once you reach the bottom, zip up the zipper about 2″–3″ (5.1cm–7.6cm). Make your last backstitch across the zipper, instead of continuing down. Now start working up the zipper, toward the top of the dress opening. I zip up the zipper only 1″–2″ (2.5cm–5.1cm), so I can still get my hand in there to hold the edges together.

How to Sew A Hand-Picked Zipper (6)

Keep going, all the way back up to the top. I like the hand-picked zipper method because it’s easy to line up horizontal seams, especially waist seams. When your stitches get about 6″ (15.2cm) away from the top, check how much fabric is left between where you’ve stitched and the top edge. Now is your chance to ease or stretch. If there’s too much fabric compared to the zipper tape, ease in any extra fabric by pushing just a touch of extra fabric into each backstitch. If the zipper tape is longer than the remaining fabric, stretch the fabric just a tiny bit between each stitch.

Once you get to the top, poke the needle through all layers to the wrong side of the garment. Tie a knot and trim your thread. Give the opening a light press or steam.

How to Sew A Hand-Picked Zipper (7)

This is what the inside of your zipper will look like, with large stitches along the zipper tape. The outside is the tidy part.

Source : The Sewtionary An A to Z Guide to 101 Sewing Techniques + Definitions
About the Author : Tasia ST. Germaine