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!

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.

Gathering without loosing your sanity

Quite often, when creating garments, we realise we need to gather material. And when working on something like a 23 metre (25 yards for those not using metric) skirt, the “eyeballing” method is a sure way of ending with an unevenly gathered skirt and in dire need of a wig. All that hair pulling is REALLY not good for you, and will look awful on your next performance.

So, how to work with such huge quantities without going nuts? Patience. And lots of pins with different coloured heads, preferably at least 6-8 different colours. Here is how I did it with the monsterskirt (12 metres):

  • step 1: baste all around the piece you need to gather
  • step 2: fold in equal halves, then again, and use pins of one  colour to mark these quarters
  • step 3: mark the quarter parts on the top tier (or the piece you need to attach the gathered section to) using pins of the exact same colour
  • step 4: take the unattached tier again, put together two consecutive pins, mark the eights with a new colour pin.
  • step 5: take the upper tier, mark the halves in between each quarter using pins of the same colour as the eights marked on the bottom tier
  • step 6: lather, rinse, repeat until you’re bored and you’ve got sections of about 15/20 cms (6 to 8″).
  • step 7: join both upper and bottom tiers, using the coloured pins as guides of what to pin where; same coloured pins should go together; pin both vertically for the time being (that is, NOT along the line of where you will sew later)
  • step 8: now use the basting thread, pull the sections; it should be far easier to get an even gathering along such short sections
  • step 9: pin along the lines of  the basting
  • step 10: baste both pieces together, making sure the gathering fabric is flat and there are no gaps; sew. Sergers are ideal for this as they will trim and neat the seam
  • step 11: finish the edges if necessary

You can use this method or a variation of it not just for monsterskirts but of any other project where you are gathering fabric. Typical examples include gathering ruffles, big sleeves into tight cuffs, leg openings into bottom cuffs for harem pants… you get the idea. A variation is also an easy way of applying elastic of a particular length onto fabric for a quick gathering… just skip the basting steps, and instead just stretch the elastic while sewing with a zigzag stitch: you will find the elastic contracts and gathers the fabric more easily.

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