Most of the time, sewing is all about soft things, from beautiful fabrics to cushy pillow inserts. However, every so often, something hard comes along. It’s not there to torment you; it’s a way to inject an interesting new texture into the mix. We’re here with a few tips to make working with these trims easier, as well as techniques to give you the most professional finish.

These are referred to as “specialty” trims. What makes them so special? Specialty trims make a bold statement and are often the focal point of a project… it’s a project’s “personality” so to speak. More basic trims, such as bias tape, piping, cording, or small beads and ribbons can be easily applied with your sewing machine, maybe with the aid of a specific presser foot, but usually even that is more for convenience and extra precision rather than strict necessity. The more unique trims on the shelf are created from unusual materials, such as metal, feathers, fur, large sequins or beads, or even a combination of all of the above.

When you select a specialty trim, take a step back and think about how you’re going to incorporate it into your selected project. Most importantly, think about how you’re going to attach it to your project. Most need special attention to make their application a success. As we often recommend, do a few tests with scraps. This will allow you to experiment with the tools in your sewing basket, as well as a few items from the toolbox in the garage.

Dealing with length

Most specialty trims are sold by the yard. As with all your supplies, get more than you think you’ll need to give you extra for tests and mistakes (What!?! Who makes mistakes?!?).

Once you’ve tested and are ready to apply the trim, you will cut the trim to a specific length. Remember to consider any seam allowance you will need at either end.

Metal zipper tape

  1. If you’ve worked with zippers (the plastic kind) before, you likely cut them with little struggle. However, when it comes to metal zippers, you have to pay close attention to what you’re doing. We recommend using “junk” scissors (not your good fabric scissors) to cut the zipper tape, just in case you happen to nick one of the metal teeth. Cut exactly between the metal teeth.
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  2. Or, you can take one or two of the metal teeth off the tape with needle nose pliers at the point where you want to shorten the tape. This does take a bit of determination, but is a great way to give yourself a clean cutting route.
    NOTE: As mentioned above, remember to think about any seam allowances you might need at one end of the trim and/or the other. Removing one or two teeth right at the seam line is a good way to insure your sewing machine needle won’t hit and break against the metal.
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Taking apart metal chain with faux leather

  1. Using a pair of needle nose pliers, pull apart one of the metal links (you can usually clearly see where the link is pressed together) at your required length. We actually like to use two small pairs of pliers, one to either side of the link’s “seam” to get the best grip.
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  2. Un-weave the faux leather from the links.
    NOTE: You could do this step first, but we found leaving the faux leather in place while we separated the links helped remind us to make sure we left a tail to fold over the end.
  3. Close the link with the pliers.
    NOTE: Do not squeeze the pliers too hard because the metal links can be softer than they might look; your pliers can easily leave an indentation or rough burr in the link. If this happens, you can gently buff out the rough spot with a piece of sandpaper or a nail file.
  4. Using a pair of scissors, cut the faux leather, leaving an approximate ¾” tail for finishing. (We’ll deal with this “tail” in the next section.)
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Finishing the ends of zipper tape

  1. If the end of the zipper tape is not going to be sewn into a seam, the end where you trimmed the length will fray and possibly be visible. We have two recommendations for this situation.
  2. One, you can use a seam sealant on the cut edge along the tape part of the trim.
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  3. Two, you can simply fold over the edge at an angle and sew a few hand stitches to hold it in place. We used bright thread to show you our hand stitching; you would use matching thread.
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  4. You could even do both if you want to be double-secure.

Finishing the ends of metal chain with faux leather

  1. If your chain ends will be loose and visible, you simply need to finish the end of the faux leather. Above, we recommended leaving a tail beyond the last link; this is the “end” we are referring to.
  2. Place a dot of strong glue on the end of the faux leather.
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  3. Fold over the faux leather tail around the last link and press it back on itself
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  4. If you are creating a continuous loop, use your pliers again to open up one link at one end, slip it over the link at the other end and press closed. Take the two tails of the faux leather, place a dot of strong glue on one, overlap it with the other tail and press to adhere. You could also hand stitch the ends together. We used this method to create a continuous loop for the handle of our French Market Tote.
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    NOTE: We like to keep a box of everyday toothpicks in the Sew4Home sewing studio. We find a number of uses for them, including applying small dots of glue to faux leather!

To sew or not to sew

How you plan to use each of these trims to accent your project will determine how you will attach it. You can sew the metal zipper tape with a sewing machine or by hand. The chain takes a different approach.

NOTE: We used light colored fabric and brightly colored thread so you could see the techniques clearly. You would, of course, coordinate your fabrics and thread to make your stitching blend.

Metal zipper tape in a seam

  1. Using the metal zipper tape as a decorative accent within a seam, like you would piping, is super easy to do!
  2. As with any trim you plan to insert between two layers of fabric, we always recommend first basting the trim (either by machine or by hand) to one layer. This way, you’re handling two layers instead of three when you sew the final set of layers right sides together.
  3. When sewing a metal zipper on your sewing machine, you do not want to hit the metal part with the needle! If you do, expect any/or all of the following: a broken needle, damage to your project/metal zipper, and possibly damage to your sewing machine. Go slowly and carefully!
  4. Pin the metal zipper tape along the raw edge of the appropriate project piece(s). Make sure the zipper teeth portion of the trim is beyond your seam allowance so it will be seen when sewn. For example, the measurement between the metal teeth and the edge of our zipper tape is ½” and our project has a ½” seam allowance. Therefore, we needed to place our zipper tape about ⅛” from the raw edge so we could maintain our seam allowance and be assured of a good reveal of the zipper teeth beyond the seam.
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  5. Using a straight stitch and a zipper foot, baste the metal zipper tape on the RIGHT side of one layer.
    NOTE: A basic Zipper foot will work just fine. If you want to get super close to the zipper teeth, you may want to look into a Narrow Base Zipper foot or Adjustable Zipper foot. In addition, depending on your machine, you may also be able to move the position of the needle so your stitching is closer to the zipper teeth.
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  6. After the basting is complete, place your project layers right sides together with the metal zipper tape sandwiched in between. Pin in place.
  7. Sew the layers together with an appropriate seam allowance. You will be sewing through three layers at this point, the two layers of your project pus the tape portion of the metal zipper tape.
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  8. Fold the layers back to either side of the zipper teeth. The layers are now wrong sides together and your zipper teeth are exposed as a very cool detail along the length of your seam.
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Exposed zipper tape

  1. Another trendy look is to see the teeth as well as more of the tape. This is actually a cool look with a functioning zipper as well as with the metal zipper tape we used.
  2. The process is the same as above, you simply need to place the zipper further away from the seam. The seam itself will end up catching a much smaller portion of the zipper tape. Because there is a risk of not catching enough… or missing it altogether, we again strongly recommend basting the zipper in place before you do your final sewing. You could even take the extra time to measure and draw-in a line at your seam allowance and another parallel line for the edge of the zipper tape.
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Zipper tape as a 3-D embellishment

  1. Necklaces, bracelets, hair accessories, bags and more – the uses for flexible metal zipper tape are wide and varied. You also may be able to find metal zipper tape in an assortment of colors beyond basic black.
  2. The tape can be gathered with a long basting stitch or you can pleat the tape as you twist it around itself for a flatter look. You can also manipulate the metal zipper tape into flowers and other shapes. Regardless of the method or style you use, it will require a heavy hand sewing needle, thread (preferably reinforced with wax), and a thimble (getting through the layer of zipper tape can get really thick!).
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  3. We use these “zipper flowers” as well as zipper trim on a Bucket Purse.

Attaching metal chain with faux leather to your project

  1. Working with the metal chain trim is entirely different. No matter how you plan to use the trim, as a decoration or as a functional handle for a bag, you want it to be securely attached to your project.
  2. If you finish the loose ends as we described above in the “finishing” section, you could simply hand stitch the ends in place on your project. You would need to use a heavy thread, such as button twist, and don’t be stingy with your stitching, especially if the chain will be pulled on in any way. Pull your stitching through the faux suede at a couple points, but concentrate your stitching around the link itself, as if you were sewing a hook in place. Once stitched in place, you could cover the end with a decorative tab (like a tiny pocket)… but you would need to be very careful stitching the tab into place so you don’t hit the chain with your needle.
  3. The above technique is really best if the chain is going to be merely decorative. If you want it to act as a usable handle, it’s best to weave it through a loop or grommet, connecting to chain to itself.
  4. Also as described above in the “finishing” section, separating one chain link and creating a big loop is a great way to create a chain handle. Remember, you need to weave your chain through the project’s grommets or loops BEFORE you seal the ends into a circle.
  5. You can also create a small loop in one or both ends of the chain.
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  6. With a smaller loop like this, you could then create a fabric loop to sew into a seam on your project. Make the chain’s mini loop, slip a fabric strip over it, align the raw ends of the strip, creating a fabric loop. Insert the raw ends of the fabric loop into a seam(s) on your project where appropriate.
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  7. You could also create an even tinier fabric loop small enough to insert into just one link on the end of the chain. As above, this tiny fabric loop can then be sewn into a seam on your project.
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  8. Whichever option you choose, be very careful sewing your project together. The chain may have to be somewhere between the layers; you won’t be able to see it and you don’t want to accidentally hit it with your needle! You may want to tape the chain down with masking or painter’s tape to hold it out of the way.

You can find metal trims in stores and online. Or, you can make your own. Just be prepared to spend some time and energy repurposing and reusing items from around the house. You can take apart metal zippers to create your own zipper tape. And, you could certainly weave your own leather strip or ribbon through recycled chain for a customized look.


Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Jodi Kelly

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Rochelle @ eSheep Designs
Rochelle @ eSheep Designs
1 month ago

I know this article is way old in terms of “internet years,” but I had it tagged for inclusion in a possible blog post and just now rediscovered it. I know why I bookmarked it; this is the kind of information that you don’t often find and yet it can be applied in so many ways. A belated thanks for this!

Liz Johnson
Liz Johnson
1 month ago

An oldie but a goodie. Thanks for linking back to S4H 🙂

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