Two years ago, I showed you how to sew a swim cover-up from a beach towel. My girls were 7 years old at the time. They’ve grown taller but because of the roominess of the cover-ups, they can still wear them. But…putting them on has gotten more difficult – they were struggling to get their arms through the armholes. So I switched out the short zippers for a full-separating zipper, i.e. a zipper that opens up completely at the bottom (like a jacket). I was intimidated at first, but I was surprised to find that it wasn’t bad at all so I thought I’d share the process with you. Here’s how to shorten and sew a separating zipper.
How to Shorten and Sew a Separating Zipper
Supplies (contains affiliate links)
- Zipper that separates at the bottom in the length you need
- Washable fabric pen
- Iron and ironing board
- Wire cutters
- Flat nosed pliers
- Flat nose pliers
- Zipper repair kit
- Sewing machine and thread
- Zipper foot compatible with your machine
- Pins or Wonder Clips
I had made a cover-up with a short zipper (that went about 1/4 of the way down from the neck). I removed my old zipper with my trusty seam ripper, plus I opened up the entire front seam. The ruffle skirt at the bottom was one piece, however, so I removed the ruffle from the main bodice, undoing the pleats. Here’s what it looked like before.
Here’s a close-up and what I’m doing to the cover-ups with the short zipper. You can ignore this part!
I folded the ruffle piece in half so I could find the middle. I cut down the middle of the ruffle, then I pinned the ruffle back onto the main bodice, reforming the pleats, and sewing the ruffle back on. So now, the front is completely open. I didn’t take a pic of this part, but before you apply the zipper, you should either do an overlock stitch along the raw edges to finish them, or do a zig zag stitch.
Now I’m ready for the zipper. My zipper is too long, so here’s how to shorten a separating zipper. You may know that to shorten a non-separating zipper, you cut off the bottom. But, a separating zipper opens at the bottom and you need to keep that hardware at the bottom end of the zipper. Note: sorry to flip flop between the two different colors! I was fixing both of them, and sometimes I’d take better pictures with one than the other!
So, you would shorten it from the top. First, figure out how much to cut off by laying it down over your garment. With a pen, mark where the zipper hits the neckline, and then one inch above that.
Remove the teeth that are in between the two marks. I used a pair of wire cutters. Just grasp the end and pull. If the end breaks off, it becomes easy to scrape off the bottom (the part attached to the zipper) with pliers or even your fingernails. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be! I just tried grasping at different spots and different angles and sometimes the teeth would come off easily and sometimes it took a while longer!
Trim off the end at the neckline mark.
At this point, you would need to apply a stopper to the top of the zipper, otherwise your zipper pull would come straight off your zipper. I tried whip stitching around the edge of the zipper to act as a stopper, but it didn’t work for me; the zipper still came off. So instead, I bought a zipper repair kit, which comes with a few stoppers. Yes, it was annoying to buy a whole kit just for a few little pieces! But it works. Normally, you’d apply it now, before you attach the zipper to the garment. But I didn’t have a kit yet at this point! So I’ll show you how to do it after I attach the zipper.
Now we’re ready to sew on the zipper. With your garment facing up, place the wrong side of the zipper along one side of the opening. Line up the bottom of the zipper to the bottom hem. Use pins or clips to hold the zipper in place.
First, we’ll baste the zipper to the garment. You can hand-baste, or use your machine (which is what I’m doing). Attach the zipper foot to your machine. The foot of the machine should be over your fabric, and scoot over the needle so it’s about 1/8 inch from the teeth (there might be a line along the zipper so you can follow that) and baste. Note: I didn’t take a pic of this, but fold the very top of the zipper (the part with no teeth) over the neckline and then behind itself and stitch that fold down.
Now, fold the zipper underneath the opening of the garment. You can see the nice fold your basting created. If your basting looks wobbly, you may need to undo the basting and re-baste so the fold is straight. Press down the fold with your iron. Note: again about the top flap of the zipper…it’s folded behind itself and over the neckline, so when you fold the zipper back as shown below, the flap will be hidden.
Back at your machine, switch the zipper foot over to the other side (your machine might be different from mine so be sure to read the directions on how to work with your zipper foot). Switch your machine back to a regular straight stitch. Top stitch about 1/8 inch from the fold. Done with the first side!
To sew the other side, turn the garment inside out and lay the other side of the zipper onto the other side of the opening, right sides together. I pushed the rest of the garment underneath and clipped the edges of the zipper and the opening together. Baste as you did before.
Turn the garment right side out and you’ll see the fold you created with your basting stitches, as before. Again, press the fold with your iron.
Then switch the zipper foot to the other side and top stitch with a regular straight stitch. All done attaching the zipper! That wasn’t so bad, right?
So remember I mentioned the zipper stopper? Again, normally you would attach it to the zipper before sewing the zipper to the garment. But I didn’t buy my zipper repair kit until after I attached the zipper! To apply the zipper stopper, first grasp it like so in between your flat nosed pliers, so the opening of the stopper is facing out.
Then insert it over the edge of your zipper, right above the the first tooth. Squeeze the zipper top shut. You only need to do it on one side. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find one that was white plastic but this is okay with me, as long as it works.
All done! It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, at all, to shorten and sew a separating zipper. I’m really surprised that it went so fast!
I’ll take a pic of my girls wearing their improved swim cover-ups at their next swimming lesson.