zipper coil

In the fashion industry, handbag manufacturers cut and make their own zippers to length. There are a number of reasons why you would want to make your own zipper using continuous zipper chain.

  • While handbag and luggage zippers are available at your sewing notion retailer, the supply is limited and may not be to the length that you may require for your prototype. By making your own, you can customize the length and style of the zipper you want ie: one way non-separating, two-way non-separating or one-end-closed. [NOTE: The only style of zipper you cannot make with continuous chain is a one-way or a two-way separating zipper, such as a jacket style zipper].
  • When you make your own zipper you can select the style of zipper slider you desire: non-locking, locking, key locking or double reversible.
  • Often times it is more economical to make your own. To determine how much to cut for a custom zipper, add 2″ [5 cm] to the desired length you want the final zipper length to be (1″ [2.5 cm] extra for each end) of continuous zipper chain.


PARTS OF A ZIPPERTOP STOP – Two permanent stays affixed to the top most end of a zipper, to prevent the slider from coming off the chain.

SLIDER HEAD – The device that moves up and down the chain to open or close the zipper.

PULL TAB – The part of the slider that is held to move the slider up or down.

ZIPPER CHAIN (CONTINUOUS) – a length of zipper tape, either coil or tooth style, sold by the yard. Allows you to make and customize your own zippers. At least one end must be sewn closed. It cannot be used to make separating jacket zippers.

ZIPPER TAPE – The fabric part of the zipper.

BOTTOM STOP – A permanent stay similar to a large staple, used at the bottom end of a zipper to prevent each half of the zipper from separating.

INSERTION PIN – A device used on a separating (jacket type) zipper whose function is to allow the joining of the two zipper halves.

RETAINER BOX – A device used on a separating (jacket type) zipper whose function is to correctly align the pin.

ZIPPER SLIDER & PULL: the sliding head on the zipper. The actual pull is the articulated lever attached to the slider. [Note:the zipper sliders from one brand (ie: YKK brand) are usually not interchangeable with other zipper brands (ie: Riri brand zippers, etc.)]


  1.  single slider-a zipper slider with only one pull
  2. double-reversible slider – a zipper slider with a pull tab on both sides of the slider. Uses: reversible totebags
  3. non-locking slider – a zipper slider which slides easily and has no internal locking mechanism to hold it inplace. Uses: purse pockets, handbags, luggage
  4. auto-locking slider – a zipper slider which has an internal locking mechanism to hold the slider in place. Uses: handbag openings
  5. key locking slider – a zipper slider which locks and unlocks with a removable key. Uses: security envelopes, portfolios, luggage


A. One-way Non-separating Bag Zipper

one way non separating coil zipper1

Uses: Purse Openings, Inset zip pockets

B. Two-way Non-separating Bag Zipper (head-to-head)

 2 way non separating coil zipper2

Uses: Totebags, Portfolios, Luggage

C. Reversible Non-separating Bag Zipper (flip pull tab)

reversible zip

Uses: Reversible Totes


For many bag projects it is your preference which style you choose:zip chain

TOOTH STYLE: have individual teeth in metal or plastic set on a cloth tape. Metal colour and finish are usually matched to bag fittings. Plastic zippers are ideal for marine and saltwater uses.

COIL STYLE: often called self-repairing, has a continuous spiral of nylon filament set on a cloth tape. It is more flexible and smoother running than toothed zippers. As a general rule, typically the #5 is for small evening bag styles and the #7 & #8 are used for handbags and luggage.

TOOTH/COIL SIZE: the smaller the number the smaller the gauge size of the chain: ie. #5 is smaller than #10 and thus not as strong.



The purpose of zipper stops is to keep the zipper sliders from derailing when the zipper is in use. In handbag construction, use of top and bottom stops can be optional. If the ends of the zipper chain are sewn into a seam, you may choose not to attach top/bottom stops because the seam will act as the “stops”.  I often use what is known as a “wedge” instead of a stop.

tabAnother option is to attach a grip tab to each end of the zipper chain. It is often made from the fashion fabric used in the prototype. This finish will prevent the zipper slider from dislodging while the tab itself can be gripped in the hand when operating the zipper.

When using zipper stops, bottom stops are attached to one end of a one end closed zipper and both ends of a one or two-way non-separating zipper. Bag manufacturers tend to use the latter method. Top stops are used at the top end (the “open” end) of a one-end closed zipper and usually are not very practical in handbag design.


For #5 and #8 coil and #5 tooth zipper use #8 stops. For #10 coil and #10 tooth zipper use #10 stops.


1). Cut the zip chain to length plus 2” [5 cm].

2). On one end of the zipper chain (tape), part the zipper teeth about 2″ [5 cm].

fig 13). fig 2Insert one side of the zipper about 1/4 ” [6 mm] into the curved end of the zipper slider.

[NOTE: On double pull sliders place the slider so that the angled portion of the flange is up],

4). Insert the other end of the zipper into the slider. To prevent misalignment on the other end of the zipper line up the short ends of the zipper tape evenly.

fig 3

5). Firmly holding both zipper halves slide the slider onto the zipper teeth. It may take several attempts to line up the zipper teeth and to prevent a bulge on one side of the zipper tape if the teeth are misaligned.

6). Apply stops to each end of the zipper. Trim away any excess at zipper ends with pinking shears to neaten.


[NOTE: When putting two zipper sliders on the same zipper tape, attach the second slider on the opposite end of the zipper tape using the same method as above so that the sliders are facing head-to-head].


Zipper failures are usually the result of the zipper slider wearing out, especially if no apparent damage is noticeable to the zipper teeth. For zippers where the teeth separate after the zipper is closed, a possible solution (though at times only a temporary one) is to pinch the slider from the top of the slider to the bottom of the slider with a pair of pliers to seat the slider closer to the zipper teeth (not too tight though). If this does not work, try replacing the slider before replacing the entire zipper.

Coil zipper are a bit more forgiving as they are often called “self-repairing” zippers. Should the coil break open, carefully pull the slider to the “open” position at the bottom of the zipper then re-zip the fastener to correct the problem. Otherwise, if there is a kink or break in the spiral filament, the whole zipper will need to be replaced.


The following construction method works well to clear the teeth in the path of the machine-stitching and eliminate the bulk when installing zippers in a seam.

  1. wedgeCut the length of zipper needed for the project minus 2″ [5 cm] (ie. for a 25″ zipper cut a 23″ length of zipper. Install zipper slider(s).
  2. Cut 2 strips for wedges out of the project fabric (I often use the selvedge edge as it is waste), 2″ [5 cm] long by width of the zipper tape.
  3. On each end of zipper, pin each zipper wedge face side down to right side of zipper matching short raw edges.
  4. Using a zipper foot, stitch 1/2″ [12 mm] from raw edge.
  5. Fold zipper wedge out flat & top stitch 1/4″ [6 mm] from edge with zipper foot.
  6. Install into bag project and trim excess of wedge in seam allowance.


At times if you are designing a single bag, it may be easier to purchase a ready-made zipper if it meets your design specifications. In such a case, purchase a separating zipper (aka jacket zip) which is longer in length than what you require for the prototype. For example, if the finished bag opening is 18” [46 cm] long, buy a separating zipper that is 20”+ [51 cm+] in length, plus 2 zipper stops.)


1. Determine the final length you want the bag zipper to be. Measure this amount plus 2” [5 cm], from the stops at the top end of the separating zipper when the zipper is closed. Mark this length with chalk on the zipper tape. (see A)

2. Cut across the zipper tape at the chalk mark. Discard the bottom end of the zipper. (see B)

3. Attach the new zipper stop over the teeth channel on the face side of the zipper. Ensure the prongs of the zipper stop insert through the zipper tape completely. Bend the prongs flat against the back of the zipper teeth using pinch-nose pliers.

4. Pull apart the zipper teeth on the cut end up to the stop.

5. Using bull-nose pliers, carefully remove the excess teeth from the tape. (see C)

6. Neaten the zipper end by trimming it with pinking shears. Allow the same seam allowance from the stop as the amount at the top end of the zipper. This is usually 5/8 of an inch [15 mm].

7. You may add the second stop to the top end of the zipper to close both ends or use the existing original zipper stops. (optional – see D)

8. The zipper is ready to install in the bag.

shortening a zip


1. Determine the final length you want the bag zipper to be. Measure this amount from the stops at the top end of the separating zipper when the zipper is closed. Mark this length with chalk on the zipper tape.

2. Attach a new zipper stop over the zipper coil on the face side of the zipper. Ensure the prongs of the zipper stop insert through the zipper tape completely. Bend the prongs flat against the back of the coil using pinch-nose pliers.

3. Repeat step #2 at the open end of the zipper.

4. Once the stops are in place, measure from the end stop an amount equal to the top end of the zipper and mark its location on the tape with chalk. Cut through the coil and discard the retainer box end of the separating zipper.

5. Using a match or candle, sear the raw edges of the nylon coil to prevent raveling.

6. The zipper is now ready to install.


Filed under Bag'n-telle, Design Insight, Design Techniques


  1. Excellent article as usual! Thank you for sharing in such a clear, well-illustrated way. I hope to sign up for your online class tomorrow.

  2. zachandclem

    Very enlightening!

  3. pjfelton

    I prefer brass zippers for my designer fabric handbags, but have had such a hard time finding anything but black or white zipper tape, especially the zipper chain to make my own length. Those colors don’t work every time. I am going to try and dye some of the white zippers that are made with organic cotton tape. Do you have any other suggestions? Thank you for another very informative article, I’m going to try the “wedge” on my next small bag with a top zipper to see if I can be rid of rounded corners.

  4. This is very informative, thank you! My leather,lining, etc for your handbag course is sitting here waiting to be cut, but I’ve been having trouble finding just the right zipper! This post will help with my zipper decision.

  5. Brunella B Rosser

    Thank you for the detailed instructions on zipper types as well as installation methods. You’re the best!

  6. Oh-my-goodness! So glad I found your blog .I want to learn how to make my own handbag and design handbags to try to sell. I have seen tutorials but I am glad I saw this blog. Will try to keep up. I like all the specifics. Just got lucky. I will go back and read the other blogs you have posted. Do you have anything about material selection? Any simple embellishments? Just keep ’em coming. Thank you.

    • Don

      Thank you Brina, glad to help. The focus of my blog is to show that anyone can be a designer. I encourage to make your designs, your own. I am simply sharing some design insights as a professional and demonstrating some technical techniques from the factory floor.

  7. Darlene

    Thanks so much for the info. I have always been intimidated by zipper construction. Never more. Love your blog.

  8. Hi Don, I find that I break a lot of needles when using the wedge technique on metal zippers. Aside from going slowly or adjusting the stitch length, are there any secrets you can share?

    • Don

      I break my fair share as well. I use my walking foot attachment when making zipper wedges and I do not backtack (reverse); you might try it.

  9. Jamie Pullen

    I am looking fopr head to head zippers in a variety of color. Need to be at least 19-20 inches long. They will be used to make shirts for my mother who is in kidney dialysis and needs her sleeves on one are to have an opening. THis is the best design see so far. I have searched everywhere and can only find them in black, navy, beige. would like other colors to put in her existing colthes. Need purple, lite blue, gray, pink, and white. thanks

    • Don

      What a great idea, Jamie. I do know that YKK will make them up in that configuration for you in the length and colour you want but there is a minimum purchase of $200.CDN. That is a lot of zippers. I think you will have to make them up yourself or perhaps talk a local retailer into ordering your specifications (call it a pre-paid pre-order) next time she/he makes an order for inventory.

  10. Maly

    I found your zipper lesson very informative. Great job!. I would like to know what is the standard size for the slider head and pull tab for an interior zipper bag?

    • Don

      There are no standard sizes. However, the slider head and the zipper chain need to be smooth running and the zipper length long enough so that once open, the stored item can be retrieved with your hand.

  11. Nick Bland

    I have a YKK 9c slider head missing of my perfectly good motorbike boot can anyone recommend where i could get one.

    • Don

      Try a sewing notions retailer or luggage repair center. Odds are they will have a selection of slide heads and zipper stops to choose from to repair your boots.

  12. Hi Don, great post. Thanks for sharing. I am currently trying to make 2 way metal zippers from a continuous YKK 5 chain and am finding it impossible, I have the right size zipper pulls, I want them to be head to head for a handbag opening. It is as if the teeth aren’t made for going in the opposite direction, it just sticks, or is incredible stiff, have you come across this yourself? Thanks! 🙂

    • Don

      Head-to-head for metal toothed zippers do not work well. Change the zipper chain to the coil type. It is available in #5.

  13. I’ve tried making two-way non-separating #5 metal bag zippers, but one slider always feels like it’s running against the grain of the teeth. It drags and has to be coaxed along. When I hold the teeth up to the light, I can see that each tooth has a sort of nubbin on one side, all pointing in one direction. Is there more than one type of metal zipper chain?

    • Don

      The problem is your initial alignment of the sliders. It can be tricky. Jose, our guy on the factory floor, tells me that you must allow a little extra length to off-set the zipper tape. He first will cut one of the zipper tapes to create a angle or point at the starting end. On the other (opposite side) zipper chain, he leaves it as is. Hold the 2 sliders in tandem and slide onto this zip chain. Here is the tricky part… while holding the loaded chain and holding both sliders together in unison, slip the angled zip chain into place. If you miss the connection, simply undo and start again. Once the zipper is made, apply the stopper and cut away the excess.
      My question is: Why do you need a 2-way performance if your zipper is non-separating?

  14. It’s a bag similar to a dopp bag except bigger. My customer wants the zipper to open by pulling two sliders apart, the way you do with a backpack.

    There’s such a thing as a symmetrical zipper which is supposed to work better for two-way zipping. I’ve never actually laid eyes on such a zipper, but buckleguy.com carries it, from Riri.

    • Don

      Interesting. I’ll have to look into that Riri symmetrical zipper. I have never come across one. Learn something new every day. Thanks!

  15. Pingback: Zipper Slider Repairs - Helpful Colin

  16. David Acosta Valois


    I am starting a line of leather-wax cotton bags and backpacks and I am looking for high quality zippers. I have heard about the brand YKK. They write in their site that their best zippers are Exella. I have no idea about zippers but I know want my bags to be strong and their zippers to last a life time. Could you please recommend me a brand and explain me a little why should I choose it above others? Many many thanks,


  17. David Acosta Valois

    Hello Don,
    I am looking for good zippers for leather and wax cotton bags. I have heard of YKK and their line Excella. What would you recommend me and why?

    Many many thanks!


    • Don

      David…YKK makes a good zipper but my favourite is RiRi from Germany. The product is smooth running and won’t scratch.

      • David Acosta Valois

        Many thanks Don! I will try them.
        I have another question for you: I am looking for ecological leather edge paint which is durable and can be used to make high end bags(something that will really stay on the leather and will not move with time). I am starting a line of bags using vegetable tanned leather(though the dyeing is made with anylines).

        Many thanks!


  18. Pingback: Handbag Zippers

  19. thegreatterrificstudio

    You are such a great resource, Don! Do you have any recommendations for the best brass double zipper (two way) w/ closed ends (“O” style opening) that could be used for a weekend tote bag (app 22-24in)? I’ve been doing some research and have experience w/ RiRi zippers, but I don’t know where I can order directly in bulk, or if you know of other suppliers w similar products.

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