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Tips for Sewing a Cocktail Dress, with video!

Butterick B5814, Cocktail Dress | @vintageontap

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.

Butterick B5814, Cocktail Dress | @vintageontap

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.

Learn how and why to use Tailor's Tacks in your sewing process! | Vintage on Tap

Butterick B5814, Cocktail Dress | @vintageontap

Butterick B5814, Cocktail Dress, sunny day on the rooftop of the Fairmont in San Francisco | @vintageontap

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!

How to Sew a Pinup Holiday Dress! Video Tutorial and sewing tips | Vintage on Tap

Butterick B5814, Cocktail Dress at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco | @vintageontap

Butterick B5814, Cocktail Dress, dramatic posing! | @vintageontap

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:

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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Butterick B5814, Cocktail Dress, bust detailing | @vintageontap

Butterick B5814, Cocktail Dress, waist detailing | @vintageontap

Butterick B5814, Cocktail Dress, back view | @vintageontap

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.

Interested in buying this pattern? Click the image below!

Butterick B5815 cocktail dress! Learn to make this at home with my video tips!

Butterick B5814, Cocktail Dress, dramatic angle | @vintageontap

Butterick B5814, Cocktail Dress, sitting in the Fairmont Hotel | @vintageontap

Butterick B5814, Cocktail Dress | @vintageontap

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8 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for sewing this. I’m a similar shape and was struggling to visual it. I want to make this for my 5 year anniversary so I want it to be spot on!

  2. I always learn so much with a difficult project, even though I curse it at the time! It is always a good thing to push yourself. Especially when the results are so fantastic!

    • Oh absolutely! The struggle of every project pays off in the end- its also part of the challenge and joy of the craft!

  3. Mando Mando

    The final result is so stunning and it suits you, your body and personality so beautifully. I hope there is a video coming. I think seeing the process on this one would be really cool.

    • The video is (hopefully) in the works! Since I worked so many hours on this project, it extended past filming hours, so we’ll have to see what we can do from the footage we were able to shoot. I’ll have to talk with the director (haha!) to see what can be done before my next post!

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Vintage on Tap started in 2013

Since then, it has become not only a photo blog, but also a popular YouTube channel and Instagram Feed.

All content on this blog was created by Bianca Santori and Jose Vivanco, unless otherwise stated. We focus on producing high quality videos, tips, and tutorials to encourage our readers to be confident and happy wearing vintage-inspired garments.

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