perfect zippers part 3: making fabric tabs

I usually don’t make fabric tabs for the ends of my zippers, but sometimes it’s a nice way to add detail or a bit of color.

zip pouches with fabric tabs to cover the zipper stops

In this part of the “perfect zippers” series, I’ll show you 2 ways to make those little tabs to cover your zipper stops.

Part 1 was all about installation, and part 2 was about making the corners flat.

shorten your zips with a new thread stop

step one: shorten your zipper
Both methods start with the same step, shortening the zipper.

The first thing you need to know is that you’ll need a zipper longer than the bag opening you want to have in the end.

I want my pouches to be 4″ wide. If I start with a 4″ zipper and then add fabric tabs, my bag will be much too small in the end.

Behold above: two 4″ zippers. One was born that way, and the other I made into a 4″ zip by creating a new zipper stop out of thread.

You don’t need fancy tools to make a new stop! Just use the zig zag stitch on your machine: make sure to set the stitch length very short, and the width *just* big enough so that your machine needle pierces the zipper tape, not the teeth.

create two new zipper stops with thread

If you just want to shorten a zipper without using fabric tabs, measure and mark your finished bag width from the top zipper stop.

But if you want to make fabric tabs, you’ll want to first create two new thread stops somewhere in the middle of the zipper, as seen on the pink zip above. That way, you avoid both metal stops when it’s time to sew up the sides.

Make sure to open the zipper first so your zipper pull is in between your new stops!

What about zips with metal teeth?
Your sewing machine will sew over narrow plastic teeth easily, but metal teeth are a different matter! Sew in the zipper stop by hand on a metal zipper, or use a zipper repair kit to insert a new metal stop and then remove the excess zipper teeth.

fabric tab sewn into side seam

step two: cut fabric tabs
The first method involves a thin fabric tab that will eventually be sewn into the side seam of the bag, and fold up over the end of the zipper.

It’s really important that you choose thin fabric for this job; I used quilting cotton without any interfacing. Anything heavier would be too bulky to sew into the side seam.

stitch tab to zipper in the ditch

Cut a rectangle of fabric that is just as wide as your zipper tape, and twice that amount in length. In the image above, the green fabric is 1″ wide and 2″ long.

Fold the tab in half lengthwise, and stitch the fabric to the zipper in the crease, so the stitch is hidden.

fabric tabs that don't touch the side seam

The second method involves a fabric strip that is not sewn into the side seam.

A heavier fabric (even leather or vinyl) is fine for this method, since it won’t add any bulk to the side seams. It just sits on top of the zipper.

linen bias strip

Instead of folding tiny bits of this linen in on itself, I made a strip that I could cut to size. That way, both edges would be neat without me burning my fingers trying to press down tiny little folds.

How to make a narrow fabric strip:
Cut a strip of fabric 1.5″ wide, and long enough for both zip ends plus a little extra. Fold your strip lengthwise with right sides facing, and stitch with a 3/8″ seam allowance to form a narrow tube. Cut off the seam allowance, and turn the tube right side out. Press the tube carefully, forcing the seam to one side to form a flat strip.

zippers with new fabric tabs attached

step three: stitch in place
The first method doesn’t show any topstitching (although you can certainly add some if you like). Fold the fabric tab down to hide the stitch, and baste the raw edge to the zipper, to keep the top layer from shifting.

For the second method, Cut two 1″ tabs from the strip, and then stitch them in place over the thread stops.

Take care to maintain the width of your finished bag, and to stitch close to both edges of the tabs. You don’t want the edges folding away from the zipper on either side!

zippers with fabric tabs inserted into pouches

step four: trim & insert zippers
I suppose you could install your zippers with the excess still attached, but I think that might needlessly complicate things.

Make sure you account for the seam allowance (plus a little bit of clearance) on either side of your new zipper stops when you trim off the excess zipper.

seam allowances pinned towards the self

step five: finish!
After inserting the zipper, you’ll use the same technique I showed you in part 2 of the series to sew up the sides of your bag for nice, flat corners.

The trick is to make sure the seam allowances and the zipper tape are all pinned towards the outside of the bag!

finished zip pouch

And then you’re done! Next up: inserting a zipper pocket into the lining of a bag. Let me know what other types of zipper installations you’d like to see!

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Check out the other tutorials in the series:



11 thoughts on “perfect zippers part 3: making fabric tabs

  1. Thank you for taking the time to do this tutorial. I stumble over this technique just about every time I make a bag with the zipper tabs. Your directions help so much, and save me time having to re-think how to do them.

  2. on step 4, are you talking about trimming the zipper tape? in the green tab example, it is stitched to the edge of the lining and outer fabric. do you mean to rip out the basting and then trim the zip?

  3. Hello, Ms. Valerie
    Would you happen to have a more clearer pic of how to position the flap of the zipper before sewing up the pouch? I am a visual learner and seeing is a much better way for me to understand what you mean. Thank you for your time, Peace, Leticia

  4. This was the best tutorial I’ve seen (and I’ve read ALOT of blogs & books) on installing zippers without pinched corners. We’ll be using this in our refugee sewing classes. Thanks!

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