The modern zipper was invented in 1914 but got used in clothes only by late 1930’s. Now they are so much a part of dresses, you cannot imagine dresses and gowns without them.
I am a self taught sewist and Zippers used to look intimidating to me earlier. After some trial and error I have found that it is one of the simplest things to sew if you know how to. I am not talking about invisible zipper and such but the simple ordinary dress zipper.
You will have to see if the pattern has a center seam first. If it has, you can sew the zipper centered on the back seam or a little lapped i.e it will look like a small flap is there on top of the zipper. The third method involves sewing zipper when there is no center seam. Check it out
How to stitch zipper on a dress
To sew zipper on a dress you need two things
Zipper – They come in many length and colours. Choose a colour close to your dress. Even if you get a very long zipper do not worry, you can always cut the extra out and then make a zipper stopper stitch. ie mark the length you want your zipper opening to be on the zipper. Add an inch or two and make a basting stitch or a machine zig zag stitch connecting the two sides of the zipper teeth together. Now you have a zipper stop stitch.
If you don’t do this the zipper will separate before you manage to sew it to the dress. Or you can reattach the zipper stoppers you get with the zipper. Find more tricks on zipper repair here.
Also check out this post on the 11 different types of zippers here.
Zipper foot – This is a life saver when you sew the zipper. In a clinch you can use the regular foot of course. If you haven’t used a zipper foot yet, take it out of your sewing box. You most probably got it free with your sewing machine. This foot is a narrow one like a square spoon, with a notch in the left and right for needle. With this zipper foot you can sew really close to that zipper teeth. With a regular foot there will be a space between the stitching line and the zipper opening which is unbecoming.
Note : Please take care that, even while it is essential that we stitch close to the zipper teeth as possible ( which is why we use a zipper foot), you should not sew over the zipper teeth at all. The zipper teeth would not close if you do this. Go slowly when sewing zipper and make sure that even when you cannot see the zipper or the needle you are feeling with your fingers
Choice of zipper technique used : Your choice zipper application technique depends on many factors – whether you want the zipper to be seen from outside, the type of garment you are sewing, the type of zipper you have , the placement of the opening etc. For eg. a centered zipper opening is usually not used for side openings. You need a fly zipper opening for the front of pants.
How to sew the zipper if the dress has a center seam ?
Method 1. How to sew a Centered zipper ?
This is a case where there is a seam in the middle of the back pattern. This zipper insertion is very easy so it is regularly used for center back or center front opening. This is not used for side openings.
Important : When you cut the pieces for the dress with a center seam, to add a zipper, you have to add atleast 1 inch as seam allowance to each edge.
Step 1. First you have to Stitch them together with the 1 inch seam allowance; Where the zipper opening is marked should be sewn with a long basting stitch on the sewing machine. The rest you make a regular plain seam with a straight stitch.
Step 2. Finish the edges of the centre seam with a serger or zig zag stitch.Press the seam open.
Step 3. Line the zipper face down on the seam line . The zipper teeth will be in line with the center of the seam.
Pin the zipper in place. Place a pin just under where you want the zipper to end.
Step 4. We will be sewing from the bottom. First we have to sew the bottom of the zipper. Turn the
fabric so that right side is facing you.
Run a few stitches parallel to the pin you have placed on the mark for bottom of the zipper. Back stitch here if you want to.
Pivot and stitch along the zipper teeth.
Do the same thing for the other side as well. You will have to change the zipper foot side if you are sewing from the bottom in the other side.
Step 5. Unpick the basting stitch from the front, very carefully. Your centered zipper is ready. Now you can go ahead and finish the neck facing.
Method 2.How to sew a lapped zipper ?
This is slightly difficult ,not to sew but to learn than the above method. Here there is a seeming flap over the zip which is an effect created by the sewing.
This is a great zipper application for the side openings in dresses. It conceals the zipper opening nicely.In case it is a side opening, hand stitch the zipper top closed for the time being ( i.e the top 1 inch of a zip)
Step1. Sew a plain seam for the center seam leaving the zipper opening. Now baste the zipper
opening by hand stitching or machine with long basting stitches.
Step 2. Press the seam open.
Step 3. Keep the bodice wrong side up. Place it so that one seam allowance of the central seam is on one side and the rest of the garment on the other side.
Step 4. Open the zip .Now keep the zip on the central seam, wrong side up, aligning the zipper teeth directly on top of the seam. Pin in place. Baste stitch along the seam allowance, where you have pinned.
Step 5. Flip the fabric so that the zipper front is facing you to one side of the cloth. Now there is a fold near the zipper teeth. Stitch along the edge of this fold.
Step 6. Close the zipper . Now turn to the front of the fabric and sew some 1/4 inch from the center seam catching the zipper seam allowance also. Make a horizontal stitch at the bottom. Stitch up the side of the placket through three thicknesses — the zipper allowance, the seam allowance, and the garment. You can sew this from the wrong side of the garment too.
Remove the machine-basting.
Step 7. Unpick the stitches on the seam carefully now. Your lapped zipper is ready.
How to sew the zipper if the dress does not have a center seam ?
Step 1. Mark the center back of the back pattern, by folding it aligning the sides. Mark the length of zipper opening in the centre fold line.
Step 2. Cut another piece of cloth for the facing with length = length +2 inch & width = 3 inch
Step 3. Mark the zipper opening in the middle of facing piece in a straight line from top to the mark for zipper opening. Finish the edges of the facing cloth.
Step 4. Pin the facing piece to the bodice piece, center line matching, right sides together.
Step 5. Stitch around the center line with a 1/4 inch seam allowance, coming to a point at the bottom. The bottom should be stitched one or two stitch horizontally as shown in the diagram.
Step 6. Cut through the center line. Make small snips in the seam allowance and near the point at the bottom make diagonal snips ( thread snips is your friend here). This will make the turnings smooth.
Turn to the other side. Press in place
Step 7. Behind one edge, Keep the zipper open, right side facing you ; stitch close to the edge. Use the zipper foot to stitch close to the edge
Step 8. Like the lapped zipper, On the other side, keep the open zipper a little to the inside . Stitch parallel to the seam.Make a horizontal stitch at the bottom of the zip.
You can see how to sew a lapped zipper and then finish the neckline in this tutorial to make a crop top.
Sewing zippers on skirt waistbands
Learn more about sewing skirt waistbands with zippers (3 ways) in this post. You get a very detailed tutorial.
Checkout the way to sew a zipper on a yoke with all the seams hidden inside in this tutorial to make a straight skirt.
Sewing a Pant fly zipper opening
Checkout this post for the detailed tutorial to sew a zipper to the fly front of pants
Sew Exposed Zippers
Exposed zippers are, well, exposed. You sew this when you want to show off your pretty zipper teeth – there are 2 different ways to sew this way. Learn to sew exposed zippers here
Sewing Invisible zippers
If you want your zipper opening to be invisible you have to use invisible zippers and some more creative sewing. You cal learn all about it here – 2 best ways to sew invisible zippers.