Inspiration: Cabaret costume in red lace

Alena Saruskaya's red lace cabaret costume

Alena Saruskaya’s red lace cabaret costume

Some time ago I shared a gorgeous white lace costume, talking about how well suited to the dancer’s figure it looked. When I saw this one I thought the model and style looked familiar. Turns out they are both made by the same designer, a Russian lady called Alena Sadurskaya.

I’d just like, if possible, to send it to all those costume peddlers that can only seem to suggest galabayas for plus sizes, as a poster, with a sign that reads “THIS IS HOW YOU DESIGN A CABARET COSTUME FOR PLUS SIZES”

Go visit her Facebook page and start drooling

Inspiration: Cabaret costume in white

Quite often when I’ve looked for cabaret costumes, I keep being told, over and over, a variation of “why don’t you try a galabaya” closely followed by “we have these student sets that might come in your size”. Sorry, but no, I’ve already got galabayas, I use them for performing specific dances; for a generic party night or a hafla, I prefer a cabaret costume. Which, apparently, some people think is impossible to get onto a plus size and make it cute.

Well, this is exactly how you do it!
What I like about this dress: it fits the model perfectly; it’s obviously been done to flatter her shape, it doesn’t tighten unnecessarily, there are no bulges created by a bad cut, pattern or making. She’s obviously pear shaped and has generous hips, and the decoration takes away from this by emphasizing her breasts and putting a subtle, elongating decoration on the body; the skirt doesn’t just restrict itself to cinch the legs but skims over them and leaves enough to hint at the full hips, which, in turn, minimises the thighs. The back is cut quite low but there’s a thick band that covers the bra support, thick enough to avoid it poking out (as I’ve seen at least 3 plus size costumes do when there are construction issues), and the peek-a-boo back makes it really sexy. The shrug covers the arms but appears to be a separate part to remove if needed, and frankly, stylises the arms and draw attention to her lovely hands.

This costume is a thing of beauty, and I’d *love* to know who made it.

EDITED TO ADD: I’ve found the designer. It’s a Russian designer called Alena Sadurskaya, and you can see more photos of this particular costume on her FB page here:

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

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.


Fustan Raqs in Red, part two: Eyecandy!

Fustan Raqs in Red

Cabaret dress, full body

This is the (nearly) finished dress.  And I know I skipped the making part; that I’ve covered elsewhere! However, I was excited about the photos taken today, and wanted to post them.

The interesting thing you can notice in this photo is the duochrome quality of the fabric: the left edge, despite being hit by the light, shows darker, and the front, at an oppossing angle, looks instead bright red. This isn’t a trick of the light, but has to do with the foiled effect on the fabric.

I want to add lettuce-edged sleeves to it, in the same manner that I did for the black cabaret dress, but that’s not an immediate concern. The cabaret dress has been made initially for a specific parade and will be paired with red organza Isis wings, so the sleeves won’t be necessary at this time. When I do, I will probably used red-foiled black power mesh for the flounces so they match the fabric tones better.

The costume is made of around 4 metres of foiled stretch fabric, 2 1/2 pairs of sew-on embroidered silver and black appliques, assorted faceted sew-on resin stones, and 33 beaded tassels.  The tassels use Czech seed beads and faceted crystals, silver bead caps, and resin briolettes.

Coming up, close up of the beaded tassels and sewing and decorating the dress!

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