Saturday, September 10, 2011

LTTSA: Penguin Backpack- the Zipper

... dun dun dun!

Just kidding. This zipper is going to go in like butter. Let's do this thing.

We are going to start on page 55 where it says "Insert the zipper." (duh.) Putting together the front and back panels of the backpack is pretty straight forward, so we'll just push on through. The first time you read through the zipper part, it can be a little confusing, so hopefully my pictures can help you visualize it.

You need your two zipper panel pieces cut from the outer fabric and interfaced with that 1.5" strip. You can see mine are double interfaced. I'm using a thin charcoal gray corduroy, so I'm interfacing all of the pieces. And I chose a bright red sport zipper so that it's easy for little eyes and fingers to find.

Here's what the wrong side will look like after you stitch together the interfaced long sides and press seams open. This is just a basting stitch that we will be taking out later. So turn your machine up to the longest stitch length and don't backstitch the beginning and end. I also found it helpful to use contrasting white thread here because it was easier to see all the pieces when ripping it out later.

Now you are supposed to mark a line on the right side, 3/8" on either side of that seam. My fabric marker didn't show up on this very well, so I resourcefully grabbed a giant fat stick of sidewalk chalk. A bit cumbersome, but it worked and wiped off easily.

Now flip it back over and pin the zipper on, so that the top of the zipper is against the wrong side. We are just pinning it centered on that first seam, so that we can hand baste. This is not something that has to be pretty at all, you can see how huge and hasty my stitches are. But it would be nearly impossible to try to get the zipper and all the layers through the machine with pins. Don't try to skip this necessary step.            

Now rip out that first machine-basted stitch before you sew down the zipper. This helps things settle into position. 

Has everyone dug their zipper foot out of whatever chaotic drawer or bin it's been hiding in? Good. Put it on. Maybe you've never changed your foot before. That's ok, dig out your manual if you need to and figure it out. It's really not hard at all. As a self-taught sewer, I put this off as long as I possibly could in the beginning. But then I did it and realized it's actually worth doing, and it's easy. Same thing with changing your needle regularly. Anyway, we will have the zipper on the left side of the needle, so clamp down on the left side of the foot, as shown. Then you will just sew down the lines marked earlier on both sides.

Here's an extra tip- When you get a couple of inches away from the zipper as you sew toward it, stop and lower your needle. Then raise your presser foot up as far as you can and move the zipper back past it, then continue sewing. Then you never have to actually sew past the big part of the zipper. This is what I tried to show in the picture on the right, hope that makes sense. If you do this very carefully, you might even be able to go without the zipper foot. But I'd still recommend it.

You can see here that I ended up sewing another line inside of my first ones. This was because when I turned it over, there were places where the seam allowance did not get caught in the first stitch I made down the chalk line. It was no big deal to fix and now it's extra reinforced, but you might want to just sew a little inside of where your marked line is to make sure you catch that seam allowance the first time. Also, I obviously took out those big ugly basting stitches.

Now the only thing left involving the zipper is sewing it to the long outer side panel with the wings. I took a picture just to show that when you line up both short edges of these two pieces, they won't lie flat because the side panel is much longer. When you sew these seams, (you don't need a zipper foot now) be slow and careful so you don't run your needle into the zipper teeth. That would be bad. Just lift up the foot and move over the teeth, then continue. I actually backstitched before and after that long stitch over the zipper as well as at the beginning and end of the seams. 

Turn it right side out and admire your awesomeness! Zipper JUBILATION! Those wings placed there are pretty genius because they will make easy zipper pulls for toddlers. I'm so excited to finish this, it's pretty much going to be the cutest thing I've ever made.

Just waiting on those strap adjustors which I did have to order. (Boooooo Joann's)

So how's it going for you guys? Let me know if you have any questions about my zipper explanation. And please let us know if you conquer the zipper for the first time- It's exciting!


  1. ARe you doing the penguin or the regular backpack? I started on mine yesterday. The lining is sewn as is the front of the backpack. I've got my zipper basted on and plan on sewing it this afternoon. Hopefully, I'll finish the entire backpack today!

  2. I'm waiting for the strap adjusters too. Everything else is ready to assemble.

    I love this penguin.

  3. So nice to see the process in photos. I've sewn plenty of projects with zippers, but never feel very confident about my ability to sew them in neatly.
    I've had trouble finding the strap adjusters too. I managed to find them in a 1" size and bought them in a panic, just in case I can't get my hands on the 1.5" size.

  4. Thanks so much for the posting. Followed your tutorial and it was easy peasy! Can't wait to show you the front panel I added something super special!

  5. Please help! Is the side panel one piece? There's a line down the middle and it seems like a cut line but is it not???

  6. Thanks for the detailed instructions on zippering. I've never sewn or even bought a zipper, so I'm still a little nervous but feeling better about it.

    I have a question: I can only seem to find Vislon separating zippers, not regular Vislon zippers. Will a separating zipper work?

    THANKS! eemilybb at gmail dot com

  7. Bless you for this tutorial! I'm hoping to finish putting my pack together tonight, but the zipper is installed--and it even works! YAY!

  8. FABULOUS!!! Thank you for sharing!


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