How to Sew a Zipper on a Dress

While making dresses for our fall Seasons at Home tea, I decided to take pictures and explain how to sew in a zipper.  It doesn’t matter how many times I put a zipper in, I get confused each time, regardless of the instructions on the zipper pack. I bet that’s why you’re here too! So if you want to know how to sew a zipper in a dress, hopefully this tutorial will help. It will help to read through the zipper tutorial before starting.

Tips Before Sewing Your Zipper

• Be sure you have the right length zipper. Your pattern will tell you the size you need. If you have trouble finding the right size, just make sure it’s longer, not shorter than the pattern size needed.

• Use a zipper foot. You can ‘wing’ it using a regular foot, but a zipper foot is designed specifically for zippers.

• Always test your zipper to make sure it opens and closes before sewing.

How to Sew a Zipper in a Dress

We will start with pinning the seam in the back of the dress where the zipper will be placed. Pin the right sides of the dress back together, from the top where the zipper will be placed, all the way down to the notch that was given on the pattern (if this applies).

Pinning Seams

On most dress patterns with zippers, you will have a ‘notch’ to stop at, where the notch starts the bottom of the dress opening. Pin all the way down to the notch, then also down the back opening, making sure the seams match (the top of dress to the back of the dress), otherwise the seams will be misaligned down the back of the dress.

How to Sew a Zipper on a Dress

Baste Seam

Take the dress to the sewing machine and BASTE a 5/8″ seam line with your machine where you pinned. If you don’t have a basting stitch, use a double-long stitch. Stop at the notch on the back of the dress opening and reverse to lock the stitches. We will put the zipper in before finishing the back of dress bottom.

How to Sew a Zipper on a Dress
Baste 5/8″ – lengthen your stitch if you don’t have a basting stitch.
How to Sew a Zipper on a Dress
Basting is finished, past where the zipper will be sewn, to the ‘notch’ on the dress back.

Press Open Seams

Most zipper install instructions say, “Machine baste opening closed. Press seam open.”  Here you see that you put your RST (right sides together) and basted the seam opening closed to the notch. Now, press the seam open.

How to Sew a Zipper on a Dress

Tape the Zipper in Place

Make sure your zipper works. Now, close the zipper and lay it right side down on the seam, so the zipper lays right on the basted seam. Iron down the extra tape on the zipper at the top (if there is extra), and place about 1/4″ under the neck seam line. Using clear tape, tape the zipper in place all the way down to the notch. Regardless of the instructions, this has worked the best for me.

How to Sew a Zipper on a Dress

Sew the Zipper on the Dress

Turn the dress right side out carefully. Use a matching thread and a zipper foot for this step, and change the basting stitch to your straight stitch.

Start sewing at the notch, sewing straight up to the top, on the right, stop 2″ before reaching the pull. (You’ll finish sewing the 2″ on the next step) 

Now, cut the thread and carefully scoot the dress back to the bottom instead of turning or pulling it out from under the needle. Repeat sewing the left side, and again stop 2″ down from the pull. Always make sure to reverse stitch to lock your stitches.

Zipper Foot

If you don’t have a zipper foot, just be careful to measure and set your eye on the machine guide plate so you don’t sew over your zipper.  A zipper foot works best.

How to Sew a Zipper on a Dress
The dress has been turned RS (right side) out. I started sewing at the bottom and up the one side first, a zipper foot works best.
How to Sew a Zipper on a Dress
Now, sewing up the left side with my zipper foot, which evenly spaces your seam line.

Sewing Each Side

I now have a sewn line on each side of the zipper. Now, we’ll finish off the 2″ marks we stopped at.  At the top, pull out some basting stitches and open the zipper down to where you stopped at 2″. Pull the zipper down to get it out of the way. Continue sewing to the top, and back stitch to secure your stitches. Repeat on the left side.

How to Sew a Zipper on a Dress
How to Sew a Zipper on a Dress
How to Sew a Zipper on a Dress

Finishing the Zipper Bottom

Now move to the bottom.  In this step you sew across the zipper to finish off the ‘rectangle’ and secure the bottom in place. Turn the dress to the side and simply connect the bottom. Back stitch to secure this final closure.

Alternatively, if you are wondering I didn’t start at the top, go down, turn and go up – you can sew it that way. I did it this way because my zipper tends to move off the tape. You can baste the zipper in place and then sew, but I didn’t want to sew the zipper twice, so I used tape.

Zipper is in place!

How to Sew a Zipper on a Dress
How to Sew a Zipper on a Dress

Remove the Basting Stitches

Carefully remove your basting stitches.

How to Sew a Zipper on a Dress

Finish the Dress

The bottom of your dress can now be finished according to your pattern. Here is a picture of where I stopped and finished the back opening. My zipper was an inch or two longer, but again, that’s better than it being shorter.

How to Sew a Zipper on a Dress

I hope this tutorial was helpful in understanding how to sew a zipper on. It took me a while to brave the zippers. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll no longer shy away from zipper projects. Have fun!

How to Sew a Zipper on a Dress


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