HackSpace magazine

The zip (or zipper to our transatlantic friends) is one of the most common and convenient means to fasten all kinds of items, from garments to luggage. In fact, Global Industry Analysts, Inc. estimates the global market for zips at £11 billion in the year 2020. It predicts this figure to reach £13.5 billion by 2027.

A zip is essentially a type of an interlocking geared mechanism. The zip’s teeth act as the cogs of the gear. The slider aligns the teeth to close the zip, allowing each tooth to mesh with the next tooth as they are brought together. Inversely, when you open a zip, a diamond-shaped wedge in the interior of the slider is forced between the teeth, which causes them to split apart and open.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects about the zip is the name itself. The word ‘zip’ is an onomatopoeic, which are words that are created because of the sound that’s made when it’s used, in this case, a high-pitched zip.

Before zips came along, buttons were the main fasteners for clothing and shoes. There have been several attempts to create a convenient sliding fastener. Elias Howe is often credited for patenting a design for one in 1851, which was never produced since he got busy with his other invention, the sewing machine. 

Several decades later, Whitcomb Judson came up with something he called a clasp-locker, which garnered favourable reviews when it was showcased at the World’s Columbian Exposition fair held in 1893 in Chicago. 

"These days, a whopping majority of zips are manufactured by the Japanese YKK manufacturing project."

But the zip, as we know it, didn’t hit the shelves until 1914, when an engineer named Gideon Sundback perfected the previous designs for his slide fastener. The military was the first to adapt the zip at a large scale, for windproof flying suits, before the BFGoodrich tire company put one on a new type of rubber boot it introduced in the 1920s.

It took another couple of decades for zips to make their way to clothing. The credit goes to a number of French fashion designers who started using zips in their designs in 1937. In 1954, Levi’s introduced a special zipped version of its overalls, before switching to it across their entire line of jeans in the 1970s.

These days, a whopping majority of zips are manufactured by the Japanese YKK manufacturing company. In fact, chances are you’ll see YKK embossed on the pull of the zip in the clothes you’ve got on.

Here are some improvised uses of zips that we find particularly useful.


After labouring in her maker’s den all day, Brooke finds it exhausting to unlace her shoes.

Brooke's zip up laces will be very convenient for anyone who has trouble with laces

So, she decided to replace the laces with zips instead. Her Instructable shows the steps she’s used for modding high-tops, but she’s also used the process on her husband’s pair of boots. She begins by marking the shoe’s eyelets on one side of the zip tape, before cutting them out and fixing the eyelets using specialised eyelet pliers. You then repeat the process on the other side of the zip tape by marking it through the eyelets on the first side.

Recreate the eyelet-laced zip tape for the other shoe. To attach the eyelet-laced zips to the shoes, Brooke used a pair of rivets. She folds over the bottom of the zips and then punches a pair of holes for the rivets that she then snaps on using a riveter. However, if you don’t have a riveter or don’t want to use rivets, Brooke suggests you also stitch the zip tapes to the shoes. Finally, use the eyelets to lace-up the shoes and tie any excess laces in the back. If that feels uncomfortable, you can instead tie them in a knot on each side of the zip to keep them snug.



If you’re handy with a needle, you’ll love Joanne Loh’s nifty little pencil pouch made from a length of ribbon and nylon zip tape.

The pencil pouch builds on another of Joanne's zip crafts - a tetrahedron coin purse

Both should be of the same length, and remember to add a zip pull to the zip before you begin. Joanne has illustrated each step of the process which, unless you’re an excellent needle craftsperson, will take a couple of attempts. Begin by sewing a few stitches to make a bottom-stop about one inch from the end of the zip. Then tie a couple of knots to prevent the zip pull from accidentally coming off from the zip.

Now back-stitch the ribbon to the zip tape. Joanne suggests you stitch a few centimetres away from the teeth to ensure the zip pull can glide smoothly. When you reach the bottom-stop, bend the zip tape downwards, cross the zip ends, and continue sewing. Follow the instructions carefully to ensure you get a nice smooth curve.

You’ll have to slip-stitch the ribbon to the tape after folding the ribbon’s end to create the curve. When you’re done, you’ll end up with a pencil case that closes by zipping in an upward cycle. Use a different sized ribbon and zip tape to increase or decrease the size of the pouch.



Prolific maker and self-confessed DIYer, Shazni has used zips from old garments to jazz up some charms.

Shazni suggests using a thick and stiff felt for the charms

She begins by cutting the metal zips away from the fabric and then burns the frayed edges. She’s then used them to create brooches, pendants, and earrings, with some pieces of felt and glue. Her illustrated Instructable is fairly easy to follow. For the swirl pendant, she’s sewed the zip to a piece of felt in a swirly pattern such that the thread doesn’t show. Create swirls of different sizes and combine them into a pendant or a brooch.

For her second design, she’s arranged and glued different coloured zips into the shape of a dragonfly, and then used pieces of felt to fill in the body. For the third, she’s used the zip to outline the shape of a leaf cut out on the felt. You can now glue in a brooch pin or a loop to use them as you see fit.



Want to use a zip to fasten something different? After sipping the water from a coconut on a particularly hot day, Bhawya decided to use the empty shells to create a gift box to store delicate knick-knacks. No points for guessing her fastener of choice for her coconut box! The trickiest bit of the build is to break the coconut into even pieces, which Bhawya suggests is best done with a hacksaw.

You can even paint the coconut shells to give it more funk

Then scrape the meat off the shells, before sanding them on the outside. Now use a length of zip tape equal to the circumference of the shell, and stitch the ends. Finally, glue the zip tape to the inside of one shell, ensuring you leave some space for the pull. When that’s done, unzip the zip and glue the other end to the inside of the other shell. Wait for it to dry, and you’re done.


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