Inserting a zipper into your tote bag

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I have been asked a lot lately on how we insert zippers into our bags. We have found this method to be easy and it gives a nice tidy result.

Lets start with the measurements

Measure the finished dimension of the base of the bag.

Purchase a nylon zipper the length (or longer) of the base of the bag.

Cut two pieces of fabric for the zipper panel:

The length to cut fabric is = length of the base + 2.5cm (1”)

The width to cut fabric is = width of the base + 1.2cm (1/2”)

(cut two)

Cut 2 pieces of iron on interfacing:

Length to cut interfacing = length to cut fabric minus 2.5cm (1”)

Width to cut interfacing = width to cut fabric minus 2.5cm (1”)

1.    Iron on the interfacing to the cut fabric. (centre the interfacing)

2.    Fold in the ends 1.2cm (1/2”) wrong sides together. Iron the folds.

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3.   Now on each side of the fabric panels fold the edges in 1.2cm (1/2”) wrong sides together. Iron the folds.

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4.   Now fold both the panels in half making sure the edge folds are folded in.

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5.   Place one side of the zipper inside the first panel edge making sure the edges of the panel are aligned together pin the panel to the zipper through all three layers.

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6.  Stitch down with your sewing machine a few mm’s inside the folded edge of the fabric. (use your zipper foot

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7.   Repeat for the other side of the zipper inserting it into the edge of the second panel and stitching down.

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8.   Now with the zipper opened slightly and making sure the ends of the panels are folded in pin and stitch across the short ends of the panels.

Sew right across the closed end of the zipper and stitch a couple of times to make sure it is strong especially if your zipper is longer than the panel and you intend to trim the end of the zipper later. (you can use your regular foot).

Sew each side of the open end of the zipper separately. Don’t sew the whole way across in one line.

Then trim the zipper tape ends or fold them in before sewing the ends closed.

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9.   The next step you will join the zipper panel onto your lining pieces you have cut for the bag.

The height you put your panel depends on how much bag you want to have showing above the panel.

For example if you want about 2.5cm’s (1”) showing above the panel place the panel about 3.5cm’s (1.5”) below the top of the lining.

If you want 5cm’s (2”) showing pin it 6cm’s (2.5”) below the top of the lining.

Place the lining right side up and pin the panel to the lining (right side up as well) centring it at the height you decided on.

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10.  Stitch the panel to the lining about ¼” in from the folded edge.

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11.  Pin the other side of the panel to the other lining and attach it in the same way.

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12. This part will depend on your bag pattern but this is a typical way to join the front and the back of the lining

With your lining right sides together now sew the side seams and the bottom of the lining with a ½ inch seam remembering to leave the opening for turning at the bottom of the lining

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13.  Then the corners need to be stitched together like you did for the bag.

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14.  Add the lining to the bag

 Now make sure the lining is wrong side out and the bag right side out.

Slip the lining over the outside of the bag matching the tops and bottoms

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15.  Pin right around the top edge.    Stitch the seam on your sewing machine

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16.  Pull the bag through the whole in the bottom of the lining.

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17.  Pull the lining up and over the top of the bag so it is standing upwards.

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18.  Fold the ends of the lining inwards and pin the seam. Stitch the seam on your sewing machine

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19.  Push the lining down into the bag and iron the seam around the top of the bag.

You should topstitch around the top of the bag to keep it flat.

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20.    Clip on your straps using the lobster clasps if you are using pre made straps.

Now your wonderful zippered tote bag is finished


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  1. I just saw this think I could use this zipper and bag assembly in leather

  2. Thank you, about to start the bug diaper bag, so will put this information to good use

  3. Thank you so much for replying to my question. And thank you for the tutorial. Eveé

  4. JUST DID THIS TUTORIAL. Came out great! This is a technique I plan on using again!
    My zipper was too long . . . but I didn’t trim it back. It is about 2″ long off the end. And actually makes it easier to use the bag! Open wider, and of course, it was easier to sew! Thanks so much SweetPea!! Love It!

  5. wow this is just wonderful thank you I love your work I wish you would make us a tote with zipper closure in the theme of oriental i am I collector of anything oriental keep up the great work love love

      • wow I’m so excited to hear that I can hardly wait thanks for letting us know to watch for it I know I will. thanks

  6. Clearly written and the photos are a big help. Thank you for posting the instructions💁🏻

  7. THANKS Allison …… I’m sure this well written and photographed tutorial will be helpful to many.

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