Bomber Jacket Sew-Along: Inserting the Zipper

McCall Pattern Company blog: Bomber Jacket Sew-AlongHi sew-alongers! Today we’re going to talk about inserting a front separating zipper on your bomber jacket. I’ll show how to shorten a zipper to the exact length you need, and share some of my favorite tips for a smooth, ripple-free insertion, plus a bonus tutorial for making the zippered pockets I added to my jacket.

Shortening a Zipper

I’ve gotten a lot of practice shortening zippers since I moved to NYC five or six years ago. Most of the stores around here sell zippers in one or two standard lengths. Many will cut them to size while you wait; unfortunately I rarely have my act together to know what length I need at the time of purchase, so I almost always end up doing it myself! If you’ve purchased the zipper to the exact size you need, you can ignore this bit. But if you’ve altered the pattern or couldn’t find the right size at your local store, read on.

I used zippers and stops purchased at Sil Thread in the NYC garment district, but you can also find the stops at Wawak, Zipperstop, Zippershipper, and elsewhere. Just make sure you get the correct size of stops for your zipper.

Remove zipper teeth with a good pair of wire cutters

For a separating jacket zipper, you’ll need to do any shortening from the top. Mark the desired zipper length, then open the zipper to well below the stopping point. Use a good pair of wire cutters to remove the teeth for about half an inch above the mark. Make sure to use eye protection in case the little bits go flying. (note – if you find yourself struggling with this, it’s not just you! This is the tricky part. Try bending the zipper tape to splay the teeth slightly and isolate the one you’re trying to grab. Once you’ve gotten the first tooth out, the rest should be easier.)

Use needle-nose pliers to attach a new stop at the top of the zipperNext, apply the new stopper. The easiest way I’ve found to do it is to grip the new stopper in your needle-nose pliers so that the opening faces toward the back of the pliers. Thread the zipper tape through the pliers behind the stopper, maneuver it into position, and clamp the stop in place. Repeat for the other side of the zipper, and you’re done! Just give the stoppers a little tug to make sure they’re secure before you try to close the zipper.

Inserting the zipper

interface the zipper area to help prevent stretching and rippling

When it comes time to insert the zipper (step 26 in the M7100 pattern, or step 4 in B6181) I like to pause and build a little extra stability into the jacket front. Cut a strip of lightweight fusible interfacing about an inch wide and the length of the jacket front and fuse it to the wrong side of the fabric over the center front seam allowance, or use a fusible stay tape placed right on the stitching line.

Before placing your zipper, determine how much of the zipper tape you would like to show next to your zipper teeth. This can be as little as 1/16″, or as much as 1/4″ or more depending on the size of your zipper. (Showing more tape might be desirable if you’ve chosen a decorative or contrasting zipper, or if you’re inserting piping or another narrow trim between the zipper and the jacket front). If showing more tape, you may wish to chalk the stitching line onto the zipper tape to ensure that it is accurate.


The pattern instructions suggest basting the zipper in place before attaching the zipper facing. I recommend that you do this by hand, especially if you’re using a stretchy crepe or knit, as machine basting (especially if you sew over pins) can result in stretching that will cause the finished zipper to ripple. While the interfacing or stay tape will help to prevent this, hand basting really doesn’t take that long and I prefer to have the extra layer of precaution.

separating zipper hand basted in place

Once the zipper is securely basted, you can continue with the zipper construction as directed in the pattern. On one half of the separating zipper you will be able to sew the zipper tape from end to end without stopping, but on the other half you will need to pause at some point and move the slider out of the way before continuing. If possible, do this with the needle down to avoid any wobbles or jags in the finished stitching, but if you have a bulky slider and are stitching very close to the zipper teeth this may not be possible. In that case, once you’ve moved the slider out of the way, use the hand wheel to lower the needle exactly on the stitching line before you drop the presser foot and continue.

Bonus tutorial: Adding zipper pockets

For my jacket, I decided I wanted zipper pockets instead of the welt pockets in the pattern. The pockets are placed right next to the seam, and require no changes to the pocket or jacket pieces although they’re sewn differently. (Again, I’m using M7100, so the pockets are inserted in the side front seam. You should be able to use the same method for the side seam pockets in B6181, however.)

applying a closed-end zipper stop

To do this you’ll need two closed-end zippers of the correct length for the pocket opening (mine were about six inches from stopper to stopper). I shortened the zippers using the same method described above, but finished with a two-sided bottom stopper to connect the zipper tapes.

place the pocket zipper slightly in from the stitching line

Interface the seam allowance where the zipper will go, as was done at center front. Place the zipper about 3/8″ in from the stitching line and stitch in place, starting and ending just beyond the stopper and backtacking for security.

Place the pocket on top of the zipper and sew from the back side

Place one half of the pocket on top of the zipper, right sides together and aligning the pocket markings, and sew from the back side right on top of the first line of stitching, starting and stopping at the same point.

Clip just the garment layer at an angle to the end of the stitching

Clip into the seam allowance on the garment layer only, angling your scissors out from the center of the pocket opening and stopping right at the end of the stitching.

Flip the zipper and pocket to the inside

Flip the zipper and pocket to the inside. At each end, press the triangular corner back at a right angle to create the square end of the pocket opening.

Add the other pocket layer and stitch around the rounded edge

Add the other pocket layer and stitch around the rounded edge, catching the triangular ends of the opening as you go.

baste the other side of the zipper in place

On the outside, baste the other side of the zipper to the inner layer of the pocket. Measure the seam allowance to make sure the stitching line is the correct distance from the zipper teeth, and trim as necessary. Now you can sew the seam.

Finished zipper pocket

The finished seam-adjacent zipper pocket.

  1. Wow this was brilliantly helpful! Thank you 🙂

  2. Thank you so much for this tutorial zippers are one of those mysteries that are intimidating, I will keep this information in a safe place for future use.

  3. really wish there was a way to save all this good info as a pdf. Thanks for all the good information.

  4. Very helpful, but it would be even BETTER with more of a contrast in the fabric between right and wrong sides. It’s a real brain twister trying to keep straight which is which. The interfacing helps.

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