Super-quick radiating pleats belly dance bra tutorial

written by Davina on September 11, 2015 in Costuming for any size and Plus size belly dancers with no comments
Nicole Simone in Assuit

Model: Nicole Simone; Photographer: Alisha Westerfeld

Are you belly dancing next week Saturday and tired of your wardrobe choices? Do you feel the need to change up your image, right now? Do you have the power to use needle and thread? If the answer to any or all of these questions is YES, then have I got a great idea for you! This is the super-easy, reasonably affordable, and quick way to construct a radiating pleat belly dance bra. Now, I know what you’re thinking, you’re looking at this example and thinking, “But I don’t have assiut!” The key to this design is choosing striped fabric. I’ve successfully made these radiating pleat bras in velvet, brocade, dupioni silk and even that old belly dancer standby, glitter dot!

Because I was making this piece from materials and supplies already in my collection, I decided to upcycle a Frederick’s of Hollywood Exxtreme Cleavage Bra* that was already in my collection. I had worn it a few times, so before I began I made sure to give it a good wash. The assiut was a left-over fragment from another dancer’s fabric stash, purchased at a belly dancer festival from a leftover bin. The palm tree pattern is perfect for the pleat-front striped style of belly dance bra!

Before I began construction, I made a few key choices as a designer:

Super-Quick Radiating Pleats Bra TutorialI chose not to rebuild the bra band and straps. My mission was speed, and since I wasn’t adding any heavy embellishments such as coin, chains, or beaded fringe, I decided to leave the original, and quite comfortable and sturdy band. Although there are costumers who would cringe in horror at the notion of leaving existing bands and straps, I believe that this is a structural decision that you, in the role of designer, get to choose to suit your needs. Speed was of the essence, the band was solid and substantial – I decided to leave it in place.

I chose not to cover the bra cups in base fabric. The bra was already black, and so was the assiut fabric. After consideration, I decided It would have been redundant to cover it in a different black fabric. I don’t mind the subtle shine of the black nylon bra coming through the assiut. This choice saved both time and money.

I chose to skip the reinforcement stage. When I’m making costumes for customers, I always take a moment to reinforce the upper edges of the cup. Because my goal was speed, and I wasn’t adding any heavy embellishments, I decided to skip this step too. If you wanted to reinforce your bra, use a 1” row of grosgrain or twill tape to the upper edge of the cup along the décolletage. This will prevent the upper edge of the cup from stretching and losing it’s shape with repeat wearings.

I chose to orient the palm trees with the trunks to the center, and the tops spreading out over the outside of the bra. What this did was simplify the pleating process at the center, allowing me to really see only straight lines. If I had inverted this design, and used the palm tree tops at the center, it would have a totally different look. That would have probably looked really good too, but the stripe effect was lost in the shape of the fronds.

Now that all of these most essential decisions were made, I proceeded forward with the project.

Step One: Pin the fabric along the upper cup line. I really wanted a nice thick embellishment along this strong plunging V-shaped line, so I pleated three of the trunks together, and pinned them in place. In the Step One photo, you can see I’ve pinned on the first palm tree.

Step Two: Work the fabric into pleats at the center front.

Step Two: Next, I began working the fabric into pleats at the center front. This takes a bit of work and moving the fabric around, but be patient, your design will emerge. I pleated the palm trees up, so that the folds were all working in the same direction.


Step Three: Once the center is pinned down, step back and take a look at your project. I recommend taking a moment for a cup of tea and to take a photo of your progress to share with your friends on social media.

Step Four: Smooth out the fabric and pin down the pleats to the center of the cup. Once you pass the apex of the bra, you will begin pleating again, though your pleats will be smaller because you’re covering a larger expanse of space with the same amount of fabric.

Step Four: Smooth out the fabric and pin down the pleats to the center of the cup.

Step Five: Evaluate your design. If you like it, it’s time to trim the cloth and carefully tuck the edges under for a nice finish.

Step Six: REPEAT everything on the other cup. I started with my left cup. Why? No clue! It doesn’t matter which you start with as long as you copy your design on the second cup.

Step Seven: Step back and look at the pinned bra from a distance. I call this the “porcupine stage” of the project, and the moment when you’re most likely to stab yourself, so be careful when handling your pinned bra. If the cups look balanced, even, and matching, you’re ready to move onto the next step. If you see places that don’t quite match, now is the time to make adjustments.

Step Seven: Step back and look at the pinned bra from a distance.

Step Eight: Sew the embellishment down. I like to use a slip stitch when working with assiut, I start at the bra strap and head towards the center front. Then I do the same process on the opposite side. Then I sew the center front of both cups. Then I stitch down the pleats of both cups. So on until you’ve finished the stitching. Use a sturdy thread that matches the color of your project. I personally use long milliner needles* for this kind of hand work.

Step Nine: Add a center embellishment and voilà, it’s done!

Step Nine: Add a center embellishment and voilà, it’s done!

I wore this bra to perform in three times and then lent it to one of my collaborative partners, model/dancer Nicole Simone. She loved this bra so much, I couldn’t just take it back! Oh well, I guess it’s time to make another.

Good luck on your costuming adventures!

Both photos of the model, Nicole Simone, were taken by Alisha Westerfeld.  Simone is available via instagram. Alisha Westerfeld aka Zemira is available via Facebook.

Editor’s note: Davina’s best-selling book, “Embellished Bras” is on sale in her Etsy store. Through the end of Sept. 2015, it will be available for only $15 plus shipping. Click here to get this great deal!

*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 item 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 including the latest book, “The Cloth of Egypt: All About Assiut”.