Tribal bra and belt: the belt, part 1

Tribal Belt, almost finished

Tribal Belt, almost finished

Making a belt is not difficult, but it is time consuming. And no matter the shape or style, tribal or cabaret, the process is going to be quite similar. This step by step -or as close as I can make- will cover a tribal belt, but feel free to apply it to a cabaret set if that’s what you’re trying to make.

What you will need, will vary on the style, but there are some basics:

  • a general shape, which you will obtain from your own body (I’ll explain how, don’t worry)
  • a sturdy, non-stretch thick fabric to act as the base for your belt: I’ve used denim, some people prefer to use really thick interfacing, but I couldn’t find the type around here; if I did, I would probably use both
  • a fashion fabric or two: these are going to be the fabric(s) visible on your belt
  • a lining fabric: preferably NOT satin, polyester or any slippery or stretchy fabric; you want your belt to stay on you, not to slide to the floor! or equally bad, for the lining to stretch and sag and be visible
  • your decorations: these will depend, again, on what style you are doing, and could be anything: sari trim, ribbons, buttons, crystals, tassels… if you’re doing a bra/belt set (ideally) these would match
  • if you’re using lacing for tightening the belt, grommets and washers, and if you are smart and want to preserve your sanity and hands, an awl (for making the holes) and a tool for putting these in
  • also mostly if you’re using lacing, or really heavy decorations, thick cable ties to act as boning might come handy; I mean it
  • bias tape to act as your boning channels
  • some flexible, cheap material to obtain your basic hip shape; Swedish traceable pattern paper would be ideal, but you could use non-stretchable fabric, or even newspaper in a pinch
  • someone willing to mould the pattern around you, that will be able to resist the temptation of turning your bum into a pin cushion just for the fun of it

Your first step should be to grab pen and paper, and decide what style of belt you’re making, ideally also depending on what shape would suit your body better. Draw this as best as you can, as you will need to give this to the person moulding the paper around you to “trace” onto your body. Remember that straight belts are not a good idea for pear figures, and that the “under the belly” look is not flattering either, but that the curve of your belly might mean you need to be very careful about positioning the belt.

Cut a wide length of paper: it should be able to go easily around your body with length to spare, and be wide enough to be able to contain the shape you desire for the belt. Give this, and a bunch of pins to your friend, along with your drawing, and now stay very quiet while they wrap this around your body and start pinning it and making darts to shape it as necessary. Make sure the shape is absolutely correct, and a teensy bit tight, but not overly so. Also make sure that there are no muffin tops or the like.

The shape and number of darts and cut-outs will depend a lot on your own body shape and chosen belt shape, but normally you will get a couple of darts over the hip “dimples”, and maybe some extra shaping over the hips. Once you’ve got this original shape, make sure both are symmetrical (it will make your life easier unless your body is *really* asymmetrical), fold in two and obtain a copy by tracing this with more Swedish paper, then cut this new part(s). For my belt, I joined both darts and compensated with the curve at the bottom, your experience might be different depending on your body shape.

Remember that original design you had? Now it’s the time to bring it out again, and remember whether you’d decided to fasten it with hooks and slides, or laces, and if necessary, chop the parts further accordingly. If you’re going with laces, remember to leave about one inch between the pieces (and to remove this inch from the actual pieces to avoid adding length) so the laces can show up properly, and to leave room for tightening. If you’re going with hooks and slides, you will need to add some extra fabric to overlap. Apologies about the vague instructions here, but what you do and how depends a LOT on your design: are there one or two (or more) lacing points? If using hook and slides, are you fastening at the back or one of the sides? what shape does the belt have at the fastening point? What I will suggest, however, is that if you’re using hook and slide, just make a single continuous piece and have just the one fastening point (although you’ll probably need 2-3 slides vertically) or a double locking set to provide more stability.

If you’re using base fabric, now it’s time to cut it, on the fold, symmetrical; add seam allowance if you’re sewing front and back pieces together, and remember to add extra overlapping fabric if you’re doing hook and eye closing; if you’re using laces you might not need these. Serge the edges of the foundation fabric, to prevent fraying. Cut the same pieces on the fashion fabric, but with an extra 1/2″ around it all for seam allowance; serge these edges too, again, to prevent fraying. This will make your life a lot easier, particularly if you’re working with jacquard or brocade-style fabrics.

And once you get to this stage, this is how it should look. The belt is a 2-piece set, with a V front and a curved back (very traditional Egyptian bedlah in shape) but with a tribal sensibility, and with laces on each side of the piece. Shown in the photo is just the back piece. What’s left to do, at this stage: pin and sew the edges around the foundation fabric, add eyelets, add decoration, add boning, add lining. Some of which should *not* be done in that particular order, but live and learn, right? Right.

Continue onto part 2

Tribal Belt, innards

Support fabric and fashion fabric, serged

Inspiration: Lulu Sabongi

I’ve got some *serious* costume envy going on. Her costume is not that dissimilar from the white one that Dina wore at Shimmy in the city, but it looks somehow a bit more modest and suitable for older or larger ladies, surprisingly so for something that’s pretty much mesh, chiffon and strategically placed rhinestones. Probably because of the smaller dips on both front and back, and the sleeves. Those sleeves, by the way, appear to be a completely separate piece made with power mesh and crystals, and I’ve been lusting after them for quite a while! As soon as I can hack a working pattern for them I’ll post them here, as I can see plenty of possible uses for such a piece.

Fit and Quality, what to look for

I’ve written about finding the right fit before, but I was meaning to write something in more depth about what to look for in terms of corner cutting or quality. The issues I found with the 25-yard skirt have brought those things back (like having half the seams unfinished) and I reckoned it was time to revisit that.

Luckily, someone has written something very close to what I had in mind, saving me the work, and thoughtfully titling it Modern Clothing Manufacturers are Skimping on Quality. It IS about modern styles, although most of what is said there can easily be applied to any other style of clothing, and yes, that includes belly dancing costumes.

Go read it, seriously. You’ll thank me for it! At least until your next time going shopping, at which point you will realise that now you barely want to buy anything.
You’re welcome!

Review: Tribal Skirt from Sai International

A while ago, while talking to a friend, I told her that making your own tribal bra was a bit of a rite of passage. I was making it up (sort of), but getting a 25 yard skirt is DEFINITELY something you need to do at some point or other. Of course, if you’re on the curvier side, you might find this difficult.

I have mentioned elsewhere how you can make one. Yes, that’s 12 metres, so about half the 25 yards touted as “standard”. You need a HUGE amount of fabric for making these, and while they’re easy to make, if you want something like a dip-die edge, you’re out of luck unless you want a LOT of extra work, which most of us can’t put in (or don’t have the facilities to do).

25-yard SkirtMost local places have told me they were selling skirts, but none had anything I could pick and be certain that it would fit me right. So I turned to eBay to see if anybody was offering bigger sizes there. Turns out they weren’t, but a few inquiries did find me an indian manufacturer called Sai International more than willing to do it, for a price that was about £10 more than buying the amount of fabric my calculations told me I would need to make one. Sounded like a match made in heaven… almost. And today, after merely a couple of weeks, the skirt arrived.

The good:

  • prompt and clear communication: they got back to me within hours, if they were away, they told me they would be
  • clear explanation and requests: fundamental if you’re doing something for someone else
  • reasonably priced: about 1/3rd below the amount I would have been charged for an american standard skirt (without the extra charge for customisation for bigger sizes, and of course without the hideous shipping fees!); around the same as one bought locally, but again, no chance at customisation…I think overall, with shipping, it was about £38.
  • Shipping was FAST, via DHL… it left India on Friday and was here on Monday, and shipping charges were very reasonable (£3.50 or so)
  • decent but lightweight fabric: it’s a nice cotton, without being that horrible light cheesecloth that starts opening at the seams after two washes, and which we see often on summer clothing
  • the red dip-dyed colour is lovely; the black could be stronger, but I understand that with the procedures used, it’s far more difficult to get a deep black colour

The bad:

  • for all the “made to measure” requirements, apparently they forgot to increase the size of the underskirt accordingly, so while it does have a bigger waist, the underskirt was made for a much smaller person than me, and sits TIGHT… I can’t understand why you’d make this piece as a straight tube the size of the waist… anybody wanting these for their waist, or with a bigger bum than their upper hip measurement would have issues… And this on a garment advertised for DANCING, which should mean they should allow for a range of movement. This means I’ll have to either open it up fully, or remove it completely and trust that a second underlying skirt and pantaloons will give me enough of a modesty cover
  • the 25 yards are at the bottom, apparently (I haven’t measured) but the upper tiers haven’t really been scaled and are rather smaller than what I was expecting giving the 25 yards at the bottom the feel of… a flounce. The dip dye line in that photo is 1-third up the next tier, if that gives you a better idea of depth. This is particularly puzzling as the actual tier is about 1cm less than on my own monsterskirt, but for some reason it feels like it is far less
  • linked with the above, the top tier doesn’t *quite* flow as well as it could, so no skirts whirling all the way to the top for me, at least not with this one
  • worringly, half the seams on the skirt were not finished: some edges were overlocked to prevent fraying, but half of them aren’t; the same goes for the inside seam on the underskirt; yes, there are double straight-stitched seams on these, but I am still not happy with the lack of finishing of the seam edges
  • and finally, more importantly and most annoying of all… the hem was very uneven

Gypsy CostumeI’ve discussed the uneven hems in the past, I know this is a risk for fuller figures, and I have encountered it myself on nearly every single skirt that I’ve ever worn except those that I made myself to counteract for it. So this was expected. What I wasn’t expecting was that it would be SO noticeable. The monsterskirt, with its sari third tier, shows any unevenness VERY clearly, and lowly me, with little experience doing a skirt before, managed to make a 12-metre one that, when I have taken the time to arrange it properly, is STRAIGHT. You can see this clearly in the photo, where the edge is even at about 1″ from the floor. My new dip-dyed skirt hitches at the sides, and I’m not sure about the back because the fullness covers it, but I’m pretty sure the front is longer. And it’s also rather short for my liking. Granted, these issues are not deal-breakers if you’re using your skirts wrapped or hitched, they don’t matter, but me? I’d rather start from a flawless point, and not have to rely on hacks to mask the issues.

I’ve found that, side by side, my 12 metre skirt doesn’t appear to be substantially smaller or less full than the new 25-yarder. So, to sum it up, what have we learnt today?

  • beware of postal made to measure
  • I should really, REALLY, go for a circle top tier next time, as it’s less bulk and more “flow”
  • I should also really, REALLY, make the next one myself; I’ll have close to zero choice of colours, but it will fit exactly right

Overall, I am a bit disappointed as I expected a bit more, but if you don’t tend to have problems with skirts off-the-peg, or for wrapping around, at the price these skirts are quite decent. I might order another one if I require a very specific colour, as finding suitable fabric for them seems to be difficult, but for the next one, probably an underskirt in cream or white? I’m definitely making my own. And a black one to follow too.

Legal Disclosure: I was not paid for writing this review, nor I received any free service or product in exchange for it.

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