How to sew a recessed zipper in a tote bag

April 8, 2020

Learn how to sew a recessed zipper in a tote bag. In this tutorial, I will show you how to calculate the size of fabric and zip.

Consider your bag pattern, how is the shape formed?  Is it with side panels or boxed corners?  What is the finished width and depth of the bag? If it is boxed it is the size of the squares you cut out, if it is paneled it is the size of the side panel minus the seam allowance.

Learn how to sew a recessed zipper in a tote bag. In this tutorial, I will show you how to calculate the size of fabric and zip.

I am making a large tote bag which is 4 inches deep and 14 1/4 inches wide when finished. You need a zipper a couple of inches longer than the finished width of your bag.  So my zip needs to be 16″ As I have a longer zip in my stash I am going to shorten it.


Personally I am rather passionate about bag making – if you are new to bag making I have the perfect Beginners Bag Making Course for you which covers so many essential skills for bag making, and includes many free bag tutorials. 




How to sew a recessed zipper in a tote bag

You will need:

  • Zipper couple of inches longer than the width of the bag
  • Fabric
  • Iron on heavyweight interfacing
  • Wonder tape
  • Rotary cutter, mat and quilters ruler

Let’s start by making a zipper tab for the end of the zip. Cut a piece of fabric, press in the edges.


Fold over encasing the zipper in the fabric tab.


Machine or hand stitch the fabric tab.


Now let’s work out the measurements for the fabric either side of the zip. My finished length will be 14 1/2 inches (the same as my bag), I am using 1/4″ seam allowance so the length of my fabric panels is 15″.  For the width, take the finished depth of the bag, take off 1/2″ for the zip itself, divide it in half and then add on 1/2 of an inch (two seam allowances of 1/4″).  

For my bag is which is 4 inches deep, takeaway 1/2″ =  3 1/2″, then divide in half to get 1 3/4 inches, add on 1/2 of an inch to get 2 1/4″ inches. If we work this in reverse we have: 2  1/4″ – 1/2″ seam allowance + zip 1/2″ + 2  1/4″ – 1/2″ seam allowance = 4″ width of bag

Cut 4 pieces of fabric to your measurements, for my bag 14 1/4 inches long by 2 3/4″  inches wide.

Cut four pieces of heavyweight iron-on interfacing without seam allowances and apply to the reverses of the four fabric strips, following the manufacturer’s instructions. I strongly suggest using a quilters ruler and rotary cutter to cut as accurately as possible as this will make your finished recessed zipper as professional as possible.


Cut small pieces of wonder tape and place it on the corners of the interfacing. Peel the paper off and fold in the corners, press lightly. The wonder tape acts a temporary glue whilst you make the recessed zipper but then washes away, it does not replace stitching your recessed zipper!

Fold in the sides of the four panels, along the edges of the iron-on interfacing. Press with a hot iron.

Add a strip of wonder tape along one edge.


Place the zip along your edge, held temporarily in place with the wonder tape.


Place the second strip of fabric on top, encasing the zip. Tack the two layers of fabric together.


Repeat for the second side of the zip.

Machine stitch the two short sides and the zip side.

Now its to add the recessed zipper to your lining fabric for your bag.

Place onto one side of your lining fabric and stitch into place (centrally), for this bag I have placed it ” down from the top.

Repeat for the second side of the lining. Once stitched remove your tacking stitches.


Now stitch up your lining as per the pattern, for this bag it has gussets, and the bag has a drop inlining.

For those wondering,  yes this is a new bag design coming soon… 

2 comments so far.

2 responses to “How to sew a recessed zipper in a tote bag”

  1. Linda Heck says:

    Love watching your video! I haven’t been sewing for a few yrs, but you’ve perked up my interest, thanks for that! Sewing always brought me peace in my life!

    • Vicky says:

      So glad the video helps, please do find the mojo to sew – as you say it can bring so much peace, something we all need right now.

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A passion for sewing, upcycling and caring for the environment - the perfect excuse to haunt charity shops for bargains!

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