Salvaging a broken zipper garment with buttons

Zippers: so convenient, yet so break-prone.

I bought a wonderful wool hooded sweater over the summer ($1 at Goodwill, by the way: Take advantage of the seasons!) that I wore all through the early fall. Lovely fawn color, extra-long sleeves, fitted hood. I loved it.

And then the zipper broke. Of course it did. I thought about just replacing the zipper, but ultimately decided to reclaim it into a button-down instead. I did so over Christmas, and have been happy with the result. If you have a similar problem, I hope my process will be helpful to you.

Note 2: I did this project in December, before I cut my hair short. There are a couple of projects that I haven’t posted yet, due to not transferring photos for a long time. So I’ll be switching from short to long hair for some posts.


  • A zippered sweat shirt or sweater.  It should have at least an extra inch or two of ease; you’ll be overlapping the edges. It will also preferably have a placket, like mine (below); that will look the most natural/intentional.
  • Several buttons. I find sturdy flat buttons to be the best choice, but  you could try shank buttons if you want, especially if you have a looser sweater
  • A pair of scissors
  • Moderately heavy to heavy thread that matches your sweater
  • Needle
  • Pins

Transfers 133


  • Sewing bound buttonholes and buttons

The Process:

First, remove the zipper. You will probably have two open edges now, where the zipper used to be sandwiched.

Next, put on your hoodie and decide which way you want your shirt to button; left or right? Traditionally, womens’ clothes button on left side, but that’s pretty outdated (one theory is that it dates back to when women had servants to dress them) and I’ve never known anyone to notice when I do it “wrong.” Put the buttons on whichever side you want. Whichever side you choose, the side where the buttonholes are will be called the front, and the side where the buttons are will be called the back.

When you’ve decided, overlap the edges, making sure that the bottom edges line up. Mark this spot or, preferably, pin it. If you’re a girl, also find the spot of greatest stress (usually right between your breasts) and mark there.

Angry face for some reason

Mug shot of me pointing to the places I pinned

If you can, slip the sweater off over your head with the pins intact. If you can’t, make sure to mark the correct spot on both layers before unpinning, so you can match them up accurately.

Next, decide how far apart you want your buttons. You can measure the distance between your two pins and then calculate how far apart the buttons should be.

l-b/n = d

That’s the length between the pins minus the diameter of the buttons divided by the number of buttons you want equals the distance between each button. I think that should work out, it’s what I used.

You can also just eyeball it if you want. Regardless, mark where all of the buttons will go with chalk or pins. Now, you have an option. Do you want your buttons to show all the way through? I decided that my ribbed button placket looked nice and I wanted to hide the buttons. So I folded the outermost layer on the front back and marked my buttonholes on just the inside layer.

See how I opened up the sweatshirt and marked inside the top layer?

See how I opened up the sweatshirt and marked inside the top layer?

Now, cut a slit the width of the button and make a bound buttonhole with a mattress stitch. But wait! If your sweater is stretchy and you’re ok with the buttons showing, you might want to cut a strip of fusible interfacing and iron it in between the layers. This will keep the buttons from pulling and stretching the fabric. If you do this, do the same on the other side to stabilize the buttons. In the finished picture, you can see a slight rippling where I did not add interfacing. Tsk tsk.

Almost done!

Almost done!

Once you’ve sewed your buttons on, you’re good to go. If you made your buttonholes only through the back layer like me, you’ll need to sew the two layers back together. Otherwise the back layer will pull in a strange manner.

Sew it up

Sew it up

That’s all there is to it! Fall in love with your favorite snuggly hoodie all over again.

2013-02-25 13.30.50

Scrutinizing my dragons of the world poster.



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