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.

Bomber Jacket Sew-Along: Adding Ribbing To Your Jacket

McCall Pattern Company blog: Bomber Jacket Sew-Along

I know a few of you had some trepidations about making bomber jackets, specifically because of the whole ribbing part being new to you. Ribbing is actually one of the easiest ways to finish cuffs and jacket hems. I learned how to sew knits and ribbings when I was 13 and my mom signed me up for a class in making knit tops at the local fabric store. If I could successfully master ribbings when I was an impatient teenager, then you can too! The basic rule for attaching ribbings is Divide and Conquer, which I’ll explain later here.

We talked about what types of ribbing to use and where to purchase ribbing in this post. The most important things to look for in a ribbing are good recovery—meaning it won’t stretch out of shape and turn into a baggy mess—and comfort factor. If a ribbing feels scratchy to the touch, imagine how it will feel around your wrist—icky.

Cuffs: Very easy to attach. Use the pattern piece we give you to cut your size, but make sure the width is comfortable around your wrist. I always like to push my sleeves up, so I check that my arm won’t feel strangled by the ribbing if I do wear my sleeves at a 3/4 length.

Stitch the ribbing seam as directed, then fold your cuff so the seam is on the inside and the raw edges are even. Lightly press the fold. Now here’s where the whole Divide and Conquer thing comes in. Divide your cuff at the raw edges into four equal sections. Do the same with your sleeve edge. I usually make the sleeve seam and cuff seam into one of the section points.

Ribbing for bomber jackets; how-tos. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.
Cuff with four equal sections marked off with pins.

Now attach your ribbed cuff to the right side of the sleeve, raw edges of cuff and sleeve together, and matching section points. Stitch through all layers, stretching the ribbing as needed between section points. Check to see that everything looks the way it should, then finish the seam by serging it.

Jacket band: The same principle of dividing and conquering applies here too. Use our pattern guides to cut out your ribbing, but make sure the ribbing is long enough or short enough to hug your high hip the way you want it to. This is a matter of personal preference: some bombers are tight here, others are loose.

Ribbing for bomber jackets; how-tos. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.
Assessing the ribbing’s fit early on.

Attach the front band pieces as directed (these are the big tabs by the zipper that are usually made from your jacket fabric and not ribbing), then attach the ribbing as directed to the front band. Just as you did with the cuffs, divide the ribbing into four sections and mark with pins. Then halve the sections again. Mark off the jacket hem with the same amount of equal sections. Pin ribbing to right side of jacket, matching pins. TRY ON for fit. Stitch, gently stretching the ribbing as needed between sections. Finish the seam by serging.

Ribbing for bomber jackets; how-tos. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.
Stitching the ribbing to the jacket hem.

Neckline: For McCall’s M7100, cut your ribbing for the neckline using the pattern piece. Pin in place, leaving room to turn the jacket’s front edges under by 5/8″. (You will be stitching the zipper next.) Important: TRY ON jacket and see how the neck ribbing fits. The ribbing should gently hug your neck. If it doesn’t, try stretching the ribbing at the neckline and repin it. Try on again and repeat as needed to get this kind of fit:

how the neckline ribbing should fit
[bomber jacket image from Nordstrom]
Once you are satisfied, baste the ribbing in place and stitch. If you aren’t lining your jacket you’ll want to finish this seam somehow so it’s not scratchy against your neck. I recommend binding it with ribbon or satin binding; see finishing options here.

Note: For my version of Butterick B6181, I wanted to use ribbing instead of encased elastic. Ribbing worked fine at the cuffs and hem, but it was a minor fail at the neckline. This is because A), the neckline on this pattern is cut low; and B), my ribbing was on the thicker side and couldn’t stretch satisfactorily here to hug my neck. So I ended up making the ribbing smaller at the neck for this pattern.

Ribbing for bomber jackets; how-tos. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.
Here you can see how the ribbing is gaping badly at the neck with Butterick B6181. The lower cut of the neckline makes substituting ribbing here just a little harder to do. The pattern calls for a woven, shaped collar here, not ribbing like I attempted to do.

So, all in all, attaching knit ribbing is generally pretty easy to do. I think the part that poses some trouble for people is where the front band piece is attached to the jacket, and then the ribbing is attached to the front band and then to the jacket. (Steps 27-31 in B6181 and steps 25-33 in M7100.) Here are some images that might help you visualize these steps a little better:

Ribbing for bomber jackets; how-tos. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.

The front band serves the purpose of enclosing the zipper and providing a place to attach the ribbing. As you can see in this diagram, the ribbing/jacket seam is left open, so you can easily serge the seam after you’ve stitched it for a neat finish.

Ribbing for bomber jackets; how-tos. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.
For Butterick B6181, since I hacked the pattern and used ribbing instead of encased elastic, I had to make up my own directions for this part of the jacket. The circle shows where I clipped the ribbing/band seam so I could easily stitch the ribbing and then turn down the band seam allowance to enclose it.
Ribbing for bomber jackets; how-tos. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.
Before I stitched, I pinned the band and the ribbing in place just to make sure my pattern hack would work. 

I hope this post helps you with applying ribbing to your jacket. Feel free to leave any questions or suggestions in the comments. And don’t forget you can still join our Bomber Jacket Facebook Group! #BomberJacketSewAlong

Bomber Jacket Sew-Along: Making the Inside of Your Jacket Look Pretty

McCall Pattern Company blog: Bomber Jacket Sew-Along

When I was in 8th grade Home Ec class the teacher offered us the chance to earn extra credit if we wanted to make a garment at home. The only requirement was that we show her the uncut fabric and supplies before we began. She thought this would help prevent us from passing off  store-bought clothes as things we made. Well, in my excitement to make my utterly cute yellow gingham dress with lace trim, I ignored the whole requirement thing and sewed the dress over a weekend. (Because even at age 13 I couldn’t go a weekend without sewing.)

That next Monday in Home Ec I proudly showed the teacher my finished Butterick dress and asked for the extra credit. Being the lover of rules that she was, she started to tell me she wouldn’t give me the extra credit because I hadn’t shown her the uncut fabric first. And the outside of my dress looked pretty decent. But then she peeked inside.

Readers, all bets were off that I was passing off a RTW dress as something I had made. Make the inside look nice?! Huh?! Not when you’re a beginning sewer and just want to make cute stuff to wear the next day to school. The inside of my dress was a messy mess. I got the extra credit, though, served up with a lecture on finishing seams. Lesson learned.

So, why do we finish the insides of our garments when no one sees them?

  • To reinforce seams and interiors and make them stronger.
  • To make clothing more comfortable to wear, because scratchy and annoying parts are encased.
  • Because a well-finished garment interior is like a badge of honor, and shows you take care and pride in your work.

Ok, enough of the lecturing and childhood reminiscing. Let’s look at three bomber jackets I made when I was blogging for the Mood Fabrics Sewciety:

lace and neoprene bomber jacket made by Meg Carter of the McCall Pattern Company and originally featured on the Mood Sewciety blog
A neoprene and lace bomber jacket.
neoprene jacket inside
Since neoprene this thick doesn’t take to a serger, I covered the seams with petersham ribbon, handstitching in place. I also covered the zipper tape in petersham.
Textured novelty cotton bomber jacket made by Meg Carter of the McCall Pattern Company and originally featured on the Mood Sewciety blog
This jacket I made using a heavy, textured cotton by Marc Jacobs.
Here, I flatlined the interior. This is where you treat the lining fabric—in this case silk organza—and the exterior fashion fabric as one layer. This means the seams will be exposed and need to be finished. The seams are then either Hong Kong finished or flat-felled, with some serging around the pocket and ribbing. The zipper tape is covered with poly satin bias tape.
Leather and metallic brocade bomber jacket made by Meg Carter of the McCall Pattern Company and originally featured on the Mood Sewciety blog
Leather and metallic brocade for this bomber jacket. I went a little bomber jacket crazy, making these jackets all within a few months time.
With this leather jacket I flatlined again, with a poly lining fabric, and Hong Kong finished the seams with a textured fabric I had in my stash. (Wow, I’m impressed by my own handiwork here!)
MSGM bomber jacket, as seen on the McCall Pattern Company blog
Here’s a bomber jacket by MSGM, which one of our designers bought for herself at Century 21. The seams are finished using a true Hong Kong seam technique. You can see more interior photos of this jacket on the Facebook group.

The takeaway: Finish your seams. Best options are serging or Hong Kong finishing. Never done Hong Kong seams before? They’re easy. Here’s a tutorial.

Another option is to line your jacket. My colleague Gillian will talk about adding a lining to your bomber jacket during the week of 10/10/16. I did a kind of modified lining with my Butterick bomber by following these steps:

  • Create a lining of bodice front, bodice back, and sleeves. Omit the pockets.
  • Attach the ribbing at the neck as directed.
  • Stitch the lining to the neckline so it is right-sides-together with the fashion fabric
  • Flip the lining over and you’re done. The ribbing seam is now neatly enclosed. You can edge-stitch the lining in place if you desire.
Lining techniques for bomber jackets. On the McCall Pattern Company blog
After the ribbing is stitched to the neckline, then attach your lining by stitching over the ribbing seam. Turn, and now the neckline seam is neatly enclosed.
  • I left the seams open 5/8″ at the front edges so I could turn the lining under after I inserted the zipper. Then I stitched the lining in place to the zipper tape.
  • When it came to attaching the ribbing at the cuffs and hem, I used the flatlining technique and treated the lining and the fashion fabric as one layer. Easy peasy.

Bottom line: A well-finished garment interior is a beautiful thing.

Coming up next on the #BomberJacketSewAlong: Adding ribbing to your jacket. Stay tuned! And it’s not too late to join our Bomber Jacket Facebook Group, btw.