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!

Pattern Review: Folkwear #144 Tribal Style Belly Dancer

Folkwear 144 Tribal Dancer

Folkwear 144 Tribal Dancer

The pack contains instructions for creating a full tribal outfit, but only one real pattern. The items include a hip scarf, a hip belt, coin bra, choli, pantaloons and skirt. The instructions for the hip scarf and belt are ok, but they’re nothing that an enterprising person looking to make themselves the items couldn’t figure out for themselves (triangular cut for the hip scarf, for instance). The instructions for the bra are sketchy, and if you want to make your own bra from scratch, this is not the set for you, and you should instead be looking for Dawn Devine’s Embellished Bras. The fact that there is a full book devoted to the techniques necessary should tell you all you need to know about the couple of pages devoted to it here. Needless to say, after having done the process a few times myself, I found the instructions here rather lacking in precision if not flat out creating a sloppy finish.

The skirt is also not good. Most Tribal dancers will tell you that to get the proper “fly” effect when spinning, you should use a circle pattern for the first tier. This isn’t the case here, and suggests standard strips which, when creating a more standard 24 yard skirt, would cause considerable bulk, and in its provided 10-yard version, would not fit the 2XL offered in the back.

And then we come to the Choli. I’ve tried. I’ve REALLY tried. All the pieces do go together, I have to say. They just don’t go together in anything that resembles a good fit. I understand that whoever created this wanted to follow historical methods, but truly? Tribal Dancing is not historical, and a lot of dancers will be using knits and cotton/lycra blends to make their cholis. Last I checked, knits and lycras are not historical, and it saddens me that having a good, comfortable fit was skewed in favour of some politically correct cutting and assembly method. And yes, I can’t believe I’ve just written that either, but the squares/triangles apparently comes from the choli “originally cut from loom-woven cloth in a geometric way that minimizes waste”. All I can say is, thank goodness I cut the pieces using Swedish paper so I didn’t waste fabric on this.

The instructions for the pantaloons are pretty similar, and consist mostly of creating two tubes and joining them at the top, and some bizarre comment about a horizontal pleat if they are too long. I am still trying to get my head around what exactly is meant there. The instructions for creating fringe are decent, except for the part about calculating the amount needed. It says “multiply the fringe length by the distance to be covered” which makes no sense whatsoever, as the width of the yarn used for the fringe and how thick you want to lay it varies and will therefore affect the amount of fringe you need.

Overall, there’s nothing you can find in this pattern that isn’t already available (and much better) online. I was really, REALLY looking forwards to using this, and I have the utmost respect for FCBD, and I am amazed that this has survived at all, when a quick look at the finished garment on the photo should tell you there’s something very wrong when the sleeves bunch like they do. And any quick online research will show you similar frustrations encountered by other people. Overall, there’s only two things I can recommend this pattern for: composting, and burning; at least either way it will become useful. Just remember to remove the plastic bag first.

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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