Side or Back Zippers – Which Do You Prefer?

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.

From Gertie’s Side Zipper Tutorial

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)

Gertie and Casey both have great tutorials on side zipper insertion (both of the lapped variety).

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…

Fashion Sewing For Everyone by Adele P Margolis

When Sunni’s information saved my fitting of the Jasmine blouse I was grateful for the information she had so willingly shared.  As the knowledge and technique were based on  a book by Adele P Margolis (1909 – 2009) I thought I’d see what else she’d written.

This led me to Fashion Sewing for Everyone.  Like Liz in her review of How to Make Clothes that Fit and Flatter the book its self is just really pleasant and easy to read.  It’s as if you have a really knowledgeable Aunt, Grandmother or friend talking to you and sharing their knowledge.  The writing style is so engaging.  I’m reading this much like I’d read a novel but all the time I am LEARNING!

Not only is my knowledge being increased, so is my confidence.  I’ve read about 3/4 of the 421 (excluding index) book and I really wanted to share some of it with you:

Here’s a scan of the foreword

The phrase that really stood out to me (and is used on the back of the dust jacket too, so the publisher must have thought it was good!) is this:

This is a book for everyone who loves to sew.  Not just plain sewing, mind you, but fashion sewing.  There’s a difference!  It’s the difference between chore and excitement, between have-to and want-to, between the routine and the creative.”

Never was a truer word spoken?  When I think about it whilst we are all sharing information, knowledge, techniques, patterns none of it is based on pure practicality.  We all sew because we choose to, because it excites us.

It may have begun as a means to an end, to get clothes in the style we like, that fit our aesthetic, that reflect our personal fashion.  Somewhere along the way though the process becomes as important as the finished product, the learning so that we can step it up a notch.  The fit that means that makes the clothes a joy to wear, the lining that stops the pencil skirt bunching up round our hips.  The pretty lace at the hem.  The insane pop of colour in a ‘sensible’ coat.  The fact that we know it will last because its been constructed properly, finished properly (well, at least to the best of our abilities!).

We sew because we want to and because it is creative.

Then there are the little confidence boosts along the way:

“The comforting thing about clothing construction is that there is nothing sacred.  There is just no one way to do anything.
No one way to design.  Make rules and along comes some design genius who defies them all.
No one way to sew.  New techniques follow new styles, new needs, new technology, new fabrics.”

“Following are some techniques that have stood the test of time.  New ones are constantly developing.  If you can invent some of your own – go ahead.  Anything goes if it works!”

Sometimes its good to be reminded that just because something is the ‘accepted’ way, doesn’t mean its the only way.  The first example of this that popped into my head is seam finishes!  In couture they may not be finished at all depending on the construction, or it will be over cast by hand.  Ready to wear is overlocking pretty much all the way.  Me, I know I’ve used no finish, pinking, over locking, turn and stitch, bound, french seams…  None are wrong, none are the only way in a given situation!

There is also some good advice, some of which is of the ‘why didn’t I think of that?!’ variety, well at least for me anyway:

Planning; I’m OK at that I think and certainly I can see how the unit construction method is followed in pattern instructions.  However it was the paragraph under the heading “Some General Advice Before You Begin” that was the biggest light bulb moment…

Don’t worry in advance.  That way lies failure.  Concern yourself with step 20 in the sewing sequence when you’ve finished step 19 – certainly not before you’ve even begun step 1.  You’ll be defeated before you’ve begun if you’re tense and anxious about the final steps.  Besides, you’ll be agreeably surprised to find how logical and simple the operation really is when you come to it in proper time.”

I am having some real light bulb moments as a result of reading it; some are technical ‘so that’s how you do it’ kind of moments and others are more knowledge based.  I finally understand fully what the stand, fall, roll line and break on a collar are and even how to fit one!  I hope to share some other bits of the book with you over the coming week or so, plus some little pieces of evidence that shows that another sewist has used Ms Margolis’ instructions…

What Is This?

This is a rather lovely (in my opinion) fabric that I bought on Etsy.

It's lustrous, matte and drapes beautifully. But what is it?

The seller wasn’t sure what it was made from and could only tell me this:

“5 yards – 62″
vintage silky fabric
never used
silky material – not sure weather satin or silk”

It arrived a while ago, I’ve only just got round to thinking about using it and I want to pre-treat it before I do.  Which means I need to know what it is!

So, using Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide I did a burn test on a bit of it.


It burns – fast!  With a yellow flame, and has an after glow that creeps.  It smells like paper when it burns.  The burnt edge is tinged brown and the ash (what little there was of it) was light and fine.

This makes me think that it’s either Rayon, or a Cotton Rayon mix.

The burn characteristics for Cotton, according to the book, are:
Burns rapidly, yellow flame; continues burning afterglow.  Smells of burning paper, leaves, wood.  Brown-tinged end; light-coloured, feathery ash.
and for Rayon:
Burns rapidly; leaves creeping ember.  Smells of burning wood.  Very little, light fluffy ash.

So I think it’s a cotton satin or a cotton/rayon satin.

So as far as pre-treating it goes, I think I’ll hedge my bets and go with the treatment for Rayon which according to the book the washability is dependent on the type, weave and garment design!  It does help a bit though by saying that it should be a mild detergent and hand washed in luke warm water and that excess should be pressed out not wrung or twisted.  Or do I get brave and bung it in the machine?!

Modern Fashion vs Historical Fashion

Peter, of Male Pattern Boldness, wrote a post yesterday about models and fashion advertising.  It’s really interesting and the comments, as ever on Peter’s blog, are thought provoking and have been thought through by the authors.  However, Peter hit a nail on the head for me when, in a comment he wrote in response, he said

“I think it’s also that years ago people — women and men — aspired to look mature. Not old, but grown up.” 

That one sentence I think explains far more succinctly than I have managed to explain why I am drawn towards vintage styles and styling.  There are very few elements of modern fashion I like.  There is a lot in vintage and vintage inspired that I do.  I aspire to look mature in a grown up way.  I’m approaching 30, I’m a Mother.  I don’t want to look like I’m out every night getting trashed.  I want to look beautiful, capable.  An adult, not someone playing at it.

Vintage Notion Want-it-isis

A while back I posted about Sunni’s fabulous hem marking gadget made by Singer, and my quest to find one.  Well, it’s here!!!!

My pin-type skirt marker

This is my very own Singer pin-type skirt marker, and it’s lovely.  The pin cushion doesn’t even look like it’s been used.  I am one very happy stitcher, and it’s plenty tall enough for skirts that strike my mid-knee which it’s set up for in the photo.  Funny how the oddest things can make you so happy, isn’t it!

Nearly pristine pin cushion

My First Vintage Pattern!

Squee!  And do a happy little dance!  Boy joined in, husband looked at me like I’d lost the plot.

Let me explain.  As I’ve mentioned previously I’m starting to find my feet as far as my style is concerned and I’m drawn to the Fifties.  I like the sophisticated, grown up but beautiful (mostly!) fashions of that era. 

cv Not that I’m advocating the view that we should all strap ourselves into girdles and bullet shaped bras.  I’m not and can’t envisage myself being able to live vintage, more that I am looking to adapt this sort of vintage style for my modern life.  I’m probably not making too much sense here…  I’m starting to learn a bit about the feminist issues and concerns regarding the rise in the popularity in vintage fashions.  I’m not looking to be emancipated, but at the same time I love that the women of the era dressed as grown ups and took pride in the way they looked.  I’ll try to explain what I mean better in another post.

I’m also learning about the fashion and sociological influences on the era and the development of the home sewing culture at that time, if that’s the right word for it.

But, for now, back to my Squee inducing purchase…

My First Vintage Pattern!
I’d been pootling around Etsy, and came across a listing for this pattern.  I put it in my favourites and thought about it for a day or two.  Every time I looked at it, I loved it a little bit more.  I like the wiggle dress styling but the thing that grabbed my attention is the styling around the neck line.  It’s the bateau shape at the front with the scooped away back.  I’m not sure about the knotted collar bit but it was definitely the neck line that sold it to me!
It was the neck line that made me buy it!

When I make this I plan to shorten the skirt so that it sits just below my knee, or mid knee.  I’m thinking about a possible little kick pleat in the back too…  I’m not sure about the jacket at the moment, I’ll have to wait and see on that front.  I can think of other styles I like more!

Including the postage to the UK from this really friendly Etsy seller it cost me $14.50 and it arrived really quickly too.  I bought it on the 6 April and it arrived on the 14 April – less than a week!  Making this will be one of my rewards for my weight loss me thinks!!