Monday, February 29, 2016

Zip A Bag Chapter 17: Pencil Case with In-Seam Zipper

Another zipper installation technique today!

When I was in my late teens, I made a lot of these cylindrical pencil cases. They were lined, because I was anal even back then (which proves that personality flaw are indeed inborn, and never outgrown), and liked sewing things with as few seams as possible. Much as I'd like to say it was a higher-level-design-evolution thing, I suspect it was really laziness. Or efficient cutting for the sake of mass-production, because I churned out these babies like there was no tomorrow, and sold them to other teenagers for a song. 

I didn't do the piping thing then, just a recessed end, because piping and mass-production are not friends. 

I thought we'd revisit this old project because the zipper-installation method is somewhat less well-used. 

Many pouches have their zippers installed in-the-flat, meaning that the zippers are faced with the lining fabric while all the body pieces are not yet assembled. Once the zipper is in, the side and bottom seams are then sewn up to make the pouch. The flat configuration of the fabric pieces makes it easy for beginners to manipulate under the presser foot, which is one of many reasons for it being a popular method to put in and face a zipper.

However, it necessitates a bottom seam, or a base, and most pouches made that way are rectangular, boxy or pursey-looking.

In today's technique, the outer and lining layers are constructed separately, and the zipper put in only at the very last stage. This allows us to use as few seams as possible, and do away with the bottom seam entirely. Which is wonderful, if nothing else, for avoiding the print-matching issues that plague those of us who get hives from seeing asymmetrical and misaligned prints at seams.

The original, full tutorial (with dimensions) can be found on Sew Mama Sew here, and this is a re-interpretation of the portions that involve the zipper. 

Let's start with the lining layer. This is all you need - a single rectangle that forms the cylinder, and two end pieces that fit the open ends of the cylinder. We'll fold the rectangle in half, with RS together,

and sew the end bits of the zipper seam, leaving an opening wide enough for the zipper. A good rule of thumb is to have the opening (gold arrow) a little smaller than the usuable length of zipper coils (red arrow).

Press open the seam (most of which will be un-sewn).

Attach the ends. Note that I used circular ends, because round things are superior, period. But you can also use squares, rectangles or - if you have a death wish - an irregular shape, like a squid.

Remember our standard rules for attaching a cylinder to a flat base

Here is the finished end, WS out. Trim the SA to something narrower and less bulky, if necessary.

Important photo: this is the "finished" lining layer. It is, literally, a finished case, just missing its zipper. You're going to make an identical one in the outer fabric next.

So just repeat the steps with a rectangle in the outer fabric, measuring the opening against the same zipper.

Attach the ends as before. Get fancy if you want, since this is the outer layer.

Now shove the lining layer (WS out) inside the outer layer (RS out). Their WS should be together, so that the inside of the finished pencil case has no exposed SA. Line up the folded SA of the two openings.

Open the zipper and slide the zipper tape between the folded opening layers, maneuvering it so the metal stops are hidden and the coils are just barely exposed.

Hand-baste the zipper tape in place. This, I suspect, might be another reason for this not being the most popular method of installing a zipper; the rumor is that people these days generally dislike hand-basting. 

Here is the basted opening, ready for the presser foot.

Turn the whole case inside out so that you can stitch on the outer layer, as shown. Sew all around the zippered opening, securing the zipper between the layers.


Because it is situated within the natural seam, the coils are almost concealed between the "lips" of the opening, and there is no need to prep the zipper with fabric stops. It really is a very fast method of making a pouch - even with the hand-basting, the assembly takes hardly any time.

But my favorite reason for loving this technique is this: the entire body is a single, seamless piece of fabric!

And those round ends, of course. Superior.

Updated 2022: Unfortunately, the link at Sew Mama Sew (SMS) is no longer active. However, you can still access the tutorial - see this more recent post for new links and details. Happy sewing!


  1. Love! Love! Love! I think you did a tutorial for this ages ago on some craft site and I made one for my then 5 year old based on that tutorial. Great series, waiting for the recessed zipper :)

  2. This is perfect! I also suspect this would be a good method to make a bolster pillow (just bigger and stuffed with pillow form instead of pencils). Thank you!

  3. Always disliked hand sewing, don't think I ever basted anything. Just completed five puppets on a deadline where attaching one narrow part to another narrow part was a nightmare. Pins caught on the presser foot, couldn't really tell where I was sewing, just horrible. Forced myself to baste the third one. What a difference! Used a bright thread for visibility. It was easy to sew and took hardly any time to machine sew. All because I took two minutes to hand baste. So yeah, I'll hand baste the zipper and make this, maybe tomorrow.

  4. I bought one of your pencil cases years ago and it is the best case I ever owned. Your design aesthetic always manages to be both attractive and totally practical, and high-quality as well. I just wanted to let you know how much I love it. I also bought one of your swim bags and that thing has been a lifesaver. It's brilliant!

  5. How do we get the dimensions please. I made one of these years ago and my daughter has asked for another one but the link provided doesn't work.

    1. Anonymous: here is a link that you may find helpful!


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