You know that feeling of panic when you pull your expensive, warm winter jacket out of the closet, put it on, pull the zipper up, and it stops halfway? Or the teeth start separating at the bottom? Or the pull comes off? Or the teeth are bent and you can no longer zip or unzip so you have to step in and out of your jacket?
No need to stress: Replacing the zipper on a winter jacket isn’t as difficult as most people think.
Types of zippers
If you want to be really precise, zippers are also sized according to how big their teeth are, in millimeters. To find that exact number, close the zipper and measure across both rows of teeth. Heavier coats often use an 8- or 10-millimeter zipper—sometimes simply called a No. 8 or No. 10.
Some jackets have two-way zippers with dual pulls that allow you to unzip in both directions. They still only separate on one end, though.
Pulls and pull tabs
First off, if the zipper still functions perfectly fine and only the pull tab is missing, you can find all sorts of replacements on the internet. Pull tabs are pretty easy to replace; you just need a pair of needle nose pliers to bend the loop open and closed.
If the entire pull has come off, you might be able to swap it. Problem is, it can be tough to find an exact duplicate of a specific zipper pull; some companies manufacture them specifically for their jackets.
To replace a pull, use needle nose pliers to remove the zipper stop—the metal or plastic piece at the top of the teeth that keeps the zipper pull from coming off. Slide the new pull tab on, make sure it works, and replace the zipper stop. It’s difficult to pry open the old one enough to get it back on, so you might as well use a new one.
Zipper-repair kits usually include an assortment of pulls and stops. The flat pieces with four prongs are stops for the bottom of a zipper and the small U-shaped pieces go on each side of the top of the zipper.
For an entirely new zipper
1. With the coat flat, measure the length of the zipper. Zippers don’t come in half lengths, so if you have a 31.5-inch zipper, you’ll have to purchase a 32-inch one. It’s possible to shorten a zipper, but if the zipper doesn’t go completely to the bottom of the coat, there’s no real need to do that.
2. (Optional) Shorten the zipper. Coats that go past the waist often don’t have zippers that extend all the way to the bottom edge. Instead, the zipper starts and stops about four or five inches up.
Always shorten a jacket zipper from the top. The reason for this is that the mechanism on the bottom must fit perfectly for the teeth to line up and the zipper to do its job correctly. Jackets with plastic zippers have molded plastic stops on the bottom that are difficult to replace successfully.
First, mark the zipper with tailor’s wax where you want it to end. Then, mark a point 1 inch from the top end of the zipper. Cut the zipper between the teeth at the second (highest) point you marked. Using needle nose pliers, pull out the teeth between the two marks. Insert the zipper stops on each side and crimp in place with pliers.
3. Find the zipper’s stitching. Unzip the jacket (if you can), and look on the inside bottom to find the seams holding the zipper in place. Before beginning to remove the zipper, mark the tail end with tailor’s wax. Tailor’s wax will disappear when ironed, so don’t worry about whether or not that mark will be visible when you’re finished.
4. Using a seam ripper, remove all the stitches holding the zipper in place. Once you begin detaching the zipper, you’ll likely end up with two or three fabric layers: the lining, the outer material and, possibly, a placket (only on the left or right, depending on gender).
5. Continue taking out stitches until the zipper is free. If your coat has a placket on one side, you should detach it at this point.
6. Remove any stray threads from the placket. If you don’t have a placket under the zipper, you can skip this step.
7. Fold the top of the zipper diagonally twice in the same direction, toward the edge without teeth.
8. If you have a placket, line up the toothless edge of the zipper with the edge of the placket that goes between the lining and the outer fabric. Pin it in place if necessary. If you don’t have a placket, skip to Step 10.
When you get toward the bottom (the last three or four inches), lift the presser foot while keeping the needle inserted in the zipper and fabric so you can shove the pulls up and out of your way while sewing.
10. Line up the zipper with the outer edge of your fabric. For the Patagonia coat in the photo below, the teeth share an edge with the shell. Another common zipper layout is where the outer center edge of the coat fabric is stitched right next to the teeth. In this case, the teeth are exposed when zipped because there’s no material covering them.
If you have a placket on one side, it will extend past both the zipper’s edge and the coat’s center edge. Pin it in place. Push the lining out of the way to just attach the zipper to the outside of the coat.
11. Sew the zipper to the outer fabric of the coat.
12. Pin the lining in place. Try to secure it through the stitching line you just completed so when you start sewing again, it will be in the proper place. You can probably follow the holes from where it was previously attached.
13. Repeat steps 11 and 12 for the other side of the zipper. Close up the new zipper to make sure it works correctly and things line up as they should.
If you have any problems with alignment, choose a side and remove the stitches. Then, zip it and pin the other side in place. Unpin it and repeat Step 10. Once you’re satisfied with your zipper application, redo Step 11 for the second side.
14. This is the easiest one so far: Put on the coat and enjoy being in your cozy cocoon.