anatomy of a zipper


You love sewing with and using zippers, right? Well, if you’re new here, let it be known that I love zippers. Sometimes zippers can seem like some crazy contraption that’s out to get you, but if you know your way around a zipper, you’ll feel much more confident working with them. I’ll be covering a few common types of zippers and what the parts of the zipper are named.

Plastic coil – plastic coil zippers are quite easy to find at big box craft supply stores. They’re often referred to as an all-purpose zipper. I think they’re the easiest to use and get great results. Plastic coil zippers are easy to shorten. You can sew a few stitches (by hand or machine) over the zipper teeth where you need the length to be and then simply trim the zipper with a scissors 1/2″ past the stitches.


Metal – metal zippers have metal teeth and end stops. They come in many different finishes (nickel, brass, antique brass to name a few) and zipper tapes of varying colors. I love the look of a metal zipper. They are more difficult to shorten, but it can be done – with a little elbow grease and a needle nose pliers.

Zipper tape: 
Zipper tape is the ‘fabric’ that runs along the sides of the zipper teeth. Zipper tape lengths and widths vary my manufacturer and by zipper type. For example, the width of a purse zipper is approximately 1/2″ wider than that of a standard plastic coil zipper. Usually the wider the zipper teeth, the wider the zipper tape. Zipper tapes come in a variety of colors to coordinate with your project! Most commonly, zipper tape is polyester, but you can also find cotton and a few other specialty materials.

Separating or non-separating?

Separating zippers do just that, they separate when fully opened. Think of a jacket, that is a separating zipper. Non-separating zippers stay connected at one end when fully opened. Some non-separating zippers stay closed on both ends (such as a coverall zipper). It’s important to pay attention to what type of zipper a pattern calls for. If you try to use a separating zipper in place of a non-separating zipper, you could run into trouble. For example, separating zippers do not have extra zipper tape at the open end of the zipper, and if you would try to use one in place of a non-separating zipper you wouldn’t have enough zipper tape to properly install the zipper, thus leaving a gap or even making the zipper much more difficult to use. Non-separating zippers are also sometimes called closed bottom zippers.


Zipper Pull(s):headtohead
There are many ways a zipper can open. Most zippers are a one-way zipper. There are also head-to-head zippers, coverall zippers, and two-way separating. When purchasing a zipper pay close attention to what type of zipper the pattern calls for.

End stops:endstops
The end stops are very important. Not only do they help you measure your zipper (see below for how to determine the length of a zipper), but they tell the zipper when to stop opening. The end stops of a zipper are usually metal on both plastic and metal zippers. You can buy replacement end stops and install them yourself, this comes in really handy when shortening a metal zipper. The end stops are located at both ends of a zipper, the pull-side (referred to as the top stop) as well as the end of the zipper (referred to as the bottom stop).

An invisible zipper is a great choice for, you guessed it, installing a zipper where you don’t want it to show on your finished project. Garments and pillows are both common projects that utilize invisible zippers often. You can install and invisible zipper using a regular zipper foot, but I find it’s well worth it to have a specialty invisible zipper foot. For my Janome, the invisible zipper foot only cost a few dollars and it really saves time. There are special channels that guide the invisible zipper coils and keep the needle in the perfect position. When the zipper is correctly installed, you can’t see the zipper – thus it’s invisible, like magic!

Measuring a zipper:
Teeth/Coil Size – It’s true, zippers are also measured not only by length, but also the width of their teeth/coil. For example a #3 size zipper’s teeth/coil is smaller than a #5 zipper, a #3 zipper teeth/coil is 3mm wide whereas a #5 zipper is 5mm wide. Most metal zippers I use in my projects are a #4.5. A #5 is fairly wide and is most likely designed for a project where you need a heavy-duty zipper. If you’re shopping online and the listing doesn’t tell you what teeth/coil size a particular zipper is, contact the shop owner.

labeled coil zippers

Length – To determine the length of a zipper you measure from the top stop to the bottom stop. On a separating zipper, measure from the top (pull-side) stop to the end of the zipper tape (where the zipper would separate). That is the length! Easy, right?!


While this isn’t an exhaustive list of zipper types and features, I have tried to cover most of the common parts and types of zippers. Hopefully this information will help you next time your project calls for a zipper!

I’d like to thank Jennie from Zipit for helping me verify the information within this post and giving me permission to use a couple of her photos (teeth/coil size photos).



16 thoughts on “anatomy of a zipper

  1. liz n. says:

    As usual, you provide the best information!

  2. Jesy says:

    LOVE Zipit 🙂 Only place I buy mine, Great post and info!!

  3. elana says:

    Great post about zippers! As someone who could play with zippers all day, this the perfect brush up on some stuff I’ve forgotten.

  4. Leslie says:

    Thank you for the very informative post. Now I know about teeth measurements!

  5. Jan H says:

    Best information I have read in a long time. Thanks. I’m printing this post to keep on the bulletin board in my sewing room. And I have a new place to get every zipper I’ll ever need!

  6. diane beavers says:

    Anna, Thanks for enlightening me on zippers overall, in particular measuring a zipper and the difference in coil/teeth sizing. I was clueless in that respect, you hit it on the head w/your post…I’m saving this post and taking it with me if I should need to buy one at a retler. Thanks for hooking me on Zipit, Etsy Shop. I’ve ordered twice now and she always includes a free zipper pull…how sweet. Of course could I expect anything less from a fellow Wisconsinite:) We’re all from different areas, I grew Dodge County, southeast.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you! I find the world of zippers to be a bit overwhelming so I appreciate this!

  8. Karen says:

    Very nice explanation of zippers. I love zipit too.

  9. Jan Savage says:

    Thank you Anna. This post helped clear up a bunch of questions for me. I made your market bag tote for a friend and enjoyed the helpful instructions along the way. And, yes, she loved her bag! Working on your zipper top tote for my mother in law now, hence my zipper questions, which this post answered. Thanks again Anna.

  10. Regina says:

    I have a purse that when I bought it (online). The zipper would gap open in the middle. I just unzipped it and then zipped it back up. Since then I haven’t had a problem. The company wanted me to write a review on the purse after having it one day. So I wrote about my one day experience. They have emailed me back saying, new zippers will gap like that and you just have to open them and close them in order to fix the problem. They have asked me to rewrite my negative review. I don’t mind doing so if what they said is true. Have you heard of new zippers having that problem?

  11. Anna Graham says:

    No problem Cynthia, a coverall zipper is one that there are two zipper pulls, but they both pull to one side (not to the middle). Hope that helps!

    1. CYNTHIA RULLAN says:

      Thanks, Anna!

  12. Richard Forston says:

    What determines which side of the zipper is fixed. Just bought a men’s jacket that fastens with the slider on the left. Is this a thing like buttons being on one side of shirts for women and the other for men?

  13. Old SSG says:

    I need the part of a zipper that allows the zipper to slip into the bottom stop on a jacket, but I do not know the name for it.

  14. Shelly Banks says:

    when you are using zipper-by-the-yard and it asks for (example) a 10 inch zipper from where to where do you measure 10 inches? is it the complete length?

    1. Anna Graham says:

      Hi Shelly, a zipper is measured end stop to end stop (not the little ‘tails’ that would typically extend off a regular zipper). So for zipper by the yard, you’d want to measure the zipper size that the pattern calls for plus add a minimum of 1/2″ on either side (so 1″ total) for most applications.

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