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Dress Zippers Made Easy

May 20, 2012

Wooohooooo! It's summer dress season! I love this time of year -- it seems like I want to make a new dress every day. In an effort to try to fulfill my own desires, I have learned some tricks to make my dressmaking go faster. One of those tricks is my approach to zippers.

I know a lot of people dread zippers, but there's really nothing to fear. Once you figure out a method that works for you, zippers become just another seam, and you'll soon find your wardrobe growing lickety-split.

My method takes some of the usual dress assembly steps out of order. (Note: This approach assumes you're putting the zipper into the back of your dress.)

First, I prepare the two back sections of dress. Often, dress pattern instructions will have you assemble the bodice first, then the skirt, then attach the two, and THEN insert the zipper. By assembling the back sections first, I set myself up to set the zipper into a flat piece, rather than trying to fiddle with a garment that's more fully formed. It just makes it a bit easier. If you use the approach, you'll then need to assemble the front of the dress before you join everything together at the shoulder and sides.

Holding the two back sections together at the center where the zipper will go, I lay the zipper down the length of the seam to mark where it will end. I place the mark just past the metal zipper stop.

2-zipper-easy.jpgThen, I stitch the back pieces together along the center back. I use the longest stitch possible for the section where the zipper will go, and then I switch to a shorter, normal assembly stitch for the rest of the seam. The photo below shows the change in stitch length at the blue mark I made earlier.

3-zipper-easy.jpgNext, I press the seam open. I like to give it a good hard press to ensure my creases will be sharp once my zipper is set in.

OK, we're getting close to show time! Once my fabric has cooled from the iron's heat, I use my seam ripper to gently open up the top of the seam -- about 1.5" to 2" works just fine. You want to make sure that if the top edge of the zipper is lined up with the top edge of your fabric, you'll have about an inch of tooth area open. I align my slightly-opened zipper with the edge of my opened seam so the teeth match up with the creased edge.

3a-zipper-easy.jpgI set the zipper and dress back under the foot just as I was holding it in the photo above. You may have noticed there haven't been any pins in these photos -- I don't use them, even for zippers! I find I can work much more quickly and smoothly without them.

I carefully start stitching the zipper in place, sewing far enough down the zipper that I'll have room to pull the zipper tab up without getting in the way of my stitching.

Once I've cleared enough length, I lift my presser foot and pull the tab up, and continue to sew the zipper into place down along the center back seam.

6-zipper-easy.jpgTo keep the zipper centered, I usually keep the dress piece rolled (sometimes wadded) in my left hand, and I periodically lift things up to make sure the teeth are still lines up with the center of the seam. This is one of those things you get better and better at the more you do it.

7-zipper-easy.jpgOnce I've cleared the metal zipper stop, I turn the fabric to stitch across the zipper -- I usually backstitch to make sure this cross piece is strong -- and then I turn the corner again to make the return trip up the opposite side of the seam. Because the zipper is already in place and I don't need to check its alignment, the second side is much faster than the first.

8-zipper-easy.jpgOnce I near the top of the zipper on this side, I often open the seam up a little more to pull the zipper pull back out of the way.

9-zipper-easy.jpgWith the zipper opened so the pull is no longer creating an obstacle, I finish up the second side of the zipper, taking care to keep the fabric aligned with the zipper teeth so the creased edges will abut when the zipper's closed.

10-zipper-easy.jpgAfter the stitching's done, I quickly open up the rest of the stitching that covers the zipper.

And that's that! Zipper is in and I'm free to finish my dress. Whether your pattern calls for a facing or a bound edge at the neck opening, you'll likely need a hook and eye at the top of the zipper to keep things neat and square.

Is your zipper method similar to mine? Do you have another trick? Let us know!

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This page contains a single entry by Holly Frey published on May 20, 2012 10:40 PM.

Ask the Expert: Summer Time edition was the previous entry in this blog.

Getting Ready for Baby: Nursery is the next entry in this blog.

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