How to Sew a Zipper Opening in Your Purse or Handbag - A Tutorial

4/28/2012 07:18:00 AM

Time for another tutorial!  I've just finished adding instructions for a zipper opening into one of my handmade bags, and thought  - Hey, what the heck, I should post this as a tutorial as well so that you fabulous sewers can add one to a bag of your own.  I hope you like it, please leave a comment if you do! The pics were a bit wide for this blog so I couldn't use them full size, so you will have to click them to zoom in.

This is a zipper opening that is made in a gusset, that is open at each end.  Meaning, the ends of the zipper are not sewn right into the side seams of your bag.   It's great for a bag you want with a wide opening that's easy to get into.  I'll try to provide tutorials for a few other zipper opening types - but first we will start with this one.  

Decide how wide you want your zipper gusset to be; mine is about 3" so I've cut the strips on either side 2" (5 cm) wide to allow for seam allowances.  The length of my gusset is going to be 14" (35.5 cm).  You will need a zipper that is longer than the gusset strips so that it hangs past the end of the gusset.  The zipper should measure longer than the strips by about the same as the width of the gusset.  This sounds confusing!  Let me explain: my gusset width (the width of my side strips and zipper) will be about 3 inches so I want my zipper length, not counting the fabric tails, to be about 3 inches longer than that.  In this case, my gusset strips will work out to be 14" so my zipper length should be 16" to 17" long.  The longer zipper makes your bag open up nice and wide so that your opening isn't restricting.  Ok, to summarize... I've got to cut my zipper gusset strips 2" x 14.5" wide, my zipper should be 16 to 17" long (40 - 43 cm).  You can use a longer zipper and cut it down if you like.

Now that we've figured out how to measure your zipper and gusset strips (I hate the word gusset by the way - and I am so SICK of saying it!  It reminds me of the gusset in your underwear. Yes, I just said underwear, but thank heavens I didn't say panties.) I digress.... we have to cut your bag lining.  Assuming you already have your lining from whichever pattern you are using, you have to cut it so you have a top and a bottom.  Fold your lining pattern (or a copy of it) in half to find the center, and draw a line perpendicular to this as far down from the top as you want your zipper (about 1.5" to 2" (4-5 cm) works good).  Cut along this line to slice your pattern piece in half, creating a top and bottom.  Pin your pieces to fabric, or tape them to paper and add a 3/8" (1 cm) seam allowance to each piece. See the photos below:

Click to Zoom - Make your lining pieces.

2   Top Lining Pieces
2   Bottom Lining Pieces
1   Tab Piece 3” x 2” (8 cm x 5 cm)
4   Gusset Pieces 2” (5 cm) wide x the length of your desired zipper opening, plus 1/2" (13 mm) for seam allowance.
4   Fusible interfacing 2” (5 cm) wide x the length of your desired zipper opening. (do not add 1/2" for seam allowance)
1   Closed end zipper 2 inches (5 cm) longer than your gusset pieces.

1)  Fuse interfacing to wrong side of the gusset pieces, leaving ¼” (6mm) at each end without interfacing.

2)  With zipper pull facing up and on left, open zip 
about 4” and pin back the side that is on the bottom 
edge so that it is tucked out of the way when sewing
the gusset pieces to the top side.

3)  Lay down one gusset piece, right side up.  
Lay the zipper on top, lining up to top edge of strip. 
Keep the zipper pull on the left and facing up.  
Important:  Line the little metal stop up at the ¼” (6mm) seam allowance mark (where the interfacing starts).  Lay the 2nd gusset strip on top, wrong side up.  Pin the zip in between the two strips.
4)  Use your zipper foot now!  Using a ¼” (6mm) seam allowance, sew across the short end of the strip that has the open end of the zipper.  Stop 1/4” (6mm) before the edge of the strip, and turn with the needle down in the fabric. Sew down the length of the gusset strip, and stop ¼” before the end without sewing in to the seam allowance.  Do not turn corner and sew across the other short end, leave it open. Back stitch to finish off.
Hint:  You will have to move the zipper pull out of the way when you get to it.  When you reach the zipper pull, drop the needle into the fabric, lift the presser foot, and slide the zipper back behind the foot and out of the way.

5)  Trim off zipper tail and corner to ease turning. Turn gusset so right sides are out, pushing out corner.  Press ¼” seam allowance on open end under.  Topstitch across short ends and along zipper using your zipper foot.  Sew close to the zipper!
Click to zoom
Click to zoom
6)  Release the side of the zipper that was pinned back and now pin back the gusset that you just stitched so that it is now out of the way.  Pin the zipper in between the last two gusset strips and repeat the process to sew the zipper into them.  Remember to sew only across one end of the gusset strip and leave the other open.  Clip corner, turn, press, topstitch.  Baste the other (open) long edges closed if desired.
 7)  Now we have to make the little fabric tab to cover the end of the zipper so it looks pretty.  With right sides together, fold 3” x 2” piece in half, meeting the shorter (2”) ends together and folding the 3” length in half. Stitch the sides, leaving one end open.  Clip corners and turn.  Press the raw edge into the inside about ¼” and press the whole square flat. Slide the zipper end into the little square and stitch a box around the edges to secure the zipper into the tab.

8)  And now to add your really fabulous zipper opening to your lining pieces!  Place a top part of the bag lining
right side up.  With zipper pull on left, center gusset piece right side facing down on top piece. (An easy way to center the lining and zipper gusset is to fold them in half and make center creases and then match the creases.)  Center bottom lining piece over both of these, with right sides down.  Pin, Stitch through all layers, enclosing the edge of the zipper gusset into the lining.  Press seams, towards bottom.  Top stitch next to seam, anchoring seam allowance to bottom piece.  Repeat for other side, keeping the first lining side out of the way as you sew.

9)  Open zipper all the way so lining is easy to work with and add slip pockets and internal zipper pockets.  ( You can add these before you put this together too.  Look for my pocket tutorials here on my blog.  When the pockets are in place, put lining pieces right sides together, lining up corners and seams.  Pin.  Sew around bag leaving a 6” (15 cm) opening at center bottom for turning.  Press side seams open, and attach to your bag exterior in the usual way.  

Thank you so much for reading. 

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  1. Hi Janelle great tutorial. Always handy to have tutes that we can use, as they are so easy to understand.

    1. Thank you, Natalie! I kinda like this one too. I think it worked out pretty good and I love using this method of zipper opening. Janelle

    2. Janelle,

      Thanks for this! I am using this to add a bag closure (I too hate "gusset") to my AMH art student tote.

      This is awesome and explains the process so well that I can adjust the measurements to accommodate the new addition.

  2. This is great! I am planning to put a zip into my Emmaline bag & because I already cut out the pieces, I have another method to use that will give a similar result, but I'll definitely be trying this version next time. Thanks Janelle!

    1. Thank Sara - and another reminder to myself to ALWAYS add a instructions for a zipper opening in my bag patterns if it works!! Some people prefer no zip, but I think more often people really desire a zipper. Janelle

  3. Great tutorial, thank you for sharing!

  4. Hi janelle! Thanks for a great tutorial. I have the Emmaline bag on my to do list and I want to make a little zipper bag so I will try this!

  5. Thank you for this tutorial, this is just what I needed for a bag I have in mind, to turn it into a laptop case!

  6. Thank you. I kinda knew what I wanted to do, but, a good refresher toot can still make it easier. I will have to modify this a bit as it will need to be hand sewn into the purse. I am making a purse out of origami folded hexagons. The inside is actually finished as you fold the hexi toghter.

  7. Great tutorial! Thanks for sharing this.

  8. Thank you so much sharing this tutorial, I couldn't have found it at a better time. New to sewing and on my 3rd bag but already forgot how I put my 1st recessed zip in. Now I get to finish it up without worries :)

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  10. Love this tutorial. I'm trying to put this type of zipper into another bag pattern which has a more complex circular zipper panel attached and I'm tired of doing them this way, it's so bulky. I too hate the word gusset and it does remind me of underwear. LOL!

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  15. Very interesting blog. A lot of blogs I saw today but don't really provide anything that I'm interested in, but I'm most definately interested in this one. These are written virtually a bit like gusset bags. The only important thing to remember is writing the gusset value after the length value.


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The contents of this blog, including text, original photos and ideas are the sole property of the author. If you intend to use my text or images, please link back to this blog and give credit to Emmaline Bags & Patterns. A notification email would be greatly appreciated too! Please do not ever republish an entire post, any tutorials, or post photos of my family. Thank you, Janelle

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