How to Add a Recessed Zipper to Any Tote Bag- Tutorial by Crafty Gemini

In this video I share with you an upcoming HUGE project I’ve been working on for the past year and a half! And I also teach you how to make and attach an inset or recessed zipper in any tote bag project. The technique I teach you here is a lot of fun, easier than some other techniques and the results are a super sleek and professionally finished zipper panel. There are no exposed raw edges anywhere! I think you will enjoy incorporating this technique in your next bag project.


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A lot of people have been asking me how to install a recessed zipper in the lining, and it’s about time that I teach you how to do it. If you check out my Staci purse, you will see that the lining holds the zipper. There is a panel on both sides and a zipper tab that works as a handle which you can grab to open and close the zipper. 

Step 1:

Zipper tabs: Cut out a 2” x 3” and a 2 ½ “ x 3 ½ “ fabrics. Fold the short ends towards the back on about a quarter of an inch. Apply basting glue and iron press to set. Fold each fabric vertically with the pretty sides in, then stitch on both sides. Trim away any excess bulk, and flip the fabrics pretty sides out. 

Side panels: Cut two 3” x 11” fabrics. Cut the length of the panels the same as the lining. Then, turn the short ends towards the back on about a quarter of an inch. You can use a seam gauge to measure both sides. Fold lengthwise with the pretty sides in. 

Zipper: Certainly, the length of the zipper will depend on how long the lining fabric is and how long you like your zipper tabs to extend.

Step 2:

Insert the zipper ends with the metal stop to the bigger tab, and the other end on the smaller tab. Then, stitch around all the sides of each fabric ends. Fold the zipper and mark the center.

Tip: In locating the center of the zipper, align both the bottom edges of the tabs.

Step 3:

Similarly, fold the fabric panels crosswise and locate the center. Then, to attach the side panels to the zipper, lay the panel pretty side up and place over the zipper. As a result, the right edge of the zipper should be aligned with the longer side of the panel. Make sure to match the center marks. Following that, bring down the other side of the panel. What you will have by now is a zipper in between the fabric. Then, sew right down the edge. 

Step 4:

Flip the fabric strip right side out. To do this, hold the strip and pull on the tab until you pull the zipper tape all the way out. As a result, you have one fabric panel attached to one side of the zipper. Then, topstitch as close as at the zipper teeth. Similarly, repeat the same steps with the other fabric panel.

Step 5:

On your lining fabric, measure where you’d like to place the zipper. Basically, you just need to clear the top seam allowance when you put the bag together. In my case, I am going to draw a line measuring an inch and a half down from the top of my bag. In the same way, measure on the other side of the fabric. Then, fold lengthwise to find the center.

Flip the zipper right side down and place it over one edge of the fabric. Match the center marks. As a result, the right edge of the zipper panel is aligned with the left edge of the fabric. Then, topstitch about an eighth of an inch in from the line and where the fold is of the zipper panel. Then, repeat the same steps for the other fabric.

Tip: Instead of using one whole fabric for the lining. Cut the fabric in the middle giving you two separate pieces for the front and the back of the lining.

At this time, the view from the back edge of the zipper is the finished inset panel. If you flip it over, then you’re gonna see how the lining is going to be inside the tote bag. Now you can sew the whole fabric lining. 

Tip: You’re going to notice some clearance on both ends of the inset zipper. However, just move the zipper away as you stitch all the way around the lining. Also, don’t forget to leave an opening to allow you to flip the fabric right side out. 

Step 5:

Finally, sew the fabric lining to the exterior fabric, and don’t forget to topstitch at the edge of the top opening of the bag.

2 replies on “How to Add a Recessed Zipper to Any Tote Bag- Tutorial by Crafty Gemini

  • Donna Ahlert

    I enjoy watching your sewing videos. I have made more than a few things. I am a visual person( don’t tell me…. show me). I like that I can follow along and pause the video while I do the step. Then continue on OR rewind and watch the step again (if I need to)!


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