Embarking on sewing a cocktail dress is an exciting process!
The possibilities of stitching up your very own cocktail dress are absolutely endless. Things that you can dive into are…
- What luxurious fabric do you want to use?
- What sort of embellishments will you like to incorporate?
- Vintage inspired or more modern?
- What sort of silhouette?
- What SHOES are going to go with it? (had to throw in something fun!)
Without a doubt, it’s extremely easy to fall into a rabbit hole planning out the process for an exciting cocktail dress!
This blog post discusses sewing a cocktail dress, and some of the biggest tips and tricks I learned from making my own. In this case, I made Butterick B5814, a Patterns by Gertie design released in 2012.
Tip #1: Select your fabric with care.
Depending on your sewing level, this is one of the biggest factors in sewing a successful cocktail dress. The fabric will determine things like:
- The sewing tools you use (see my list of recommended tools here!)
- Your sewing machine settings
- Pre-sewing fabric preparation (eg. the silkier the fabric, the more finicky, which will mean sewing more slowly!)
Special considerations have to made to interior fabrics and materials as well!
As long as you’re mindful about the materials you’re using and how they operate, your sewing experience will go swimmingly. For example, for my Butterick B5814 cocktail dress, I decided to use a lovely acetone/viscose Italian crepe. It had a silky hand, medium weight, but was also difficult to work with because there was a slight stretch to it, was flimsy, and unravelled easily.
Due to the volatile nature of the fabric I chose for this dress, I had to go out of my way with additional sewing techniques, including marking all my notches with tailor’s tacks to maintain the integrity of the fabric.
Don’t know why tailor’s tacks are VITAL for delicate fabric? Click the link below to learn more about tailor’s tacks in sewing.
Tip #2: The interior of your cocktail dress should get as much care as the exterior.
It’s very easy to say, “No one is going to see the inside- who cares?!” but when sewing your cocktail dress, the interior is just as integral as the exterior.
For example, for Butterick B5814, I wanted to keep and maintain the quintessential pinup dress look, which meant some additional pre-planning.
Changes I made include:
- Spiral steel boning throughout the bodice (not the plastic boning that was suggested in the pattern)
- Bra carriers to hide my bra in the dolman sleeves
- Reinforcement at the neckline with bias strips to keep the neck from stretching through wear
- Underlining throughout
The final two points for my pinup cocktail dress were not included as part of the original pattern. However, because I was using some super luxe fabric, taking preemptive measures to care for the interior is key to a sturdy dress!
To learn how to both reinforce the neckline with bias strips AND to underline your cocktail dress, be sure to check out a tutorial video I did on this topic. The sewing techniques are incorporated into a Butterick B5603 holiday dress. The sewing tips covered in that video 100% apply to your cocktail dress!
Tip #3: Divide your work into manageable chunks.
My Butterick B5814 had… 50 individual steps. Not including cutting fabrics, boning, and prepping all additional notions.
Having reasonable expectations of how long things take will keep you motivated and focused.
If you’re making a cocktail dress for the very first time, beware of the following workflow:
- Laundering your fabric (dry clean, hand wash, machine wash)
- Tracing your pattern (highly recommended, if you have to do fitting adjustments!)
- Fitting your muslin (click here for example adjustment tutorials)
- Cutting your fabric (the fancier the fabric is, the more time should be allocated to this step)
- Underlining or any interior reinforcements (lining, underlining, spiral steel boning, etc.)
- Sewing the garment itself
- Hemming and pressing
Of course, each of the above steps will take longer or shorter depending on your sewing experience, but be sure to be mindful of the process! Projects started on a whim have a tendency to have a mind of their own, and a successful garment isn’t guaranteed when worked on in a hurry.
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If you’re tackling Butterick B5814…
The dolman sleeves are super tricky. After 5 muslins, they still were slipping and sliding. I had to rely heavily on the bra carriers, not just to hide bra straps, but to also help hold up the sleeves.
Also, the gathered attachment at the waist is tricky to stitch through, at ten layers deep (!!) Switch sewing needles to something more industrial, and hand crank through the layers to attach them.