Updated: Nov 2, 2021
I made a breastfeeding-friendly shift dress using an invisible zipper technique! Watch to see how I drafted and sewed it!
I wanted a classic 1950’s or sixties inspired dress that was more casual than my usual style, and with a breastfeeding accessible hidden zipper. Princess seams are a great way to incorporate hidden zippers for breastfeeding access, and so that’s what I wanted this dress to have. I drafted the pattern myself, and tried it out. Did it work out? Keep reading and find out!
So this is an embarrassing example of "mom-brain", but when I recorded this video I was convinced this fabric had been wool. Turns out it was linen! I ordered it from Burnley and Trowbridge. I loved working with this fabric, and I have also made an orange skirt with it that is great for summer wear. It has a lovely sheen and is soft but durable. Highly recommend!
Drafting the Pattern
I used my loose fitting dress block, and traced off the front, back, and sleeve.
Then it was time to make my style changes. This block only has a dart in the front, so I first had to rotate this to the middle of the shoulder, so it could easily blend into the shoulder princess seam. Then I used my Patternmaster ruler to draw in a curved princess seam which ran from the shoulder to the bottom of the dress, and incorporated the dart control into it.
Next I drew in my desired neckline shape, and dropped the shoulder and armhole a little bit. This block produces very tight armholes, and I wanted a looser fit for this dress.
After I changed the neckline, the shoulder seam was much narrower, and I realized I had to pivot the princess seam so it would still be in the shoulder. I followed these same steps for the back pattern, and cut it to the same knee length as the front. Finally, I added 1.5 cm seam allowance to all of my pattern pieces. I was left with two front pattern pieces, and two back pattern pieces. For the sleeve, I simply traced off my sleeve block and cut it off at the short sleeve length.
I made neck facings by tracing off the neck area of both the front and back patterns, and adding seam allowance.
I made a mistake during the drafting process! Whenever you lower a neckline on a pattern, you have to dart out some excess space, or you will have a neckline that gapes. I forgot to do this, and it would haunt me later.
I pre-washed and pressed my fabric, and folded it on half on my cutting table. Then I traced off my pattern pieces with tailor’s chalk, and cut it out with my rotary cutter and scissors. The centre front piece was cut on fold, there were two side-front pieces, and four back pieces in total. Then I cut out my sleeves and facings, and I ended up having enough leftover fabric to cut out cuffs for the sleeves, which would make them a bit longer and give the dress more dimension.
I don’t own a serger, and although I have a modern machine which can do a zig zag stitch, I prefer my vintage Singer, which only has a straight stitch. This is fine with me, as it helps me practice my “couture” seam finishes. These include felled seams, french seams, and hong kong seam finishes. My go-to seam is always a french seam - which is a seam that is sewn in two passes. First, the raw edges are left at the outside of the garment, then trimmed down narrowly, and the seam is stitched again to the inside of the garment, with the raw edges inclosed inside.
I sewed my back princess seams in this way, as well as attaching the cuff to the sleeve, and the side seams of the dress. I left the front princess seams open until after my invisible zippers had been inserted.
I stitched the neckline facing together, and bound the outside edges with fabric tape. I had to wait to apply it to the dress neckline until after the front princess seams were completed.
Adding the Zippers
I found a kit of 9” invisible zippers on amazon. They came in gray and nude colours, which was perfect for this dress. I first marked on the front princess seam the stitching line, and the points where I wanted the zipper to begin and end. Then I used my invisible zipper foot to attach my zipper to the seam. Finally, I closed up the top and bottom of the front princess seams using french seams.
After looking at my work, I wasn’t happy. The zipper pulls were at an awkward point, very visible, and the transition between the zipper and the rest of the seam looked too obvious. I decided it was the fault of the zippers being too short. However, I found it nearly impossible to pick out the stitches holding my 9” zippers in places, and decided I would have to live with it. But yes, I do recommend 12” zippers if you attempt this project! I fixed the “transition areas” at the beginning and end of the zippers, and felt satisfied.
Now I was able to add my neckline facing. I stitched it around the neck-hole, right sides together, pressed, clipped the seam allowance, and under-stitched the raw edges to the facing. Under-stitching helps the neckline sit smoothly, and rolls the seam toward the underside, keeping the facing invisible.
I added the sleeves to the armholes with french seams, sewing first one pass and then the other. The first time I attempted this, a few years ago, I wondered if it was even possible. Rest assured, it is indeed possible and quite easy with practice.
Finally, I added a zipper to the centre-back area. This zipper was not an “invisible” type, so I used a lapped zipper technique, where there is a flap of fabric over the zipper, concealing it. It was much simpler than I’d thought, and gives this dress a more professional look! I closed the lower centre-back seam with a felled seam. Completing the dress was a rolled hem with a strip of 2” horsehair braid enclosed within.
How Does it Fit?
While I am glad I tried out this new “breastfeeding-friendly” technique, there are a few things I would fix next time to make me like this dress more. The main issue is that the neckline gapes, due to my error in the drafting process. If I were to make this dress again, I would also skip on the neckline facing and simply finish the neckline with bias tape for a less bulky finish.
Secondly, I really don’t like looser shift dresses, as they are not as flattering to my particular brand of “mom-bod”. I have finally come to terms with the fact that fit and flare is my preferred silhouette, and I will be sticking with that! I much prefer the look of this dress with a belt cinched around the waist. It would be interesting to try the breastfeeding zipper technique on a fit and flare dress in the future!
This dress is a little on the short side for my liking, but I may layer it under another skirt, or redo the hem (probably not but we can dream).
Overall, this dress was a learning experience for me, and as such it is okay that it is not the prettiest, nor my favourite dress! But the breastfeeding zipper have been quite functional for feeding my son, and it is a technique I will use in the future! Although in all honesty, I prefer less fuss and simply using lower necklines, button-fronts, or shirts that I can pull up to breastfeed in.
Have you ever made a breastfeeding-friendly garment? Is this a technique you would try? Let me know in the comments section!
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