Inspiration: Shabnam and Mandanah Zills routine

Posting the inspiration post earlier as I nurse a nasty cold, because tomorrow I will be in London watching Dead Can Dance at the Royal Albert Hall, and on Saturday I should be taking part in the local Bonfire Parade.

This is a performance that came recommended by my friend Mandy. Very unique, there’s no music other than what they’re playing, and anybody that does play the zills or has attempted to do so will appreciate just how incredible this really is. Not just for the coordination between zills and dancing, but with each other. I also like that the dancers are at both ends of the spectrum… Mandanah is quite curvy, Shabnam is very lean. But both are amazing, and quite full of personality.

Enjoy!

My costume bunnies are evil, I tell you!

To fully explain this, first I guess I would need to explain what I mean by costume bunnies. Do you ever look at someone’s costume, and go “this would be brilliant, if only…”. Or “I’d love to make something like that for myself, but with x, y, z modifications”. How about “This historical garment looks fantastic, and the silhouette would look so well on me and so suitable for a costume if I did x, y and z”? Or “oh look at that trim, it would be amazing as decoration for a costume”? And its close cousin, of course, which is mostly “look at that fabric! it would be great!”. And there’s the other one, “that costume doesn’t work on you, but if only you could find a piece with these characteristics, it suddenly would, and of course you have already invested in the parts so you should try to get to use them…”

This is what my costume bunnies would look like if you could see them

Each of those is a costume bunny. And I view them as slightly demented, hyperactive and hyper-caffeinated, with big pointy teeth or claws that they hook on your poor brain and won’t let go until you do “something about it”. They demand your attention. They want you to focus on them, and they will chase you and haunt you until you deal with them somehow. They don’t sleep (why would they when there’s so much to do!) so why should you? Sometimes you can appease them by getting fabric for the project they want. Sometimes you can do it by sketching your ideas. But nothing works to exorcise them, other than fully finishing that particular costume, and even then, sometimes they are not pleased with the results -or they’ve strayed too much from the original idea- so they will keep haunting you until you do it again. And again.

Anyway, all of this is to say that my costume bunnies have been working overtime, and seem to be of a particularly evil inclination of late. “Look at that lovely trim, wouldn’t it be great for L’s costume”… that’s how it started this time. Even with some concern for someone else’s costumes, aw. Now with 5 metres of said lovely trim in my stash, and 2 of a similarly lovely trim for L, it went into “you know, that trim would be perfect for that teal ghawazee coat you keep saying you want to make, but never got around to do…” (witness the birth of a costume bunny! PLOP!). And while looking for the right teal fabric, it went straight into “while you’re looking for teal, you need that mesh to finish fixing the turquoise dress you got from S, and now that she’s found those gauntlets, to turn them into flouncy sleeves” (oh there goes another one! PLOP!). Which then turned into “look at that sequin stretched lace, it’s so similar to the one you’d seen in that Eman Zaki dress you drooled over so much, and also Nawarra’s light blue saidi dress you saw last week, and it’s the right colour to replace that circle skirt you bought to go with the Samia pieces by Hanan, that unfortunately makes you look like a giant spinning top; you can make it as an underbust skirt” (PLOP!) that quickly mutated into “let’s make it a full dress for added versatility, even though you will still use the crop top and the belt so no need for fancy decoration” (PLOP! bunny grows a third eye!) which even quicker turned into “Let’s do a full costume with at least some embroidery and edging around the top anyway, because that way of course you’ll have two costumes for the price of one! WIN!” (PLOP! here the bunny grows a second head, both heads look at each other and start laughing maniacally).

And to add insult to injury, when the fabric-procuring method resulted in the more insistent bunnies somewhat appeased, then the first one decided to split, and add “you know, you could do a nice choli top with the remaining teal fabric if it’s stretch velour, you have the pattern for that don’t you” (PLOP!) followed by “you’ll have leftover trim and both your existing and upcoming tribal bras are black, why not do a teal one too? it would contrast so nicely with your black pants and shawl” (PLOP!) followed by “but that also means you need to start thinking again about making those three different style of pants, and maybe that all-black and all-white skirts” (PLOP! PLOP! PLOP!)

Current result:
– plum lace and mesh ordered to create that “simple, one afternoon project” dress to use with the Samia pieces I’ve got; these better work or else I am going to be VERY disappointed
– mesh ordered to add the sleeves and finish mods on the turquoise costume, getting ready for the work I intend to do over the proper winter, which includes re-threading all the tassels, and remaking the edging
– several options being weighted for acquisition of the teal velvet I need
– choli top and teal belt/bra options being weighted on, but realistically pushed back into the bunny pen for the time being; skirt and pants bunnies have been moved back to “to do after new projects are done”

This is *exactly* what it feels like in my brain when the issue of creating costumes come to mind. Right now, the bunnies are biting hard and won’t let go, and nothing short of blood sacrifice will appease the most insistent.

And then people ask me why sometimes I have trouble sleeping *sigh*

Note: the Evil Bunny picture is used with permission from its author, Santani; he makes cute, creepy and utterly wonderful dolls for sale.

Shimmy in the City: Fashion review

Khaled at Shimmy in the City

Khaled at Shimmy in the City

It’s been nearly a month with a lot happening, so I haven’t had much of a chance to write the Shimmy in the City posts aside from the review of Khaled’s Workshop, which I wanted to do as soon as possible while everything was still fresh.

There were two primary sources of belly dance wear eyecandy during the show: one was from the people at the souk, and the other from the performers. The souk comprised Farida Dance (also hosting Eman Zaki), Maayam’s Brighton Orient, and Aladdin’s Cave. There was, supposedly, another stall selling costumes, but I couldn’t find it at all.

Aladdin’s Cave appeared to sell mostly class wear and practice; Farida and Brighton had lots of items both suitable for performance and troupes. Sadly, although not coming as a surprise, there was little available for plus sizes. For plus sizes, Farida had Hanan’s galabayas and Samia sets, and Maayam had the troupe sets and skirts. I saw beautiful pieces on both stalls, though, and my favourite costume of the whole evening was a black lace and power mesh raqs fustan by Eman Zaki, quite similar in style to the white one I posted as inspiration some time ago. It was rather restrained, the beading was done discretely in black over the lace design, with some crystals here and there, and it was extremely pretty. It could have easily passed for a standard evening gown, which is what caught my eye most, I guess. It had ruched cups, skimmed the body with a tulip skirt that opened at the knee, had asymmetrical flowers embroidered along the bodice, with some lace draped almost in waterfall fashion around this decoration, transparent halter neck, and detachable sleeves. And you have no idea of how many times I stopped myself from walking to Eman Zaki and asking her to make myself something as lovely and elegant.

My second favourite costume was another raqs fustan, this time from Brighton Orient, done almost entirely in power mesh, alternating hot pink and black, with, again, asymmetrical decoration that was also present in the fabric. The embroidery work on this one was far closer to the standard beading that we see more often, but it was a very striking costume nonetheless, where the impact was created by the cut of the fabrics instead of relying on an extra sparkly base material. I was also quite intrigued by seeing that a material that was so far mostly used for cut-outs was suddenly used as a main material.

Poking around, I also noticed that quite a few of Eman Zaki’s own designs were using simpler fabrics, with less shine, and at least a couple of hers were also using powermesh instead of the lycra or foiled jerseys that are so common. I have to say I sort of welcome this. Powermesh stretches, holds you in, it is quite breathable, and allows that peek-a-boo look -or showing off that difficult tummy flutter- without exposing your flesh. It also doesn’t pile like some lycras can do, or crack and peel like foils do sooner or later. I also saw a costume on sale at a later event with a similar approach: stretch lace over power mesh. I am now intrigued and very willing to give the combination a try, as the lace does work well with my goth sensibility.

As for the performances costumes, it’s easier to go and take a look at the DVD advertisement on YouTube, as it will show nearly every single one of them. I’m including the trailer below, so you can all watch without leaving the comfort of my website (teehee!).

I think the one that wowed everybody, including every fashion/costume buff that I’ve shown the trailer to, was Dina’s white costume, another good example of powermesh put through its paces. But reviewing the previous ones, Aziza’s looked very much classic cabaret style; they were nice and worked well for her style and body type, but didn’t provoke the “wow, I need to see how that was made!” or “I need to make myself one of those” reaction. Elena’s costume during the sha’abi was cute. The Anhar Troupe costumes with the little pants and the skirts draped over worked for them (and Dina too, she had something similar as her second costume change) but I think it’s a kind of look that any plus size should avoid, mainly because the drapey front draws attention to the stomach and would even look a bit like the stomach is causing the drape, and we all know that’s a part we’re rather minimise and a “hanging over” look doesn’t suit us. Charlotte’s and Orit’s second costumes were wonderful, and this comes from someone that usually despises animal print! The cut-outs on the sides in Charlotte’s costume emphasised her hourglass figure, And the same should be said for Orit’s, the 6-piece cut with princess seams is ideal to help streamline the figure. Katharina’s black costume I thought was fantastic, matching the tone of the piece. Orit’s first orange costume was another lovely one that would work brilliantly for a plus size, and I particularly like the skirt with the high waist with the front dip, and the flounces around the inserts that drew the eye down.

Which leads us to Dina. As I said above, her white costume was my favourite of the whole evening. It was a full nude body stocking, with support cups and a deep neckline along the front, with crystal patterns attached all over the legs and bodice, and the 2 pieces white skirt attached at the hips. It almost gave the impression that she only had the white skirt and that the crystals were glued to her skin, and in that respect it was very effective and sensual. Her second costume had the drapey back and little pants that I’ve mentioned above; it appears that drapes are “in” replacing tassels, beads and other flouncy items, and while I can see where that could work, again I’ll have to suggest care for any plus size wanting to attempt this. Dina’s third costume was orange and gold, again with no tassels or bead drops, and to be honest I didn’t care too much for it. Her fourth costume was nearly all powermesh and stretch lace, but unlike the examples I’d seen at the souk, this had no lining. The decoration was created mostly through clever cutting of different pieces and fabrics to create “seam lines” draping around her figure, but if I have to be honest, while she can pull it off, I don’t think many other people could, and I would strongly advice against using this style of costume within a more “normal” environment of, say, dancing at a restaurant (a hafla, for other dancers, would be a different story). We could clearly see her little pants and the outline of the flesh-toned extremely short modesty skirt underneath it, and I think it comes a bit too close to wearing the equivalent of a negligee, which might make non-dancers get entirely the wrong ideas, and we all know we get those often enough as it is anyway; this was, for me, just the wrong side of being too skimpy. Again, this was Dina, dancing for other dancers, so she could get away with wearing it, but if anybody has any ideas about getting this done for typical events, I would suggest they think twice before doing so.

I have avoided talking about the mens’ outfits mostly because I am looking at the costumes as source of inspiration for my own and others’, and I’m expecting -rightly or wrongly- most of the readers to be female, as the typical search engine incoming links tend to be for the making of the red dress and covering up the bra, neither of which suggests male costumes. I will say, however, that I found I am not terribly keen on the cropped-top styles for the boys. I understand the idea behind its adoption, but I don’t like what it does for the male silhouette. I am not sure what the best solution for this would be, though, but I do understand this is a personal preference, so I’d rather avoid commenting.

In any case, you have the trailer below: watch it, and make up your own mind! And if you like it, order the DVD from the Shimmy in the City website, it was a wonderful show and you won’t be disappointed!

Inspiration: The Hidden Sister

I was shown this video ages ago. It’s a little short with a hint of the metaphysical (there’s a very clear attempt at presenting the 5 elements doctrine popular in some branches of Paganism), but it is very creatively set up and filmed, the costuming and make-up are GORGEOUS, and even better, has Sera Solstice dancing as the “Spirit” element. It was my first view of her, and I liked her so much that it prompted me to found out more, look for performances and DVDs. And I am so glad I did!

You can watch the video below, but truly, I suggest you head over to youTube and watch it in HD.

Zills and Zill mufflers

It’s been quite a white since I posted a “making of”, mostly because I’ve been running around doing headless chicken impressions. Between the beginning of September and now I’ve attended 3 workshops, 2 haflas, one show, started ATS classes on top of my standard ones, and also took over the beginner’s classes from Val for her 3 weeks of holidays. I have hardly had any time to breath, to be honest, and whatever free time I had, was also spent trying to recover, and making a couple of little accessories and extras.

One of the things that became painfully obvious after the third ATS class was that my beloved zills were not up to scratch. They have a great sound, but they have a single point of attachment, which, when used in the way we are being taught, leaves them likely to start wagging around like the tail of a dog with a juicy bone. Or one of my cats when they’re angry. At the speed we’re playing in class, this is unacceptable, and I spent quite a bit of time re-aligning my zills. This spelled it quite loud and clear for me: time for a new set.

New Saroyan German Silver Zills

New Saroyan German Silver Zills

I’d seen some lovely zills at Shimmy in the City, although back then my eyes had obviously gone to the bigger, heavier and more expensive set. I liked the middle range too but for some reason or other (probably just being overwhelmed, and pinning too much after one of Eman Zaki’s costumes) I didn’t get them. So, one online purchase and about a day later, I received my Saroyan Arabesque (german silver) zills in the post, from Aladdin’s Cave. The transaction went smoothly, even though the cart gave a couple of buckles as it was difficult to remove extra pieces added by mistake. The customer service was great, everything was dispatched ultra fast too. The new zills are lovely, they have a beautiful ring to them, and they are also slightly different in shape to the ones I had… a bit wider, a touch thinner, so the mufflers I’d made for the others were not working right. I’ve also discovered that I would like some muffling but not too much, so the thick mufflers I’d made before would not work for me.

Most people would get some baby socks and be done. Me? I wanted CROCHETED LACE (did I mention I like to make life difficult for myself? Thought so). I’d had a couple of tiny 2mm crochet hooks for a while and thought this would be a perfect project for testing things out. And I used Gutterman’s extra strong thread as my knitting thread, for added lunacy.

I will write two sets of instructions. One of them is for a thick muffler, I’ve made some for the whole troupe before, while watching a full season of True Blood (that was my excuse, the cramping nearly preventing me from doing anything with my hands for two days afterwards; I do not recommend doing that many!). The second is for the lacier, thinner mufflers. The thickness of the muffler will regulate how much of the sound actually gets killed; if you want to minimise disturbances to neighbours, pets or SOs, you might want to go with thicker style; otherwise, go with the thinner ones. The lace work is far more difficult, but the results are mufflers that allow you to still hear the ringing (therefore ensuring your technique remains good) while reducing the sound. Also, these instructions are quite rough, as I learnt to crochet a long time ago in a country far away, and all the terminology I learnt was in Spanish, so while I can try to translate as well as I can, it is possible that some of my terms are not the same as those in use by others.

For the thicker version:
I’ve made these in cotton thread, and also with Sirdar Firefly, which has given wonderful colours.
Start with 6 chains, join with a slip stitch
Do two chains to get the height, then two more chains, *double crochet picking the thread from inside the circle, two chains*. Repeat ** 5 times (or until it goes all the way round and stays flat; this will change depending on the thread you’re using); join beginning and end of the row with a slip stitch.
Do two chains to get the height, one chain for advancing, then *double crochet, two chains, double crochet* and repeat ** 5 times; you should have a 2xdouble crochet group above each little “arch” made below; join beginning and end of the row with a slip stitch.
Two chains to get the height, then two more chains, then *one double crochet, two chains* and repeat; they should come one hooked from within each arch, and one from in between each group of 2xdouble crochets from the row below. Once you’re finished, join beginning and end of the row with a slip stitch.
Slip-stitch until you’re in the middle of one of the arches on the row below, then two chains for height, one more, then *double crochet, two chains, double crochet*; each 2xdouble crochet should hook from the top of each arch from the row below. Repeat until you’ve done the full row, join beginning and end of the row with a slip stitch.

Once you get to this stage, take your zills and measure. You should have a fairly flat disc, although it might not be fully flat; just make sure it’s not curling like fluffy undies or like a ball. If your zills are smaller or just the size of the disc, you can start reducing; otherwise you might need a new row, do this with a double crochet, double chain, all around, hooking each double crochet either in the arch from the row below, or in between the 2xdouble crochet groups. Otherwise, if you’re at the right size, continue below…

Split stitch until you get to the middle of the first arch from the row below. Double chain, then two more, then double crochet, double chain, hooking each double crochet in the arch below. Repeat until you’ve done the full row, join the third chain from the beginning with the end of the row with a slip stitch.
Split stitch until you get to the middle of the first arch from the row below. Double chain, then one more, then double crochet, single chain, hooking each double crochet in the arch below. Repeat until you’ve done the full row, join beginning and end of the row with a slip stitch.

By now you should have two rows that are diminishing inwards, and something that will look roughly like a beret for an artistic French squirrel. Without cutting or knotting, test on your zills. If they work fine (hopefully they will) cut the thread, knot, then thread the excess in between the crochetting to secure it.

Repeat for the other muffler, put together and enjoy practicing without waking up your neighbours!

Thick Zill Mufflers

Thick Zill Mufflers, made with Sirdar Firefly yarn


For the lacy mufflers:
Be prepared to work a lot harder, as knitting with such fine thread is not easy, and the thread curls on itself and knots a lot more than normal.
Basically the procedure is the same, except that instead of starting with 6 chains, you’ll probably need around 15, and you’ll be using triple crochets all around; if you want an even lighter muffling effect, use quadruple crochets, but adjust the rest of the knitting to take account for this.

Start with 16 chains, join with a slip stitch
Do four chains to get the height, then three more chains, *tripple crochet picking the thread from inside the circle, three chains*. Repeat ** 7 times (or until it goes all the way round and stays flat; this will change depending on the thread you’re using); join beginning and end of the row with a slip stitch.
Slip stitch until you reach the middle of the arch below. Do three chains to get the height, one chain for advancing, then *triple crochet, three chains, triple crochet* and repeat ** 7 times; you should have a 2xtriple crochet group above each little “arch” made below; join beginning and end of the row with a slip stitch.
Three chains to get the height, then three more chains, then *one triple crochet, three chains* and repeat; they should come one hooked from within each arch, and one from in between each group of 2xtriple crochets from the row below. Once you’re finished, join beginning and end of the row with a slip stitch.
Slip-stitch until you’re in the middle of one of the arches on the row below, then three chains for height, three more, then *triple crochet, five chains, triple crochet, three chains*; each triple crochet-three chains-triple crochet group should hook from the top of each arch from the row below. Repeat until you’ve done the full row, join beginning and end of the row with a slip stitch.
Slip stitch until you reach the middle of the arch below. Do three chains to get the height, three chains for advancing, then *triple crochet, three chains* and repeat **; you should have a triple crochet above each little “arch” made below; join beginning and end of the row with a slip stitch.

As with the thicker version, once you get to this stage, take your zills and measure. You should have a fairly flat disc, although it might not be fully flat; just make sure it’s not curling like fluffy undies or like a ball. If your zills are smaller or just the size of the disc, you can start reducing; otherwise you might need a new row, do this with a triple crochet, five chains, all around, hooking each triple crochet either in the arch from the row below. Otherwise, if you’re at the right size, continue below…

Slip stitch until you reach the middle of the arch below. Do three chains to get the height, two chains for advancing, then *triple crochet, two chains* and repeat **; you should have a triple crochet above each little “arch” made below; join beginning and end of the row with a slip stitch.
Slip stitch until you reach the middle of the arch below. Do three chains to get the height, one chain for advancing, then *triple crochet, one chains* and repeat **; you should have a triple crochet above each little “arch” made below; join beginning and end of the row with a slip stitch.

Again, by now you should have yet another beret-for-cute-critter-wannabe. Test on your zills, it should be TIGHT as this thread doesn’t stretch as most standard knitting thread does; if everything works, knot the thread, cut, thread in between the previously knitted pieces, and make another.

If all works correctly, you should have something as below. Enjoy!

Lacey Crochetted Zill Mufflers

Lacey Crochetted Zill Mufflers

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