How I Spent $2 to Save a $140 coat: Zipper Replacement
Alright. I’ve been reading enough online recipes lately to know that too much jabber jabber before the actual useful content is super annoying. So I’m going to try putting the jabber jabber into the useful content.
Why Bother Replacing a Zipper
Zipper damage is actually the most common problem I see with coats, especially barn coats. Obviously replacing a zipper is a great way to extend the life of an otherwise perfectly good coat. Coats are extremely difficult to make yourself and their materials are almost never biodegradable. So getting as much use out of your coat as you can is the best option in terms of considering your impact on the planet.
Also, coats are quite expensive if you buy them new. The coat I’m fixing today looks like it retails for about $140 based on a quick Google of GAP parkas. My mom bought this one at a thrift store for $18. I fixed it with a zipper that’s tag said $5.89 and I bought it at a thrift store for $2. So basically, I saved a $140 coat from the trash for $2 with about 2 hours of sporadic work while I played with my kids.
The method I’m going to describe below is what I used to make an old barn coat functional again. This is not going to give you the most beautiful results, but it is going to make your coat work.
NOTE: For beautiful results, I would do some more deconstruction of the coat so I could sew the zipper on the outside and inside separately.
How to Replace a Zipper on a Coat: The Quick and Dirty Method
STEP 1: Take a seam ripper and cut out the old zipper.
Details: You will need to take the zipper off of the outer shell of the coat as well as the lining. This zipper was stitched on in 2 seam lines, so I took out 4 seams the whole zipper. Go slowly and be careful not to rip the fabric while ripping the seam open.
NOTE: The little ballpoint on the seam ripper can be used on the fabric side of your work so that you don’t constantly poke holes in the fabric. This is going to seem obvious to some readers, and will blow the minds of others.
Step 2: Find a suitable replacement zipper.
Details: This maybe seems like step 1. But that’s not how I role. I cut out the zipper, had an eviscerated parka on my lap, and then realized I needed materials to fix it.
Handily, if you’ve done it like I did, you now have a lifeless zipper in your hands and you can carry that to your sewing room or craft store and compare lengths.
ECO-TIP: Chances are, there’s still a functional portion of your old zipper. You can save that and use it for smaller projects in the future. I have used an old broken zipper on a coin purse before.
The healthy zippers I have in my stash are mostly from the craft aisle at thrift stores. I assume they are there after being cast off by someone cleaning out their mom’s house. Want to see other projects I made with thrifted zippers? Check out my emergency trousers, both of my Simplicity Dresses, and my Lederhosen shorts.
NOTE: For a coat, you want a separating zipper (Thanks, Captain Obvious): One that comes fully apart when the zipper is at the bottom. To find the correct length, just measure the zipper you took out. I didn’t have a zipper the correct length in my stash. I had zippers that were 2 inches too short and 2 inches too long. I opted for the too-short zipper in this instance. You can shorten a separating zipper (or so I am told) but it sounds complicated. There’s a great tutorial by Doina Alexei here if you’re feeling ambitious.
Step 3: Pin the new zipper into place.
Details: Keep the new zipper fully zipper while you pin it into place, this will help you line things up better on the coat. If you don’t need it to be beautiful, you can pin the outer shell and the inner lining to the zipper in one go (like I did). Proper sewing procedure would have you do these in separate steps. But that’s why this is called the quick and dirty method.
NOTE: Make sure to line up the tops and bottoms on each side of the coat, this can be tricky if your zipper is a bit short like mine was.
Step 4: Sew the new zipper in place.
Details: Use a heavy duty needle on your sewing machine or in your hand. I used a 110/18. To sew, I had to go through a LOT of layers, and my machine did NOT like it very much. At first I thought going slowly would be the way to help, but actually, going to slowly can make it harder on your machine and she will let you know it! Find a good rhythm and stop frequently to check you are catching all the layers.
The little velcro patches for the wind-break did not want to be sewn through either, so I pulled those back and out of the way of the presser foot as I sewed the new zipper in place. They could pull back because I had ripped out a bit of their attachment when I took out the original zipper.
There were a couple of spots where my machine just would NOT go through all those layers. I didn’t force it. At the bottom of the zipper and at the neck stabilizer (the white trim pictured) on the jacket, I skipped over them and sewed them closed by hand afterward.
You can see in the finished photo above, the ripped threads from the original zipper are showing. If you want a more clean-cut look, you will need to add a couple of extra steps I explained above.
Step 5: Trim lose threads and complete any other mending while you’re at it.
Details: The coat I was working on had several other little tears on it. I fixed those as well while I had it in my lap.
I’ve often wondered how horses get so many tears and holes in their blankets. But I shouldn’t judge them so harshly, because my mom’s coat was in pretty poor condition as well. It turns out, working outside it tough on clothes.
I hope this helps you try braving your own zipper replacement. Once you get used to the idea of replacing zippers, it gets much less scary. This is my third replacement of a ready-to-wear zipper, and also my third success.
As always, feel free to send me any questions either on Facebook, Instagram, or in the comments.