Mermaid skirt in crushed velvet

I’ve been wanting to do one of these since I saw my ATS teacher wearing one for a fusion performance. It was black, thick stretch velvet, totally luscious looking, trailing behind her, and made her look elegant and slinky. It was love at first sight, and I knew I would have to make something like that for myself. In fact, that skirt did give birth to the costume bunny that prompted my explanation on how they act.

There are several patterns in the market, although you could easily make your own. Possible ways of doing this:

  1. Start with the dress pattern you should have made some time ago, measure where you want your waist to sit, chop off above that, then at the bottom, either add semi circles of fabric in between each main piece, or add these as quarter circles to each of the 5 or 6 pieces; this will give you nicer flare but will use a lot more fabric. if you want extra flare, add a quarter or semi-circle connected at the back, on the centre seam just below your buttocks.
  2. Start with the same pattern as above, and where you want the flare to start (around the knees or so) add a two or three semi-circles of fabric, cut as you would do for a circle skirt
  3. Start with the previous example, but start the flare earlier at the front, to have an irregular shape, sort of like an inverted cala lily.
  4. get an existing skirt of yours that you like the fit of, and extract the pattern
  5. use a straight skirt pattern but add flaring on the sides and centre back seam

In every case, you’ll also need a straight piece, about 16cm high and as long as your “waist” circumference (that is, whatever the place where your skirt will sit) plus 1-2 cm for seams allowances.

Whichever pattern will work better for you depends a LOT on your body shape. I’ve gone with option 4, extracting a pattern from a skirt I liked, except that this wasn’t *my* skirt so I needed to adjust to size. I did find a totally luscious wine colour stretch crushed velvet that would be perfect for matching both a Hanan top and belt I’ve got, and some black cherry brocade I’ve got stashed for a fusion belt and bra. The only problem was that there were only 1.8 metres available of the fabric. If you are making your first one, you might want to start with a cheaper fabric, although I strongly suggest you use a type of stretch knit.

Mermaid Skirt Layout

Mermaid Skirt Layout

In the end, I had to adjust the flaring of each of the pieces to be able to fit all 8 pieces onto the length of fabric I had. I also had to be very careful when cutting, as velvet can be notoriously tricky, so I had to make sure the pile run in the correct direction for every piece. This issue with the pile means that velvet can be rather wasteful, as you can’t rearrange fabric to put pieces upside down. I did have to break this rule for the two upper back pieces I used, although those were cut on the bias to allow for better shaping around the bottom. Check out a rough layout on the left and notice that all the pieces are laid in the same direction to deal with the piling, just be aware that it is *not* a pattern, and you won’t be able to obtain one from it. However, it should give you a rough idea of how the pieces should look once laid out on the fabric. Remember you can also cut the pieces a bit smaller as the stretch should counteract this. Just don’t skimp: you’re supposed to be comfortable and fabulous, not look like a sausage.

After that, it was just a question of cutting, pinning, checking fit (turns out that my upsizing of the pattern had resulted in about 20 cms too much fabric around the hips) and sewing. An overlocker is the best for knits and certainly for stretch crushed velvet, although I had to take out my standard machine to add the top. Be aware that the waistband will add stability and keep the shape better, particularly if you do what I did and cut the waistband along the length, where there was, at least on my fabric, far less of a stretch. You can do a rolled hem along the bottom using the overlocker too, this will make it easier for you.

The final skirt does look rather stunning, although I think it needs a bit of a trim along the back still. I have enough fabric in teal to make another, hopefully this time with the full flare, which should match the teal bra I made, and the upcoming matching belt. You can see it below in all its glory, although I will not have a photo of me wearing it until I finish off the matching belt and bra. And on the side, you can see the Hanan belt that will also be in use with this, and of course, you can check out how I did a body stocking to match too.

Wine Mermaid Skirt

Wine Mermaid Skirt

Making a comfort short/body stocking hybrid

How many of us wish we could pair that staple of belly dancer’s wear, the body stocking, with that other staple of the curvy girl’s wardrobe, the comfort shorts? I know I’ve been wanting one ever since realising that every time I wore middrif-baring costume, I kept having layers upon layers of clothes, as most of us will wear the comfort shorts for shaping and avoiding discomfort too, and sometimes, with some of the more lacy costumes, it’s nice to have a bit of modesty around the legs, just in case.

Still, much as it does sound like common sense, I have yet to see anything like this in the market, so each time I was putting on costumes, particularly my ATS styles, I’d need to go with the body stocking, the short leggings, then the pantaloons, then the skirts… Today I made a stretch velvet mermaid skirt to pair with existing (and upcoming) costume pieces, and realised that I needed a stomach cover, and since I had a matching colour power mesh, I decided to experiment.

You will need some stretch cotton, powermesh, and a pattern for leggings that fit you. Failing that, you can use cyclist shorts, leggings -if you don’t mind the length- or even tuck-me-in-pants, although these can often have quite a bit of structural detail that might alter the pants if you cut them, and also, these can be quite expensive and therefore not suitable for experimenting. You will also, ideally, need an overlocker, as you can sew the powermesh with a standard machine, but in that case you will need to reinforce the seams thoroughly and probably use spiral stitch to “wrap” the seam allowances.

Some time ago, I was thinking of doing my own tribal pants, and made a proof of concept cyclist shorts using cotton jersey to try the fit; they were waistless and rather low on the hip, therefore ideal. I won’t go over how I obtained the pattern, as it’s long and complicated and full of potential issues, so I strongly suggest you find a pattern for sports clothing to obtain this. If you don’t happen to have anything this convenient, I would suggest picking a cheap pair of cyclist leggings from your favourite shop or even supermarket. The top on these normally comes up to the waist, so you will be chopping it off. To make sure you don’t make a booboo, put them on and have a friend mark around your body a bit below the level where your usually wear your belts, so there’s no accidental panties exhibition. Cut a bit above this marked line to have enough seam allowance to join the body stocking. A possible (might be necessary) extra modification would be to split the crotch so you don’t need to remove all the layers to use the facilities, although whether you add this or not depends a lot on how long you usually stay in costume… if you take part in full-day events, then you definitely should consider doing this!

Body Stocking pattern

Body Stocking pattern

For the body stocking, I took measurements for my underbust, waist and hip -at the level the leggings end-, then divide by two; measure distance from the bottom of your bra to your hip line; trace all these measurements down onto paper, remembering that you’re doing half, and you’ll be cutting two of these pieces. Depending on your body shape, you might end with a rectangle, trapezoid or even something like an funnel. Take a look at the diagram on the left to give you an idea of how to create your pattern.

BodyStocking seam

Seams close-up

Pick your powermesh and check the stretching, I reduced about 10cm (4″) on each width-wise measurement, after making sure that it could stretch that much. I left the length the same as sideways stretching can sometimes reduce the length of the body stocking. Powermesh is very slippery, so I folded mine, and pinned down all around the edges to make sure it stayed in place, then marked the piece and pinned all around the inside so it would remain stable and both pieces I cut would be identical. Once you’ve got both your pieces, overlock or sew the edges, then attach to the cyclist shorts. You might need to experiement as the mesh part might be smaller than the shorts’ waist. What I did was to put the mesh tube on and the shorts on top, mark where the shorts reach on the tube, then remove everything, and pin it all with the right sides together. If you want this seam on the inside, you will probably have to pin the tube upside down and shoved inside the pants to be able to attach it… when you pull it up, the seam will be closest to your skin. Again, experiment to see what works best for the effect you want.

finished bodystocking

Finished piece

All that is left after that is figuring out the method to keep the body stocking in place, although this will differ depending on what you are wearing on your upper body. There’s no reason to try to reinvent the wheel, so you can just create some small loops with ribbon to use clear straps to keep everything in place, and of course you can go with the time-honoured safety pins. And you’re done! You can see the final result on the left, modelled by the trusty white pillow. I made a dip at the front as I tend to prefer that shape, but that is a personal choice, but if you prefer a straight line, just go for it!

Great flouncy sleeves

Black dress with Sleeves

I first saw these sleeves on a video of a performance by Sadie, and I thought they looked like a *great* idea: the thick armbands are ideal for covering the upper arms, which can be a “difficult” spot, the sleeves move like teensy veils, and can add more interest to an already good costume. There’s also the question of the extra coverage, which comes handy if you’re dancing in a somewhat cold environment, or if you feel you’d like a touch more modesty.

These sleeves are very easy to make, although the explanation can initially sound complicated. They consist of two parts: an upper part that covers the upper arm, and a loose flounce. To make them, you will need a small scrap of fabric, enough to go around your upper arm twice, and about a metre and a half to two metres of chiffon, mesh or similar. I recommend against using organza as it can be quite rigid, and for this particular item you want something that is going to flow more. You will also need some elastic, enough to go snugly around your upper arm twice, stretched. If you want them to have lettuce edges, you’ll also need an overlocker and some fishing thread.

To start, measure around your upper arm, where you want the upper edge of the sleeve to sit, then decide how deep you want this arm to go, and measure around the arm again at that point. Mark these on your pattern paper, having each of the two long measurements as the bottom and top sides; depending on your arms, you might end with either a rectangle or a trapeze, as shown below. Once you’ve got those measured, add one cm around each edge as seam allowances, and add the width of the elastic to the upper side too. Join the short edges right side in, and sew, then turn the bottom and hem, and turn the top and sew, creating a channel for the elastic, and leaving a little gap when sewing. String the elastic through the channel, making it tight enough that the sleeves won’t drop. then sew the ends together. Don’t knot, as this would create a nasty bump. The seam should remain at the bottom, on the underside of your arm, conveniently hidden.

Upper Sleeves

The flounce is a tad more complicated to explain how to put together, although in practice it is equally simple. At its most basic level, it’s a square with a quarter of a circle removed from one of the corners, that wraps around the bottom of the upper arm part. You will need to measure the length from this line to your wrist or a bit past it, and you already have the measurement around the arm.

(What follows is a very boring math bith that you might want to avoid)

You would then have to use these measurements to calculate the side of a square equal to the sum of your flounce length plus the the radius of a circle where the total diameter is 4 times your arm diameter. And if it does sound like one of those awful math problems that you got in school and wonder when the hell you would have any need of it, is because that’s exactly what it is.

Boring math bit done! Fortunately, I’ve created a teensy script that does the boring calculations for you, and will give you, once you input the correct numbers, the details of what you need to create this flounce. You can find it in the Utilities section of the website, under Sleeves Flounce calculator.

Sleeve Flounce

Cut two of these on your lightweight fabric, and now it’s time to use those lettuce edge skills you acquired in a previous post. Very carefully, do the WHOLE, LONG EDGES OF THE SQUARE ONLY, those that are whole sides and where there is no semicircle cutout; then finish every other side -including the curved section- with a standard rolled hem on the overlocker. Once you’ve done this with both flounces, attach the curved side of each flounce to the bottom of the upper sleeves, with the shorter sides on the UPPER side of the arm, and the diagonal at the bottom, where the seam of the upper part is. This will ensure that when you raise your arms, the flounce “opens” and cascades beautifully . I recommend also giving each of them a second point of support, by sewing both sides together, around 5cm below the seam with the upper sleeves. You can see in the photo that it makes the sleeve reach very near the crook of the elbow and then flow to the floor. You can repeat this point downwards (and even decorate it with a crystal or sequins), or leave it as is.

Other possible variations include making each flounce in several layers to add volume, and making the flounce rounder instead of square. You can also finish the sleeves with sequins, appliques or any other decoration you like, and of course could easily replace the underseam with corset laces, or even leaving it open (if properly hemmed) to give a peek of your arm’s flesh. If you don’t have an overlocker you might be able to use a standard rolling hem presser foot on your machine to finish it off instead.

Lettuce edges

Lettuce edges are those that appear to have a fluffy somewhat rigid ruffle, and are an easy way of adding some interest to an edge that would otherwise be boring. I’ve seen it mostly used for chiffon skirts, although I’ve used them for sleeves, and have even seen them in veils and even pants. They are very easy, if a tad laborious, to make. You MUST have an overlocker (serger) to make them, with care and patience. You will also need nylon fishing thread, or the kind used for jewellery making. It must not be stretchy, and needs to have a certain rigidity. The fabric you are using will work better if it has a certain give at least, as this will create even more of a wave.

Start by setting your overlocker to do a rolled hem. Loose a few coils from the fishing thread bobbin, then very carefully roll the edge of the fabric over the thread, and pull the thread across… you will be better to have quite a bit of thread extra as it will help you keep everything in place.

Put the rolled fabric onto the overlocker, lower the foot to lock it in place, and start sewing a rolled hem SLOWLY while stretching it very carefully. Be careful to keep rolling the hem by hand, as it will give you a neater edge, and avoid sharp angles and corners, opting instead for soft curves. Once you’ve reached the end, finish as usual; you can usually turn the remaining thread back and into the machine-rolled hem, or over the start if you’re doing a circular edge.

It is highly advisable that you practice this on cheap fabric or scraps, to get the hang of it. You will get the feel for it eventually, after sewing a couple of metres, but in the meantime you are likely to accidentally cut the thread or make a booboo at least a couple of times. Don’t give up, as this technique will come very useful, and it’s worth the time it takes to learn to do it. The stretchier the fabric, the more you exploit this stretch, and the more rigid the thread, the better the frill you will get.

Taming the Monsterskirt

One hears “12 metre skirt” and thinks of stupidly long trains in wedding gowns or fantasy outfits, more suitable for throwing down a window for Prince Charming to use as climbing rope, not belly dancing. And yet, we get these “9 yard skirt, 12 yard skirt, 25 yard skirt”, all the time, and a lot of people wonder exactly what this is about. These numbers, boys and girls, refer to the diameter, or length of the bottom layer of the skirt if it was a single line and you were measuring from end to end.

Everybody tells me that I am a sucker for punishment when it comes to making things, virtual or real, and when my teacher Val offered me a sari, I saw the perfect opportunity to finally put together one of those humongous skirts that I kept hearing about. The process was relatively simple, although not exactly painless, but was thankfully made much easier by an overlocker (aka serger), otherwise I would probably have gone nuts before finishing.

These skirts are a staple of  most dancer’s wardrobes, but quite often you will find that they are on sale for quite a pretty penny (£60 and up is not uncommon), and for the plus sizes, the waist in these can often be too tight. Also, using the same skirt for practice, class and performance can take its toll on it, so having a cheaper version sounds like a good idea. By all means, have that expensive skirt handspun by golden-haired maidens if you like it, but keep a cheap version that you can easily repair or remake at hand for class and practice, you will thank me when you do.

There are, of course, other reasons to doing this. Again, typical of plus sizes, and other women with perky big bottoms, is that most of the time, skirts hanging from our rears end riding higher up on the back. This annoys me inmensely, and I hate the idea that I need to adjust the front to take this into account, and therefore have a skirt shorter than I would want.

The solution is to make your own, and make it GOOD, with the extra inches added by your perky, delectable bum taken into account while drafting.  How do we do this?  Follow me!

First: decide where you want your skirt to start, and to end. Measure as necessary, preferably with a friend -or supportive SO- and take account of the front, back, and if necessary side measurements.

Second: decide how many tiers you want to have. On a 1metre long skirt, with 4 tiers, obviously each will be 25cm deep; 5 tiers would make each 20cm; when planning, add 2 cms more for top and bottom seams

Third: decide how long you want the bottom edge to be. On my monsterskirt, it’s 12 metres, you might want it bigger or smaller; this depends a lot on what you’re using it for.

Fourth: calculate the shape and size of your tiers. Start at the bottom (tier 4), then half that length for the tier above (tier 3). Repeat until you’ve run out of tiers, and make sure that your top layer fits (needs to be bigger than your hips by at least 4 inches, although I would recommend quite a bit more). If it doesn’t, make the difference between the top two tiers time and half what’s above instead of double (or simply, multiply tier 2 by 0.66 then round up).

For the monsterskirt, this gave me:

  • first tier:  1.5 metres
  • second tier: 3 metres
  • third tier: 6 metres
  • fourth tier: 12 metres

Fifth: trace and cut the bottom three tiers; you might need to do this differently depending on the width of your fabric and whether they can be cut across the grain or not, but effectively you will end with very long rectangular pieces. In some cases you will have to assemble them out of several smaller pieces cut on the grain. Remember to add the seam calculation to the height calculation (27cm instead of 25cm in our example).

Sixth: for the top tier, trace the bottom edge as an even line; if you can do this piece as a single piece it WILL make your life easier, but if you have to split them in front and back because of fabric width, make sure you mark them as front and back. Now mark the side seam(s), centre front and centre back points. In my example, the marks were at 0, 37.5cm, 75cm, 112.5, and 150cm.
Take the initial length measurements you obtained, sustract the expected length from the bottom 3 tiers, then 3cm more for the waistband, then add 2cm for seams. In my example, with 100cm for the front and 110cm on the back, and 3x25cm tiers, the top tier would be, if even , 24cm at the top front, and 34cm at the top back. Mark these perpendicularly to the bottom edge, at the 37.5 and 112.5 marks. If you have side measures that are different, calculate them the same and add them at the 0 and 150cm. Now join all four points, making sure that the transitions are smooth, and remember to mark your front and back. This curve will be more or less pronounced depending on how big the difference between the front and your back is. Check the graphic for more detail.

Skirt Top Tier

Now put all the tiers together. Start whichever way you want: top to bottom, bottom to top, middle to top and bottom. The ONE thing I suggest you do is doing the hem for the bottom tier before attaching it to the rest of the skirt, otherwise the amount of fabric will make it seriously unmanageable. Remember that you are not going to make this layer even, you will adjust the length by adjusting the TOP. This also means that you can easily use different fabrics for a splash of colour without risking it looking “wrong” because it’s suddenly hitched up on the back. If you’re not sure how to do the gathering without wanting to disembowel yourself with your good fabric scissors, check out my post on gathering without loosing your sanity.

Gypsy Costume Make a waistband with a long strip of fabric, same length as your top tier, 8cm high. Fold in two, pin the bottom edge to the top tier, making sure to put the seam at the front if you’re using drawstring so you can have the strings out at that point; you might have to gather it a bit if your top line is very curvy. Leave a small gap, pass elastic, and once you’re sure it works on you without cutting circulation or falling off, sew both edges together. Add a pull cord if you want too, then try it all to make sure the bottom edge is even all around, and marvel at your lovely new monsterskirt with an even edge. If everything is ok, sew, and if not, adjust the waistband and first tier accordingly; it should be far easier to adjust a much smaller section than to deal with a humongous hem.

On the left you will see a photo of a costume that I created almost entirely myself, showing off this skirt (click for a bigger version). You can almost see how even the whole thing is, and it’s even more, I promise; I just forgot to check and adjust after adding the belt and cincher before the photo. The top two tiers are made of a very light polycotton broderie anglaise, which makes the skirt quite comfy in hot weather, as it comes with inbuilt ventilation. The purple/dusk tier was made with the edges of a sari that my teacher Val gave me. The bottom is a very nice crinkle cotton, also very light; the crinkle texture makes it ideal for this sort of work as it adds an extra oomph to the gathered fabric.

The skirt is a dream to use for dancing, and looks quite impressive when flounced during performances. My one complain is that I wish I had used semi-circles for the top tier to give more movement and less gathering of fabric, but I’m already planning on a second skirt, with an even longer hem, but that post will have to wait until it’s done.

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