Tutorial: Choosing a Zipper is a Design Decision

Lazies, I want to tell you a little about my process for choosing and combining elements and supplies when I make a project. I recently had the opportunity to make some Girls for fabric Designer Yolanda Fundora to showcase her new fabric line Sketchbook through Blank Quilting. I plan to share some of the decision making processes of these samples over the next few weeks.

Today – let’s talk zippers! Take a breath, you’ll be okay. It’s just a harmless, little contraption in the most prominent part of our project. No pressure! Take another breath…

Runaround Bag #LGD111. Click image to enlarge.

The Runaround Bag is a small purse with a simple design made from two fat quarters of fabric, a bit of batting, a zipper and some thread. We can do this, right?

With just two fabrics needed to carry this little cutie, we must choose wisely. Here, I’ve laid out three fabrics and some zippers. I love the feature fabric with the black background. Next, to set the mood of the feature, I need to choose a fabric partner. Both the red/orange and the tan paisley are strong enough to balance the feature. Since I liked them both, it was time to introduce our wild card – the zipper.

Left to Right: black, natural, ecru, dogwood, another brand in dogwood.

Think of the zipper as a third fabric. In quilt terms, it might be the sashing or inner border on a quilt top. Its color is a design element and adds to the overall project.

I grabbed a bunch of zippers from my stash and here is how I audition them in the photo above. Each one coordinates with these fabrics.

Next, I take the best contenders and arrange a mock-up of the finished placement and proportions to see who plays well together. Below, we are auditioning the ecru and black colored zippers. They both work and look nice.


Next, let’s check things with the orange/red fabric and the black and ecru zippers below. I don’t like the ecru here at all. The orange/red fabric is strong and needs the black zipper to anchor the project. But, I wanted to play up the warmth of the browns and earth tones in the feature, so this was too dramatic for my tastes. Thinking ahead, this might call for black thread and really strong embellishments. I could envision the bag becoming too rich and busy for its size and personality and for my vision.


In the end, as you can see from the first picture in this post, I chose the tan paisley with the ecru colored zipper to tie this bag together.

Read more about Yolanda and follow her creations at her blog Urban Amish here.

Next time, let’s explore thread as a design decision in this project.


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17 Responses to “Tutorial: Choosing a Zipper is a Design Decision”

  1. MissDaizy — March 16, 2009 @ 7:54 am

    Thank you so much for your blog – I enjoy reading it very much!!!

  2. Lynn S. — March 16, 2009 @ 7:55 am

    Thanks Joan! I need all the help I can get. I have no confidence when it comes to design elements (choices) . . . you will find me with the “deer in the headlights” look. Sometimes so overwhelming I don’t even start. Color theary, lights, mediums, darks, scale. OH I AM NO GOOD AT IT!

    P.S. I am just starting out as a quilter, have been for about 3 years now 🙂 I’m stuck with all the choices so I do nothing 🙁

    Don’t mean to sound “poor poor pitiful me” honest! 🙂

  3. Debbie — March 16, 2009 @ 8:46 am

    Love starting my week with your blog. I am in the middle of making the Gracie handbag. I enjoy all of your patterns. Wish I could get them all. maybe one day.


  4. Donna Ehle — March 16, 2009 @ 10:19 am

    Joan –

    You are too funny. I loved your intro:
    Today – let’s talk zippers! Take a breath, you’ll be okay. It’s just a harmless, little contraption in the most prominent part of our project. No pressure! Take another breath…

    I sew hate these little contraptions, yet I’ve taken those deep breaths and have been very successful in putting them in my purses. The ones I did I stayed with the main color of the fabric.

    I enjoyed your article. You explained very well, how to choose fabrics and zipper color coordination.

    I am in total agreement with you regarding the orange/red fabric as it is to bold and drastic. The pasily softens and brings out the other fabric nicely.

    The zipper you picked, pulls out some of the color in the bottom fabric, whereas the black is too much, because the background is dark.

    So now tell me, is that a yo-yo behind that button?

    Thanks for sharing this.

  5. CleverQuilter Jean — March 16, 2009 @ 10:28 am

    Laying out choices and then choosing: funny to see this in your post this morning… Just finished a big (meant to be small…) tote bag yesterday and learned I really need to focus on mocking up designs and auditioning fabrics and sizes *before* sewing in place!! Good to see that it really does work to audition *then* sew in place – only wish I’d read this post last Friday!! LOL!!

  6. Joan Hawley — March 16, 2009 @ 10:50 am

    Hi Donna,

    Yes, that is a yo-yo under the button. It lends just the right balance of scale and color to finish this Runaround Bag. I used the Clover Quick Yo-Yo Maker and a scrap from the tan paisley fabric.

  7. Thanks Joan! This is wonderful advice! Zippers have ALWAYS intimidated me! LOL
    ~Katie 🙂

  8. Jo Ann — March 16, 2009 @ 3:43 pm

    Oh wow, what a cutie! Thank you so much for the detailed explanations of your choices (taking deep breath here)..It’s adorable and I love the fabrics too!
    Jo in Texas

  9. Sandy — March 16, 2009 @ 5:55 pm

    WOW thank you …. I’ve always hated zippers. I might start using them now.

  10. Donna L — March 16, 2009 @ 6:42 pm

    I just signed up, when I ordered 3 of your patterns. I have a few UFO’s to finish, but am chomping at the bit to get started. I watched a video and you make it look so easy! The zippers intimidate me, but, you make it sound painless. I’ll let you know how I make out.

    Thanks you for the confidence!

  11. Teresa — March 16, 2009 @ 11:15 pm

    Ooo, I like the little zipper tab pull. That is a nice touch!

  12. Linda — March 17, 2009 @ 5:25 pm

    Joan I have to tell you that I loveeeeee the black zipper with that bag” I think it would look very dramatic.. And if I wanted it toned down I would pick the dark tan zipper. Isen’t it funny how we all have such different tasts. Are you planning on teaching how to make this bag?

  13. Lynne — March 18, 2009 @ 3:09 pm

    I am chuckling to myself reading the zipper angst. When I was 10 my mom sat me down at an ancient Singer and said “you will now make all your school clothes”, and until I was out of high school that is just what I did. Zippers, regular and invisible, set in sleeves, bound button holes, pleats, etc…just a day at the sewing machine. Then I gave up clothes construction. In my 30’s, my fingers itching to sew something, I started quilting classes, and for the last 20 plus years that is about all I ever sew. A sojourn here and there to make clothing for kids (boy those 5/8th inch seams seemed gigantic) occured occassionally. Well, I fell in love with your patterns and decided to try one. When I got to the zipper I thought I had just landed on the moon and my sewing machine was speaking Sanskrit to me! Fortunately, like riding a bike, I got my balance and tackled the contraption, tearing it out once, OK twice, but finally winning. I think I now have my zipper mojo back! Thanks for the concept of the zipper being a design element, something that never entered my brain before.

  14. Jackie Duncan — April 27, 2009 @ 9:33 am

    Love the Runaround bag pattern. I have made several for twin granddaughters, every years vacation gets a bag in the theme of where they are going. Mickey Mouse fabric for Disney World trip, Dolly Parton fabric for Dollywood trip and this year working on pink flamingo bags for Florida trip.
    Always fun to find matching zippers for funky fabrics!

  15. MO — August 23, 2009 @ 7:49 am

    I love the zipper info but would like to leave it out (love the purse hate the arthritis stuff.) Yes I have had the pull but it is still had to fumble withthe zipper….
    would a frog or some other closure work?

  16. Jean Zeiler — June 21, 2012 @ 6:29 pm

    Joan, I have been trying to finish my first Margo bag and it is almost complete.
    Is there a video or tutorial on putting the zipper in? Thank you, Jean


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