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How to Add a Zip to a Tote Bag

How to Add a Zip to a Tote Bag | Megan Nielsen Patterns Blog

Bunny was given this super cute tote bag by her auntie a while back and she loves it so much that she wanted to use it as her sports bag for school. The problem was that without a closure there wasn’t really anything to stop her stuff falling out all over the place. As often happens I remembered I could sew –  so I decided to add a zip to her tote bag! I used a separating zip so that she can unzip it all the way if desired and use it as a tote bag whenever she wants to. It was a really easy addition and I love how it turned out! This method works equally well for an existing tote bag (store bought or handmade is fine!) or you can pair this method with our DIY Tote bag tutorial and make yourself a zip up tote bag from scratch. Alright, let me show you how to add a zip to a tote bag after the jump!

Let’s start with the materials. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A tote bag. This can be one you’ve already got or you can use our tutorial to make one here.
  • A separating zip that is shorter than the opening of your tote bag (mine was 10cm/4″ shorter).
  • A seam ripper if you’re using an existing tote bag.

How to Add a Zip to a Tote Bag | Step 1, unpick. Megan Nielsen Patterns Blog

First up you’ll need to unpick the top edge of your tote bag as well as any reinforcing strap stitches as we’ll be inserting our zip in there so everything is nice and neat.

How to Add a Zip to a Tote Bag | Step 2, measure. Megan Nielsen Patterns Blog

Now it’s time to measure the opening of your tote bag and choose a separating zip that is smaller than the opening. I would recommend leaving a gap on each side. My tote bag opening measured 10cm/4″ larger than my zipper. This meant that I could place my zip with 5cm/2″ gap on either side.

Don’t forget that when measuring a zip we don’t measure the length of the tape – measure between the stoppers.

How to Add a Zip to a Tote Bag | Step 3, pin zip to bag right sides together. Megan Nielsen Patterns BlogHow to Add a Zip to a Tote Bag | Step 3, pin zip to bag right sides together. Megan Nielsen Patterns Blog

Flip out the raw edge of your bag opening, and place your zip right sides together with the bag opening one side. We’ll be sewing the sides one at a time to keep things simple. An extra detail I like to do is to angle the zipper tape into the seam allowance at the end so that all raw edges end up enclosed.

Be careful with placement here. You don’t want to line up the edge of the zip tape with the raw edge of the fabric, you need to line up your seam lines. My tote seam allowance was 1.5cm (5/8″) and I placed my zip just under 1cm (7/8″) from the raw edge so that I could sew 6mm (1/4″) from the edge of the zip tape and be right on top of the original seamline/pressed fold back of the bag.

How to Add a Zip to a Tote Bag | Step 4, sew zip. Megan Nielsen Patterns BlogHow to Add a Zip to a Tote Bag | Step 4, sew zip. Megan Nielsen Patterns Blog

When sewing your zip to your bag don’t forget to use a narrow zipper foot. Now you’ll see why I chose to pin my zip so that I would be sewing 6mm (1/4″) from the edge of the zip tape – my zipper foot is 6mm wide so it lines up perfectly with the edge of the zipper tape and gave me a great visual guide the whole time!

How to Add a Zip to a Tote Bag | Step 5, turn bag inside out. Megan Nielsen Patterns Blog

Turn your bag inside out.

How to Add a Zip to a Tote Bag | Step 6, pin zip to remaining side. Megan Nielsen Patterns BlogHow to Add a Zip to a Tote Bag | Step 6, pin zip to remaining side. Megan Nielsen Patterns Blog

Pin the remaining side of the tote bag opening to the remaining side of the zipper with right sides together. Try your best to keep any seams and straps on the opposite sides of the bag aligned as this will look better visually. Don’t stress if you can’t – my bag wasn’t perfectly proportioned so I wasn’t able to align everything as well as I would have liked, but it’s close. *cry*.

How to Add a Zip to a Tote Bag | Step 7, sew zip to remaining side. Megan Nielsen Patterns Blog

Sew the zipper tape to the remaining raw edge in the same way as you did for the first edge.

How to Add a Zip to a Tote Bag | Step 8, Unzip bag. Megan Nielsen Patterns BlogHow to Add a Zip to a Tote Bag | Step 8, Unzip bag. Megan Nielsen Patterns Blog

Unzip your zipper and make sure that it is separated at the stopper so that the tote can open all the way.

How to Add a Zip to a Tote Bag | Step 9, Fold down top edge. Megan Nielsen Patterns BlogHow to Add a Zip to a Tote Bag | Step 9, Fold down top edge. Megan Nielsen Patterns BlogHow to Add a Zip to a Tote Bag | Step 9, Fold down top edge. Megan Nielsen Patterns Blog

Fold down the top edge of the tote bag using the previous fold lines as a guide (or if you’re sewing your tote bag from scratch continue following this DIY tote bag tutorial )

How to Add a Zip to a Tote Bag | Step 10, Sew opening closed. Megan Nielsen Patterns Blog

Now all that’s left is to sew around 2mm (1/8″) from the zip seam to enclose all the raw edges. Don’t forget to resew the re-enforcing stitches on the straps!

How to Add a Zip to a Tote Bag | Step 10, Sew opening closed. Megan Nielsen Patterns Blog

And that’s it! You’ve just added a separating zip to your tote bag and made it not only cute but also a bit more secure! The joy of this method is that sewing the zip into the seam means that it’s subtle and neat, and the separating zip allows you to use this bag in two different ways.

I hope you found this tutorial helpful, and as always if you have any questions please let me know in the comments! And again if you’d like a super easy tutorial for sewing your own tote bag from scratch, try out our DIY tote tutorial.

How to Add a Zip to a Tote Bag | Megan Nielsen Patterns Blog

About Author

Meg is the Founder and Creative Director of Megan Nielsen Patterns, and is constantly dreaming up ideas for new sewing patterns and ways to make your sewing journey more enjoyable! She gets really excited about design details and is always trying to add way too many variations to our patterns.

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