The making of a plus size belly dance costume
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned since starting this website, it’s that belly dancers are really interested in learning more about making belly dance costumes, especially plus size women who have a harder time finding ready-to-wear costumes that fit properly. I have been making my own costumes since 2005 and with a lot of trial and error, I think I have created some nice techniques. I used to share all of my costume-making projects on my belly dance website, but I think they fit better here and will reach a larger audience.
So without further ado, I’d like to share the story of the Pharaonic Paisley costume. It started over 2 years ago as a dress. I scrapped that idea early on and put the project to rest for many months at a time. This was a very labor intensive project and I don’t even want to try to calculate the hours I put into it. However, I think that it turned out pretty well, and sometimes breaks help you reset your creative process. I am proud of this costume, yet I hesitate to call it a personal best. Check it out and tell me what you think!
Phase one – The dress
When I first envisioned this costume in January of 2012, I imagined it as a beautiful gold dress with turquoise and red accents. It was meant to be a stash busting dress because I already had the base fabric and some supplies. I constructed the bodice of this dress using a pattern for an evening wear dress.
I added the skirt at the bottom (meant to be like the Pharaonics Christina Skirt) and started trying to drape the belt piece. This was difficult as I gathered the fabric first instead of draping it by hand.
Phase two – The bedlah design
In July of 2012, I scrapped the dress as it didn’t fit well and I had no creative juice behind it. Instead I designed a gold bedlah with red and turquoise paisleys.
I started the bedlah making patterns out of white craft paper. I traced the design of my Pharaonics Gold Great Loop as the base. I also created paisleys using Photoshop and I printed them out in several sizes–from 3 inches to 5.5 inches.
Phase three – The construction
I counted how many paisleys I needed of each size and traced them on to stiffened felt and then covered in Lycra. I learned that it doesn’t matter which direction they are in when you cut them out, only when you cover them (so you have to cut out the Lycra properly.
I had to refer to my drawing constantly so that I would know which direction the paisley was going. That affects which side of it you cover.
One of the most time-intensive parts of the project was covering these little suckers. I covered them all before I started beading them.
At this point, I just wanted to take a picture to show my supplies for this costume: base fabric (gold holographic Lycra); paisleys and cutouts; Swarovski sew on crystals (bought super cheap on clearance); red, turquoise and gold sequins; red and turquoise seed and rocaille beads; clay scarabs; rhinestone chain; and other miscellany. Leave a comment if you are curious about the sources for these materials. Also shameless plug: leftovers are on sale for great prices on my Facebook page!
Then I started working on the construction of the belt and side straps. My construction technique consists of using one layer of Easy Felt and one layer of aida cloth (cross stitch material) sewn together using a sewing machine. It is super thick and durable, but still lays nicely against the body. I also used the sewing machine to sew the base fabric on to the base. I made notches to fit the fabric around the shape of the belt.
Once the belt was constructed I was able to test out my paisleys to see how they worked. I only messed up on one of them!
Phase four – The beading
This was the most time consuming part of this whole costume! I individually beaded each applique by hand. No short cuts! I decided to make my life easier by limiting the number of designs I made for a total of 3 designs in each color. I had to make sure that the designs were alternating so that similar designs did not end up next to each other.
Thirteen appliques for the belt alone…All done!
Phase five – The bra
To make the bra, I used a store-bought bra and cut off the straps and the band, just using the cups and the middle connector. Because the bra is made of that squishy foam material, it looks lopsided, but it is not like that once it is on. In this picture you can see the tiny blue pin heads from where I am attaching it to the side bands (made from the same technique as the belt base, and also based on the Great Loop design). I ended up cleaning up those darts.
Sorry I don’t have any pictures of the process of covering the bra. There are lots of instructionals available on how to do this though. Here you can see the original bra and the homemade side bands. I think that in retrospect I should have designed the bands differently as they are affecting the fit quality in the back of the costume.
As with the belt, I needed to make sure that all of the paisleys are the correct size and placed properly before I cover them.
I kept on revisiting the placement of the paisleys after every step because I needed to make sure that everything was in the right spot and that I didn’t make any mistakes when covering the pieces (i.e. covering them on the wrong side).
Ta-da, another 15 paisleys constructed and beaded for a total 28 paisleys on the costume, plus I made 3 more for accessories! These took less time than the belt because they are smaller. I had to alter the designs on some of them to make them work on a smaller surface area.
I can tell what my construction issue is on the bra bands by looking at this picture, but I do not have it in me to change it.
At this point, I’ve attached the appliques and straps and I begin the process of edging. You can see the neater darts on the bra cups in this photo.
Check out my messy supply station that takes up a whole cushion on our couch. My husband hates it! I was also apparently altering another costume during this time.
For the edging, I had the idea to use several different color golds along the edge as I had a lot of mismatched gold sequins from another project. I had ordered a bunch at one point to match a costume that I was working on and they couldn’t be returned. I thought it would look really nice and pop, but alas you can barely tell. I think part of it is the base fabric competing too much and part of it was that the golds were not that different!
You can see I finished the top row of the front of the belt.
Phase six – The fringe
After I was done edging, I had to make my own fringe because I knew I wanted three-color fringe and I was having a hard time finding a reliable vendor to buy it from. I initially wanted icicle fringe, but went with loops because that is what looked best (probably because the costume is based on the Great Loop design!). I made each set of loops individually and then sewed them each on by hand.
I used a 4 inch braid of cotton crochet thread and started in the middle and worked my way out.
I used this piece of paperboard to ensure that my pieces were always about the same length and to make sure I knew were the middle was. This was the best thing–apart from my bead spinner–for this process. (And yes, the beer was pretty good, for gluten free beer that is).
For the first few rows I counted the beads on each row to ensure that they were the same length. Once the strand got longer, it was easier to eyeball it. I had to use round seed beads on either end of the blue balls because the rocaille beads would slip right through the hole. That took me a while to figure out. Also…The bead spinner was incredibly useful once the strands got pretty long. I recommend bead spinners for fringe!
I attached the fringe using a whip stitch and just sewed it directly to the belt.
Phase seven – Finishing touches
After everything was sewn on tight, I lined the costume with cotton quilting fabric (poplin). It is whip-stitched on neatly. I prefer to line with cotton because it’s soft on my skin, it breathes and it’s easy to find sales (and pretty patterns).
I also made a matching necklace to go with this costume, as well as a skirt, barrette (I hate headbands) and two armbands.
And here it is in all it’s glory. I did make a trumpet skirt to go with it, but I did not take any pictures of the process because I used Shushanna’s pattern. Please excuse the bad background/lighting and lack of make-up! I wanted to get some pictures up so I could share it with you!
I’m not crazy about the fit of the bra, but that will have to be a project to tackle for another day. I fear I may need to make the straps into a halter in order to fit me better and I hate halters because they are bad for your neck and I have neck problems.
Here you can see the armband design a little bit better and the detail on the trumpet skirt (sequined godets!). And that’s it (for now anyway)!
I will probably wear this costume with a U-top and a belly cover as that makes me more comfortable. It may also disguise the fit issues on the bra. I have a performance in April where this costume will make it’s debut! I will perhaps have more pictures and a video to share then.
Let me know if you have any questions about the construction or the design process! I’m not an expert at this point, but I do have enough experience that I hope I can be of some help to you.
For a complete picture of the process, please view my photobucket album here.
If you want to use this post as a kind of how-to, here is a list of supplies you might need to create your own costume:
- Fabric shears*
- Assorted needles*
- Beading needles*
- Seam ripper*
- Fabric pens* or chalk
- Denim thread*
- Polyester all purpose thread*
- Craft paper,* newsprint, or other paper for pattern making
- Stiffened felt* (note: They seem to be phasing out the larger 12 x 18 pieces, all I could find was an assorted pack)
- Aida cloth*
- Bead spinner* (I recommend the electric one)
- Straight pins (I like the ball heads)
- Swarovski sew on crystals*
- Base fabric like stretch lycra or velvet (4 way stretch fabric is easiest to work with)
- An existing costume for tracing or a pattern
* Although some of these link to affiliate links where I may receive a small commission, you are under no obligation to shop using those links. If you don’t want to, just enter in the url on your internet browser. No hard feelings!