A Hand-Picked Zipper in the Cambie Dress

My favourite type of zipper insertion is a hand-picked zipper. If you’ve been reading here for a while, you might already know that!

Why do I like inserting zippers by hand, when there are faster ways to do it?

  • It’s strong.
  • It’s easy to adjust as you sew, so the zipper opening is even and the zipper is centred
  • It’s nearly invisible, and if it shows it looks good (in my opinion anyways!)
  • If the zipper breaks later on, it’s easy to rip it out and replace with a new zipper, without having to unpick the construction of the dress

For the Cambie Dress pictured below, I decided to insert a hand-picked zipper instead of the invisible zipper called for in the pattern instructions. I had a brown vintage metal zipper that matched fairly well, and I liked the idea of using the vintage zipper in this vintage-inspired dress.

cambie dress in autumn colours

Do you think the zipper manufacturer likes exclamation points as much as I do? Automatic Locking! Smooth Running! (That’s a lot of excitement for a zipper!)

flash! zipper

How to sew a hand-picked zipper in the Cambie Dress:

Sew the shell of the dress, and the lining of the dress as directed in the instruction sheet. Now, pin the lining to the shell as if you’d sew the zipper into the dress, but without actually sewing the zipper in.

sew lining, sew shell of cambie dress

Sew shell to lining along zipper opening, from the top edge to where the centre back seam starts.

sew lining to dress along centre back opening

Now, clip the seam allowance at the corners, and turn the dress right side out.

turn dress right side out

The green lining makes it easy to see what’s happening here! We have a nicely-finished opening at centre back, all ready for our zipper to be sewn in.

centre back opening finished nicely

Now, take the zipper, and turn the tape ends under at the top edge, with the tape ends facing you.

turn under zipper tape

Pin zipper into centre back opening, lining up the folded top edge with the cleanly-finished top edge of the dress.

line up zipper with top edge

Here’s what that looks like, from the inside:

zipper pinned in place, from the inside

Continue pinning the zipper in place, making sure the waistband seams and the top edges line up.

top edge lines up

You can see the opening is finished with lining, so there’s a little peek of the lining along the centre back zipper opening.

lining peeks through at centre back

Sew in the hand-picked zipper as shown in this post here – A Hand-Picked Zipper.

Now you may not like having the lining show like this, but once the zipper is sewn in, it will be hardly noticeable. If it still bugs you, choose a matching lining. Or don’t follow these steps, and instead, slipstitch the lining to the zipper tape once the zipper is inserted. (The advantage to doing it the way I did, is that the zipper is easy to replace if it breaks.)

What do you think: do you love hand-picked zippers as much as I do? Or are you an invisible zipper fan all the way?

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68 Responses to A Hand-Picked Zipper in the Cambie Dress

  1. Stephanie March 13, 2013 at 6:24 am #

    I love the vintage lapped zipper application. It looks so nice! It’s just rather fiddly on 5/8″ seams so if I remember, I like to cut seam allowance where the zip will be at 3/4″.

    I’ve never in my life done an invisible zip but I do like the look of a hand-picked zip-I just usually don’t have the patience!

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

      I like the lapped ones too! I remember following a tutorial that included adding an underlap, so you didn’t zip your skin. That was a nice touch!

  2. Diane @ Vintage Zest March 13, 2013 at 7:22 am #

    Thanks for the explanation and I pinned your hand-picked zipper tutorial for any future projects! I’m still a beginner, so I’ve really only put in probably 5 zippers of each kind into my garments. Honestly, I love the invisible zippers now that I have a foot for it, because everyone tells me it looks super professional.

    However, I’m not sure that I would love it in all of my fabric choices. Of course, my corduroy skirt needed a tougher zipper and an invisible zipper would just break! Also, I have to admit that I detest handsewing. I’m far too impatient, but if the results were to be much better with a handpicked zipper, I’ll give it a go. Thanks!

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

      A lot of people prefer the invisible zippers, I agree that it depends on your fabric choice! Thicker fabrics require a stronger zipper, and vice versa, you wouldn’t want a heavy zipper in a chiffon dress.

  3. Mary March 13, 2013 at 8:11 am #

    I just did my first hand picked zipper on a sundress I made. I love it! It wasn’t fiddly at all. In fact, hand picking meant I had an easier go around the zipper pull. It also went more quickly than I would have thought.

    I’m crushing on Cambie especially after seeing your office dress version. I’m wondering how it would work as an LBD?

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

      It would be a fabulous LBD!

  4. Beth (SunnyGal Studio) March 13, 2013 at 8:11 am #

    Interesting…I like the idea of being able to adjust that last little bit of the fit but I am not a fan of the hand picked zipper, I love the sleek look of an invisible zipper.

  5. Caroline March 13, 2013 at 8:18 am #

    You know, I didn’t even know about handpicked zippers until I followed your tute and put one in my Lonsdale dress. I love it precisely because of the reasons you do – It is easy to get everything to line up, you can make minor fitting adjustments, and I think it adds the perfect “handmade” touch. I did use an invisible zip in my Cambie dress to “get it done” but I always have trouble with them too (Maybe because I use a regular zip foot and have yet to get an invisible zip foot)

    I love that with a handpicked zipper I can take my project with me and finish it away from home. I handpicked a zipper in a skirt during women’s bible study one morning, instead of knitting …

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

      That is awesome! I never think of taking my sewing projects out on the road to work on, but that sounds peaceful. Sitting with a nice group of women, stitching and chatting.
      I also use a regular zipper foot for my invisibles, I don’t really like the invisible zipper foot personally. Probably I should get more acquainted with it, but I like to stick to my tried-and-true methods. Plus for tighter fitting clothes, or anything with waist seams, I find invisible zippers a pain, and not as reliable. (I had to cut myself out of a dress once due to a broken invisible zip!)

      • LLBB March 13, 2013 at 1:59 pm #

        I am surprised you don’t like your invis zip foot! I do not often lean towards getting new gadgets and accessories, but I bought this foot after I found that inserting a few invis zips just didn’t look quite right. I definitely like how much closer you can get with an invis zip foot. Anyhoo, even though I love the streamlined look of an invis zip, it is so dependent on fabric choice. I’ve had bad results with anything too thick or with more than one layer. If I’m inserting a regular zip, I def prefer hand-picking it. This is primarily for the control- for things like lining up waistbands, which your designs usually have, and the top. Thanks for sharing what you did on this Cambie!

        • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

          I’ll have to play around with the foot more, and see if I can learn to love it! You’re right, I do seem to add waistlines and waistbands to everything and that could be why I favour regular and hand-picked zippers. It depends on the project and the fabric, to determine which zipper type and application is best.

  6. Kristonlion March 13, 2013 at 8:18 am #

    Thanks! I bookmarked this so next time I do a zip I have your amazing pics!

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 12:20 pm #

      Great! Glad it was helpful! Photos make everything easier to follow :)

  7. Hannah Smith March 13, 2013 at 8:24 am #

    What a gorgeous dress. I love how the fabric choice gives this pattern a completely new look that you wouldn’t expect :D
    I am impressed by your hand picked zipper. If I am honest I don’t think I would have the patience. by the time I get to inserting the zip and finishing my hems I am often just fed up and desperate to get it finished so that I can wear it and perhaps get some sleep (staring at tiny stitches makes my eyes tired!)
    Having said this, it is certainly something I would consider attempting if I can work up the patience :D
    Happy sewing xXx

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 12:16 pm #

      I’m not the most patient either, but I don’t find that it takes that much longer to do the hand-picked zipper! (It could be because I like the method and like the results, so I don’t think about the time spent while I’m doing it, but I don’t notice it taking a considerably long time.) Try it on a skirt or another garment with a shorter zipper, and see if you like it!

  8. Kelly March 13, 2013 at 9:52 am #

    I’ve done a number of handpicked zippers, and while I really like the control you have when inserting the zipper by hand, my results are less than invisible, especially when a waist seam is involved. I tend to feel that when you have stitching on the top of your garment, it should either be actually invisible or look intentional, and I find that a handpicked zipper often looks like the stitches are trying to be invisible but failing (because that’s the truth). I do really like the look of a handpicked zipper when the stitches are intentionally visible, though, using topstitching thread or floss, or when beads are used in something fancy.

    • Kelly March 13, 2013 at 9:56 am #

      Forgot to say, though, that your zipper looks pretty darn invisible! Just musing about my own zipper problems over here :)

      • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 12:14 pm #

        Oh I know what you mean! It’s OK, it isn’t completely invisible, there are little prick-stitches showing. Kind of like little dimples in the garment. I like the look, because I know what it means, but you’re right that it isn’t completely hidden. I’ve never tried the beaded hand-picked zipper but I love the idea of the back interest, especially on a special garment! (Will have to try that one day and compare the two methods.)

  9. maddie March 13, 2013 at 10:03 am #

    Thank you for this tutorial. I’ve seen handpicked zippers but never knew how it was done or have done it myself. It gives a handmade but couture and vintage element to a garment that I like – it was the perfect way to insert the zipper into your dress.

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 12:12 pm #

      Thanks, I’m glad the tutorial was helpful. You’re right, it does add a vintage touch!

  10. Louise March 13, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    I used to live by the invisible zip as I always thought regular zips looked ugly and obvious but seeing you do a hand-picked zip in the past I’m a total convert. I love the control you have especially matching the edges and waist. I did a hand picked zip in a spotty dress with a contrast ribbon and I was able to switch thread colour to hide the stitches even more. I even did a hand picked zip in a Tudor costume for my daughter to wear to school!


    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

      That’s what I like too, the control of matching the seams and edges. You did a lovely job of your daughter’s costume! I would have loved wearing an outfit like that when I was that age, it’s like something out of a fairy tale!

  11. Jenny March 13, 2013 at 10:21 am #

    Wow – I didn’t know about this – then I read through the Lonsdale sew along and I am intrigued. I have GOT to try this method of inserting a zip. Looks so much easier than fussing with my machine! I love that you can barely see the stitching.

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

      I love it, it’s not as time-consuming as you might think, and the results are nice.

  12. KristiEllKay March 13, 2013 at 10:25 am #

    I *just* finished slip stitching my lining to my zipper, because I went and hand-picked the zipper to the shell before attaching the lining. Then I tried to wrap my mind around how to add the lining to the whole thing without ruining all my (not-so-) hard work hand picking! Wish I’d waited a day, although since I keep thinking of this as my *first* Cambie, it’s clear I’ll be making it again, so I’ll get a chance to do it this way next time. =D

    The thing I’m having the hardest time with is my waistband. I don’t think I traced the wrong notches, but matching the skirt to the sideseam notches for the full gathered skirt makes my pockets hang very weirdly in the front, rather than on the sides. Can’t find anywhere online that anyone else has had this problem ever, so I must be doing something wrong…

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

      Hi Kristi! The pockets are supposed to be in the front, so it’s easier to use the pockets. If you look at the cover illustration, there are vertical seams running down the front of the skirt, and that’s where the pockets go. It is a bit unusual not to have the skirt seams at the sideseam, but it is correct if you’ve sewn it that way. I hope this makes sense!

      • KristiEllKay March 13, 2013 at 1:33 pm #

        Thank you so much, Tasia! I was confused between the different images of other peoples’ makes; some of them seem to have pockets more toward the side than front, but I think I’m also getting kinda confused about the A-line versus the full-skirted, since I’ve been focusing so much on just the pocket locations, instead of which dress has which skirt. I really appreciate your response! Thanks again =D

  13. Monique March 13, 2013 at 10:41 am #

    Loved the hand-picked zipper!! I have done a few hand-picked zips, and once you get the hang of it, it’s actually easier and less stressful than a machine installed zipper.

    on some of my dresses, i am able to install the zip with the lining on top for a faux invisible look ( does that make sense?)

    anyway – thanks Tasia for all your inspiring looks!!

  14. MarrieB March 13, 2013 at 10:56 am #

    I am a total fan of the handpicked zipper. I was never happy with how my invisible zips looked, even after I got a fancy foot for my machine. My favorite is do to a handpicked lapped zipper. I was initially hesitant to do handpicked zippers, but after my first one, I was hooked – for me they are faster and easier! I usually slip stitch my lining over the zipper tape, but I like your method too, it eliminates some of the hand work.

  15. Julianne March 13, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    Thanks for the instructions. I’ve never done a hand-picked zipper, but tons of regular and invisible zips by machine. Maybe I’ll give this a try on my next dress!

    When I was a teenager my mom made formal dresses for a living, and my job was to baste the zippers and then hand-stitch the lining to the zips. So many zippers!

  16. shawn March 13, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

    personally, I hate invisible zippers – even on store bought clothes – they always seem to cause issues, eat cloth and basically make my life difficult!

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 2:33 pm #

      I’m with you, I can see why they’re good for sheer or lightweight fabrics, or when you really don’t want them to show, but I find them unreliable and prone to breaking.

  17. Becky March 13, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

    I generally like the look of invisible zippers better, but I like the control of the hand-picked, or at least hand-basted! I actually did a hand-picked for the Cambie wedding dress I’m currently working on, but a little differently since I’ll be installing the lining by hand later.

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

      Cambie wedding dress! I went over to your blog to check it out, it’s looking great. The sleeves look so pretty in the lace! And the back! I love what you’ve done with it. Beautiful work so far!

  18. Martha March 13, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

    Thanks for sharing that, very informative. I just started sewing again after many years away from it, and I am grateful for all tips and reminders. And thanks for sharing that zipper package.
    Automatic Locking!
    Smooth Running!

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

      Haha, yes! Isn’t it funny? I appreciate the enthusiasm on the packaging. Welcome back to sewing, there are so many useful websites now to help as you get back into it!

  19. Kacie March 13, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    I am an absolute failure at installing zippers by machine! I’ve done it successfully once (after much seam-ripping) and then I discovered hand-picked zippers and I’ve never looked back. I think hand-picked zippers add such a beautiful touch to garments, and frankly, I just find them MUCH easier to do than using my machine!! Great post!

  20. Sarah March 13, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

    I love invisible zippers (now that I’ve finally figured out how to install them nicely, after years of trying), but I also love heavy full skirts that really could use a more sturdy fastening. Maybe I’ll give this way a try on my next ruffly monstrosity!

  21. learningnewtricks March 13, 2013 at 10:12 pm #

    Sadly, I have not been successful with hand picked zippers. My lines are never straight. I have tried drawing a line with erasable pens, and even sewn a basting line — neither worked for me. The same goes with cutting material or paper — I don’t cut perfectly straight. One of my sewing teachers chastised me, saying everybody could cut straight. A different sewing friend teacher of mine used to say the same, until she saw me cut paper and fabric — both weren’t perfectly straight! She now says that not everybody is good at cutting or sewing straight. Anyway, I will keep trying to master hand picked zippers.

  22. scuffsan March 14, 2013 at 1:19 am #

    I love hand-picking zippers. I find the result is ALWAYS better than installing any kind of zipper by machine, and most of the time it is faster too. Usually I’m very impatient, especially when I’m that close to finishing a project, but all the times I ended up having to rip the zipper out and install it again (and again) to get it right I think it is just lovely to do it by hand instead and most likely get it right on the first try.

    I’ve been thinking I should get an invisible zipper foot. Who knows, maybe I’ll love invisible zippers if I get the right foot for installing them. But I too find invisible zippers to be very fussy and break easily.

  23. francesca March 14, 2013 at 3:12 am #

    I like your method – I usually slipstitch lining to the zip… I’ve always handstitched zippers, it’s the way my aunt taught me, and I think the little stitches look so cute. I can’t stand invisible zips but I do use them – for size zips in skirts where I prefer a smooth look over my curves… otherwise I can’t stand them. I love the couture look of handstitched zips – like I love an invisible handstitched hem, etc…..

  24. Ann March 14, 2013 at 6:07 am #

    Never heard of a handpicked zipper! I have been sewing clothes for a long time but I guess just following the pattern and the zipper instructions. I like to hand stitch and your tutorial is great. Thanks! I will definitely try this on my next one.

  25. Burke March 14, 2013 at 6:40 am #

    This is genius – and so neat and clean a center back seam!!

  26. Kaci March 14, 2013 at 9:20 am #

    Love this! Thanks for posting. I read the original hand-picked-zipper post which led me to reading the post about sewing a waist stay. Both of these tutorials are helping me out in my current sewing projects. I’m absolutely amazed by the quality of your site- not only do you have the best-drafted patterns I’ve ever sewn, you also have the most informative and useful tutorials.

  27. Burke March 15, 2013 at 7:19 am #

    Question: do you attach the lining all the way to the hem, then turn to the inside, then install zip, then finish back seam?

    • Tasia March 15, 2013 at 9:08 am #

      I attached the lining all the way to where the zipper opening ends. Sorry I didn’t have a photo of that part! You can kind of see what I did, in this old post here – http://sewaholic.net/finishing-simplicity-3965-zippers-and-linings-and-facings/
      Basically I sew down to the start of the centre back seam, on both sides, so it finishes the opening edges above the seam. I hope this makes sense!

  28. Eleanor (undeadgoat) March 15, 2013 at 9:21 am #

    I’m a big fan of hand-picked, lapped zippers. This method of doing a clean-finished centered zipper is interesting to me–however I have gotten flack from my sewing/patternmaking teacher for centering zippers & not enclosing them in the lining–an issue that came up when I made a Cambie dress, partially lined according to the envelope directions, for her class! When drafting my own patterns now I almost always include a 1″ seam allowance for my zippers, and I try and remember to do the same on commercial patterns as well!

  29. Truly Myrtle March 15, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

    Fantastic! It is so reminiscent of dresses from my mother’s wardrobe that belonged to her and her mother. They used to make all their clothes … I think it would make a lovely design feature and am definitely going to try it. Thanks for the tutorials :)

  30. Alison Esther March 15, 2013 at 5:08 pm #

    I just learned how to do a handpicked zipper in sewing class (which is wicked easy) and I loved it. I could see myself installing most of my zippers by hand. Invisible zippers are usually painless, but handpicked zippers are like zero work.

    My teacher mentioned something about a Chanel suit made out of a black and white checkered fabric (I envision houndstooth) with a handpicked zipper. She said every other stitch was a different color (white or black) so that the stitches would blend in with the fabric. I love it.

  31. Leigh March 16, 2013 at 9:22 am #

    I’m so glad you blogged about this! I hate machine sewing in zips, both invisible and regular. This technique is described in one of my sewing books, but not in much detail. You’ve made it so clear here, I’ll be trying it on he Peony dress I’m making.

    Do you use this technique to install zips on skirts and trousers with in seam closures?

  32. Laurie March 18, 2013 at 5:29 am #

    Handpicked zippers are the only way for me! Glad you like them too!

  33. Teresa March 19, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    Thanks for the tutorial. I only hand pick the zippers (nasty habit of shattering machine needles!) I use but I still hate the whole process. I’ll try some of your tips in my next zipper.

  34. Margaret March 22, 2013 at 8:52 pm #

    I first hand picked zippers on some bridesmaids dresses for my niece. I added a tiny seed bead to each outside stitch. I saw that method in a magazine and it was really classy. I love hand work so hand picking zips is fun for me.

  35. meganleiann June 11, 2013 at 7:53 pm #

    I am a bit confused, but really eager to get this right. My Cambie is in a delicate fabric and I’ve already had to unpick the zipper once. Did you attach the dress and lining everywhere first- sleeves, collar, everything done but the hem? What about the center back seam? Was that before or after the zipper? Thanks!

    • Tasia June 12, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

      I will try to explain and I hope I can make it clear! In this version only, I sewed the whole dress including the CB seam below the zipper opening except leaving the front sleeves loose from the bodice, then the whole lining including the CB seam below the zipper opening except leaving the front sleeves loose from the bodice.
      Then I attached the layers together all around the neckline, front neckline, and centre back along the zipper opening, right sides together, and turned it all right side out to have what’s basically a facing along the zipper opening.
      Then, once the edges are all finished with lining, I hand-picked the zipper into the finished opening.
      I hope this helps!

      • Jennifer March 31, 2014 at 5:42 am #

        Can I ask for some clarification here? It sounds like what you are saying is that you constructed the dress and lining separately (but left the sleeves unattached on both), including (?) the center back seam below where the zipper ends, all the way down to the hem.

        Then you sewed the lining to the dress (leaving the sleeve part unsewn and the part of the bodice where the sleeve is inserted also unsewn) and flipped it all inside out. Then it was completely finished except for the zipper and the sleeves, correct?

  36. suri January 26, 2015 at 2:21 am #

    I would love some advice!
    I’m working on a fitted strapless dress. And by fitted I mean just enough room to sit because I like the tight look and maybe didn’t measure right eek.
    the bodice is lined with boning and the skirt is unlined, with darts of course. I’m using upholstery fabric (its thick brocade kind of) because it was laying around. BAD CHOICE, I KNOW…
    I started it to make use of the fabric but now I’m going on a fancy outing and I would like to wear it.
    In the past I’ve only used invisible zips but my last project went through 3 broken or unzipping zippers and now I’m paranoid disaster will strike right when I get to the fancy event. I really don’t want my zipper to bust because that would be a totally embarrassing date and I will die alone. Do I need to line it, and I’m guessing I should use a hand picked strong Zipper? Will hooks & eyes along the zipper line help (Is that even a thing?)? Im in school and i just don’t have time to start a new project, or money to buy a nice dress.

    • Tasia January 27, 2015 at 8:32 am #

      I would either use a handpicked or machine-sewn regular zipper. An invisible zipper isn’t as strong especially on heavy weight fabric. You could also add a hook and eye at the waistline, for extra strength. Lining won’t make too much of a difference with the zipper, but it’ll probably feel more comfortable! You could also add a waist stay to take some of the pressure off the zipper.
      Waist stay blog post: http://sewaholic.net/sewing-a-waist-stay-in-a-full-skirted-dress/
      or use a piece of ribbon to strengthen the waistline – http://sewaholic.net/a-different-kind-of-waist-stay/
      Hope this helps!

  37. Lyric July 10, 2015 at 10:50 am #

    I only recently got “it” about invisible zippers and finally got comfortable with them. Having said that I believe I will like hand-picking them better IF it truly looks just as good. The whole ironing the plastic zippers open makes me nervous. I use a sad iron and can’t totally control iron temperature is why.

    Thank you for this tutorial. The Cambie is the next item on my sewing table so I found this just in time.




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