I’ve just made two dresses in the space of about two weeks. If this rain EVER stops I’ll be able to take some photos for the posts that are already written and just waiting for the images…
In the mean time though, I thought I’d ask what you think about zipper location. I’ve been thinking about this since Sunday now (I know, I’m weird). Both of the dresses I’ve made have back zippers and I happily followed the instructions in the pattern inserting them in the back seam.
But, fitting and dressing with a centre back zipper is another matter. I need to be zipped in and out of both dresses. In effect I can’t dress or undress myself and this is really quite frustrating.
I ended up tying a length of string to the zipper on one toile so that I could get in on and off with my limited contortion skills. If you’ve ever worn a wet suit with a zipper with the pull tag on, that’s what I did. The second dress involves an invisible zipper. In the end the toile was made with the centre back seam sewn up and I just wiggled it on and off for fitting. Yes, I did get stuck on a couple of occasions but furious (including language) contortions meant that I extracted my self eventually.
So the good thing is that I’ve rediscovered a love of dresses that I probably lost around 20 years ago. Gingham polyester summer uniforms anyone?! The bad thing is that I like to be able to dress myself, particularly for day wear. This has led to the zipper placement obsession.
The solution for me seems to be to put the zipper in the side seam. A lot of vintage dresses have side zippers which are usually lapped and modern invisible zippers should work as well. I couldn’t fully understand why zippers aren’t inserted into side seams so did a bit of research and came up with some potential answers:
The side seam is often curvier than the centre back seam. This bias element makes it more comfortable when you wear the garment as it has some give and flex. This also means that the seam is more likely to twist and warp when you insert the zip. The centre back however is often on the straight grain so is much more stable.
So, the solution may be to stabilise the seam – perhaps with organza cut on the straight grain? Sunni has a great tutorial on inserting a zipper into a bias seam and I can’t see why those principles shouldn’t be applied to a side zipper where there is an element of bias.
As the centre back is on the straight grain, it doesn’t necessarily need stabilising. It’s also a nice straight and pretty much flat seam. In contrast the side seam can be quite curvy (think of a fitted bodice into a pencil skirt) so the application is probably tricker. As well as contending with the curves you’re also inserting it into a seam that is closed at the top and bottom. When it comes to RTW production lines and the costs involved, a side zipper is likely to cost more.
For me thought, I’d hand pick the zipper. This would give me the control I need and prevent difficult fabric wrestling at the sewing machine. This is unlikely to be an option for most RTW as hand sewing is an expensive process.
A theory based in history is that zippers were more likely to fail when they first appeared. Covering a failed zip would be much easier in a side seam with the judicious use of pins and an arm to cover it! Centre back it would be there for all to see. As they’re much more reliable now, the ease and cost savings of using the centre back seam becomes possible.
A final possibility is that side seam are under more stress than centre back. Particularly with fitted styles. At the back, the seam only deals with motion in pretty much one plane (forward and back or side to side). A side seam deals with both these plus a twisting motion. It’s possible for it to deal with all three at once! Therefore the zipper is potentially under much more strain. Due to the bulk that a zipper can add, it may also mean that the side line or silhouette isn’t as smooth as it could be.
Basically, at the moment, I can’t find a good reason why my handmade dresses shouldn’t have a side zipper; particularly if the item is for every day wear. A slinky evening gown where you want a sleek line would be a good reason for a back zipper. Plus I don’t mind asking for help for occasion dressing!
I fully recognise the added difficulty and costs that would be involved in a RTW production line and how this may explain the shift to centre back. But for a Me Made item it seems logical to move it to the side seam.
I wonder why pattern companies still put them in the centre back – is it so the finished item is more RTW in style and finish? Or are there drafting considerations? It may well be that not cutting the centre back on the fold leads to more economical use of fabric. This would save costs for both RTW to Me Made items.
The pattern Sunni is using for her shirt dress sew along, Simplicity 1880 (I’m going to do the wrap dress), has a side zipper. Is this driven by the design, or a conscious choice by the designer to make dressing and undressing a little easier? I suspect it may be the first…
Going forward I intend to change my centre back zippers to side ones on dresses I intend to wear day to day (unless it’s a jewel neckline! My head’s got to fit through the neckline for this to work!). Converting from a centre back zipper to a side zipper should be fairly straight forward:
- Cut the back piece(s) on the fold having removed the seam allowance at centre back
Insert the zipper in the side seam (usually a 14″ zip)
What do you think about zip placement? At least this way I’ll be able to dress myself – and massive kudos to anyone who is able to deal with their own centre back zip!
Oh my, CB zips seem to be getting some serious love! If anyone has any tips on how they manage to get them done up on their own, please let me know!!
Huzzah, Marcy has shared the secret (how dumb am I?!) and I can get both dresses on with out any help! I still think I may give side zips a go though, just for the challenge and experience. I may still love them, and its good to have options…