Amateur Sewing Hour: My First Zipper & the $10 Dress-capade

IMG_6097IMG_6117Yet again on the hunt for a fancy dress to wear to a fancy-schmancy charity event. Since I volunteer at this event every year, I wanted something new and on the cheap. I went to my go-to party dress store (Ambiance in SF) and started digging for gold. The theme of the event, you see, was Gold Rush.

So I found the perfect gold/copper dress, a little Marilyn Monroe halter number. Only one problem – it was a size L and I’m XS. As a daring amateur self-seamstress, I thought, “How hard could it be? All I have to do is shorten the halter straps and cinch in the waist. Piece of cake!”

It’s easy to be bold when the stakes are low. The price tag was the clincher – on sale for TEN DOLLARS!  How could I resist? If I failed, chalk it up to a $10 sewing lesson.

IMG_6103I got my sewing machine several years ago out of necessity. Pants always need hemming (that’s the main thing I use it for). I am somewhat of a Lilliputian – usually below the lowest size – so my sewing has become more adventurous over time. But I’m still scared of wrecking items of clothing, especially if they are new. And for some reason, I’ve always been afraid of sewing a zipper. One of my first sewing attempts was a pencil skirt that I narrowed with a back seam; instead of properly fitting it with a zipper, I chose snaps and hooks and eyes (wimpy choice, indeed).

So I hadn’t yet faced my fears and wasn’t planning on going the zipper route with this gold dress. I was thinking DARTS. But when I got it home, I began to realize the complexity of this sewing adventure: the cinching was not going to be a cinch after all. There was just too much fabric here – including several layers of stretch, netting and sheer metallic. No time to be a sissy, I would have to go bold with the gold.

What was I thinking? Not only was there a gathered cummerbund, but an underskirt, crinoline and top skirt which were also attached to the zipper. There was no way around it – I had to cut through all four layers, remove a full 5 inches of material from each and then reinstall the zipper. The ZIPPER!!! Ahhhh!

Ok, take a deep breath. This all works out in the end (pun intended). I mean, the back of the dress required a complete overall, and I somehow pulled it off. And the zipper (the zipper!) was actually the easiest part. Here’s how I did it:

IMG_6094Before cutting, I noticed the skirt was attached to the underskirt until about 2 inches below zipper, while the crinoline was only attached at the waist. My aim was to replicate this (I made notes, I took pictures). Then I used my favorite scissors and cut through one layer at a time, removed the 5 inches, and sewed each of them back up. Like performing dress surgery!

I watched several zipper tutorials online, which I highly recommend. I followed the simplest guidelines, sewing as close to the zipper teeth as I could. It would’ve been easy except for that durn cummerbund – too bunchy, too thick and too much in my way. Because of this obstacle, the zipper was still visible (it was supposed to be hidden). I had to hand sew another stitch on each side (closer in than the machine stitch) to correct it.

IMG_6112IMG_6115My Frankenstein dress was starting to look normal again. Even better than that – it fit!  Fixing the halter straps was a snap (actually buttons, very easy to reattach). My greatest reward was at the event, when someone complimented me on my perfect-fit dress. Gold star!

Whew, what a rush. Next time I’ll try a simple pencil skirt zipper and reward myself with a literal piece of cake. As for you, dear reader, may this be a source of inspiration. If I can tackle such a daunting task with my unskilled hands, then SEW can you! (And on that bad-pun note, I’m off to another amateur sewing adventure….)


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