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Sewing the body


Installing a zip isn't particularly hard, but it can be fiddly. The best advice I can give is to pin things to see how it works before sewing.

A personal recommendation: If you get half way through this and just can't get the zip stuff to work, then take a breather to calm down and then go to look at the 'rear inner' origami (zipless) suit option. You'll have to unpick the sleeves and copy a couple of small parts of your existing paper pattern, but the rest of your work won't have to go to waste, and the zipless suit is much more comfortable!

You will need

What to do

Back seam

  1. Lay your garment with the back seam together, and stretch the zip from half way up the collar piece down the back seam.
  2. Pin your back seam from crotch point to 50mm (2") below where your zip ends, and serge.

Pinning the zip

  1. Lay your garment with the back seam together again, then open it out from stitching to neckline as shown in the photo with the unpinned zip. The purple represents the right side (outside) of the fabric, and the blue represents the wrong side (inside) of the garment.
  2. Unzip your zip, and lay it on your fabric along the edges of the opened-up back seam as shown in the photos:
    • The teeth are uppermost,
    • the zip is on the right side (outside) of your fabric,
    • the ribbon covers its own width of the fabric along the edge,
    • the toothless edge of the ribbon runs along the very edge of your fabric (putting the teeth a short distance in from the edge of the fabric).
    • In the upper photo, the bright green line highlights the zip teeth of that half of the zip because they weren't obvious on that side, like they are on the near half of the zip. The pinned zip picture beneath the first is of the green-coloured half of the zip.
    • Note: The books say to iron the zip flat, so the teeth aren't folded against the ribbon, and they claim this makes it easier to install. I've never found this necessary and just use the foot to push the teeth to the side as you see in the picture below, but you might prefer the ironed route.
  3. Pin the zip in place: pin the ends first, making sure that the teeth stop midway across the collar rectangle (matching the notch in the short edge).
    • The fabric should be somewhat stretched when the zip is pulled taut (so it's less likely to develop waves/wrinkles while it's being sewn) and well balanced on both sides.
    • If you know how much the fabric will stretch when it's being worn - say 30% - then you can stretch the fabric by that much before pinning the top and bottom of the zip.
    • If you're going to stretch the fabric like this, you will want to serge higher along the back-seam to reach the real location of the base of the zip. I didn't mention this stretching at the start of this page because it would have been hard to explain. You can simply serge over the top inch of the existing serging.
    • Be aware that if you stretch the fabric more than it'll be stretched when worn, the zip will be wavy and ugly when you're wearing the suit. So err on the side of caution.
  4. Pin half way between the pins, then again, then again so the zip is pinned in eighths. (You can pin more if you like.) Confirm that the fabric is appropriately and evenly stretched when the zip is pulled taut, and that the zip is well balanced between each set of pins and on both sides of the seam.
  5. Try zipping the zip up to see how it looks. While you're at it, see how the teeth pivot where they're attached to the ribbon, and how that works when the zip is closed. Adjust the pinning until you're happy.

Sewing the zip

  1. You need to use the zip foot. Fit it to the machine, then loosen the knob behind and slide the foot to the left and right so that the needle goes up and down just inside the notch on the side of the foot. Tighten the knob behind. (You can see this in the sewing machine picture.)
  2. Adjust the foot pressure to be light (this will probably be a three-position dial on the end of your machine, above the needle, and is not the same thing as the thread tension, which is normally right beside where the thread laces through).
  3. Tack the zip in place: Using a large (4mm) straight stitch in a contrasting colour (so you can see it easily to take it out), sew the zip to the fabric beside (but not up against) the teeth.
    • In the photo, you can see the zip foot is pushing the zip teeth to one side; you don't do that for the tacking, just sew near the teeth without pushing them.
    • Also, don't bother with the back-stitching for the tacking stitches - tacking is just a way of 'pinning' and you can unpick the tacking once the zip's properly installed.
  4. Tack the other side of the zip too, in the same direction (you'll need to slide the zip foot so the needle fits in the notch on the other side) and confirm that you're happy with how it zips up and feels so far, particularly how the base of the zip is going to work in the final garment: that it's not twisted awkwardly.
  5. If the tacking was unsatisfactory, unpick it and try again; if the tacking was fine, remove the pins for the next step.
    • If you're feeling especially brave, practiced, or impatient, you can skip the tacking entirely and install the zip based just on the pinning, but you'll probably want to pin perpendicular to the zip in that case.
  6. Open the zip fully.
  7. In a matching colour and with smaller stitches (1mm), sew along the zip from top to bottom, using the zip foot to push the teeth aside so the stitching occurs right at the base of the teeth but without going over the base of the teeth, and while you're doing that, keep the fabric flat.
    • I usually find myself gripping the fabric and zip with my little and ring fingers against my palm, while using my forefinger and thumb to pull the zip against the foot from the front of the machine, and forefinger and thumb of the other hand or sometimes tweezers to hold the zip and fabric behind the zip foot.
    • Remember to start a short distance in and back-stitch nine stitches using the stitch-reverse button/lever. (Use your third hand or psychic powers to do that; I sometimes use my toes if I'm feeling flexible enough.)
  8. When your sewing reaches the zip key, stop and back-stitch for nine stitches.
  9. Repeat for the other side of the zip, sewing in the same direction, from collar to seam. You'll need to adjust the foot to swap the needle to the other side.
  10. Zip the zip half-way closed, then lay the garment right-sides together, with the back seam together towards you. Flip the lower end of the zip out so it will end up on the inside of the garment when you're wearing it.

Base of the back

  1. Using the conventional machine, sew from an inch below the end of the short back-seam (stitching immediately behind the serging, if you can) to about half an inch past where the zip stitching finished.
    • I tend to continue using the zip foot for this, because the needle has to pass very close to the base of the zip.
  2. Sew backwards and forwards between these two points a couple of times, remembering to do the nine back-stitches at the start and end of the stitching (in lieu of a knot).
  3. If you forgot to pull the zip halfway closed, thread strong cotton through the zip pull's ring, and try to wriggle it up. But it's much better to pull it half-way closed before you sew.

Finishing the collar

  1. For each end of the collar, fold it over the zip, right sides together (trapping the teeth 'inside' and the spare ribbon 'outside'), and use the zip foot to sew the folded collar rectangle to the zip ribbon, keeping the excess ribbon at the top directed away from the teeth. (You should sew a millimetre or three away from the teeth to avoid jamming the key's easy slide.)
  2. Turn the collar right side out, and serge the final free edge of the collar to the serged edge attached to the neckline.

The legs

  1. Pin the inside leg seam right sides together, making sure the alignment notches align, and serge, taking care that the back seam is caught properly into the crotch seam. (You may wish to pull it with tweezers, or use a needle to make a loop of thread through the edge and pull with that while it's under the foot.)
  2. You're now sufficiently done that you can try putting the suit on.

The cuffs

  1. If the raw edges of the wrists and feet don't bother you, you can leave them uncuffed because lycra typically doesn't fray - I never bother hemming the bottoms of the cycle shorts I make - but you will probably want to use a carpet needle or something fairly large to thread the serger chain up into the serged seam so it doesn't dangle.
  2. If you do want to 'finish' the cuffs and ankles, you can either simply turn the fabric's edge over and use a zig-zag to sew it in place, or...
  3. Make a proper cuff:
    1. Cut rectangles 2" across (plus seam allowance) and the length of the cuff around (plus seam allowance).
    2. Fold them right sides together and sew/serge the short edges to get cylinders.
    3. Fold them wrong sides together and pin then sew/serge the long edges to get shorter cylinders.
    4. Pin them to the sleeve right sides together, testing for even attachment (hint: pin opposite sides, then quarters, then eighths) and sew/serge around.

All done!

Congratulations, you're all done. Be gentle when you pull it on - don't just pull it all the way up your legs from its waist; only pull about half the length of your leg. If a seam isn't quite sewn you can unpick it a little to make the edges align properly and re-sew it. If you hear a thread snap while you're putting it on or wearing it, you can look for and fix it with a short run of stitching. If your zip's at the back, you might want to tie some soft cord to the zip pull so you can do it up without contorting too much.

I just wash my suits in the washing machine with bio or non-bio detergent at 30-40'C and then hang-dry them inside (to avoid the ultraviolet in sunlight), but be careful to turn any garments with velcro fastenings inside-out so the hooks can't snag your lycra.

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