sdsa: side seam zipper (40s style)

Zipper time, everyone! If you’ve decided to use the recommended invisible zipper in the side seam, then go ahead and install it according to the package directions (or check out a tutorial. There are a lot out there, so this is certainly not the only one!). I cannot recommend enough that you should also have an invisible zipper foot to install it with; it is very frustrating and nearly impossible to get a smooth and professional installation otherwise.

Me? I prefer regular, old-fashioned zippers; particularly on dresses like the Swing Dress that harken back to another era. Today I’ll be covering my favorite insertion method for a side-zipper-opening: the dress placket zipper. It’s the “overlap” style that you see on a lot of dresses from this era; I originally taught myself how to do this method from a 1940s sewing manual!

Do keep in mind though that you need a 5/8″ to 3/4″ seam allowance to work with. If you don’t, you can easily add additional width by seaming on narrow strips of fashion fabric to your side seam allowances over the zipper opening (on this pattern between the bodice and skirt side seam notches)–which is perfectly period and I’ve seen suggested in several sewing books of the era.

Prepare your zipper prior to sewing it in. Does it need to be shortened? Also press the zipper flat with your iron at a low-heat setting. Most zippers over a certain length come folded up in the package, and you want to get those creases out!

02.28.11 | sdsa: zippers!

To begin with, baste the seam opening using large stitches so you can easily remove them later (on my machine I usually set it to a 4 or 4.5 stitch length). Press seam open.

02.28.11 | sdsa: zippers!
02.28.11 | sdsa: zippers!

With the dress inside out, mark the top and bottom of your zipper opening with pins at either end, or a chalk line. Turn under the back seam allowance so that 1/8″ is visible along the seamline and pin.

02.28.11 | sdsa: zippers!

Lay the zipper right side up, the top (pull) facing towards the top of the garment and side seam opening. Place the folded back edge over the right side of the zipper tape, pinning it close to the teeth (but not so close you can’t open the zipper!). Hand baste the foldline to the zipper tape.

02.28.11 | sdsa: zippers!

Using a zipper foot, stitch by machine as closely to the edge of the back fold as possible, through the zipper tape. Start and stop at the point you previously marked where the opening begins and ends. Backtack/secure the thread ends. This is how it looks after stitching:

02.28.11 | sdsa: zippers!

02.28.11 | sdsa: zippers!

Flip the zipper over, so the unsewn edge is positioned overtop the front seam allowance. Smooth the zipper over the seam allowance, and pin. Make sure there is not a fold on the back seam allowance; everything should be smooth and flat. Hand baste in place just to the outside of the zipper teeth (this will act as your stitching line guide, so try and keep it straight).

02.28.11 | sdsa: zippers!

Turn your dress right side out. Mark where the pull at the top and stopper at the bottom is with pins (you don’t want to stitch over these–they could result in broken needles!). Begin sewing at the bottom just below the marking pin, from the side seam to about 1/2″ (or just outside your basting). Pivot and begin sewing up along the length of the zipper. Stop above the top marking pin, pivot and sew to the side seam. See below diagram:

02.28.11 | sdsa: zippers!

Bring the threads to the inside and tie off at the top and bottom of the zipper. Lightly press.

02.28.11 | sdsa: zippers!

Remove the hand basting stitches. Now carefully clip or remove the basting on the side seam that you did at the beginning. Your zipper placket is now done! Don’t you feel accomplished? It’s not an easy style to master, but sure does help add a bit of an authentic look to reproduction pieces from this era. Sometimes I attach a hook and eye at the waist seam if needed.

02.28.11 | sdsa: zippers!

We’re just a couple steps away from finishing! I’ll be briefly touching on hemming later in the week (Thursday hopefully), and then the dress will be complete. In the meantime, you can also go ahead and cover those shoulder pads if you wish with fashion or underlining fabric, and tack down the neckline facing at the shoulders and center back with a few inconspicuous stitches. I also went ahead and used Anna’s method I shared earlier for finishing the inside of the midriff area; it looks pretty spiff with the dress fabric inside if I do say so myself!

So tell me: how are things coming with your Swing Dress? Did you get any work done on it over the weekend?

February 28, 2011 · 41 lovely thoughts
posted in sewing,tutorials · tags: ,

Tisha February 28, 2011 at 16:39

Casey, Oooh, I enjoyed this post so very much, considering I would like to make a vintage dress with a side zipper. I think side zippers look prettier than back zippers. With my sew-along dress, I had originally decided to do buttons, then with the catastrophe last week, decided to do a side zipper; but now, with nearly all the girls in the family wanting Mom to sew them an outfit (or whatever! – there’s four of us girls), it would be simpler to do the button holes rather than take the side seam out and do the zipper. Ah. So I am just waiting for Mom to finish up one the girls’ projects (none of the other girls have an interest in sewing), and then we can continue with my dress. :) I do hope to be done by the weekend. I definitely want to try my hand at this style of dress, though! It would surely be a nice challenge for me – but might take awhile to accomplish. LOL

Casey March 1, 2011 at 07:22

I’ve had that happen before with going back and forth with closures and having to “roll with the punches” as it were with a project! Sending you lots and lots of good-sewing-luck! ;) I’m sure it’ll look gorgeous once it’s done! :D

♥ Casey

Lauren February 28, 2011 at 16:48

This is hands down the most simple and easy to follow zipper tutorial I have seen for application of this type! Thank you, Casey! I’m sure I’ll be referring back to this post often :)

Casey March 1, 2011 at 07:23

So glad you enjoyed this, Lauren! :)

♥ Casey

Liz February 28, 2011 at 16:52

This looks so lovely! You’re re-motivating me to finish mine up. :)

I’m curious if you have any resources you could point me to for a snap-closure method. I was going to attempt a snap closure instead of a zipper in mine; because my fabric is so light I think a zipper is going to warp my dress at the side.

Casey March 1, 2011 at 07:33

For the snap-closure, I’d recommend making a lap or extension placket along the side seam opening. Then mark about every 1″ on either side of the placket where to sew your snaps on. I usually use something about medium-sized for the snaps (I know they have size numbers, but I don’t have a package in front of me! ;) ). It’s really quite a soft finish and perfect for lightweight materials!

♥ Casey

Liz March 1, 2011 at 17:44

I actually have the snaps that are on a strip of cotton already. So I don’t have to sew the individual snaps down.
Thanks for the tips though.

Casey March 4, 2011 at 07:34

Those are a great option, but I wouldn’t recommend those for all sewing projects. Especially this one if you’re using a lighter-weight fabric, since the cotton tape for the snaps can weight down the side seam and cause it to warp a bit.

Just a thought! :)

♥ Casey

seeks corey February 28, 2011 at 16:54

I was able to baste the underlining to the fashion fabric and cut out all the pieces, so completion is in sight! I’m a little nervous, as I feel so clueless about choosing good fabrics, but it feels good to me, so far. Lets just see how it all comes together (hopefully not too bulky)!
My midpiece is in a thinner flimsier fabric than the cotton for the rest of my dress; in addition to the interfacing, I was thinking that finishing the inside of the midriff area with the heavier of my fabrics (underlining) might help. What do you think?

Casey March 1, 2011 at 07:34

If you need to beef up the midriff area, I would. Obviously you don’t want it too bulky, but adding a little extra “umph” (technical term! lol.) will help keep it smooth and wrinkle-free during wearing. You might want to use the technique that I mentioned above of slip stitching a piece of material to the back of the midriff area… Hopefully that will take care of it! :)

♥ Casey

Jenni February 28, 2011 at 17:07

Thank you, Casey. I finished the side seams (minus the zipper) and the set in the sleeves this weekend. Zipper and hem are the last two steps for me. I only have 1/2″ s.a. though on the side seams, so I’m not quite sure I can do what you did…can you explain a little bit more in detail what it was I’m supposed to do if I need to add on fabric?

Casey March 1, 2011 at 07:37

Just cut two strips of fabric the length of your side seams plus 1″, by about 1″ wide. Attach one long edge of each piece to the front and back side seams with a 1/4″ seam (finish the seam if you’d like). This will leave you with a seam 1″ wide along this area; and there would be a bit of an overlap at the top and bottom so the seam extensions end a bit above and below the side seam opening. Continue with the zipper insertion as described above. It’s super easy and just a matter of adding a bit extra to allow for a wider seam allowance! :)

♥ Casey

Gina February 28, 2011 at 17:24

Thanks Casey! My second dress just needs the hem put in. I might make a third just for fun.

Casey March 1, 2011 at 07:37

You are going to win the prize for most dresses completed during the sew-along, Gina! ;)

♥ Casey

Amanda February 28, 2011 at 18:45

I love learning era-appropriate techniques! Before cutting into my fashion fabric I’ve been working on a (I’m almost certain) wearable muslin in a dark navy rayon(?) that I got from the thrift store. I’m putting in the sleeves now and will work on the zipper next. For the next dress I’d love to incorporate this zipper technique by widening the seam allowances. Thanks for taking the time to do such great tutorials!

Casey March 1, 2011 at 07:38

Yay for wearable muslins! ;) Love making those… so much more exciting than a plain ol’ muslin. lol. Sounds like you are moving along at a great pace–can’t wait to see this and your next version!

♥ Casey

chriss February 28, 2011 at 18:59

Oh Casey, I’m (almost) disappointed I put in my (invisible) zipper already on the weekend! I love this zipper method. Well, I’ll have to try it on round two of the dress : )

On another note, I feel silly asking but do you have a tip for tying off knots when hand-sewing? I can handle most sewing machine basics, but I’m a complete dunce at hand-sewing. Even if it’s just a button, or the last couple stitches on something I’ve turned inside out, or in this case tacking down those facings, I never know how to tie things off once I’m done with the stitching. Any hints?

Thank you so much for such fantastic detailed walk-throughs for the trickier steps of this dress!

Casey March 1, 2011 at 07:41

Aw… But it’s a great technique to use on a lot of dresses, so I dare say you’ll have plenty of opportunities in the future! ;)

For tying off: I just pull the threads to the inside of the garment and do an over-hand knot a couple times. Once I’m sure it’s firmly secured, I just clip the thread tails close to the knot. Easy! Sometimes if I’m particularly worried about it staying, I’ll put a drop of Fray Check on the knot. But most times it stays fine.

♥ Casey

Faye Lewis February 28, 2011 at 19:23

GREAT tutorial!, and your pictures are so nice and clear. Could you please tell me what camera you use?

Casey March 1, 2011 at 07:42

Thanks, Faye! You can read a bit about my camera and photography on my FAQ page. :)

♥ Casey

Connie February 28, 2011 at 21:47

Casey, great job on the tutorial! But, I am with Jenni in that I have a 1/2 seem allowence and I am not sure how to add extra fabric. I am thinking you want us to add a strip to each side (where the zipper is going) and then go from there?

Casey March 1, 2011 at 07:43

Hi, Connie! I just pasted below what I replied to Jenni’s question about the 1/2″ seam allowance and extending it:

Just cut two strips of fabric the length of your side seams plus 1″, by about 1″ wide. Attach one long edge of each piece to the front and back side seams with a 1/4″ seam (finish the seam if you’d like). This will leave you with a seam 1″ wide along this area; and there would be a bit of an overlap at the top and bottom so the seam extensions end a bit above and below the side seam opening. Continue with the zipper insertion as described above. It’s super easy and just a matter of adding a bit extra to allow for a wider seam allowance! :)

Hope that helps!

♥ Casey

fiona February 28, 2011 at 22:29

Hi! i’d completed my swing dress and waiting for a photo shoot opportunity before i blog about it. i used the invisible zipper but i wish i’d waited for this post. it’s really interesting how a regular zipper is being sewn on and there’s a side placket for it! i think i’m going to have another go on making this dress again just to try this form of zipper insertion. you’re amazing!

lol, i too used the fashion fabric for the backing of the mid riff. spiff is the word! :)

Casey March 1, 2011 at 07:44

Oh yay! I’m so excited to hear that your dress is DONE! :D I’m trying to get mine finished up before the weekend so I can drag my husband out to get a few shots at someplace scenic. ;)

♥ Casey

Elizabeth VP February 28, 2011 at 22:47

I can never get a machine-sewn zipper to look right, so I just hand-sew all of mine (except for pants; I can machine-sew those, for some reason). My dress is done, except for tacking down the facing and shoulder pads. I also added a couple of snaps to where the neckline laps over, rather than using a pin later.

Casey March 1, 2011 at 07:45

I’ve been thinking of sewing snaps to the neckline too on mine. I just can’t find a button/pin that I like enough with my fabric right now! ;) lol.

♥ Casey

Jacki March 1, 2011 at 01:50

Casey! This is a great tutorial. The method I have been using from another blog is actually not all that great and leaves parts of the lap unfinished, though I do like to hand pick the stitches on top of the lap. I never even thought about turning under the sa and stitching. Brilliant.

Casey March 1, 2011 at 07:46

So glad you found this helpful, Jacki! :)

♥ Casey

Paunnet March 1, 2011 at 03:27

I wish I hadn’t sewn my zipper already. I prickstitched it and it came necely. I only have to hem the dress and then it will be ready!

Casey March 1, 2011 at 07:47

So excited to hear that your dress is just about done too! I’m hoping to spend the next couple evenings finishing up mine. So fun that all these dresses are nearly done! :)

♥ Casey

Seersucker Sally March 1, 2011 at 05:05

Getting there… I think I just need one more weekend!

Eilane March 1, 2011 at 06:13

Incrível o seu tutorial, sempre evitei colocar ziper na lateral por cauda da curva muito acentuada entre meu quadril e cintura, mas acredito que por este método poderia conseguir. Te admiro muito


Eilane – Brasil

Anna Depew March 1, 2011 at 07:40

Beautiful work, Casey! I’ve never seen it explained so clearly. Thanks!

Amanda Awesome March 1, 2011 at 09:51


Sadly, I am not doing the sew along with everyone (the timing just wasn’t right), but this is a fantastic zipper tutorial! Thanks so much for posting it!

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