Shortening a Zipper From the Top

In all my years of altering clothes, I had never thought of altering a zipper from the top.

Usually, when a dress doesn’t zip all the way up, I try to let out the side seams at the bust area.

Often, I sew in gussets. Gussets are pie shaped wedges of fabric sewn into the side seams under the arms to add extra width in a garment.

They work great if you have fabric that matches, but we didn’t.

I could have used a solid beige or tan fabric as an alternative.

But this customer didn’t like the idea of gussets and how they might look on her wedding dress.


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I can’t blame her. I think I’d feel the same.

But her dress didn’t zip all the way up in the back and we had to do something.

Because she couldn’t return the dress.

So, the dress shop owner gave me this idea, and the bride loved it!

Here’s the back of the dress (Ignore the darker brown thread for the moment):

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When my customer tried the dress on, I zipped it up as high as it would go. Then, I folded down the top edges on either side of the zipper and pinned them. Look closely in the photo below and you’ll see the pins:

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Then, I took a darker thread and basted a line across the top of the folds. (If you would zip the dress back up and take out the pins at this point, it would look like this):

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Push the pointed tips down into the dress along the dark brown thread like this:

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Reach your hand into the inside of the dress and pull the dress inside out.

Now you’ll see the dark brown line of thread that you basted from the outside. This will become your new sewing line:

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Make sure all the layers are out of the way and your fabric is laying flat.

Sew straight across that dark brown thread line, but leave the dark brown thread in for a moment.sewing blog 649










Turn the dress right side out and check to see if you stitched where the thread line was. If not, make the adjustments necessary until it looks like this:

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Once you have it where you want it, take out the dark brown basting thread.

Follow the same steps for the other side.

And there you have it! It looks a little like a V-shaped back in this photo:

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The “V” looks a little less prominant when she tried it on after the alteration:

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NOTE***At the first fitting, I spoke with the bride  about another option. If it were me, I would have started at the underarm area and made a straight line over to the zipper so she didn’t have the soft V-shape to the back, but the “V” is exactly what she wanted.

I thought it looked a little tight across the back, and offered to lower the “V” for her, but she loved it this way.

And my job is to make the customer happy no matter what they want.

And if she’s happy, I’m happy.


2 Responses

  1. So, wait, do you cut the zipper? If so, then how do you keep the zipper pull from slipping off the top? I must be missing something… I’m not really a sewer… but I have a dress that needs this trick. Thanks!

    • Hi Pam,
      There’s no need to cut the zipper. In this case, the zipper will be enclosed in the seam because it’s encased in the lining. Just be sure that the zipper tab doesn’t fall off while you’re doing the alteration.
      If you’re putting in a new pant zipper, I’d shorten the bottom of the zipper and you might need to sew a thick zipper tab to keep it from falling off, but even then , it shouldn’t need one. Coats and jackets are usually the only garments that need a new stop, of you shorten the zipper on them.

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