In this tutorial I will walk you through how to sew a recessed zipper for a bag or a tote, like on my 7th Street Tote and August Tote patterns. This type of zipper is fully enclosed at the ends and is great for when you want the option to close the bag but it isn’t visible from the outside. Keep reading to learn how!
I’m calling this the “enclosed end method” because like the name says, the ends at either end of the zipper are sewn into the sides of the bag. My other tutorial, How to Sew a Recessed Zipper (Open End Method) walks you through how to sew a recessed zipper with the ends of the zipper panels open at the sides of the bag.
I used to be intimidated to sew zippers when I first started sewing, but the more I practiced, the more confident I became. Sewing a recessed zipper is easier than it looks and gives a professional look to your projects.
If you’re looking for a great oversized tote bag pattern and want some more zipper practice, check out my Lakeview Tote pattern which has an option to add a zippered pocket to the inside.
Different Types of Recessed Zippers
In the picture above you can see the difference between the two types of recessed zippers. They are both great options for adding a zipper closure to a bag or tote but are sewn in very different ways!
Enclosed End Recessed Zipper
The enclosed end recessed zipper is my preferred method which is why I include it into my bag patterns! I find it easier to sew since you end up enclosing the ends of the zipper without having to add a zipper tab. I also love the shape it gives a bag due to the boxed out ends. However, with the enclosed end zipper, it can be tricky to topstitch around the sides of the bag since it’s so bulky there (especially in heavier weight fabric).
Open End Recessed Zipper
This is the most common type of recessed zipper and I find that this this method is easier to sew with heavier weight fabric, like the 12oz cotton canvas I’m using in my example. However, it tends be a little more involved to sew since you have to enclose the top ends of the zipper and add a zipper tab at the bottom. You can find the open end recessed zipper tutorial here!
Let’s Get Started!
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Some Things you’ll need
- Fabric – the main fabric you’re using for the outside of your bag, and a lining fabric.
- 14″ (or longer) nylon zipper
- Zipper tape by the yard – This is what I’m using in my example but you can also use a fixed length zipper. The zipper also needs to be nylon since you will be sewing over it.
- Sewing Clips or Pins
- Fabric scissors
Prepare the Zipper Panels
If you’re following along in my 7th Street Tote pattern (coming soon!), you will need your cut out Zipper Panels in the main fabric and lining fabric – 2 of each. I’ll be using measurements provided in that pattern, but if you’re adding a recessed zipper to a different pattern, the zipper panels need to be length of the top of the bag and however wide (or distance recessed into the bag) you want.
Cut out squares from the corners
Place the main Zipper Panels right sides together and and draw a 3/4” square at the two bottom corners. Repeat for the lining Zipper Panels.
Cut a square out through both layers of fabric on the main and lining panel pieces. You now have two notched corners on all your Zipper Panels – the zipper will be placed on the sides that has the squares cut out.
Sew the zipper to the panels
In my example I’m using zipper tape but you can definitely use a fixed zipper length that is 14″ or longer. You can cut the zipper to the length needed or let the ends hang off – do whatever works best for you!
Lay one main Zipper Panel right side up with the notched out side facing away from you. Place the zipper right sides down on top lined up at the upper edge between the notched out corners. I like to place a few pins at this point before the next step.
*If your zipper is longer you can cut it to length or just let it hang off the ends for now, but pin it so the metal stoppers are out of the way. You will be sewing over the zipper on a later step.
*If using zipper by the yard will be attaching the zipper pull later on.
Place a lining Zipper Panel with right side down (the zipper will be sandwiched facedown in the middle). Make sure the notched out corners of both layers are lined up at both ends. Pin or use clips to hold the layers in place. Use a zipper foot and sew 3/8” from the edge.
Depending on the bulk of the fabric I’m sewing with, sometimes I have trouble feeding the layers under my machine’s zipper foot without puckers. So what I will do is grab a pointy tool, like a seam ripper or these small scissors to help guide the fabric through more smoothly.
Open up the panels to the right side so the main fabric is facing up. The right side of the zipper should be facing up and the right side of the lining fabric will be facedown.
Lay the remaining lining Zipper Panel right side up with the notched out corners facing away from you. Place the zipper (with other main and lining pieces attached) right side up and moved down out of the way. Make sure the notched out corners are lined up at both ends and place a few pins now to secure if you want.
Place the remaining main Zipper Panel piece right side down on top sandwiching the zipper in the middle. Pin or use clips to secure all the layers in place. Sew 3/8” from the edge and use a pointed tool to help guide the fabric if needed.
Press the lining and main panels away from the zipper (being careful not to iron on top of the zipper so it doesn’t melt). Topstitch close to the folded edge on either side of the zipper.
*You can see that my notched out corners don’t line up perfectly but as long as it’s not a huge space difference it doesn’t matter too much.
Open your zipper a little for this next step so the pull is out of the way at the end. If using zipper by the yard, attach the zipper pull now.
Attach the zipper pull
Pick a side to put the zipper pull on (it doesn’t matter which). You will be feeding the zipper teeth through the top of the zipper pull (the curved side).
Pull apart the zipper teeth and feed one end, just a little, through one side of the zipper pull. Feed the other end of the zipper teeth into the other end of the zipper pull. Try to line up the ends of the teeth evenly. It can take a bit of wiggling to get the pull on, but you’ll get it.
Pull the zipper pull to the other side being careful not to pull it all the way off. Leave the zipper open a little ways for the next steps.
At one end bring the main Zipper Panels right sides together and the lining Zipper Panels right sides together so the short ends are lined up. Place pins to secure.
Sew the ends of the panels closed
Sew across the short ends of the main and lining panels, backstitching at beginning and end (don’t worry about the excess zipper, if any, in the middle). Repeat for the other ends.
Form the boxed shape of the recessed zipper
Lay your sewn Zipper Panel pieces in front of you with the main fabric facing up. At one corner, bring the seam you just sewed towards the zipper. It will make a triangle shape. Open up the seam so it lays flat and center it over the middle of the zipper teeth.
Turn the pieces over so the lining is facing you (keep the main side like you just positioned it). Bring the seam towards the zipper, open the seam and lay it flat so it forms a triangle. Place pins or clips at the end to keep it all together.
At the peak of the triangle shape, there will be a straight edge formed by the notched out corners. The zipper end may be coming out of the top, if you left extra at the ends, and laying flat.
Sew along the straight edge at the top where the angled edges meet. You will be sewing through 4 layers of fabric and the zipper teeth. Backstitch at each end and sew slowly over the zipper.
Repeat steps for the other end. Trim zipper ends (if any) to match seam allowance.
Turn the finished Recessed Zipper right side out so the main fabric is on the inside and the lining is on the outside. It will have boxed out ends and look like a little zipper boat. 🙂
And that is how you sew a recessed zipper! I really like the clean, finished look and the fact that you can’t see the zipper from the outside of the bag. Zippers can be intimidating at first, but the more you practice sewing them, the more comfortable it becomes! I also wrote a tutorial for How to Sew a Zippered Pocket which is another great zipper sewing skill to learn.
Let me know if you get stuck on any steps – I’m happy to help! Thanks for reading and happy sewing 🙂