final grade: the cocktail dress

Don’t ever let anyone tell you sewing is a mindless craft. Those of us who endeavor to create and make know better. The mental acrobatics required to properly execute the tedious and challenging projects is one of the things that keeps me engaged and inspired to continue sewing. Because to settle for the easy projects all the time does nothing for growth and learning, and why bother if you’re not doing much of value or quality. This dress is one of those garments that required a little extra determination and planning and, just like every other project like it that has tested my patience, it was more than worth the time and effort. (Expect a few of those “easy” projects in the future, just to balance things out!)

A few weeks ago I mentioned that Ty and I were headed to Florida this month, and I was excited to make most of my clothes for our little weekend getaway. On Wednesday, I’ll tell you how successful I was in bringing my ideas to life, but today I’m thrilled to show you the cocktail dress I made for the awards reception. It came together beautifully, I felt like a million bucks in it, and I was comfortable all night (the ultimate trifecta!). I lost track of all the sweet compliments I received on this dress, which was just icing on the cake for me. (I think a lot of the compliments had to do with the fabric. It’s just so stunning!)

For more details about how I decided on the design and the sewing techniques I used on this dress, see the progress report from a few weeks ago.

The bodice is my own design I drafted using my slopers, to which I attached the skirt from Butterick 6129 (see the other skirt from that pattern here). The skirt on my cocktail dress is about 2.5″ shorter than the white damask skirt from January, and I like it a little better. I used the wrong side of the fabric on the hem band again, because it adds a lot of visual interest to the skirt and it’s a fun way to showcase both sides of the brocade.

There is 6″ wide horsehair braid in the hem facing, and I closed the hem band with a catchstitch. I did this for a couple of reasons: there is flexibility in a catchstitch that allows for movement while still being strong, plus I think it’s pretty. The skirt/hem band seam allowance is serged and pressed up towards the skirt to keep the hem facing from getting too bulky. Normally I would press all the seam allowances down into the hem facing and close it all up, concealing all of the seams.

I used Bemberg rayon to line the bodice and pink cotton to line the skirt. I wanted a more substantial lining for the skirt, which is why I went with cotton there. (Cutting and sewing rayon lining for the bodice was about all I could handle with that material for a while. It’s not a fabric I enjoy working with at all, I must tell you.) I sewed coral grosgrain ribbon around the waist of the lining, because it bugs me when the bodice and skirt linings are different colors. The ribbon makes it all look intentional.

And here we are at the awards reception. (The wind was so terrible that night, which made it impossible to get a good picture of the dress!)

I’m so proud of Ty and all of his hard work. He is the ultimate professional, and I’m so delighted his achievements were recognized. We had a wonderful time!


  1. Abigail | 5th Apr 17

    I’m surprised that you don’t like working with Bemberg rayon; it seems like most of the sewing blogosphere sings its praises! What fabric do you recommend as a lining for skirts and dresses?

    • Emily | 5th Apr 17

      Haha! Nope, I HATE it! It’s an absolutely beautiful option for lining, and I do use it quite often simply because it’s the right choice. But it’s also slippery and a pain to work with. Dark colors are fine, but you can see straight through white and ivory, which I cannot stand. The whole point of a lining is to hide all the ugly insides. I don’t want to line something only to still be able to see the ugliness! I use 100% cotton lining in a lot of my projects, when it’s appropriate. It’s easier to work with, easier to care for, and it comes in a lot more colors than the rayon does. I’m lining a dress this weekend in rayon . . . send good thoughts! πŸ™‚

  2. La Vonda C | 28th Mar 17

    This is absolute perfection! I love, love, LOVE the beautiful fit in your bodice, especially the nice shaping around the arms that reminds me a bit of Jackie K’s dresses. What is also terrific about this design is that you will be able to enjoy it at so many other events. So pretty!

    • Emily | 28th Mar 17

      Hi La Vonda! What a sweet thing to say. Thank you so much! Fit is just as important as fabric and sewing, so I wanted to get that just right. I’ve been drafting my own bodices for so long that it’s almost second nature now. I’m very happy with the end result! And yes, looking forward to wearing this one a lot! πŸ™‚

  3. Vava | 28th Mar 17

    Absolutely fantastic!! I love your finishing techniques, the lining ideas, and I never knew they made horsehair braid 6″ wide!!

    • Emily | 28th Mar 17

      Hi Vava! Thank you for the kind comment! Yep, 6″ horsehair braid! Crazy, right? I got it from Vogue Fabrics. I believe it comes in 3″ width as well. πŸ™‚

  4. Heather Myers | 27th Mar 17

    You look great! I’ll look forward to the hem post.

  5. Marian | 27th Mar 17

    yes I think you re right I need to look At some tutorial

  6. Sew2all | 27th Mar 17

    Beautiful dress, I’m especially interested in how you underlined the bodice and how you add hem bands, things I am going to try. Did you use the interfacing you mentioned on a previous post and just wondered why you chose bemberg to line the bdice, was it because it’s cool and soft? I have ordered from the Mccalls website some of the patterns you have used (free shipping last week) and am thrilled to have found your website. I’m going to be sewing up a storm!

    • Emily | 27th Mar 17

      Hi! Thank you so much for the comment! Great question about the bemberg lining for the bodice. I chose it because it is lightweight and feels silky against the skin, yes. I could have gotten away with using cotton lining in the bodice, but I knew bemberg was the better choice in that instance. And yes, the interfacing I mentioned last week is the very interfacing I used to add structure and support to the bodice. Worked like a charm!

      I’m so pleased you’ve ordered some of the patterns I’ve used! That is wonderful! We’re going to be busy bees! Also, I’ll be writing posts to specifically address the hem band and choosing the right lining. In the meantime, if you have any questions, let me know! πŸ™‚

  7. Marian | 27th Mar 17

    Another beautiful make Emily, my biggest problem is it the sewing but altering patterns to get a good fit.

    • Emily | 27th Mar 17

      Hi Marian! I completely understand. Getting the fit just right is an ongoing battle, even when you’ve been doing it a long time. Would some tutorials help? Thank you for the comment! πŸ™‚

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