How to Make a Cocktail Dress

By Melissa J. Bell ; Updated September 15, 2017

Things Needed

  • Sewing equipment and supplies
  • Fabric and matching thread
  • Zipper and other notions
  • Dress pattern
  • Measuring tape
  • Fabric pencil

A cocktail dress, or short, semi-formal dress traditionally worn at cocktail parties, is one staple every woman should have in her closet. For many women, however, it can be difficult to find the ideal cocktail dress in stores, especially if you're on a budget or have trouble finding standard sizes that fit you. By sewing your own clothes, you can have the fit and style you've always been looking for while also completely controlling the cost of the garments. To make your own cocktail dress, follow the directions in this article.

Choose a dress pattern that you think would make a lovely cocktail dress. You can find cocktail dress patterns from all the major pattern companies, such as Burda, Simplicity, Vogue, McCalls, Kwiksew and New Look, but can also find patterns online, such as those linked in the Resources section of this article. Also, remember that many evening gown and sundress patterns can be altered to fit the look of a cocktail dress, either by shortening the skirt or adding more elegant details.

Take measurements of your body at the bust, waist, hip and skirt length, using the measuring tape. Depending on the style of the cocktail dress pattern you have chosen, you may also need to take measurements for the neckline, armhole, upper arm, sleeve length, center front and center back. Using these measurements, determine what size pattern you will need to use. Compare your measurements with the pattern's sizing chart, and choose the measurement that fits the largest part of your torso. You can scale the other measurements down when working with the pattern pieces.

Print or remove your pattern pieces from the package, then cut the pieces along the cutting lines for your size. Make sure that you have pieces for the skirt, the bodice, the sleeves and any detail work such as belts and collars. Pin the pattern pieces to your fabric, and cut around the pieces, following all guidelines for the number of pieces to cut and whether or not the pieces are cut on the fold line. Transfer all pattern markings, such as darts, to the fabric using a fabric pencil.

Stitch your cocktail dress together, following the directions for your specific pattern. Sew the bodice together at the shoulders and the skirt pieces together at the sides. Attach the sleeve pieces to the open armholes of the bodice, then sew the side seams of the bodice together. Stitch the skirt to the bodice at the waistband. Press and finish all seams, either by serging or zigzag sewing.

Add all detail work to the cocktail dress. Attach any flounces to the bottom of the skirt or the sleeve ends, and finish the collar of the dress. Hem the bottom of the skirt and the edges of the sleeves by either turning the hem under, pressing and stitching it in place, or by creating a rolled hem. Complete any beading, embroidery or ribbon detailing.

About the Author

A writer with a Bachelor of Science in English and secondary education, but also an interest in all things beautiful, Melissa J. Bell has handed out beauty and fashion advice since she could talk -- and for the last six years, write for online publications like Daily Glow and SheBudgets.