How to - Exposed Zipper on the Bebekins Polly Pinafore

Recently I made the Bebekins Polly Pinafore and decided to use an exposed zipper, rather than a button closure. A few people have been asking how I did it - so here's how.

Adding an exposed zipper is definitely a bit fiddly in comparison to the button option. Personally when I'm trialling something new I like to do a couple of practice runs before using my good fabric (if you read my blog you will already know that I'm a fan of samples) and I would highly recommend doing this if you are new to exposed zippers. I'm fairly confident that your second attempt will be better than your first.

I purchased my exposed zippers from Boo! Designs. They offer a great selection of 18 cm long YKK zippers with fun zipper pulls. They are a little on the short side for this particular project, but after making my test run I made sure the dress went over my daughter's head and all was well, thankfully:) If you are making a dress larger than the size 4/5 you will probably need to find a longer zip and it will need to end in the skirt section (rather than the waistband). To do this just attach the back skirt sections to the back main fabric waistband sections and treat as one. Don't sew all the way to the end of the waistband sections, leave a little un-sewn at the side seams so you can follow the pattern as per the instructions. 

There are alternative ways to insert an exposed zipper. I watched a Bluprint class with Sara Alm (Mastering Construction - Zippers and Waistbands) and she inserted an exposed zipper using organza as a facing. It's actually a great, slightly simpler method, but I found it harder to execute neatly. However if the method I use is too much of a 'process' for you then there are other options.

It is the order of construction that takes a bit of thinking about with this pattern. You've two options in terms of the order and I have tried both.

First time around I constructed the bodice as per the pattern, except I did not sew the centre back seam and I also left 3cm un-sewn at the back section of the neckline. I then clipped and pulled the bodice to the right way and installed the exposed zipper.

Second time around I did it as follows, and I think I prefer this method.

Section 1 - Prepare your zipper top.

I used grosgrain ribbon, a marking pen, double sided basting tape and a Boo! Designs zipper.

a. Trim 0.5cm from the top of the zipper teeth and stitch the grosgrain to the zipper tape, as shown in the image above. 

b. Encase the ribbon around the top of the zip, as shown and pin. The double-sided tape is really helpful for keeping everything in place here.


c. Stitch a box around the ribbon to secure in place. I found it easier to use a zipper foot for this, but not essential.


Section 2 - Measuring, Marking and Planning 

a. Sew the back waistband pieces to the back bodice pieces. Do not sew right to the end. Leave the ends open (marked in red on the photograph). Press open the seam allowances.


b. Use a strip of Interfacing, approximately 3cm wide, at the centre back of the main fabric and lining where the zip will go.

c. Mark the seam allowance from the neckline at the top of the garment (1cm for this dress). The zipper will start just below here.

d. Mark where the zipper ends, just after the stop at the bottom of the zipper, on your garment. 

e. Measure how much of zipper you would like exposed (include teeth and tape). I decided 1.6cm of the zipper should be exposed in total. Then half this as you will need to mark this amount on the either side of the zipper tape. 16mm/2 = 8mm so I drew a line 8mm from the centre of the zip on both sides.

f. I also drew a line on the main fabric and lining. This line will match up with the line you have just drawn on the zipper tape. This line should be 18mm from the centre back (10mm seam allowance + 8mm of exposed zipper).

Section 3 - Sewing the exposed zipper

You thought you’d never get to this bit didn’t you! 

a. Sew the CB seam from where you marked the zipper to stop. Press open. Change your normal foot for a zipper foot. 
    b. Flip the zipper so it is right side to right side with the main fabric (see image). Stitch along bottom opening, but only the 1.8cm marked. The key to executing this well is to be exact - only 1.8 cm across, ending exactly where you marked!



      c. You will need a really sharp pair of pointy scissors for the next part. I like to use my duck-billed applique ones - but all sharp pointy ones work well! Put the machine needle into the corner point at the end of the  zipper, keeping the needle in the fabric and the presser foot up snip the main fabric (NOT the zipper tape) to the needle. You need  to get as close to the needle as possible without going right to it. 


        d. Then bring the zipper round so the top of the zipper is at the neckline section of  the garment. Match up the lines marked on the zipper and fabric earlier. Before sewing make sure the the fabric is all laying flat. If it is too bunched up around the bottom of the zipper it will not stitch well. Try to manipulate the fabric so it is all laying as flat as possible. Stitch up to the top.

        e. Put the zipper back as it was at the beginning of the step on the other side. Put the needle into the other corner - exactly where the 1.8cm begins/ends and snip the corner again with needle in. Then twist around so the top of the zipper meets the top of the garment. 

        It should look something like this.


        Section 4 - Sewing the bodice neckline

        a. Sew shoulder seams on the main fabric and lining fabric. Press the seams open.

        b. If you are attaching the  flutter sleeves do this here as per the instructions. You will baste the sleeves in place. This is why we left a few centimetres un-sewn between the bottom of the back piece and waistband. 

        c. Pin back the flutter sleeve as shown above. Now place the lining and main fabric right sides together matching up the neckline. Make sure you pin all the way round the neckline - right next to the top of the zipper but do not stitch over it. 

        d. Clip and understitch the neckline. Turn the lining the the inside of the garment and press around the neckline.

        Section 5 - Sewing the armholes.

        This next section is really hard to show in photographs - no matter how clear I tried to make it, it just looks like a big ball of fabric. I will attempt to explain ...

        a. You will need to sew each armhole in two sections. Flip the front main fabric to meet the front lining fabric, right sides to right sides.  You will need to pull the fabric out a bit around the armhole to go as far as possible. Pin from the waist to the shoulder seam. You will not be able to sew right to the shoulder seam - there will be about 1-2cm gap from where you stop sewing to the shoulder seam.



        b. Repeat by matching the back main fabric piece to the back lining piece on the same armhole.


        c. Continue to keep the un-sewn waistband piece out of the way of sewing the armholes.

        d. When you turn this out you will see there is a 3-4 cm gap on the lining side at the armhole - you will need to hand stitch this closed.


        Section 6 - Finishing the lining around the zipper

        a. Stitch the CB seam on the lining as you did with the main fabric. It is really important that this opening in interfaced. 


        b. Mark the bottom of the zipper opening as shown.


        c. Snip to the points as shown below. Press the triangle down. 

        d. Stitch the bottom triangle of the lining piece to the bottom of the zipper. See photo attached. 

        e. Press the lining piece around the zipper and pin/tape in place ready for hand stitching.


        Section 7 - Completing the waistband

        a. Sandwich the waistband pieced between the front main fabric and lining sections. This is exactly as it is explained in the pattern.

        b. Complete sewing the back waistband to the back bodice pieces by sandwiching the layers together - as shown in the pattern.

        Section 8 - Attaching the Skirt

        You can now continue following instructions for attaching the skirt.

        You will not need the back opening ‘V’ shape. You can just sewing the skirt together in a round and attach, matching up side seams.


        I'll follow this up with a blog post of the girls wearing their dresses very soon.  


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