Pants for the Dance

Right now, I am in a bit of a huff. All I want is a pair of nice flared pants that I could use for my upcoming Tribal classes, and so far I’m having very little luck finding something that I like, of a decent quality, and that fits me. I do have a few pairs, and all of them have plenty of pros and some cons that have made them not good enough for me to stick with them. I do love nearly every pair of them, though, they are very comfortable for the most part, and if I could just get all the pros and put together the ideal product, I would.

My first yoga pants for class where obtained through eBay, from this seller; the fabric is nice and thick without being too warm, they fit really well, but they’ve shortened substantially in the wash, even though I’ve always washed them in the delicates cycle; I’ve got 3 pairs and they’ve served me well, but they are a touch too thick for the summer, and the shortness makes them annoying; the oldest pair has also developed a hole in the fabric and the waist has stretched to the point that I had to remove around 10cms on each side, so I’m tempted to sacrifice that one and unpick the seams to use as a starting point for a pattern, as the fit is really good. Sadly, for some reason these also have a disturbing tendency to disappear in the wash.
Pros: good fabric, good cut. Cons: straight leg, too short, expensive shipping that only works well if ordering 2-3 pairs.

Then I ordered palazzo pants from another ebay seller who is no longer selling them. I ordered a teal and a red pair, in theory both in cotton, from the same manufacturer and the exact same size. The teal arrived and it works nicely, but the fabric piles easily. The red is much smaller, from a synthetic fabric, and insists on running under my belly instead of across. The teal I can use occasionally but it’s looking quite ratty because of all the piling, the red will probably be saved as something to wear under a costume at the last minute, or to sell onto someone else.
Pros: colour, nice sizing on the teal pair. Cons: ugly and unsuitable fabric on the red, piling on the cotton pair, unreliable sizes and manufacturer; wouldn’t buy again if I could.

Not much luck from the US, I thought, so let’s look at something more ethnic. How about some thai fisherman’s palazzos? the kind that wrap around! Found a nice pair in Aubergine, from The Asian Connection, another ebay seller. Pants arrived promptly, fabric was sturdy but not very soft, and required sewing on the sides as they were opening WAY too much despite the fact that I had left the suggested 4″ extra on each side.  And the fabric starts bleeding colour even with sweat. The fit is also very loose (expect that from this type of pants) and for extreme curves it does  become loose and sit strange, for instance with a higher back than front. They also run quite short on me unless I pull them down under my belly, and we all know how lovely that looks.
Pros: lovely colour, sturdy fabric. Cons: dye bleed, scratchy fabric, fit. They’re great for the summer days but I won’t be using them for class again in a hurry.

Then we come to the cheap and cheerful chinese Melodia clones that I mention here, of which I’ve had to buy the ultra-long version. I’ve worn the black trousers three times, they fit comfortably and great, the shape is one I like, but the seam at the back started giving way and it’s not just the stitches, the fabric itself is not too happy about it.
Pros:  cut, fit. Cons: flimsy fabric if you’re stretching it (and being a plus size, you will), and not so sturdy seams

Finally, come the Jazz pants I got from Brighton Orient , which come in two thickness grades. The thicker grade covers a multitude of sins better, but it’s too thick for the summer. The thinner side is comfortable but got a mysterious hole on the front of the thigh for no apparent reason within 3 wears -with a wash in between each wear. I *could* have snagged them under my desk, it’s perfectly possible. They are also a teensy bit on the tight side for me. And while they flare a bit, they don’t flare enough.
Pros:  lovely fabric, feel sturdy and aren’t falling appart. Cons: sizing, would be nicer to have them in a different cut or colour

So, where am I now? Fed up, last Monday I decided to lift the pattern off a pair of jeans.The result are a pair of capris in cheap black jersey waiting to be overlocked before I decide what sort of bottom I want to give them.  I’ve also emailed a couple of fabric places to see if I can get decent thicker fabric to use. If I get a reasonable answer (that is, if they don’t expect me to buy a 50m roll of supplex or meryl lycra from each colour I want ) I might have to get some samples from them, then some fabric lengths, and put my pattern to the test. My general idea right now is to try to develop a suitable basic pattern for the top part (hips and thighs) that I can then extend, flare, add flounces or whatever, to have different styles available quickly. And will probably require a couple of experiments first, with these and maybe a couple more patterns, combining the ones that I like.

You’d think that with a lot of plus sizes preferring stretchy clothing, there would be a big market for these; certainly leggings seem to be quite popular, so why is nobody trying to move into the market and make some? Oh well, their loss. Or it will be if I can make reasonable substitutes.


Create a dress pattern from a fitted top pattern

It’s always a good idea to have several patters around for your dresses, as they give you the option to try different styles. But personally, I think it’s nice to have a basic “go to” pattern, almost like a block, that you have re-shaped to your exact measurements, to make sure everything works straight away and you don’t need to waste time making adjustments every time. I’ve made mine from an old Vogue bustier which was already pretty accurate for my size, although I’ve changed it beyond recognition as it wasn’t really working that well on me.

I will outline the procedure I used, as this will change depending a lot on what pattern you’re using as a starting point, and how far from your actual measurements it is. You will need pen, lots of paper, calculator, measuring tape, quite possibly an eraser, and loads (and I mean LOADS) of patience, but once you’re done, you will be happy you did. The process, roughly, takes the pieces from the fitted top, adds and substracts where needed to create the exact shape, then extends each piece to the required length.

THIS IS NOT FOR CHANGING PATTERN SIZES; it’s just a roundabout way of getting a pattern for a full length dress if you can’t find anything else you like in your size, but happen to have an existing bodice pattern in your size. This will also help if all you need to do is adjust said pattern. However, if done correctly, this method DOES WORK. As I’ve explained in the last Fustan Raqs in Red post, I’ve used it several times already with extremely good results.

First, I recommend putting on a very tight top, with side seams. This helps split measurements between front and back a lot more easily, which results in far better fitting for the top part of the dress. Then take measurements around bust, underbust, waist, upper hip, lower hip, basically, each point where there are curves on your body that might required adjustments. Then take them again, this time taking them for the front and the back of the body, using the seams of the top you are wearing as guides to know where to split them. When doing my own, I made sure these were correct by adding front and back and comparing the result with the original full measurements.

Also take vertical measurements to know how far away these original measuring planes are from each other, i.e. the waist is 3″ above the upper hip, the upper hip 5 inches above the hip, the waist 4 inches below the underbust, etc. Now trace all these horizontal lines on your paper, making sure they are separated as the vertical measurements you’ve taken. You are trying to make the most accurate representation of your body proportions that you can on paper, so be 100% honest and don’t suck in air, or tighten up the tape, because this will result in a less than accurate pattern!

Now proceed to overlap your pattern over these lines; most good patterns will have lines marking bust, waist, etc. It is very likely that when doing this, you will need to chop and adjust these pieces, so it is a good idea to work with copies. Now the fun starts and you need to start adjusting everything, the procedure is pretty similar for each, so I’ll describe it for the bust, and show it for the front 2 pieces of the bodice.

Full Dress from a Bodice pattern

How to create a dress pattern from a fitted bodice

Most patterns you buy come set up for a C cup by default; if you have bigger cups you will need to adjust it. Where and how will depend on your bust shape, like everything, this isn’t the same on everybody. For me, I had to add the extra material at the seam between the side and the front panel. How did I know how much to add? Simple. Measured the pattern pieces at the bust line, multiplied by 2 (as one is cut on the fold and the other is mirrored), and compared with the desired measurements of the front section + total seam allowance (SA stated on the pattern, times 6, one for each side of a seam). If there was a difference, I split in 4, to go one at each side of the seam, and added a dot at the bust line on my paper at that distance. Did similar calculations for Underbust, Waist, and Upper and Lower Hip. Then connected the dots, then finally extended it all down to my desired length. Although to be perfectly honest, you can keep it as a shorter pattern and add a “add X cm below this line” to make the pieces easier to handle. Check out the image to view this in a bit more detail… “x” marks the spots where I had to add, the dotted lines are the new pattern that emerged.

You can easily turn this basic pattern to have several different shapes. Extend each piece with a straight flare for a nice A-line, overlap pieces until they meet for a 3-piece dress -you might have to set the cups separately, check out the post on how to cover a bra for details on how to add this piece, then just join pieces together- or flare the bottom and add a quarter circle at the back for a tulip or siren skirt. Cut off the top to make just a skirt, shorten the skirt for an everyday or work-wear dress, slant and add big ruffles for a Melaya Leff dress… the possibilities are endless! Right now, I’ve got plans for combining this with a Ghawazee coat pattern I’ve used before, to create a Beledi dress. Just check some of the possibilities below, showing the original pattern and how you can create different styles from it.

Different dresses from the bodice

Different dresses possible from the pattern obtained above

Disclaimer: the images above were drawn free-hand in Illustrator, they are NOT patterns, nor are intended to replace them, but are there as examples of how to work things out

The Right Fit

We’ve all had that moment, when we look at ourselves in the mirror while trying something on, and we go “hmmm”. This doesn’t just happen with costumes, but also with standard clothing, and quite often we give in because, being a bit on the generously proportioned side of humanity, we feel it’s nearly impossible to find anything that “works”. Or worse, we’ve grown accustomed to get stuff that doesn’t fit us right -neither in size, or in style- because we feel we won’t be able to find what we want since nobody makes it. Or even worse, depending on how much of a pummelling your self esteem got, that you will never find it, because your body is the problem.

This it not right.
Let me repeat that again, just in case:

Fitting curvier bodies, regardless of  actual size, is notoriously difficult, because the same measurements can give vastly different bodies. This reflects in manufacturers cutting, for the most part, for an average shape, and everybody thinking their bodies are the ones with issues. And of course this results in nothing fitting anybody properly, and everybody thinking it’s their fault.  However, there are some things you can do to minimise these issues, and that will result in clothing that works better with your body and flatters you.

  • never buy something you are iffy about: this will result in yet another piece of clothing left in your wardrobe that you will rarely, if ever, wear
  • never buy something that is too tight: it’s very difficult to let out an outfit, and the shape that it currently has might not sit right onto your body if you loose the weight
  • wear the right base garments when trying on clothing: this means the right bra, and if you normally wear shapewear, those too.
  • buy the right cut for your shape

When checking if something is too tight, watch out for signs:

  • pulls (those unsightly horizontal wrinkles that don’t appear to have any rhyme or reason; if the garment is loose and those are still there, then it means there’s a construction problem and you should leave it anyway, as it’s not made correctly)
  • uneven lines (lines or seams that should run totally horizontal or parallel don’t do so; slits are gaping wide open, etc)
  • darts opening when they should lie flat
  • overstuffed sausage look, where you’re spilling over your bra, the upper side of your dress, the hip belts, the cutouts, muffin tops, etc; you’ll know it when you see it
  • skirts in particular, although I’ve seen it happening with other garments, that are too short because the stretch on the horizontal has shrunk the fabric on the vertical plane
Also look for other signs of potential problems:
  • skirts that are too short (pay attention to this if you’re tall, or if you’re buying from China, as their standard sizes are quite petite in height); your dancing skirts for the most part should always be brushing the top of your feet if not longer… I like mine 2cm from the floor.
  • uneven hems on your back (or sides or front) produced by body areas that are more plump; this can be the bane of a lot of people; if the hem suddenly goes up at some point because of a generous bum or tummy, this problem can only be sorted out by making the bottom even or adding some material on the top, and if the skirt is already at the maximum length it will be, it cannot be solved; if that is the case, leave it, no matter how pretty it looks, otherwise you’ll have something that will look uneven and unprofessional;
  • slits that come up too high and instead of making you look alluring, show off your undies or open too much under the strain of your movement; at least these you can correct with stitches at regular intervals creating “peek-a-boo” holes, or you can add some chiffon to hide the offending part, as long as this slit isn’t spread open like a clock striking 8:20
  • weird-looking cleavage, produced often by hard-moulded cups that have unflattering shapes, or are too far apart, risking an overspill or wardrobe malfunction

A lot of people will try to tell you that what you’re experience is “normal” and that “if only you’d loose a couple of pounds” it will look better. Or if only you wore a bodystocking. Or some similar statement. These are an awful lot of “if only”s that, for the most part, are unlikely to give you the expected result (a smashing look), and personally, I’d rather not bet the several hundreds that a costume can be on such a flimsy possibility. Seriously, I’ve been told the “if only you’d loose a couple of pounds”  by well meaning staff for an evening gown that I *had* to wear for a formal function; nowadays, my husband can insert two arms up to his biceps on the back of said gown while I wear it, and it still doesn’t fit right; so much for that!

Never, ever settle for what you can find if what you can find isn’t what you like. Ill-fitting garments that are too short, too tight, too baggy, or too ugly, belong somewhere else -sometimes even the bin-, but never on you. If you go to a costume provider and they insist you take something that you don’t like, politely decline. Don’t settle for a folk-style garment if you were after a cabaret style, or be talked into a 2 piece outfit if you feel awkward showing off your tummy, or if the cut isn’t working for you. Try to negotiate a made to measure garment, if you have the option, or else look elsewhere, but when buying, buy only what you want, and don’t settle for peer pressure, because you will hate yourself for it afterwards, and your wallet will wail in agony too. You deserve the best you can afford, in a shape and cut that flatters you and shows you off in the best light.


Fustan Raqs in red, part 3: the dress

There are several ways you can approach the shift part of a dress for a project like this. By far, the easiest is by starting with a full pattern that you’ve adapted to skim your body. This is important. There’s nothing worse than looking like an overstuffed sausage when you should feel comfortable and self-assured.

Fustan Raqs in Red

Cabaret dress, full body

I made the pattern for this dress from a bustier from Vogue, adapting it to my exact measurements then extending it downwards. My first attempt with the pattern resulted in a cute 6-pieces A-line black jerset dress with vague industrial leanings, for going to concerts. It has a straight cleavage and looks a lot like a pinafore, but it’s light and comfortable and, in extremely stuffy environments like clubs and concert arenas, works a treat. You can read how I created this pattern in this post.

My second attempt consolidated the 6 pieces into 3 (one front, two back), and resulted in my black and silver fustan raqs shown in the flouncy sleeves post. My third attempt was this dress, and the fourth has been turned into a vaguely 50s style off the shoulder dress again in black cotton jersey. So it’s well worth investing the time to get the pattern right, as you can use it for several things, and the more you use it and refine it, the better (and easier) it will be to put together a great costume or outfit. For this one, I also wanted a bit more of a siren shape, so when drafting I made the sides of front and back flare starting above the kee, and added a semi-circle of fabric starting right under the end of the zipper (end of my bum) to increase the siren effect.

The foiled fabric proved to be a total nightmare to sew with the straight stitch machine, and I ended doing most of the work on it on the overlocker, simply because it wasn’t bunching and making holes in the fabric every other stitch. Let this be a lesson to you: when working with vynils or knits, ALWAYS USE THE RIGHT TYPE OF NEEDLE (I was) and ALWAYS MAKE SURE THAT YOUR TENSION IS RIGHT (I did). And if that fails, try using a different bobbin; sometimes the tension on the bobbin itself isn’t right, be it because it went wrong during manufacturing, or because you’ve been sewing by hand a lot and rewound the bobbin yourself and ended with uneven tension on it. So another lesson to keep in mind: always have a separate bobbin to sew by hand, if you can. Needless to say, my problem ended being a rogue bobbin, and once sorted, it was much easier to deal with.

Also, when working with foiled fabrics, which are rather popular for costumes at the moment, remember that the foil effect can get easily damaged if you stitch it too much, or poke and prod at it. Like vinyl or leather, the more you prod it, the weaker it becomes, so keep that in mind when working with it and try to keep pins to a minimum.

Assembling the dress was done pretty quick, adding the bra was the tricky part but that always is. All I can recommend if you don’t have a dress form to help you with this stage is to either find someone you trust to help you pin both of them together while you’re wearing them, or to do what I did and go for a stuffed cushion to double as your torso. The cushion has the advantage that you can pin the fabric to it and it won’t complain, and this can make it easier to assemble both parts. I also added more gross-grain ribbon along the top’s inside to prevent the fabric from stretching and dropping, and to help with the overall structural integrity.

Fustan Raqs Bra decoration

Close up of the decoration of the red fustan raqs

To set up the decoration, it helps if you’ve got an idea of what you want to achieve. I knew straight away before even starting that I wanted something scroll-like and asymmetrical, so I looked around for potential sources, then I did a mock up in Photoshop first, then laid the dress down with the pillows behind it and tried arranging the parts I had until I got something I was pleased with. As you can see by the picture, while the decorations are fairly monochrome, there’s plenty of different pieces: the black and silver applique, tear-shaped faceted AB crystals, round AB crystals on settings, tear-shaped faceted smoke crystals, flower-shaped metallic silver beads and even the odd seed bead to anchor flowers that don’t have the tassels.

I added the decorations without a backing on the bra, as there were several thick layers already there. For the dress itself, I used a layer of medium interfacing on the inside for the appliques, double layered when I was creating the crystal flowers. The tassels have a small square of interfacing folded in 4, I knot all three threads of the tassels to it, then finish it all off with a point of fabric-friendly glue to keep the knots tight. I’ve used this method for both fustan raqs I’ve done so far and I haven’t had any tassel  falling off the fabric, after several uses, so I suspect I must be doing something right! Trim the interfacing on the inside after you’re done.

Red Fustan Raqs body decoration

Close-up of the body decoration, before adding crystal flowers or hip tassels

I’ve also used liberally some flower-shaped beads/sequins which I used to anchor the tassels, I rather liked the effect I got this way. My one main complaint right now is that the crystals I used in settings have all been falling pretty regularly, and I’m wondering whether I wouldn’t have been better off getting bigger sew-on crystals and adding those. I also lament not buying all the silver and black appliques at once as the seller only had a limited amount and apparently won’t be getting any more of them any time soon, so I had to use the few I could get to set up the strong diagonal shape and just compensated the hip area by having plenty of tassels, with some focal points created by flowers made using petal-shaped AB crystals. Eventually I would like to add more silver and black scrolls around the hip area but that won’t happen unless I can find the right pieces again.

Overall this was a fun project, the results were stunning and I got plenty of compliments on the dress.  I did add double-layered flouncy sleeves, with the armband in this fabric, and the flounces made in black and red chiffon. They add a great effect to it. As for the down-sides, when looking at the photos from the events and performances later on I did notice that the halter neck was really causing the back to drop too much, despite the gross-grain ribbon. My only options here are to tighten up the back (not likely) or to change the halter neck into either straight or cross-backed straps, which is what I will be doing.  And I will need to reduce the semi-circle at the back to a quarter or third circle, as the extra flare is a bit too much and gets under your feet when dancing.

Hopefully these are all things I will be able to address before tackling next project.


Two overskirts

In mid-September I am starting ATS Level 1 classes, and I wanted to get an overskirt or hip wrap to replace my coin belt, as I’d need to travel to class via public transport, and coin belts are heavy, adding to an already heavy bag. Also, I wanted something that would cover my bum while travelling, as nearly every pair of trousers I own have a bit of a see-through problem in the area.

I’d seen a few overskirts, and found a really quick and easy tutorial online, so I tried it. DISASTER! Well, not exactly disaster, but as usual, things didn’t *quite* work for my shape. I’d done a full width (1.57m) of my fabric, a simple black cotton stretch jersey, and about 40cm deep. I even made sure I did a bit of stretching on the sides and bottom edges to get a lettuce effect on them. And when I tried it on, the blasted thing was gaping all over and definitely not sitting properly, and to add insult to injury, all the draping fabric was making my already generous hips into the kind of epic-sized bottom that inspired a certain infamous Queen song.

Thankfully, hubby wasn’t around to start singing to me that he was just a skinny lad never knowing good from bad before he met me, so I had a chance to play a bit further, and came to the idea of trying to make one wrap out of just the front. I marked the middle, wrapped it all around, and noticed it was sitting better, so there was still a chance of making something usable. But the top side was gaping, and the back was also gaping, so I needed to shape it all a bit better for my size. This is what I ended with:

Overskirt pattern, style 1

Pattern for overskirt style 1

I added two darts on the back, and a shaped seam on the side to adapt better to the shape of my hips. Made a few strong stitches just at the joining point and presto! overskirt that not only fitted in a more flattering manner, but also interesting, suitable fall on the sides that didn’t make me look like I was wearing a pannier.

So I took the bits I’d learnt worked, and tried the original overskirt design again, this time with modifications: the draping sides would not be longer than 25cms, the back panel would feature the darts to better accommodate the shape of my rear, and the front and back would be held by strong stitching at the top.

The results this time were a lot better, and very soon this overskirt will get its first class workout. Both overskirts have already been tested and approved by the cats, as befits any black cloth in the house, but I’ll test both skirts in class and practice, and if they work as I hope, I’ll try finding more interesting fabric and making another.

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