Wow Zipper Gown

When we started planning the booth for Fall Quilt Market in Houston, we wanted a “wow” focal point for the booth. We were envious of a beautiful red gown made completely of zippers our Coats counterparts in Europe had created for one of their shows. We wanted something that was as dramatic, but more of a cocktail dress for our booth. We challenged accomplished seamstress and designer Nancy Estep to create a gown using mostly zippers for us. We talked with Nancy about making the dress.

Coats: What was your first thought when you saw the red dress?

Nancy: When you sent me the photo of the red zipper dress I was in awe. I thought it was the most creative dress I have ever seen. I have been sewing all my life and I had to use all my skills and creativity I had to recreate this garment.

Coats: How many hours did it take?

Nancy: Well for me it was a lifetime. All my pattern drafting skills, sewing techniques I have learned through the years, how to work with different fabrics came together in this project. I tried to count the hours on this one but I spent so many hours thinking about it while I was driving, walking, sleeping, etc. With a highly creative mind like mine I get excited working on projects. How can I make this work, what will make it look great, how can I make it better. Working with my clients, like you, I really want to make your vision and thoughts come to life.

Coats: What was your process?

Nancy: I started drawing my design and used lots of drafting tools to make the curves and lines. I then made a muslin to check the fit and style. Once that was done I started on the finished garment.

Coats: We cheated a little and sent you a roll of zipper tape so that you wouldn’t have to dismantle so many zippers. How many zippers or yards of zippers are in the dress?

Nancy: I know everyone will want to know how many zippers I used. I have to say I really don’t know. I would unroll what I needed and keep sewing. I used one separating zipper in back of the top, one invisible zipper for the skirt.

Coats: What was your favorite part of making the dress?

Nancy: I really liked the effect of using just the teeth on the netting. This was a project that was challenging and fun, and believe it or not I learned some things too.

Coats: Walk us through your process- how did you put it together.

Nancy: OK- Here’s How to make a Zipper Garment

First, start with a design for the top. I don’t recommend this garment for a beginner. One needs to have skilled sewing experience. If you are a pattern drafter you can draft your own pattern. However most of us are not.

Start with a pattern that is similar to your design and then make alterations to the pattern. After this step is complete make a base from a cotton fabric.

Base from cotton fabric

Start sewing the zippers down the front and keep adding until you have covered the design area. The zipper teeth will run into the seam allowance.

Remove teeth from seam allowance

I used a pair of pliers and pulled the teeth off to make room for my needle. You can see in the photos how the seam allowance is cleared. On the side panels I used faux leather. Pleather is a soft and very stretchy fabric. This will need to be stabilized. I used the same cotton fabric for the base of the top and stitched around the seam allowance to make this as one piece. This keeps the leather from stretching as you stitch around the curves. Use a non stick foot if you have one to make the diamond shape grids. (If you don’t a non stick foot or a roller foot use tear away stabilizer on top of the leather. This will allow the pressure foot not to drag.) Mark one diagonal line with chalk and stitch one inch from the original line and keep stitching until all is covered. Mark a diagonal line in the opposite direction to make diamond shapes.

Quilted Pleather

Construct the top as usual. Make a lining and attach. Because the zippers are heavy and stiff pulling the lining through is not possible. I did the old fashion way and hand stitched the lining in place around the arms-eye. Make the flower pins as per the instructions and pin in place. Cut the zipper tape off just leaving the teeth and add to enhance the flowers. Just let them hang loose.


This is much easier. Start with a pattern similar to your design and make alterations if needed. When the zipper is added in a seam allowance as this, be sure to adjust the seam allowance. Adding the zipper as I did will make the skirt bigger if the seam allowance has not been adjusted. I trimmed the seam allowance ¼” just on the front and back seams. Add the zippers down the front and back. Pull the teeth off to hem and in the seam allowance in the band.

Now for the netting skirt. Make the top of the lining same as the skirt cutting off at the length you want. Use netting that has been folded and gathered. For the teeth trim on the edge cut the zipper tape off and using a zig-zag stitch, stitch on the teeth.

Here is Nancy’s finished creation. We love it!!

Nancy Estep, owner of NanCee’s Fashion Designs, is an accomplished seamstress with over 30 years of experience in garment and couture sewing and highly skilled in fitting and pattern alterations. Nancy has conducted educational workshops for a national fabric chain. She is a consultant and conducts fitting sessions for a national catalog company. An expert with the serger, Nancy teaches sewing techniques for garment and home decor construction. Nancy is available for hands-on workshops and lecture/demos at sewing workshops and retreats.