How to Modify a Button Back Dress and Add a Zipper {A Tutorial}

How to Modify a Button Back Dress and Add a Zipper {A Tutorial}

Hey, sewing friends!  I'm Angie and I love to sew ALL the things for my daughter, especially dresses.  I also love how just the right buttons can be the perfect finishing touch on a new dress...but sometimes my fabric is just begging to be paired with an exposed lace zipper instead ❤️ Sunflower Seams doesn't have any patterns with zipper closures just yet, but I have modified a couple to have zippers and I'm going to share that with you today!
My zipper is from Hobby Lobby, but JoAnn Fabrics also carries some, and there are plenty of options that can be ordered through Amazon and other sites.  (A regular zipper or invisible zipper will also work using the same changes to bodice and skirt that lol explain below, but those zippers will be installed a bit differently.)  So far I have used this hack on Sunflower Seams' Violet and Daisy dresses, but it could also be used on Rose, Chrysanthemum and any other future SS pattern that includes a skirt placket and 1" overlap for buttons.  

Prepping for Your Zipper - Simple Changes to Bodice Back and Skirt Back

The first change you'll have to make is to the bodice, and it involves trimming 1/2" from the center edges of your back bodice (if you want to give yourself a little extra wiggle room, you could try trimming 3/8" or so instead).  You can do this before or after sewing main and lining together, but regardless of which way you choose, DO NOT sew down the back center edges.   
The next change you'll make is to the back of your skirt.  This can be done before or after sewing the sides seams of your skirt, but MUST be done prior to sewing gathering stitches and attaching your skirt to your bodice.  

Find the center of your back skirt and fold to make a crease. 

Then cut all the way up the center of the BACK SKIRT ONLY.  If you didn't already sew your skirt side seams, do that now.  

You should now have one large rectangle.  

Sew 2 rows of gathering stitches along the top raw edge of your skirt, gather and pin/clip to your bodice. 

I like to leave 3/4" to 1" ungathered at the back center edges (this helps to make the zipper area at the waist seam less bulky). 

Now sew to attach as you normally would, serging or trimming/zigzagging your waist seam afterward. 

And I didn't for this tutorial, but if you want to topstitch your waist seam, now is the perfect time.

Prepping Back Center Edges

Now that skirt and bodice are attached, we need to finish the back center edges. 

I serged my edges (with the blade OFF) but you can also zigzag instead (just NO trimming). 

Next, lay your zipper out on one of your back center edges.  You'll want the little metal or plastic stopper at the top to be as close to the top of your bodice as possible. 

Follow along the length of your zipper to find the other stopper at the bottom. On my zipper, the stopper is all the way at the bottom of the zipper tape.  I mark my skirt edge at the center of the stopper.  (I raised the end of the zipper a bit to show this.)  

Now fold your dress in half (RIGHT sides together) and align the back center edges.  Pin both edges together where you marked the bottom of your zipper.  You are now going to sew from that pin all the way to the bottom of your skirt, using a 1/2" seam allowance.  Be sure to backstitch at beginning and end.  

The next step is ironing your bodice and skirt back center edges over 1/2" (wrong sides together).  In the area just sewn, this will simply mean ironing the seam allowance open flat.  Now you're ready for your zipper!!  I'm sure others may have a slightly different way of installing these, and different styles of exposed zippers may require small adjustments to this method, but here is how it works best for me...

Installing Your Zipper

Lay your dress, right side out, with the back facing up.  Unzip your zipper and lay it right side up on the back of your dress so that the teeth lay just off the folded edge of your fabric.  

With the top stopper as close to the top of your bodice as possible, fold down the fabric end of the zipper and sandwich it in the seam allowance.  Pin or clip in place, and repeat on the opposite side.  (It helps me to tack this down with a few quick stitches, either on my machine or by hand, but this is not necessary.)  

Continue pinning along the length of the zipper on both sides.  I pin so that the pins are pointing toward each other.  

Then, when I have everything pinned, I'm able to easily zip the zipper to make sure top, bottom, and waist seam are aligned.  If they're not, I unpin where needed, adjust/repin, and check the zipper again until I have it just right.  Now it's time attach your zipper foot (if you have one) and sew in that zipper!  

On this exposed zipper, keeping in mind that I needed to sew far enough from the zipper teeth to have room to actually zip it, I placed my stitch line about 5/16" from the edge of the teeth.

Sew down the length of your zipper on one side, being sure to backstitch at beginning and end (and making sure you're only sewing through the zipper and the back of the dress, NOT THE FRONT).   Repeat on the opposite side.

And now, the moment of truth!  Zip the zipper!  (If something is not aligned as well as you'd like after sewing, don't worry!  One of the perks of zippers is that they are always able to be picked out and resewn.  (I may have some experience with this, lol!)   

I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial, and that you enjoy changing up some beautiful SS patterns with a fancy zipper now and then!  Happy sewing!! 

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