As I previously mentioned, there are three methods I’ll discuss for inserting the zipper in this skirt. The first is for suitable for both skirts with and without side seams; especially if you’d rather have the zipper in the center back. The second and third (lapped skirt and invisible) are suitable for skirts with side seams, as you’ll need a seam to insert them. Either way, we’ll be doing this prior to adding the waistband. Be sure to read through each, as they have different steps in regards to sew the side seams.
Slash Opening Zipper
This method does not utilize a seam for the zipper insertion, so it’s perfect if you want to add a zipper to a skirt that has no side seams, or the center back of a skirt that does have side seams. The best part of this method is that it uses a patch to finish the slash opening, so the zipper teeth are not exposed. If you are sewing a skirt with side seams, follow the first step. If not, skip to step 2.
I also recommend basting by hand with silk thread if you’re using a fabric that tends to mar easily when threads are pressed.
1. Right sides together, sew the right side seam. Press seam open and finish. Repeat on left side seam.
2. Mark the length of the slash opening at the center back from the waistline down (the length will be zipper teeth (for example 9”) plus 5/8”). Baste by hand or machine over the marked slash line.
3. Cut a piece of your fashion fabric 1 3/4” wide by the length of the slash line you marked on your skirt, plus 1”.
4. Place the stripe right sides together over the basted slash line, centering it over the basting. Baste in place around the perimeter to the skirt by hand or machine.
5. With the wrong side of the skirt facing up and using a small (2.0 on my machine) stitch length, stitch along the basted slash line. Start about 1/8” away from the slash line at the waist of the skirt and taper to nothing at the bottom of that line. Pivot and stitch the angled line to match the other side. Stitch again around the bottom point of the slash line to reinforce.
6. Carefully cut along the basted slash line from the waistline to the point (be very careful not to cut through the stitching you just did!), through both the skirt and patch layers.
7. Press the patch to to the wrong side of the skirt, making sure the bottom point is wrinkle free.
8. Baste the opening edges closed by hand or use a wide zig zag stitch to join the two edges temporarily. Make sure the top (waist) edges are level and the opening edges just meet but do not overlap.
9. Wrong side of the skirt facing up, place the closed zipper along the basted-close slash, centering the zipper teeth over the slash, about 3/4″ below the cut edge (waistline), so the top stop is clear of the waistline seam. Switch your machine’s presser foot to a zipper foot. Pin and baste by hand or machine.
10. Stitch (using a regular stitch length) around the zipper from the top (waist) seam, around the bottom (carefully—don’t hit the zipper stop! You may want to mark where it is with a pin before you begin), and up the other side. Stitch far enough away to give the zipper pull space, but about 1/4” within the slash line on either side.
11. Remove basting stitches around the perimeter of the patch, and the basting holding the zipper in place and slash opening closed. Gently steam or press (with a press cloth covering the fabric) the zipper opening.
Lapped Skirt Zipper
This method is probably one of my favorites for many of my vintage-style skirt projects! It’s the sort of zipper insertion I see a lot on actual vintage pieces, and really looks nice and tailored when done properly. Several of my sewing books go over this way of doing it, but I’ve added a couple of my own modifications! There are more complicated ways of doing this, but this is one of the easier ones. I also recommend basting by hand with silk thread if you’re using a fabric that tends to mar easily when threads are pressed.
1. Right sides together, sew the right side seam. On the left, mark the seam allowances with basting from the waist to about 12”down. Measure from the waist down the length of the zipper (let’s say 9”) plus your waist seam allowance (5/8”). Mark. Sew the left side seam, right sides together, from this mark to the hem. You’ll have an opening above that mark to the waist. Finish the seam.
2. With the right side of the skirt left side seam facing up, press under the left (back) seam 1/8” from the basting line, within the seam allowance. On the right seam (front), press along the seam line. The back seam will form a tiny pleat at the bottom, but the front will overlap.
3. Position zipper along the left (back) foldline, abutting the fold right against the teeth, about 3/4″ below the cut edge (waistline), so the top stop is clear of the waistline seam. Pin and baste by hand or machine using a zipper foot. Stitch in place from top (waist) to bottom.
4. Close the zipper. Lap the right (front) fold over the zipper teeth and stitching line for the left (back) edge of the zipper. The stitching line and zipper should be completely concealed under this front flap. Pin and hand or machine baste in place, allowing for the zipper pull at top along the right (front) edge. Mark the bottom stop of the zipper with a pin.
5. Using a regular stitch length, sew from top (waist) along the right (front) edge, far enough from the fold to clear the zipper pull, but still catching the seam allowance of the right edge that is folded under. About 1/8” to 1/4” below the zipper stop marked with a pin, stop stitching with your needle in the fabric. Pivot and stitch towards the side seam very carefully over the bottom of the zipper. Do not backtack! Cut the threads with about 6” to spare, pull the top thread to the backside of the skirt, and tie for a neat finish.
6. Remove all basting stitches. Gently press with a press cloth the lapped seam.
Now, I’m going to be honest with you… Although I had planned on including directions for how I install an invisible zipper (which admittedly is not my favorite sort of zipper to use. But I think that has a lot to do with sewing vintage/vintage inspired pieces—I prefer how a regular zipper looks!), but somehow I didn’t have one in my zipper box when I went to work on these tutorials! I know… I’m such a bad seamstress and have fallen down on the job. So I’ll link you to one instead! My favorite tutorial by far is Colette Patterns well-photographed invisible zipper tutorial. There are many others out there, however—it seems everyone has their own tips and tricks to insert an invisible zipper. So don’t be afraid to dig around a bit!
As usual, let me know if you have any questions about this step! Up next: the waistband… We’re about halfway through already!