Monday, October 5, 2015

Replacing the Zipper on a Boot

I had another total sewing failure this weekend... the only good thing about it is that I abandoned ship early and launched into a backlog of desperate wardrobe needs and repairs. I'll save the story of the fail in another post, but I thought I would share a little sewing task that provided surprising gratification-- replacing the zipper on a beloved boot!

New zipper! The antique brass metal zipper feels like an upgrade over the plastic coil zipper that failed.

I know these boots don't look like much, and they are in need of a good polish job (in fact, I just ordered a jar of Meltonian creme polish this morning, after realizing the super-market variety wasn't going to do it for these sadly maintained boots). But they are hands down the most comfortable boot I've ever owned. I put miles and miles on these walking the streets of Rome, and for the 4 months we were there, they were the only shoes I wore. Nothing else handled the stress of walking on twisted cobblestone streets for my fragile, ache-prone feet. These were also the only real shoes I could wear when I was pregnant (I don't really count UGGs as real shoes-- I feel like they are cheating, sort of like wearing your slippers to work, and looking a bit like that too!). I don't love the vaguely 80s styling, but they are just perfect for wearing with jeans or tights.

The other boot-- the original zipper still works on this one, but you can see the point where it is going to fail. The other side failed in the same place. 
I thought about replacing them... but I would buy a very, very similar style and Dansko no longer makes any boots quite like these... the boots they have out now are all narrower with sleeker toe boxes. It is the clog-like toe-box with a more flexible sole that makes these so comfortable for me, and there is nothing else out there that I've seen that is quite like them.

Besides, why replace them when they are perfectly good in most areas that count? The soles are in remarkably good condition, no cracking and remarkably little wear for all of the miles that are on them. The leather is scuffed, but nothing a good polish job wouldn't fix--no holes and nice and supple, with great character! The insoles are in excellent condition-- again, remarkable considering the wear these have gotten. The lining only has one point of wear, and it isn't a problem as long as I wear socks.

Detail of the replaced zipper.

Alas, the zippers. They are plastic coil zippers, and one of them was completely shot. For the last year, I've just left it zipped and shoved my foot into the boot, which is not an ideal solution, but it does work. When I browsed the web seeking some tips and support, I came up with almost nothing other than how expensive it is to get zippers replaced at the cobbler's.

So I just went for it. I had some #5 pant zippers in antique brass that I had bought thinking I would use them for pants, but they are really so beefy that I can't quite imagine them as a zip fly on a women's garment. But they were the perfect length and weight for the boot.

I wish I had taken more pics of the process, but it was really quite straightforward. I unpicked the zipper on both sides. It was also glued in quite securely with leather adhesive... which did make me regret not having bought any of that on my last sewing supply order, but the glue didn't stop me from pulling the old zipper out, it was tacky rather than solid. I cut the new zipper from the bottom to match the length of the old zipper, and put in a pin as a temporary bottom stop. I used double-sided Wonder tape with abandon when fitting in the new zipper. I used a #18 needle with topstitching weight thread (Gutterman Mara 70) in both the needle and the bobbin. I used my zipper foot with a piece of tape on the bottom (to make it a bit more slick against the leather). To get the seam started, I used my jean-a-ma-jig with an extra piece of cardboard, and sewed very slowly-- first with the handwheel, then just slowly with the pedal, careful to catch both sides and stick with the established line of stitching. The machine performed admirably, but I was only able to machine sew the top half of both sides. The bottom half I had to hand sew, which also proved to be not as difficult as I had thought. It would have been nice to have a heavier needle and a thimble, but I made do with a regular needle and pushing it through with my finger nails or any handy hard surface.

A close up of the point that is close to failure on the working zipper. Is this repairable? I didn't think so. 

Overall, it took me a couple hours from start to finish. But the end result feels very secure, and I actually think it looks nicer than the original zipper. The other boot's zipper still works, but it has a weak spot so I'll probably be doing that one soon!

The zipper was less than $1 at Wawak, so financially, this is a win if it saves me having to buy boots this year, or pay a cobbler over $50 to do the same repair. And I sort of feel like I have a new pair of boots-- the antique brass metal zipper is so much more attractive than the featureless plastic coil zipper that failed.

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