How to Sew a Recessed Zipper (Open End Method)

showing the top of the august tote with the recessed zipper

This step-by-step tutorial is all about sewing a recessed zipper into a bag and it’s the most common type you may have seen. I’ve written it as a companion article for my August Tote as an alternative recessed zipper option than the one included in the pattern. You can add this recessed zipper panel into pretty much any bag by making just a few adjustments!

showing the finished recessed zipper in the green August Tote

I’m calling this the “open end method” because like the name suggests, the ends at either end of the zipper are open and not sewn into the sides of the bag. My other tutorial, How to Sew a Recessed Zipper (Enclosed End Method) walks you through how to sew a recessed zipper with the ends of the zipper panels enclosed into the sides of the bag. It’s the same type of zipper closure I use in my 7th Street Tote pattern!

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!

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.

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. 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).

You can find the enclosed end recessed zipper tutorial here!

Let’s Get Started!

supplies needed for the recessed zipper laid out on the table

Some Things you’ll need

showing the two panels and zippers needed for the recessed zipper tutorial

prepare zipper panels

You will need two panels each of your main fabric and the lining. If you want to use the same fabric for both, that’s fine too!

What size panel to use for recessed zipper

If you’re making the August Tote then you will need 4 panels that are 15″ (38.1 cm) x 3″ (6.3 cm) – 2 in the main fabric and 2 in the lining fabric. You can used the Zipper Panel pattern piece but shorten the length by 1″ (2.5 cm). You will also need a small piece of fabric that is 1″ wider than your zipper and 2″ long for the tab and the end that will act as a stopper.

If adding a recessed zipper to a different bag pattern, then cut your panels shorter than your finished bag width – about an inch less works well – and include an 1/2″ of seam allowance on both ends.

Fold in the ends of the panels

showing the folded ends of the zipper panels

Fold in the ends of the panels 1/2″ (1.3 cm) to the wrong side and press.

Calculate zipper length

laying out the zipper tape along the panel to measure how long to cut

For my example I’m using zipper by the yard which makes figuring out what size zipper to use a little easier – I just cut at the length I need. For the size panels I’m using for the August Tote (15″ long) cut your zipper an inch longer (or a little more if you can) than the finished width of the panel.

*You can see in the photo above that I have the ends folded in 1/2″ – that is the finished panel length. You will end up cutting off a little at a later step, but it helps to have extra to work with in the beginning.

showing the fixed length zipper along the length of the panel to measure

If you’re using a fixed length zipper, then you will need to measure from the top metal stoppers down to the bottom folded edge. For the August Tote you need a zipper that is at least 15″ but it can help to have a zipper panel that is longer so you have more to work with.

Prepare the Zipper

Before you start to sew, there are a couple of things you’ll need to do to prepare the zipper:

  • Attach the zipper pull, also called a zipper head or slider, if you’re using zipper by the yard.
  • Secure the top of the zipper into the panel.
  • Add a tab at the end of the zipper to act as a stopper.

Let’s get started!

Attaching the zipper Pull (for zipper by the yard)

Start by separating the end of the zipper tape. Look at the pull and find the curved side, this is the end that you’ll be threading the zipper teeth through.

Place the ends of the zipper teeth through the openings one at a time making sure the sides are even.

Once you get the zipper teeth situated in the pull, then simply pull the zipper pull down the length of your zipper to the other end. Careful not to zip it all the way off or you’ll need to start again!

And there you go, your zipper now has a pull 🙂

Secure the tops of the zipper

folding the top tails of the zipper tape down

If you’re using a fixed zipper then all you need to do is fold the top tails back (see photo above). You can either stitch it in place or fold it under right before pinning your zipper panel layers in place.

If you’re using zipper by the yard then keep reading to learn how to secure the tops of the zipper teeth.

about to shorten the top of the zipper and measuring where to mark

To secure the tops of the zipper, you will need to first measure about 1″ away from the end of the zipper and mark a line.

Start by folding one side of the zipper tape at a 90 degree angle right along the line you drew. You can pin in place to secure, and then bring it over to your machine and stitch it in place (see photos above). Repeat for the other side.

trimming off the ends of the secured zipper tape

Trim off the extra zipper tape to even it up with the edge. Now that the top ends of your zipper tape are secured and it’s time to move on to adding the zipper tab.

Adding a tab to the zipper

Sometimes zipper tabs are added to zipper tail that sticks out about 2″ to 3″ past the zipper panel. For the August Tote I didn’t want a zipper tail so I came up with this method of enclosing the end of the zipper.

shortening the zipper to match the length of the finished zipper panel

You will need to first shorten your zipper. Line up the top of the zipper so that the teeth sit 1/4″ away from the edge. Make sure the ends are still folded on the zipper panel and cut the end of the zipper in line with the folded end (see photo above).

Cut a piece of fabric 1″ (2.5 cm) wider than the total width of the zipper tape and 2″ (5 cm) long. The tab will be covering the end of the zipper 1/2″ and should line up with the end of the folded zipper panel.

*You can use either the same as your main fabric or the lining. If your main fabric is pretty heavy, then picking a lighter weight fabric will make it less bulky to sew over).

Fold in the sides to the middle and press.

Place the zipper tape inside the tab and fold the tab in half over the end. You can pin or add clips to hold it in place, and then topstitch close to the inner edge sewing only over the zipper tape (not going to the ends of the tab). Make sure to backstitch well at each end.

trimming off the extra ends of the zipper tab

Trim off the extra fabric on either side of the tab and double check that it’s the right length by laying it alongside your zipper panel.

*Remember that the top end needs to be 1/4″ away from the top and that the ends are still folded when you check the zipper length.

check length of zipper plus tab at the end

And that’s your finished zipper tab!

Time to Sew

Now that the zipper is prepped, it’s time to make your zipper sandwich and sew all the layers together! Switch to your preferred zipper foot for these next steps.

Sew the zipper to the panels

With a main panel right side up, place the zipper right side down on top. *Keep the ends of the panels folded in. Make sure the top of the zipper teeth is about 1/4″ away from the folded edge. Then place a lining panel right side down on top of the zipper.

the zipper panel and zipper layered together and pinned along the edge

Pin, or I like to use clips, all the layers together. Sometimes I’ll use a combination of both, just to make sure everything stays together.

Before sewing, unfold the end of the lining panel and bring it over the end of the main to cover the main panel (see photos above). *If you’re using the same fabric for your zipper panels, then it will be the bottom layer folding over the top. Repeat this for all the ends.

showing how to hold the fabric down when sewing to avoid puckering

With a zipper foot, sew down the length of the panels at a 3/8″ (1 cm) seam allowance making sure to catch all 3 layers. Tip: It may be helpful to use to hump jumper (or a thick piece of cardboard) which raises the back of the foot to make it easier to get over that initial bulk.

Depending on the bulk of the fabric I’m sewing with, sometimes I have trouble feeding the layers under the 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. 

Turn everything right side out and you can see how the corners ended up nice and neat.

closeup of the topstitched recessed zipper
one side of the topstitched recessed zipper laying on a table

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 edge up one side, along the zipper’s edge and down the other side.

Repeat for the other side and you have a finished recessed zipper ready to sew into a bag!

the finished recessed zipper laying on a table

If you’re following along for the August Tote pattern, then the same steps apply for this recessed zipper when sewing it into the bag lining. Insert the recessed zipper down into the lining of the bag with the right sides of the lining together and pin to secure. Don’t forget to mark the center of the zipper panel so you can line it up with the notches on the lining.

closeup of the finished recessed zipper zipped up and sewn into the August Tote

Hope you found this tutorial helpful! If you want to learn a different method (my favorite method!) of sewing a recessed zipper then you can check out my tutorial How to Sew a Recessed Zipper (Enclosed End Method). Both the 7th Street Tote and August Tote have this type of zipper with the instructions included in the patterns.

Good luck on your bag (and zipper) sewing adventures! Happy sewing 🙂

Bethany signature

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shopping Cart