Stress-free zippers

I love the look of a zipper in a hand-knit cardigan, and the ease it brings to a piece. Installing them can be pretty intimidating if you’ve never done it before, though: The stiff fabric of the zipper is pretty much the polar opposite of loose, easy-to-stretch hand knit. If you’re not careful, it’s easy for the combination of zipper and knit to get all bunched up and messy.

I’m far from an accomplished hand-sewist, but I’ve developed a few tricks over the years to make my zipper installations tidy and simple. Here’s how I do it.


First, you’ll need some supplies handy to make things go smoothly:

  • The zipper itself: A separating zipper as close to the length of your cardigan opening from hem to neck shaping as possible.
  • Pins: I use straight sewing pins.
  • Sewing needle and thread, in a color that matches the zipper as closely as possible.
  • Straight blocking wires: I use the thicker, stiffer ones, longer than the cardigan opening.

Once you’ve got everything together in a nice large flat space with good light, you’re ready to get started.

Step one: Stabilize the edges.

Since the difference between the loose fabric of the hand-knit and the rigidity of the zipper fabric is where most installation problems begin, I use thick blocking wires to add some stability to the knit:

Weave the blocking wires up and down through the fabric for the entire length of the edge, at the inside edge of your facing where the innermost edge of the zipper will be.

Step two: Pin the zipper.

Here’s the bit you might have to redo once or twice to get the hang of things. With the zipper closed, so that it’ll be even on both sides of the cardigan front, pin the zipper into place up against the blocking wires.

I like to start at the top, folding under the ends of the zipper. I then pin the middle and the bottom, and finally fill in around every inch or so with straight pins.

Check to make sure everything’s neat and tidy.

Then, unzip the zipper leaving the pins in place.

You’re now ready to sew.

Step three: Hand-sew the inside edges.

Leaving the pins and blocking wires intact, use whip stitch to begin to hand-sew the inside edge of the zipper to the cardigan:

After you’ve got about an inch done, you can remove the blocking wires and the pins as you get to them.

Like I said, I’m not the neatest hand-sewist in the world, but if you keep your stitches small any variation will be tough to spot.

Repeat on the other side. You’ve now got a zipper that’s installed, no pins or wires necessary.

You’ll notice, though, that the front edges of the zipper are pretty floppy. Time for another bit of sewing.

Step four: Sew the outside seam.

Start by zipping up the cardigan.

This helps stabilize everything as you prepare to sew the front (outside) of the zipper itself to the inside of the knit facing. Here, I’ve pinned things open for visibility:

You’ll be sewing the portions marked with light pink pins to one another, again using whip stitch. Aim for your seam being roughly halfway in the middle of the zipper edging. Here’s another shot, where I’ve seamed just a bit at the bottom left.

Once you’ve done both sides, you’re finished!

Step five: Enjoy.

Sew in your ends and revel in your amazing new garment.