Introduction: Zipper Seam Dress for the Ladies

About: I like to do stuff with my hands!

This instructable is for a form-fitting, stretch knit dress with zippered seams! Mmmhhh... Zippers...

I have seen many different styles of dresses that incorporate zippers, even dresses made completely out of zippers, (and how uncomfy that must be) so I decided I would make a dress for a friend, using only zippers for the visible seams, to be functional, fashionable, and comfy.

In this instructable will guide you step by step through the process of making this dress while also giving you tips and notes on how to improve upon it to better suit you should you ever wish to create it for yourself.

Step 1: What You'll Need

Materials list:


• Stretch Knit Fabric
• Sharp Scissors
• (6) Zippers
• A sewing machine (preferably with a serger and zipper foot)
• Thread
• Pins
• Measuring tape
• Paper and pencil
• Chalk
• A snug fitting shirt
• Velcro squares


• A loving Grandmother who has more sewing experience than you to second guess your decisions and offer advice (Love you!)
• A template to draw/plan your design

For the fabric you are going to want to make sure you use the following as a guide to how much you'll need.

1. The fabric needs to wrap completely around the body in 1 piece and still have 3 inches left over
2. The fabric needs to be long enough for the length you want (shoulders to the bottom of dress) plus 3 inches
3. An additional yard of fabric for the lining and sleeves of the dress.

For the zippers in this instructable I went with (2) 24" closed ended zippers, (2) 16" open ended zippers, and (2) 5" closed ended zippers. Closed ended zippers are the kind that when the zipper is unzipped the zipper stays together (think jeans). Open ended zippers come apart when unzipped. (think jackets)

You may adjust the length of the zippers dependent on your own measurements that we will be taking in step 2.

For constructive criticism, advice, and cookies during the dress making process, someones Grandmother is optional.

Let's get started!

Step 2: Designing the Dress

This step is all about creativity. Have an idea in your head? Draw it out to see what it would look like on paper!

First I started off by finding a template online, something I could use to represent the female body while I drew my design around it. Thanks to purenigtshade, this template is free to use for anyone interested in using it. I have attached it for you, but, it can also be found on her deviant art page located here: Template

First I started by cleaning up the template a bit, removing features not important to the design as to not take away from the dress being the main focal point. I then lightly sketched a shape for the dress over the stencil until I was happy with the way it looked. Next I colored in my design with the color of the fabric I chose to use and added gold dashes to represent where I wanted my zippers to be positioned on the dress. I then printed it and carried it around throughout the entire process to use as a reference.

Note: I find it much easier to reference a design while you're working then trying to remember details in your head. This way you are sure not to forget some minor detail, and you can alter the original as the dress making process proceeds.

Step 3: Getting Your Measurements

Because I cannot pull off a dress no matter how hard I try, I chose to make this dress for a friend. Measuring someone else is always easier than measuring yourself. The task of taking your own measurements isn't impossible, but your almost always guaranteed more accurate measurements if you allow someone else to measure you, or you measure someone else.

We need the pencil, paper, and measuring tape for this step

List of measurements you will need:

The fullest part of the chest around your body

High waist (where pants naturally sit on your waist, not low-rise jeans mind you)

Top of your shoulder down to your high waist

Fullest part of your bum around

Top of your shoulder down to the fullest part of your bum around

The top of your shoulders to the bottom of where the dress will stop

Distance from your shoulder line down to where you want to neck to stop

Mid shoulder to where you want the sleeve to stop (optional if you want sleeves)

Please refer to picture 1 for a visual of each measurement

Write your measurements down on the paper and keep it close by as you will be referring to it a lot.

For the sleeve measurement (if you want sleeves) I measured from the midpoint between the tip of the shoulder and the center of the neck, down the shoulder to the point I wanted the sleeve to stop.

Here are my measurements:

Chest: 34"

High Waist circumference: 33.25"

Shoulder to Waist: 18"

Bum circumference: 38.5"

Shoulder to Bum: 22"

Shoulder to bottom of dress: 28"

Shoulder to bottom of neckline: 5"

Mid shoulder to end of sleeve: 5"

Step 4: Measuring the Fabric and Drawing Your Design

We are now going to take the measurements from the last step and apply them towards creating the pattern of our dress. You will need the measurement sheet, chalk, fabric, the snug shirt, measuring tape and pins for this step.

1. Lay your fabric out flat on a flat work surface with the pattern side facing up. Smooth it out to eliminate any bunching in the fabric.

2. Fold your fabric in half to where the pattern sides are touching and the "wrong side" is now face up. By wrong side I am referring to the side of the fabric that we want on the inside of the dress when it is finished.

3. Pin all the way around the open edges of the fabric while it is folded in half

4. Fold the fabric in half once again in the same orientation as before. You should see a closed fold on one edge, and on the opposite side see 2 loose ends of fabric touching and a closed fold of fabric on top of that. Orient the fabric so that the single, closed end of the fabric is on your left when facing your fabric.

Verify by using your measurement sheet that the fabric is still wide enough for your dress. Find the measurement for the circumference of your bum on the measuring tape. Now fold the measuring tape in half, twice (since our fabric is folded into 4ths) and measure from left to right. If the measuring tape is shorter than the width from left to right, continue to the next part. If not, readjust your fabric until the previously mentioned measurement fits the width.

5. Pin all the way around the edges of the fabric again to keep the four layers from moving.

6. Place the snug fitting shirt, folded in half down the middle, against the left edge of your fabric. The center of the shirt (while folded in half) should be lined up with the single closed edge of your fabric.

7. With the shirt in place trace starting on the left side of your fabric, around the neck, all the way to the bottom of the shirts armpit in chalk. Do this about 1/4" away from the shirt. This leaves room for a seam we will be creating later. Picture 1

8. Using your measuring tape, find the measurement for your chest and fold the measuring tape in half, twice, on the measurement mark. Measure from the left side of your fabric, across the shirt, to the bottom of the armpit and place a chalk mark vertically at the end of the tape on your fabric. (if you want the dress to be tighter subtract an inch before making this mark) Picture 2

9. With the measuring tape unfolded, measure from the top of the shoulder down to the high waist using the measurement from your measurement sheet, along the right side of your shirt. Place a chalk mark horizontally at this measurement on your fabric.

10. Using the measurement for the circumference of your waist, fold the measuring tape in half twice, again, and measure from the left side of the fabric, across the waist to the mark from step 9. Draw a chalk mark vertically at this point on your fabric.(subtract an inch before marking if you did so in step 8) Picture 3 and 4

11. Use the measurement from your shoulder down to the bum, and mark this measurement horizontally on the fabric on the right side of the shirt. Picture 5

12. Using the measurement of the circumference of your bum, find the mark on the measuring tape, fold it in half twice, and measure from the left side of the fabric, across the bum measurement from step 11, and place a vertical chalk mark at the end of the measuring tape. Picture 6

13. Measure from the shoulder down to the bottom of the dress on the right side of the shirt and place a vertical chalk mark.

13. Take your chalk and draw a slight curve starting at the mark from the high waist chalk mark and connect it to where you stopped the chalk at the bottom of the armpit. Picture 7

14. Draw a slight curve and connect the high waist chalk mark down to the bum circumference mark. Picture 8

15. From the circumference of your bum mark, draw straight down in chalk until the end of the dress mark. Picture 9

Step 5: Cutting Your Custom Pattern

Grab your scissors and get ready to cut out your pattern!

Without lifting the fabric more then necessary, place your scissors at the bottom of the fabric where the dress length mark was made. Cut slowly and carefully along the outermost chalk line you created in the last step.

Once you have this cut out, you essentially have the front and back pieces of your dress! Pictures 1 and 2

Carefully unfold the fabric 1 time without letting the fabric move around. What you should now have is the basic shape of a dress on top of an identical piece of fabric. Picture 3

Next I created a lining for the chest by placing fabric under the top half of the pattern I just cut out. The pattern side of the lining piece should be face down on the table. I then traced around the outside of the pattern in chalk, directly against the large dress pattern without leaving seam allowance. You want the bottom of the lining to sit where the bottom of the chest would be. Once you have chalked this up, cut the lining out of the fabric. Picture 4

Repeat this process once again for the other main dress piece of fabric to create a second lining.

Once you have your 2 pieces of lining cut out, separate the two pieces of the large dress pattern. Line one piece of lining up with one large pattern piece. The pattern sides of both the lining and the dress pattern should be facing in towards other and touching. Once they are lined up pin them into place. Do this again for the other half of the dress. Picture 5 and 6

By this point in the instructable you should have two sets of two pieces of fabric, the smaller lining piece, the larger pattern piece, pattern sides in, pinned together. If you've gotten this far kudos! Let's keep going!

Decide which piece will be your front and which will be the back of the dress. Once you have decided, grab the piece you chose to be the front and set it out flat. Measure across the shoulders and find the mid point in the dress. From the mid point at the top of the dress use the measurement for how low you wanted the neckline to be. Picture 7

Measure down this many inches and place a chalk mark. This is going to be the lowest, center-most part of the neckline. Once you have that mark, draw an arch for the neckline as steep or as wide as you want. Once it is complete, cut this part out. Pictures 8 and 9

Step 6: Sew Stuff!

Finally we get to start sewing!

Keep the front and back pieces of the dress apart. We are going to be sewing along the arm holes and the neck hole on the front and back pieces separately. We are not sewing the two sets of fabric together yet, just joining the linings to the main dress patterns for each piece.

Do not sew the shoulders or down the sides. Look at Picture 1 for a sewing guide in this step.

We are making a seam meant to hold fabric together and not allow much movement in reference to the piece it is being sewn to. I used a straight stitch with a short stitch length because the material was thin. Always back stitch to start and finish your seams to keep the seam from unraveling. Your seam should be 1/8" away from the fabrics edge. Picture 2

Once both sets of fabric have been sewn along the neck and arm holes, remove the remaining pins from the fabric and flip your seam inside out to where the "wrong sides" of the fabric are touching. Pictures 3and 4

For each separate piece of fabric we flipped, we will now be sewing a 1/8" seam along both sides of the dress. Starting on the bottom of the lining and sewing until the end of the dress, sew a straight stitch, remembering to back stitch at the beginning and end of your seam. Picture 5

Once the side seams are finished we will be sewing a tailors stitch along the arm and neck holes. This will keep the fabric from rolling over when the dress is worn, keeping the lining in place. This seam will be a 1/8" seam. Picture 6

Now grab your zippers!

Step 7: Zip It Real Good

In this step we will be placing and sewing the longer zippers into the side seams of the dress. Measure from the top of your fabric to the length that the bottom of the dress should be at and place a chalk mark. This is where we will be placing the zipping part of the zipper (our zipper will unzip from the bottom, up). Do not cut the access fabric off. We leave the extra space at the bottom for hem allowance later on. Pictures 1, 2 and 3

Flip the dress to where the entire pattern side is facing up. Line your zipper up with the mark you made and pin your fabric 1/8" away from the zipper teeth. If we get too close to the teeth the fabric will snag when the zippers are used. Picture 4

If you have a zipper foot for your sewing machine I highly recommend using it. This piece is shaped to allow a zipper to pass almost directly next to the needle while still applying tension to the fabric. Pictures 5 and 6

With or without a zipper foot we will be using a straight stitch, back-stitching at the beginning and end of our stitch. Do this for both sides of both zippers. Pictures 7 and 8

Tip: after you pin the zippers to the front of the dress keep the zippers zipped before pinning the zipper to the back of the dress. This is to ensure that once the front and back pieces are sewn that they line up correctly when zipped back up. Picture 9

After your zippers are completely sewn and the dress is in one large piece with awesome zipper seams we will need to cover the top end of the zippers. Pin or sew the fabric on each side of the zippers with a hand sewn stitch at the top most end of the zipper for the front and back of the dress. Basically we are pinching the front and back of the dress together directly above the zipper. You can choose to add a small piece of fabric here if you want, but for me, pinching and loosely sewing the fabric by hand and then sewing directly across it with the machine worked fine. Once you decide which way you want to cover the zipper ends, sew the covering either as I did or with an additional piece of fabric. Remove the hand stitch once the fabric is sewn.

Note: We still have not sewn the shoulders on the front and back of the dress together yet.

It's starting to look like a dress!

Step 8: Test Fit!

So before we go any further, we want to test fit the dress on our lady friend. I did this first and foremost because I am paranoid about having to redo things. Secondly, it's always a good idea to check your work as you go so that you don't find a major issue later down the road that would be harder to fix then, than it would have been earlier.

Your shoulders should not be sewn to together yet so use safety pins, a loose hand stitch, clothes pins, or whatever you have around to pin the shoulders together.

We are checking for slack in the dress, making sure the lining fits properly, that the dress lays evenly on the body, and most importantly, that the dress is long enough. Also make sure to remeasure your sleeve length and verify that the original measurement is still what you want to use for your sleeves.

During the test fit we found that our dress was about an inch too short. Normally this would pose an issue because adding more fabric would change the sleekness of the dress and add a seam where we didn't want one just to attach another piece of fabric.


It was decided that to increase the length of the dress without altering the flow much, we would use 2 zippers as the hem around the bottom of the dress. This would do two things, allow the dress to be the proper length, but also allow the flexibility to unzip the bottom inch of the dress and allow a shorter dress to be worn with leggings, etc.

Step 9: Making the Sleeves

Once you have the main body of the dress complete it's time to add some sleeves!

What you're going to want to do is grab the fabric you have left over from the lining. To determine the measurements of the cap sleeve we are going to take the sleeve length measurement and add an inch. We are also going to need to measure the circumference of the arm holes of the dress and add an inch to this as well for hem allowance.

On your fabric measure using either your measuring tape or a yard stick mark the length of the sleeve hole in a straight line using your chalk. Also mark the center point between the start and end of this chalk line. We are using 1 solid piece of fabric for each sleeve to save time. Picture 1

From the ends of the chalk mark, measure what the length of the top of the sleeve away from the shoulder was and draw another straight line. Picture 2

Measure 1 inch away from the center chalk mark we made on the circumference of the sleeve and place a mark with chalk. Connect the end of the sleeve chalk line to this center mark for both the bottom and top of your original chalk line. Picture 3

You can either mirror your chalk marks across the longest chalk line or do the same steps again elsewhere on your fabric for the second sleeve. Picture 4

Now cut out your fabric along these chalk lines (if you mirrored the measurements cut down the center as well). Picture 5

Picture 6 shows the sleeves folded in half. This is the shape our sleeves will be.

Now that we have our sleeves cut out we need to hem the top of the sleeve and also the outermost part of the sleeve to make the edges pretty. The long, straight edge of the sleeve is the part the will attach to the dress. Do not hem this piece. Fold the other edges of the fabric in slightly and sew a straight stitch in a straight line, back-stitching at the beginning and end of each edge. Picture 7

Once you finish hemming each edge (excluding the attaching side) we need to pin the edge that is not hemmed to the arm hole on the dress. Flip the dress inside out, and starting from the bottom of the armpit (closest to the side seam zipper) start pinning your sleeve to the arm hole along both the front and back of each. When you reach the top on each side your fabric should match up with the shoulders of the dress. Picture 8

We still have not sewn the shoulder shut. Leave the top seam along the shoulder and top of you sleeve open. This is where our zipper will go later. Picture 9

Once everything is pinned together, sew a straight stitch (don't forget to back-stitch) along everything that you pinned. Again do not sew the top of the sleeve shut.

Repeat this for the second sleeve.

Step 10: Adding the Shoulder Zippers

Once the sleeves are attached to the dress we need to add the zippers.

With the zipper zipped shut, line the zipper pull up with the outermost edge of the top of the sleeve and line it up with the rest of the sleeve and into the shoulder of the dress. Pin this into place on both sides of the zipper. Picture 1

Since the shoulder was only 2" and our sleeve was 3" the length will match perfectly for the 5" zipper to become the seam for both. We used a closed ended zipper for this piece so that the shoulders stay attached even with the sleeves unzipped. This prevents accidental wardrobe malfunctions.

Once you have the fabric lined up with the zipper, sew the zipper into the sleeve using a straight stitch and also back-stitching at the beginning and end on each side of the zipper. The zipper foot sewing attachment should be used here. NOTE: Make sure when sewing the zipper into the sleeve that you are not catching any other fabric in the stitch. Sometimes fabric likes to sneak underneath while you are moving along the stitch. Picture 2

Once the zipper has been sewn from the end of the sleeve to the shoulder this sleeve is done! Repeat these steps for the second sleeve. Picture 3

Step 11: The Final Hem

If your dress was too short during the test fit stage, or you just want to add more zippers because zippers are awesome, add zippers to the bottom hem of the dress!

Taking our 2, 16" open ended zippers, line the zippers across the front and back of the dress separately. Pin them into place, leaving the ends of the zippers hanging past the edge of your fabric. Pictures 1 and 2

Sew your zipper into the bottom of the dress using a straight stitch and back-stitching once again. The bottom edge of the zipper will be left untouched. If you want to unzip the zipper to make it easier to sew, you can do this. Picture 3

Once you have sewn one zipper to the bottom, zip the zipper up and line the zipper for the other half of the dress to where the zipper pull is on the opposite side as the one of the front. Repeat the sewing process.

After everything is sewn, we add small pieces of velcro to the ends of the zipper. The point here is that when the dress is worn, we don't want the bottom of the dress to look unfinished. Pictures 4 and 5

The velcro holds the ends of the zippers to the ends of the zippers on the opposite side of the dress and creates a seamless finish when the dress is worn. This also allows the bottom zipper to be unzipped if you wish to unzip the sides of the dress. Picture 6

Step 12: Fin

Trim any loose threads and you're done! An awesome zipper dress!

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