I’ve seen plenty of examples in garments where someone has painstakingly sewn their lining to their zipper tape by hand. It usually makes my fingertips ache. Why spend that time sewing on a lining by hand, when it could be done much more quickly and look more professional when sewn by machine? Don’t you want to use your extra time perusing Pinterest for photos of cute puppies and shoes you can’t afford?
I learned this method several years ago by a zipper-inserting wiz, named Rosa. It may be a technique that you’ve seen before, but I thought I’d share this method with you since I put this tutorial together for a class I taught recently. No one else in the class had used this method before, so even though it’s an old trick to me, it may be new to you. The instructions that I have written here are for a lined sleeveless dress with a side zip. This technique can be used in other garments and seams, so don’t worry if you want to use it in a skirt instead of a dress. All of the photos in this post are clickable, so if you’d like to see a much larger image, just click the picture. Also, I promise that I would never actually sew a yellow dress with red thread and green zipper (I’m not that crazy, YET).
Step 1: Attach the lining and dress outer fabric together at the armholes, leaving the two separate for at least 2-3” from the edge of the side seam (or seam where the zipper will be placed). Clip, turn and press the armhole. Understitch if necessary, and leave room between the end of the seam line and the end of the understitching, so that you can reach the seam line later on.
Step 2: *Read thru this step completely* Sew the fashion fabric from the zipper end point (usually marked as a dot) down to the hem. Sew the lining together in the same manner. On my sample the lining ends at the bodice waist, but if your lining has a skirt, sew it as described. If your dress has stretch to it, is slippery, or you aren’t experienced with bringing zippers down to a pre-sewn stop point, then save this step for later. You can sew up the end of the zipper with a regular zipper foot after completing the other steps if you are more comfortable with that.
Step 3: With the zipper closed, mark where the zipper tape will intersect with the waist seam (or any other available marking- like a notch) so that the zipper will line up once zipped closed. When marking this, make sure that the stops at the top of the zipper do not land on the armhole seamline. If you would like, you can leave room to sew a hook and eye at the top of your zipper, or if you would like your zipper pull to reach the top of your armhole, lay out your zipper accordingly.
Step 4: Unzip the zipper, and iron coils open, to make the coils more easily fit into the invisible zipper foot. Do not make the coils flat, merely unfold them a bit. Your zipper should do just fine with the heat of your iron, but if you’re concerned, you can slowly increase your iron’s heat until the coils unfold easily.
Step 5: Lay out the zipper and pin it to the fashion fabric, lining up the mark on either side of the zipper from Step 3 with the waist seam. Sew it on using an invisible zipper foot, sewing it on to the seam line. Remember, with an invisible zipper, the stitching line/seam line is just to the side of the zipper coils. Make sure that your zipper is being sewn onto the seam line by measuring from the edge of the fabric to the inside edge of the zipper coil. Also, double check that your zipper is not twisted incorrectly, or your zipper won’t work!
Step 6: Once your zipper is sewn, pin your lining or facing to the zipper tape and fashion fabric, extending it by 1/4” past the fashion fabric edge. Using a standard presser foot (zigzag), attach the lining to the zipper tape, sewing it about 1/4”-3/8” away from the zipper coils by aligning the side of the standard foot against the coils. The standard foot helps to ensure that you don’t sew too closely to your zipper coils. You want to give your lining some space from the coils so it doesn’t get caught in the zipper as you zip yourself into the dress.
Step 7:You may notice that there is extra fashion fabric slightly bubbling at the top of your zipper- that’s good! Fold the zipper over towards the lining, keeping the zipper coils along the fold of the fabric. This should take care of the excess fashion fabric, and everything should lay smoothly. Sew across the fashion fabric and the lining at the top of the armhole along the seam line. Your new stitching line should connect with your original armhole seam line, and not interfere with your understitching. If you can’t reach your seam line, you should unpick a bit of understitching.
Step 8: Clip the top edge of the zipper and fabric if you feel it will be too bulky on the outside of the garment once turned. Fold the rest of the armhole fabric down towards the zipper tape, and pinch it between your thumb and forefinger while you turn it right side out. Push the fabric against itself while turning to get a nice sharp edge, or use a point turner to create a nice corner.
Step 9: Complete the other side and press the zipper. If the top of the zipper does not line up, flip the taller side back out and shorten it as needed.
Step 10: If you did not already finish the bottom of your zipper, do that now, using a regular zipper foot to get as close as possible to the zipper coils at the marked zipper stopping point. Sew the seam down to the hem on both the fashion fabric and the lining.
Taa-daah! You now have a beautifully sewn invisible zipper, with even edges and a nicely finished lining inside. Notice that I didn’t bother to finish any fabric edges on this Franken-dress. It’s not like I can wear it out!