Great flouncy sleeves

Black dress with Sleeves

I first saw these sleeves on a video of a performance by Sadie, and I thought they looked like a *great* idea: the thick armbands are ideal for covering the upper arms, which can be a “difficult” spot, the sleeves move like teensy veils, and can add more interest to an already good costume. There’s also the question of the extra coverage, which comes handy if you’re dancing in a somewhat cold environment, or if you feel you’d like a touch more modesty.

These sleeves are very easy to make, although the explanation can initially sound complicated. They consist of two parts: an upper part that covers the upper arm, and a loose flounce. To make them, you will need a small scrap of fabric, enough to go around your upper arm twice, and about a metre and a half to two metres of chiffon, mesh or similar. I recommend against using organza as it can be quite rigid, and for this particular item you want something that is going to flow more. You will also need some elastic, enough to go snugly around your upper arm twice, stretched. If you want them to have lettuce edges, you’ll also need an overlocker and some fishing thread.

To start, measure around your upper arm, where you want the upper edge of the sleeve to sit, then decide how deep you want this arm to go, and measure around the arm again at that point. Mark these on your pattern paper, having each of the two long measurements as the bottom and top sides; depending on your arms, you might end with either a rectangle or a trapeze, as shown below. Once you’ve got those measured, add one cm around each edge as seam allowances, and add the width of the elastic to the upper side too. Join the short edges right side in, and sew, then turn the bottom and hem, and turn the top and sew, creating a channel for the elastic, and leaving a little gap when sewing. String the elastic through the channel, making it tight enough that the sleeves won’t drop. then sew the ends together. Don’t knot, as this would create a nasty bump. The seam should remain at the bottom, on the underside of your arm, conveniently hidden.

Upper Sleeves

The flounce is a tad more complicated to explain how to put together, although in practice it is equally simple. At its most basic level, it’s a square with a quarter of a circle removed from one of the corners, that wraps around the bottom of the upper arm part. You will need to measure the length from this line to your wrist or a bit past it, and you already have the measurement around the arm.

(What follows is a very boring math bith that you might want to avoid)

You would then have to use these measurements to calculate the side of a square equal to the sum of your flounce length plus the the radius of a circle where the total diameter is 4 times your arm diameter. And if it does sound like one of those awful math problems that you got in school and wonder when the hell you would have any need of it, is because that’s exactly what it is.

Boring math bit done! Fortunately, I’ve created a teensy script that does the boring calculations for you, and will give you, once you input the correct numbers, the details of what you need to create this flounce. You can find it in the Utilities section of the website, under Sleeves Flounce calculator.

Sleeve Flounce

Cut two of these on your lightweight fabric, and now it’s time to use those lettuce edge skills you acquired in a previous post. Very carefully, do the WHOLE, LONG EDGES OF THE SQUARE ONLY, those that are whole sides and where there is no semicircle cutout; then finish every other side -including the curved section- with a standard rolled hem on the overlocker. Once you’ve done this with both flounces, attach the curved side of each flounce to the bottom of the upper sleeves, with the shorter sides on the UPPER side of the arm, and the diagonal at the bottom, where the seam of the upper part is. This will ensure that when you raise your arms, the flounce “opens” and cascades beautifully . I recommend also giving each of them a second point of support, by sewing both sides together, around 5cm below the seam with the upper sleeves. You can see in the photo that it makes the sleeve reach very near the crook of the elbow and then flow to the floor. You can repeat this point downwards (and even decorate it with a crystal or sequins), or leave it as is.

Other possible variations include making each flounce in several layers to add volume, and making the flounce rounder instead of square. You can also finish the sleeves with sequins, appliques or any other decoration you like, and of course could easily replace the underseam with corset laces, or even leaving it open (if properly hemmed) to give a peek of your arm’s flesh. If you don’t have an overlocker you might be able to use a standard rolling hem presser foot on your machine to finish it off instead.

Lettuce edges

Lettuce edges are those that appear to have a fluffy somewhat rigid ruffle, and are an easy way of adding some interest to an edge that would otherwise be boring. I’ve seen it mostly used for chiffon skirts, although I’ve used them for sleeves, and have even seen them in veils and even pants. They are very easy, if a tad laborious, to make. You MUST have an overlocker (serger) to make them, with care and patience. You will also need nylon fishing thread, or the kind used for jewellery making. It must not be stretchy, and needs to have a certain rigidity. The fabric you are using will work better if it has a certain give at least, as this will create even more of a wave.

Start by setting your overlocker to do a rolled hem. Loose a few coils from the fishing thread bobbin, then very carefully roll the edge of the fabric over the thread, and pull the thread across… you will be better to have quite a bit of thread extra as it will help you keep everything in place.

Put the rolled fabric onto the overlocker, lower the foot to lock it in place, and start sewing a rolled hem SLOWLY while stretching it very carefully. Be careful to keep rolling the hem by hand, as it will give you a neater edge, and avoid sharp angles and corners, opting instead for soft curves. Once you’ve reached the end, finish as usual; you can usually turn the remaining thread back and into the machine-rolled hem, or over the start if you’re doing a circular edge.

It is highly advisable that you practice this on cheap fabric or scraps, to get the hang of it. You will get the feel for it eventually, after sewing a couple of metres, but in the meantime you are likely to accidentally cut the thread or make a booboo at least a couple of times. Don’t give up, as this technique will come very useful, and it’s worth the time it takes to learn to do it. The stretchier the fabric, the more you exploit this stretch, and the more rigid the thread, the better the frill you will get.

Taming the Monsterskirt

One hears “12 metre skirt” and thinks of stupidly long trains in wedding gowns or fantasy outfits, more suitable for throwing down a window for Prince Charming to use as climbing rope, not belly dancing. And yet, we get these “9 yard skirt, 12 yard skirt, 25 yard skirt”, all the time, and a lot of people wonder exactly what this is about. These numbers, boys and girls, refer to the diameter, or length of the bottom layer of the skirt if it was a single line and you were measuring from end to end.

Everybody tells me that I am a sucker for punishment when it comes to making things, virtual or real, and when my teacher Val offered me a sari, I saw the perfect opportunity to finally put together one of those humongous skirts that I kept hearing about. The process was relatively simple, although not exactly painless, but was thankfully made much easier by an overlocker (aka serger), otherwise I would probably have gone nuts before finishing.

These skirts are a staple of  most dancer’s wardrobes, but quite often you will find that they are on sale for quite a pretty penny (£60 and up is not uncommon), and for the plus sizes, the waist in these can often be too tight. Also, using the same skirt for practice, class and performance can take its toll on it, so having a cheaper version sounds like a good idea. By all means, have that expensive skirt handspun by golden-haired maidens if you like it, but keep a cheap version that you can easily repair or remake at hand for class and practice, you will thank me when you do.

There are, of course, other reasons to doing this. Again, typical of plus sizes, and other women with perky big bottoms, is that most of the time, skirts hanging from our rears end riding higher up on the back. This annoys me inmensely, and I hate the idea that I need to adjust the front to take this into account, and therefore have a skirt shorter than I would want.

The solution is to make your own, and make it GOOD, with the extra inches added by your perky, delectable bum taken into account while drafting.  How do we do this?  Follow me!

First: decide where you want your skirt to start, and to end. Measure as necessary, preferably with a friend -or supportive SO- and take account of the front, back, and if necessary side measurements.

Second: decide how many tiers you want to have. On a 1metre long skirt, with 4 tiers, obviously each will be 25cm deep; 5 tiers would make each 20cm; when planning, add 2 cms more for top and bottom seams

Third: decide how long you want the bottom edge to be. On my monsterskirt, it’s 12 metres, you might want it bigger or smaller; this depends a lot on what you’re using it for.

Fourth: calculate the shape and size of your tiers. Start at the bottom (tier 4), then half that length for the tier above (tier 3). Repeat until you’ve run out of tiers, and make sure that your top layer fits (needs to be bigger than your hips by at least 4 inches, although I would recommend quite a bit more). If it doesn’t, make the difference between the top two tiers time and half what’s above instead of double (or simply, multiply tier 2 by 0.66 then round up).

For the monsterskirt, this gave me:

  • first tier:  1.5 metres
  • second tier: 3 metres
  • third tier: 6 metres
  • fourth tier: 12 metres

Fifth: trace and cut the bottom three tiers; you might need to do this differently depending on the width of your fabric and whether they can be cut across the grain or not, but effectively you will end with very long rectangular pieces. In some cases you will have to assemble them out of several smaller pieces cut on the grain. Remember to add the seam calculation to the height calculation (27cm instead of 25cm in our example).

Sixth: for the top tier, trace the bottom edge as an even line; if you can do this piece as a single piece it WILL make your life easier, but if you have to split them in front and back because of fabric width, make sure you mark them as front and back. Now mark the side seam(s), centre front and centre back points. In my example, the marks were at 0, 37.5cm, 75cm, 112.5, and 150cm.
Take the initial length measurements you obtained, sustract the expected length from the bottom 3 tiers, then 3cm more for the waistband, then add 2cm for seams. In my example, with 100cm for the front and 110cm on the back, and 3x25cm tiers, the top tier would be, if even , 24cm at the top front, and 34cm at the top back. Mark these perpendicularly to the bottom edge, at the 37.5 and 112.5 marks. If you have side measures that are different, calculate them the same and add them at the 0 and 150cm. Now join all four points, making sure that the transitions are smooth, and remember to mark your front and back. This curve will be more or less pronounced depending on how big the difference between the front and your back is. Check the graphic for more detail.

Skirt Top Tier

Now put all the tiers together. Start whichever way you want: top to bottom, bottom to top, middle to top and bottom. The ONE thing I suggest you do is doing the hem for the bottom tier before attaching it to the rest of the skirt, otherwise the amount of fabric will make it seriously unmanageable. Remember that you are not going to make this layer even, you will adjust the length by adjusting the TOP. This also means that you can easily use different fabrics for a splash of colour without risking it looking “wrong” because it’s suddenly hitched up on the back. If you’re not sure how to do the gathering without wanting to disembowel yourself with your good fabric scissors, check out my post on gathering without loosing your sanity.

Gypsy Costume Make a waistband with a long strip of fabric, same length as your top tier, 8cm high. Fold in two, pin the bottom edge to the top tier, making sure to put the seam at the front if you’re using drawstring so you can have the strings out at that point; you might have to gather it a bit if your top line is very curvy. Leave a small gap, pass elastic, and once you’re sure it works on you without cutting circulation or falling off, sew both edges together. Add a pull cord if you want too, then try it all to make sure the bottom edge is even all around, and marvel at your lovely new monsterskirt with an even edge. If everything is ok, sew, and if not, adjust the waistband and first tier accordingly; it should be far easier to adjust a much smaller section than to deal with a humongous hem.

On the left you will see a photo of a costume that I created almost entirely myself, showing off this skirt (click for a bigger version). You can almost see how even the whole thing is, and it’s even more, I promise; I just forgot to check and adjust after adding the belt and cincher before the photo. The top two tiers are made of a very light polycotton broderie anglaise, which makes the skirt quite comfy in hot weather, as it comes with inbuilt ventilation. The purple/dusk tier was made with the edges of a sari that my teacher Val gave me. The bottom is a very nice crinkle cotton, also very light; the crinkle texture makes it ideal for this sort of work as it adds an extra oomph to the gathered fabric.

The skirt is a dream to use for dancing, and looks quite impressive when flounced during performances. My one complain is that I wish I had used semi-circles for the top tier to give more movement and less gathering of fabric, but I’m already planning on a second skirt, with an even longer hem, but that post will have to wait until it’s done.

Gathering without loosing your sanity

Quite often, when creating garments, we realise we need to gather material. And when working on something like a 23 metre (25 yards for those not using metric) skirt, the “eyeballing” method is a sure way of ending with an unevenly gathered skirt and in dire need of a wig. All that hair pulling is REALLY not good for you, and will look awful on your next performance.

So, how to work with such huge quantities without going nuts? Patience. And lots of pins with different coloured heads, preferably at least 6-8 different colours. Here is how I did it with the monsterskirt (12 metres):

  • step 1: baste all around the piece you need to gather
  • step 2: fold in equal halves, then again, and use pins of one  colour to mark these quarters
  • step 3: mark the quarter parts on the top tier (or the piece you need to attach the gathered section to) using pins of the exact same colour
  • step 4: take the unattached tier again, put together two consecutive pins, mark the eights with a new colour pin.
  • step 5: take the upper tier, mark the halves in between each quarter using pins of the same colour as the eights marked on the bottom tier
  • step 6: lather, rinse, repeat until you’re bored and you’ve got sections of about 15/20 cms (6 to 8″).
  • step 7: join both upper and bottom tiers, using the coloured pins as guides of what to pin where; same coloured pins should go together; pin both vertically for the time being (that is, NOT along the line of where you will sew later)
  • step 8: now use the basting thread, pull the sections; it should be far easier to get an even gathering along such short sections
  • step 9: pin along the lines of  the basting
  • step 10: baste both pieces together, making sure the gathering fabric is flat and there are no gaps; sew. Sergers are ideal for this as they will trim and neat the seam
  • step 11: finish the edges if necessary

You can use this method or a variation of it not just for monsterskirts but of any other project where you are gathering fabric. Typical examples include gathering ruffles, big sleeves into tight cuffs, leg openings into bottom cuffs for harem pants… you get the idea. A variation is also an easy way of applying elastic of a particular length onto fabric for a quick gathering… just skip the basting steps, and instead just stretch the elastic while sewing with a zigzag stitch: you will find the elastic contracts and gathers the fabric more easily.

Shoes – part III: Bleyer

I am giving Bleyer shoes their own post because I own two different pairs and have used them quite extensively. Bleyer has several different styles on offer for bellydancing, including some half-sandals quite close to those used in lyrical dancing, and a few models more in line with the typical oriental dance slippers.  The two styles I own are from this second group, and for the most part, the construction details are quite similar. I own a pair of Stretch Satin Oriental Dance Shoe, and one pair of Sportis

Bleyer’s are made in Germany, I believe, and use European sizes, so again, be careful when ordering. Bleyershoes.com in the UK does list equivalences. Unlike other dance shoes companies, Bleyer runs theirs true to size with generous width, so this is one case where you will want to order your actual size, not one size bigger. I normally wear 7 1/2 wide, need 8+ from other companies, but when I got Bleyer’s size 8s, they were a bit too long. Still very usable, but if I could have exchanged them, I would have done so.

Both  models have identical internal construction: there’s a good suede bottom, quite soft, the whole interior of the shoe is lined with absorbent fabric, and there’s a hint of a cushion on the sole.

Their Stretch Satin Oriental Dance shoe is the most expensive one in the line, and comes in black with either silver or gold embroidery. The “satin” feels plasticky to the touch, and is a bit too shiny to be real satin. The embroidery is pretty and tasteful, but the thread used for stitching the sequins is rather flimsy, and you might want to at least reinforce the ends so they don’t start unravelling.

The Sporti is at the other end of the line, the cheapest, and come in plain silver or gold. They are a bit more pricey than Egyptian slippers purchased locally, but this difference is not significant. The synthetic upper feels soft, and you even have the option of suede or rubber soles.

When sized properly, these are incredibly comfortable, and will stay on your feet no matter what, even if they are running a touch bigger. There’s the advantage that they are made in Europe, so the sizing runs higher than Egyptian sizes, which tend to only get up to (a rather small) 41, so if you’ve got bigger feet, they might be your safest option.  If they made these in different colours I would certainly get more to complement my costumes.

I currently alternate between the Sporti and a pair of Egyptian slippers that I got around the same time, and I can say that the difference in performance is minimal. I feel *slightly* more comfortable in the Bleyers, because they fit better around my feet, but I suspect this has more to do with differences in shape and cut rather than actual differences in manufacturing quality. The extra lining in the inside of the Bleyers means that if your feet tend to sweat, you might be better off with these, as the Egytpian slippers are not good for drawing out the moisture. I prefer the material on the upper Bleyers, but the golden colour on the Egyptians, so I can’t really say which one is better of the two, and if asked I would say “either”.

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