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

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 one, or how to cover a bra…

My job sometimes finds me with several things up in the air, when I’m waiting for third parties to contact me for whatever reason, and because of that, starting anything new in terms of work would not be a good idea. These are the times when I try to sneak in some sewing.

Today was such a day, and therefore I decided to start my costume for the Littlehampton Carnival, a fustan raqs (evening gown) in red patterned vinyl with black and silver decoration, and black, red, clear and silver beaded tassels. And if it sounds like a handful, it’s because it IS.

I did all the beaded threads ages ago; those will in time become the tassels once they’re grouped. I will no doubt need to  redo a few or add some when adding them, so I will talk about them when I get there. Right now, the first part of my job was to prepare the bra.

Anybody that has seen Egyptian costumes will notice that the bras are pretty much armour-plated. They’re so rigid you can actually knock on them! Me, I am not much of a fan of the look, and since I can’t really find that sort of moulded cup over here without resorting to some creative work with papier mache and balloons, I’ve gone instead for a foam-cup bra that fits me well. Some people advice going for a size bigger; this is because they might add padding on the inside. I am not planning on adding any padding to this one, and all the strength layers will go on the outside, so I’m keeping it simple and for my own size. Still, the cups will get quite a bit of work, and quite some heavy beading/embroidery, so they need reinforcement, and the whole cup needs stabilising. This is why it is a good idea to do this reinforcement with several different materials.

Firstly, assemble your materials. You will need:

  • a bra that fits you well; it’s ok if it’s a touch loose on the cups, but don’t make it too much; it’s also recommended that it has foam shaped cups, and underwires, as they help tremendously with the shape and overall structure of the gown
  • a GOOD thimble with a metal top, or at least a tailor’s thimble; you might want both if you can; DO NOT SKIMP ON THIS, you will thank me; your nails and your fingers will thank me too!
  • good scissors
  • Swedish Pattern Paper or similar, you can also use muslin, or thin fabric, but the paper lets you draw on it far easier.
  • lots of pins
  • gross grain ribbon in two thickness: some about 1″ wide, and some about the witdth of your straps.
  • sharp needle and thread.
  • calico fabric, coutil, denim, canvas… basically a strong, quite rigid fabric that will help your bra keep the shape once you cover it
  • your fashion fabric and an idea of what you want to do with it
Edges with gross grain ribbon

Edges with gross grain ribbon

Most if not all of the work you’ll be doing will be done by hand, so the thimbles are a necessity unless you want to end with very sore fingers. Grab some background noise (I find some pretty series that I don’t mind half-watching), arm yourself with patience, and get going!

Start by removing the straps from the bra, and sewing the attachment points in, to get a smooth finish on each end. Elastic straps on costumes are not a good idea because eventually they DO stretch, and will ruin the effect. You want something that is engineered to sustain a lot of abuse and movement, so you’re better off replacing them. We won’t get back to the straps for a while, but you can throw away the ones you’ve removed, unless you want to keep the hardware for whatever reason.

You first need to stabilise the cups edges by sewing the 1″ gross grain ribbon along the top edges. You should make sure that both edges of the tape are sewn into place, and this is done along the cleavage and the armpit sides. This will prevent wardrobe malfunctions, keeping your bust in check and gaping *just* enough to be enticing, without the risk of it all stretching in the near future and making all your hard work unusable unless you get a pair of implants.

Bra pattern making

Once the first stabilising layer -the gross grain ribbon- is done, you need to create a pattern for the cup with the Swedish paper or muslin. The shape of your pieces will depend a lot on how you’re planning on making it, and the overall shape and size of your breasts. I’ve done a single piece with a dart at the bottom before, but I’ve found that it tends to produce a bit of a conical effect, which, while desireable in some cases, is not what I was after this time.

Bra pattern making close-up

Bra pattern making close-up

I started by cutting a thick long strip of paper that I carefully pinned flat along the top edge. It is highly recommended that you do this pinning in the manner I’ve done it in the photo, using the pins vertically and not horizontally. I then drew the line along which I wanted the bottom two pieces to be. I cut two more big shapeless pieces of paper and proceeded to pin them in place, only caring that they were flushed against the cup, and once both were in place, drawing the edges on each where necessary. This will take time and requires patience, and will probably need adjusting a couple of times, but if you’re using the same model of bra for several projects, only needs to be done ONCE, and it’s worth doing right.

You can see a closeup of it all to the right, and the pieces I obtained below. There’s no right or wrong way of doing this, and the shape of your pieces, and even the quantities, will depend a lot on the shape of the bra, the size of your bust, and the type of stabilising fabric you’re working with.

Bra Pattern pieces

Bra Pattern pieces

Bra Pattern making, fashion fabric pattern

Bra Pattern making, fashion fabric pattern

If you want your fashion fabric to follow the same shape as the base, then you’re done. But as should be patently clear by now, I am a sucker for punishment, so I decided I wanted my bra to have a pretty gathered effect at the centre. This meant that I had to do the pattern process again, except with a single piece of paper this time, making small pleats along the inner edges of the wires. Delightful work, I tell you *sigh*. I then marked the edges as before, removed the pins, cut off the piece along the lines I’d marked, and I had a pattern piece ready.

The rest is pretty much as expected. I cut 2 mirrored pieces of each of my new patterns, remembering to add seam allowance; two cups in the calico, which I serged along the edges by hand then pinned together and machined-sewed. If you’re cutting the same pieces I am, it’s far easier to first sew the two bottom pieces together, then add the long rectangular one. Once you’ve got the two cups, you need to sew them to your bra, making sure while you sew that you are going through all the layers of the bra: foam and gross grain ribbon, or else elastic and wire casing. Be careful when sewing around the wires as it is easy to misjudge and try to put the needed through a wire. Also make sure that you have the thimble in your “pushing” finger, and you use it when pushing the needle through so many layers.

Bra covered

Bra covered


Once I’d done the stiffening layer, I cut two mirrored versions of the gathered pattern piece from the fashion fabric, and attached them to the cups. This time, I made sure that the excess fabric was turned towards the inner side of the bra, to cover the edges of it too.

I decided to make this a halter-neck, to leave my back free. So I cut two strips of the thinner gross-grain ribbon and wrapped them with the fashion fabric, then put through the sewing machine with straight stich along the seam, and along the other side of the strap to stabilise the cover and prevent it from twisting or bunching. After this, I attached each strap to the top of the cups, and ideally I will be adding a hook and slide to them once I get closer to the final stage.

This will have the decoration added once the rest of the dress is assembled and both parts are together. But the process I described above is perfectly suitable to use for creating a bra for a bedlah or for a different kind of costume. I’ve done this process before for the bra for my tribal/gypsy/ghawazee costume, so I will be adding notes on what else needs to be done when discussing them.

Tomorrow, I cut the dress and hopefully will assemble it!

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