Bodysuit Sewalong: Inserting the Zipper

Exposed zipper basted flat to prepare for topstitching

Zippers in bodysuits are an interesting puzzle. You need one to get into your costume, but it can be tricky to combine the necessarily un-stretchy zipper with very stretchy fabric without puckers or waves. So let’s talk about a couple of my favorite tricks for neat, hassle-free zipper insertion on stretch fabrics!

Depending on which view of the pattern you pick, the M7217 bodysuit instructions show either a standard centered zipper or an invisible zipper, placed at center front or center back. You can use either method in either zipper location, depending on your preference. In this post I’m going to demonstrate a third option, the exposed zipper, which is applicable to a whole range of characters in comics and elsewhere.

Inserting an exposed zipper in the M7217 bodysuit

Interfacing applied to the seam allowance along the center front seam of the bodysuit. Note that I’ve narrowed the seam allowances due to fabric shortage – the interfaced area should be wider if you’re using the full width.

First tip: interface your zipper location

Before inserting a zipper in stretch fabrics, I like to stabilize the seam allowances with a strip of fusible tricot interfacing. It’s lightweight and has some give to it, so it’s well suited to stretch fabrics, but it also makes the fabric a lot more stable and less likely to bubble. You don’t want to affect the stretch of the rest of the bodysuit, so make the strip about an inch wide and an inch longer than your zipper. Lay the bodysuit on the ironing board, making sure that nothing is stretched out of shape, with the back side of the fabric facing up. Fuse the interfacing strips to the seam allowances on either side of the zipper location, using a press cloth to protect your iron from excess goo.

Hand basting gives you much more control when inserting zippers in stretch fabrics

Hand basting gives you much more control when inserting zippers in stretch fabrics

Second tip: hand baste the zipper

Trust me, it’s worth the extra fifteen minutes. I like to work with the bodysuit totally flat on a table, so that the weight of the fabric can’t stretch it out. If using the standard zipper insertion method (views C and D), sew the lower portion of the seam and baste the zipper area closed before you begin. Pin the zipper at each end, and hand baste the zipper on each side as shown in the instructions.

For an invisible zipper, most methods have you insert the zipper before sewing the seam. That means you need to be careful that the top and bottom of the zipper are aligned with the exact same spot on each side. I like to baste the zipper to one side, line up the other side on top, and pin the top and bottom of the zipper in place before I baste. (If the fabric is very stretchy or lightweight, you may need to pin the full length and then baste.)

Your machine may let you adjust the needle position to the left, right, or both

Adjusting the needle position allows you to stitch areas that are too tight even for a zipper foot

Third tip: finesse the needle position

Some zipper feet are adjustable, but many are fixed (though they may allow you to choose a right or left position.) I’m rarely satisfied with the default placement, so I use the needle position dial on my sewing machine to shift my sewing closer to the zipper teeth than the foot would otherwise allow. This really applies to any zipper insertion, but it’s especially useful when your zipper is on display at center front and you need it to look perfect.

You can actually sew invisible zippers this way, without an invisible zipper foot—just use your fingers to unroll the coil as you sew, and adjust your stitches to land a needle width or so away from the teeth. Don’t sew through the teeth, though, as that will prevent the zipper from closing.

Adjusting the needle position also makes it easier to close up the rest of the seam after you insert an invisible zipper. That first inch or so can be tricky, since the bulk of the zipper tape gets in the way and makes it hard to sew straight, but if you shift the needle all the way to one side it’ll help keep the tape out of the way of the foot. Just remember to mark your stitching line first, since you won’t be able to measure off the marks on the needle plate if you’ve adjusted your needle away from center.

Sewing an exposed zipper
staystitching for an in-seam exposed zipper

Staystitch 3/4″ from the edge along the zipper length, then across where the bottom of the zipper will be.

To insert an exposed zipper in your bodysuit, first mark where you would like the zipper to end. Staystitch 3/4″ from the edge for at least a couple inches along the bottom of the zipper’s length, then across the bottom of the zipper to the edge of the fabric. You can staystitch the entire length if you want, but be careful not to stretch the edge while you sew as this will result in a ripply zipper.

Clip into the corner of the staystitching and open up the seam allowances

Clip into the corner of the staystitching and open up the seam allowances

Sew the center seam below the staystitching, starting exactly on the stitching line and backstitching so it doesn’t unravel. Clip into the corner. Open up the seam and press it flat, making sure that the staystitching rolls slightly to the inside. Fold the lower seam allowances down to square off the bottom of the zipper opening. Pin the seam allowances to hold them in place while you work.

Basting and stitching the first half of the exposed zipper

Mark the end of the staystitching with a pin and stitch exactly to that point

Open up one seam allowance and baste the zipper in place, placing it face down on the right side of the fabric. Here I’ve aligned the edge of the zipper tape at 1/2″ from the fabric edge, and basted right on top of the staystitching to help guide my sewing. Sew the zipper to the seam allowance only – leave the outer layer alone for now. The stitching line is about 1/16″ inside the staystitching.

Align and baste the second half of the zipper

Align and baste the second half of the zipper

Flip the zipper to the inside and align the other edge. Baste and stitch, making sure that your stitching line is inside the staystitching so it won’t show. Once again, stop right at the base of the zipper and backstitch. Turn the zipper over and do the final topstitching from the outside.

Exposed zipper basted flat to prepare for topstitching

The zipper ready for topstitching

I like to baste my zipper flat from the outside before topstitching, to control the roll of the fabric and make sure it looks nice and even. Otherwise, the stretchy fabric can shift as you sew and create wrinkles or puckers in the final result. Topstitch down the length of the zipper, across the base, and back up.

If you will be wearing the zipper open at all, you may want to trim the seam allowances back so that they’re hidden behind the zipper tape. You can do a second row of topstitching right outside the first to enclose the seam allowances and ensure the zipper lies completely flat.

Finished exposed zipper


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  • Thank you for this tutorial. Very informative.

  • Thank you for this tutorial, it is very helpful and informative.
    I bought the M7217 pattern to use to sew the bodysuit worn by Mitsuru Kirijo in Persona 4 Arena and Persona 4 Arena Ultimax. Her bodysuit is quite unique. She has cutout portions on the arms and legs with stud details holding them together with another layer of a different colored fabric in between them. The most interesting feature is the front and back of her bodysuit which at first glance looks like she has an underbust corset sewn on. Any tips or advice you can share on how this would be appreciated as I am spinning my brain wheels on how to tackle this unique challenge.

    • Hi Amy, I think you could do the detailing on the bodysuit as a mixture of colorblocking and appliqué. The lighter areas look like they would work well in reverse appliqué, where you sew two layers of fabric together and then cut away part of the top layer. The corset-like sections look like they could be cut as separate pieces, inserted in those angled seams at the side front and side back and then sewn down in front/back.

      I don’t know if you’ve looked at the other posts from this series, but we posted about appliqué here and adding more seams to the bodysuit here in case that helps you.

      If I was making this, I would treat the studs as purely decorative. It wouldn’t work well to hold any part of the bodysuit together with studs alone, because it’ll pull out of shape and might tear where the studs are attached. Just make the seams look like the art, and add the studs on once it’s finished.

      Looks like a really fun project, good luck!

  • Thanks for posting this tutorial! This has been a huge help for me, since this bodysuit pattern is the first time I’m sewing with spandex. I was wondering if you can sew a lapped zipper with spandex. Can you sew it like you would with less stretchy fabric?

    • I don’t know that I would recommend a lapped zipper in spandex. You want a fabric that will make a nice crisp fold for a lapped zipper, and spandex fabrics tend to be thick and squishy and don’t take pressing well. You’d also need to interface the overlap to prevent it from scrunching up or curling back from the zipper, which means you end up with a lot of fabric layers on top of the thickness of the zipper itself.

      If you need an unobtrusive closure, I’d really recommend going with an invisible zipper. They make heavyweight invisible zippers (mostly sold for making formal gowns) if you’re worried about it being strong enough. If you’re determined, though, you can always try making a sample with scrap fabric to decide whether you like it! Making the overlap wider might help make it lie nice and flat if you go that way.

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  • Thank you for this awesome tutorial! I have a lot of trouble with zippers puckering and bubbling! I see this is for an exposed zipper; is there a tutorial for a hidden zipper? My sister and I are using pattern K3052 with pleather to make X-Men suits modeled after the one worn by Shadowcat in X-Men Last Stand:
    (Shadowcat/Kitty is standing in the middle)
    The zipper looks like it’s a hidden one. Also, I’m not sure how to go about the piping. I’m thinking about adding sort of an applique to the suits by creating panels from pleather and another fabric. Is this the best way to go about it?

    • The method for a hidden zipper is similar, but a little simpler – you don’t need to do any of the staystitching or clipping or anything. If the pattern has instructions for that already you can follow them, but I suggest that you still interface the seam allowances the same way I did above. I highly recommend basting to make sure the zipper ends and any seams all line up. I also suggest using a heavyweight invisible zipper if you can find one; the standard ones aren’t really designed to be pulled on.

      An appliqué would work for those panels but they’re also simple enough that you could just add a seam there. The easiest way to do this is to make a mock-up and just draw in where you want the piping to go, then cut along that line, but you can estimate and draw it in on the pattern piece too. Cut the pieces apart along your new seam line, then add seam allowance to each side. Again, basting is your friend to make sure everything lines up right in the end. Did you see my post on sewing stretch piping?

  • Great tutorial! I just have two questions. First what is fusible tricot? I am only familiar with Pellon SF-101 as far as interfaces goes. In you steps you stated that you placed the zipper a half inch from the edge of the seam allowance. How far from the edge of the zipper tape did you place your hand basting stitches? I know you stated you placed you basting right on top of the stay stitching but with the zipper tape on top you wouldn’t be ale to see it? Or is there an extra step of stay stitching the zipper tape separate from the seam allowance?

    • Fusible tricot is a lightweight knit interfacing with a little bit of give to it. It’s sold under different brand names; I believe Pellon’s Sheer Knit is one example. If you’ve only been using one type of interfacing I’d highly recommend experimenting with some others as different types will be appropriate for different fabrics and create different effects. In this case, I used the tricot because I wanted to stabilize the fabric but didn’t want a lot of extra thickness or stiffness.

      The position of the hand basting stitches doesn’t matter, they’re just to keep the tape positioned correctly until you sew. I try to keep them out of the way of the stitching line so they’ll be easier to remove later. You want to baste from the zipper side so that you can make sure it’s placed the correct distance from the cut edge, then flip it over and machine sew from the staystitching side so that you can make sure you’re sewing in the right place. Sorry if that was unclear! Should have gotten a picture of that bit.

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