Shortening a Zipper From the Top

In all my years of altering clothes, I had never thought of altering a zipper from the top to make a garment fit better.

Usually, when a dress doesn’t zip all the way up, there are three things I might do.

First, I try to let out the side seams at the bust area.

If that doesn’t give me enough room, I might 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. Here’s a post on How To Add a Gusset in a Dress or Top.

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.

I might also put in a corset back if the dress is really too tight.  Here’s a post on How To Add a Corset Back To Your Wedding Dress. And if you want a variation of a corset back, here is How To Add a Corset Back To a Dress, Option #2.

photo of dress where we shorten the back zipper, 643

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

invisible zipper with thread markings to shorten the zippersewing blog 642

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:

back of dress with pins where the brown basting will be, 641

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):

thread markings of zipper that will be shortened, sewing blog 642


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

photo of pushing the points of the back of the dress into the inside, sewing blog 644

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

photo of dress turned inside out to see the brown basting threads, sewing blog 645

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

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

inside of the dress along basting threads, sewing blog 649

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

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:

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

dress after you've sewn along brown basting threads, sewing blog 647

Follow the same steps for the other side.

dress turned right side out and hanging on a hanger, sewing blog 648

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

photo of back of dress with customer wearing it, sewing blog 651


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

NOTE***At the first fitting, I spoke with the bride about another option. I suggested starting at the underarm area and make 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.

And if she’s happy, I’m happy!