Need an instant costume? Just add assiut!

written by Davina on July 10, 2015 in Costuming for any size with 4 comments

Assiut is a hand crafted textile, made in Egypt by women working in their home studios. Long prized by belly dancers for its ethnographic appeal, wear-ability, sparkle and shine. Assiut is made from metal wire, or plate, that is about 1/8” wide. The wire is embroidered one individual stitch at a time onto a machine-made ground cloth of cotton tulle. The resulting fabric is soft and draping, and the metal embroidery will catch the light and shimmer on stage!  There’s a 100+ year-long tradition of assiut robes being worn for various types of dance performance in Egypt, especially regional dances of the Fellahin of Upper Egypt where the cloth originates, and for wedding processions, or zeffa. Dancers often choose to wear assiut robes for specialty Egyptian style dances including the raks shamadan, or dance of the candelabra, or raks assaya, or cane dance.

However, the best part thing about assiut robes, that many are produced between size 16 and 24. Because this fabric is 100% cotton, and made from a very loose, open weave mesh, the garment will have a natural give  that will accommodate a wide variety of shapes, it has a gentle cling and drape that skims the body of the wearer without constricting movement.  The robe is also versatile, allowing the dancer to dress it up and down to suit a variety of occasions.  So here are some approaches to planning several different head-to-toe look around an assiut robe.

The Look: Egyptian-Moroccan Fusion

Inspired by the aesthetic of the Berber tribes of North Africa, this modern assiut robe has been treated to a glorious collection of real and fake coral, amber and metal. A simple plain assiut shawl is casually tied around the hips to create a fun and spontaneous look.  The headdress is created with several layers, starting with a black cotton headdress base, an assiut triangle and a narrow tie. For added drama, we’ve pinned two mozuna ropes from Morocco to the base, so from behind, the headdress extends down to the hips.
Egyptian-Moroccan Fusion Egyptian-Moroccan Fusion

The Look: Ready to Rak

Vintage dresses are often more sparsely patterned than modern made assiut, with finer threads of metal embellishing a finer mesh ground cloth. So vintage dresses will show more skin. For more coverage, we layered a pair of embellished triangles, worn one in front and one in back over a simple black elastic belt and held in place with strategically placed, and quite hidden.  A two piece headdress is composed of a small rectangle of assiut, and a large shawl worn over the top.  The small rectangle is tied on first, and then the shawl is centered and draped over the top of the head and pinned into place with corsage pins.  The long flowing shawl can be pulled around the body for modesty, and worked in a folksy way during performance.
Ready to Raq

The Look: Tribal to the max.  

If you’ve got it, flaunt it!  For this look, we’ve integrated a substantial collection of tribal jewelry from across the Near East and Central Asia. The hip treatment is a simple assiut rectangular shawl casually tied at the hip. A coin and string belt completes the hip look. At the neck, we’ve stacked on three magnificent necklaces to create a cascade of metal that catches the eye and swings dramatically during big spins.  A choker is pinned to a black headdress base and a triangle of assiut is draped over the top to complete the look. We’ve used courage pins strategically placed to keep the triangle in place during dance performances.
Tribal to the Max

Use What You Have
Do you have an assiut robe?  Do you have a fun, beautiful, interesting, or innovative way of styling it?  We would love to hear your ideas for head, neck and hip treatments that you pair with your assiut robe. Drop us a line and send us a photo – we would love to hear from you!

For more information about assiut, check out Dawn’s informational book “The Cloth of Egypt: All About Assiut.” available directly from her on her website at www.davina.us or from Amazon.com.*

Photos: Alisha Westerfeld
Model/Dancer: Nicole Simone

*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 search for the book in your internet browser. No hard feelings!

About Davina

Dawn Devine (aka Davina) has been involved in the belly dance community scene since before the turn of the century. She started her professional career in belly dance in San Diego and danced in numerous restaurants, most of which, are unfortunately long gone! Davina relied on her art school and costume industry training to make her own costumes and eventually taught workshops and classes on belly dance costuming to friends, students, and colleagues, and those handouts became the basis of her first book “Costuming from the Hip”. Over the past two decades, she's made thousands of costumes for dancers of every size and have sent them world-wide. Her main passion is sharing the knowledge of how to design, build and fit costumes at home through writing. She's written more than a dozen books on belly dance costuming, and currently has six books in print on Amazon.com including the latest book, “The Cloth of Egypt: All About Assiut”.