Many people find that installing a zipper according to package instructions can be exasperating. That little zipper foot always manages to go off course and you end up muttering foul words under your breath while ripping out stitches.

Have you ever considered installing a zipper by hand? Before you sneer, let me assure you that if done correctly, this technique is strong and perfectly secure. It's also easy, fast and virtually invisible.

First, pin the zipper in place and baste it in securely. The easiest way to do this is to machine-baste the seam, press it open and pull out the basting. This gives you crisp edges to work with.

Next, pin the right "lip" of fabric as close to the teeth of the zipper as you can. Allow the left "lip" to overlap the teeth a bit and pin that in place. Be sure to zip it up and make sure it meets perfectly at the top before you sew.

Now, take a single strand of thread and know it. Despite what you might think, a single strand works better than double because it sinks into the fabric and becomes invisible. No matter how carefully you work, a double thread tends to curl up and knot on itself, and that shows.

Pass the knotted thread to the right side of the fabric and begin to backstitch near the teeth of the zipper. It's important to use the tiniest stitches you can make, keeping the small part on top and the longer part on the wrong side.

When you reach the bottom of the zipper, stitch across at a right angle and up the other side. Continue to backstitch on top of the fabric, keeping the stitches about a half inch from the folded edge to create a neat little flap.

Now the trick: Take the garment to your machine and, lifting the seem allowance away from the garment itself, machine-stitch (narrow zig-zag if you have it) the zipper tape to the seam allowance, not to the garment! This reinforces the installation and makes it virtually rip-proof. Remove the bastings and press thoroughly.

This method is particularly good to use with multicolored fabric, when any one color thread will clash with parts of the pattern. Simply line up several needles, each with a different color thread, and change colors as needed.

Q. I am interested in adding a saying to my finished needlepoint and do not want to have to rip out any completed stitches to fit in the letters. Do you have any suggestions about how to add lettering to a finished piece of needlepoint?

A. By a strange coincidence, Dorothy Rosenberg of Cape Coral, Fla., just sent me a most unusual needlepoint picture. She took her idea from an ad for The New York Times. The grays and tans of the New York skyline against a blue sky with fluffy white clouds are really unique because many of the buildings are wrapped in newspaper. To get the effect of newsprint she worked the newspapers in plain white needlepoint and then carefully drew pictures and print with an indelible needlepont pen. If you're afraid of attacking your finished needlepoint with a permanent marker, first line up your lettering, using a Trace-Erase pen, and then go over the lettering with the desired permanent color. The Trace-Erase disappears with a dab of cold water.

Q. I want to add sequins to a needlepoint evening bag. I was told I must coat my thread with beeswax first. Why?

A. The wax will protect the thread from the sharp edge of the sequins. That way there will be no fraying either while you are working or once you've finished. Beeswax couldn't be simpler to use, and you can find it at any notions department. Just thread the needle and draw the thread two or three times through the beeswax. The wax stiffens the thread too, making it easier to handle. Candle wax is sometimes used for the same purpose, but it doesn't cling as much as beeswax.

Q. I have been working on a quilt for what seems like ages, and I'm losing patience. How much can I leave unquilted and still get good wear and launderability?

A. If you use polyester for your batting, which most modern quilters do because it fluffs up beautifully when washed, you can leave a space up to 6 inches unquilted, and the piece will wear and wash without the batting separating. If you're using cotton batting, you'll have to quilt much closer together, with the rows of stitches no more than 2 inches apart.