The return of the teal bra…

Teal Bra, finished

Teal Bra, finished

I thought I was finished with this project, but I was never *quite* happy with the silver/copper/bronze/gold mix. What can I say, I like matchy-matchy. I’d have loved to keep it as silver only, and that was the original plan, but the gold on the trim was overpowering, cascading first into the beading, then into the wires and the centrepiece.

A couple of weeks ago I found someone selling a bunch of antique Indian bells, of the kind used in the anklets for Khatak dancing. I’d originally wanted to use these for decoration but hadn’t been able to find a local source. And when they arrived and I re-strung the bottom beads and removed the silver coins, and replaced them with the bells, which *did* look significantly more “together” with the rest, it became obvious that the silver trinkets would have to be replaced too. I was lucky enough to find replacements in antique gold very inexpensively at Hillary’s Bazaar’s Etsy shop, so also a UK source.

I sewed all of these pieces back on, created a lining in black polycotton, removed one of the pieces from the centre that had been digging into my diaphragm from day 1, added lobster clasps to the bottom beading so they can be removed at will (and also used elsewhere if wanting to), and finally, added some Swarovskis in Peridot AB (green with iridiscent sheen), Jonquil AB (yellow with iridiscence) and Moonlight (a very pale smoke) to the centrepiece to add some interest to it, and will carry the same motif to the belt.

I’m a lot happier with the unity it has now, even if it meant that the glorious plans I had for a kuchi-button-heavy belt had to be replaced with a different approach. I will still use those buttons on a different piece, but this will on all probability end being used mostly for those *almost* Tribal performances that happen with the Egyptian troupe, or for Fusion pieces with a mermaid skirt in similar colour.

Making a bindi

Aside from doing my own costumes, I’ve been known to make jewellery, specifically items that I wish I could buy but never found, or never found anything I liked well enough. An example of this was a Victorian/Art Nouveau choker made with real garnets that I wanted, but every piece I found available was either made with crystals (or worse, plastic) or not made in a style I liked, and vintage pieces were prohibitive (and still not what I had in mind). So, some years ago I bought a few findings, wire, garnet beads, and created the choker of my dreams. And promptly gave it away to a friend for her wedding.

Still, as part of that work, and as part of the costume making process, I accumulated certain materials: silver plated jewellery findings, silver-plated wire, beads, some tools, flat back crystals. Part of that still gets used for beading (see the new teal bra for details), but others were left unused. I also finally discovered a spirit gum that allowed me to wear bindis without falling off my face, and therefore I started searching for bindis I liked. Sadly, most of the bindi makers I liked live abroad, and the shipping for their teensy but lovely items was prohibitive (think about 50% or more of the cost of a bindi). What to do? Elementary: since I had nearly all the materials, I’d try my hand at making them myself.

I checked a couple of tutorials online and realised that the process was rather simple, just paste what you wanted over a suitable base. I picked acetate sheets, and my supplies, and used a suitable glue (E6000). If you want to try your hand at making one, you can follow my instructions. The process is not difficult, but it can be very fiddly, as you’re dealing with very small parts. You will need:

assorted findings, crystals and stones

assorted findings, crystals and stones

  • acetate sheets: you can find these at craft stores
  • masking or paper tape
  • suitable glue: I’ve read GemTac works, but I’ve also read it’s not really suitable; if you’ll be bonding stones or crystals to metals, you might want to use something a bit sturdier, so I picked E6000 (also recommended often for crystal embellishing and jewellery)
  • a wax pencil or picker is not necessary, you can use tweezers, but the picker makes your life easier
  • stones, crystals, pearls, findings, whatever you want to put on the bindi, this is where your creativity comes in!

Pictured above, an example of materials you’d need, which has antique bronze and antique silver coloured findings, abalone shell cabochon, a 7mm Swarovski, and quite a few other smaller Swarovski crystals of assorted sizes So, now that you’ve got everything you need, how do you do it all?

mock-up bindi

mock-up bindi

  1. pick your supplies and have it all at hand.
  2. needless to say, remove any child or pet, make sure you’re working in a well ventilated environment, and if you’re going to be cutting findings and not just using crystals, make sure you wear protective gear
  3. over a stable background, put together a mock-up of your desired bindi: arrange the findings, stones and crystals in a way that you find pleasant, take note of whether any finding needs a more even base or has bits sticking out that might result in unbalanced crystals; see example of this on the right
  4. if you have a rogue finding, you will need to grab a file and file down the offending parts; quite often you might want to remove unwanted parts of findings (like connecting rings), or split findings into several parts to have more versatility; for each of these, you will need to file down the edges by hand (again, example of modified pieces on the right)
  5. cut a piece of the acetate about half bigger than your finished bindi, secure to your working surface with masking tape to make sure it stays put
  6. first layer of the bindi

    first layer of a bindi

  7. with a thin piece of wire, or a match, or something equally thin, smear some glue over the acetate, and following your chosen glue’s instructions, start building your bindi: use the wax pencil to pick up each piece and arrange them over the glued-up acetate, starting with the bottom layer; I prefer to start from the centre outwards, as it helps to keep it all balanced; this first layer for me tends to be metal findings
  8. once your foundation layer is done, add the second layer, if required, in the same manner: this is when I add crystals or gemstones and other accents
  9. nearly finished bindi

    nearly finished bindi

  10. it will look a bit messy; I’d let it cure for 48 hours, and after that time, cut carefully around the edge of the bindi, then go through the nooks and crevices of the findings and crystals with a needle or a pin to remove leftover glue

If you want to minimise your glue waste (and mess!), you can assemble your mock-up over paper, then trace the outline before putting the acetate on top, so you just put glue within the outline. I should also warn you that the glue does get everywhere, and even if you are careful, you will find globs of it all over the bindi no matter how careful you are, that’s why it is vital to do the final step and remove the leftover glue after it’s had time to cure.

As I said, not difficult, but rather fiddly, worth doing if you’ve got the materials lying around or you require a particular colour combination, but keep into account that crystals do sell by the 50s or 100s, so you might not want to do this for a one-off project unless you’ve got the items already. You can also make these as cheap or expensive as you want: I only use Swarovskis or gemstones or vintage stones in mine, and quite a few of my findings are silver plated, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do cheap and cheerful versions. I did a few trials with resin 4mm stones, and found that while they do look ok, when comparing them with Swarovskis, or even EIMASS (English) crystals, they were not catching the light as well. And that is what I wanted them for: as embellishments, and therefore they needed to be as sparkly as possible. The beauty of this, however, is that you could also use vintage costume jewellery, or broken jewellery items instead of crystals and findings. You’d still need to clean them up, but if you are after a very specific look, it might be something to consider. And you could make other facial adornments, not just bindis.

Now, if you still want bindis, but don’t want to do them yourself, why not head over to the shop to look at the ones I’ve got for sale?

Inspiration: Derwood Green, and ATS World Wide Flash Mob

It’s Friday, so there should be an inspiration post. It’s also a good time to remind people about the upcoming ATS World Wide Flash Mob happening in October. The song has been chosen, it will be Phil Thornton’s and Hossam Ramzy’s Derwood Green. The track has created a teensy bit of a controversy, as some people felt it was too long for the common public, and others that the constant changes from slow to fast tempo, with the extra bits that can go either way would be unnecessarily complex for beginners who might want to participate. Granted, it is a very complex song, but based in my (limited) performance experience, the differences in the tempo will make the general public maintain their attention, so the concern for the song’s length is unfounded. The concerns about the complexity aren’t, but the surest way to deal with it is with everybody being very familiar with the song, so the changes are not abrupt.

As part of our “homework” over the small break we’re having, our ATS teacher sent us to look for performances of the song. I’ve found a few, some ATS, some vaguely ATS (I said vaguely because I could almost recognise the moves but they were executed like someone that had picked them up from videos without direct ATS instruction), some non-improvisational Tribal, some Fusion, and even a few done cabaret style, including a raqs assaya one using canes… I guess it’s all that mizmar. It’s been rather interesting for me, because normally I would look at videos from known groups or from Festivals, so mostly I’d seen FCBD, Black Sheep and the like. Suddenly I was exposed to a lot of smaller troupes and groups, each with their take.

As a result of this Derwood Green overload, interestingly enough, I do seem to be developing a stronger sense of what I’d expect in terms of musicality, although things like seeing the Tribal Fusion duo picking up a slow flute phrasing instead of the frantic drumming to follow has also been a nice reminder that music has many layers and we don’t necessarily need to focus on the most obvious.

Anyway, these are my picks, from the ones I’ve seen so far, and (surprise!) all three of them include at least one member of FCBD. Enjoy! And if you want to find out more about the World Wide ATS Flash Mob, head over to the Facebook Community

New Teal Bra, part 2: beading!

Finished bra

Finished bra

I wanted to start this post with the finished bra, because it would make what follows a bit more palatable. Yes, the results are gorgeous, but yes, it will require a bit more work than normal. I won’t cover adding the straps and sides, as the process is fairly similar if not identical to what I described previously for the black and burgundy bra, the dress, and even, a bit, for the belt: use a sturdy base, cover with the fashion fabric, attach. The “new” bit here, and what warrants the extra post, is the beading. And I am not talking about the embroidered beads, those were covered before, and there are other ways that you could do it. I am talking about the dangles.

As a big girl, I’ve refused to have dangles before, because, I thought, they would attract the eye to my stomach, and of course we’ve always been told that is BAD (yes, in bold and capital letters). However, we are dancers, and we practice a form that works better for smaller audiences, and up close, with small, precise moves that sometimes are so delicate to barely be seen… But when parading or performing at fairs, all the typical trappings of our costumes do start paying off: the dangles, the tassels, the ruffles, the drapes, all serve to amplify our moves, because the guy standing 3 metres away from you might not be able to notice your amazing Arabic shimmy, but he *will* see that you’re moving because the tassels and falls are moving, and his brain will fill in the blanks.

Tools and parts for beading

Tools and parts

This time, I wanted to do something special, and I was encouraged by the lovely combo of beads I’d used for the bra, and decided I wanted some more beads strung, but because of the nature of our moves, I needed something a bit more sturdy. Enter the copper wire. I’d done jewellery before (why, yes, you *should* be surprised!)  so I had all the necessary tools. They are not many and can be obtained cheaply, I’ve seen basic sets on Ebay going for a fiver. Places like Hobbycraft sell ergonomic versions that are much pricier, if you’re going to be doing a lot of it, you might want to consider it… because warning: beading CAN and DOES hurt.

Among the tools you will see 2 types of pliers: round nose and bent, and a wire cutter. I also used three different filigrees to construct the focal piece, chain to create the central dangles, some bead caps, head pins, and an assortment of czech crystal fire-polished beads in different colours and sizes. I went with a lot of faceted stones because they do catch the light better, and that helps making your costume sparkly, and with AB (Aurora Borealis) finishing because that tends to add an iridescence that is quite attractive, and would contrast quite nicely with the deep jewel teal of the base.

Beading closeup

Beading closeup

For assembling each strand, I created a mock-up of the finish set using sturdy thread, and decided to split the beads in groups of three, that you can see in the photo on the right. I used the wire to create a loop that I then wrapped to secure it, put the beads in with just enough room so they could move without being too loose. The wrapping of each loop is *vital*, because these dangles will take quite a bit of punishment, with turns and shimmies, and the wrapping will prevent the loops from becoming undone. And this is also the reason why I used wire, and didn’t just use elastic or heavy-duty thread like I used on small beaded tassels before. Yes, this might just be over-engineering, but I’d rather do the work once, and not have to repair it, or waste time going over it for half an hour before and after each use because there’s a chance that something might be loose or worn, the beads will fly out, and poke someone in the eye. I am not going to go into the wiring detail, there are probably plenty of tutorials on YouTube that should explain things clearer and more in detail than I can go in here, done by people who do jewellery as their trade.



Finally, I assembled a centrepiece out of 3 different filigrees. You can use glue to get these together, however, I used thread to sew them together and onto the bra. If you’re lucky enough to find a piece that you love, good for you; I wasn’t that lucky so I used what I could. I added a central dangle to it using the chains, some more beads, bead caps and the head pins, and attached the beads to this central piece, and to the bra.

If I had to do it again, I would probably create a slightly smaller central piece, as the bottom bit can poke into my tummy if I’m contracting too much for tummy rolls, for instance. And I would probably create the beads with lobster clasps so they can be removed at will (and used elsewhere!). But those are considerations that have more to do with your costume planning, so they don’t have to be exactly the same. And anyway, the piece was nice enough to get a *lot* of compliments from people, so I’m happy enough as it is!

New Teal Bra, part 1; lots of photos!

Teal Bra Closeup

Teal Bra Closeup

Back when I wrote about my evil costume bunnies, I did mention having a teal bra and belt in my list of “to do” projects, and that I was going to send that back into the bunny pen. But that was when I had not made nearly every single performance this year wearing Tribal gear, and after a while, having the same bra and belt does get a bit samey. I also love teal, but finding the right shade has always been a pain.

What changed this time? A chance trip to a local fabric shop that yielded some amazing burgundy brocade, and the *exact* shade of teal crushed velvet that I’ve been lusting after for so long. Having acquired a great pre-loved purple skirt, I thought it would be the perfect time to move it to the top of the pile, and since I already had two bras waiting to be turned into costumes, and the burgundy brocade was also aimed for a bra/belt set, I thought it would be a great chance to try a bit of mass-producing. Of sorts. There’s plenty of photographs of the process this time, so as usual, click on the images to view them full size.

The design process this time was a bit different, as I tried to achieve a glamourised version of more traditional tribal gear. I’ve seen lots of beading in plain colours (usually red or white or green) used on belts to “string” the coins, so I wanted to add something similar here to offset the amulets.

Bra pattern makingI planned on having a more open back this time, so I first chopped off the straps and the band. This particular style has a bone a couple of inches after the cups, so I left that one for stability… everything else went. I obtained the pattern as outlined in the “how to cover a bra” tutorial; this time I also used 3 pieces. You can see on image 2 how the cup looked after I covered it with Swedish paper and traced the pieces. I cut out two sets of each side, serged the edges on each piece to prevent fraying, set aside one of each piece for the upcoming brocade bra, then sewed together each cup (image 5). As explained before, I also sewed some gross grain ribbon along the top of the bra cups to add stability (image 3), then attached the new stiffer cups over the existing padded ones (image 4).

ribbonedgingbracalicobasesupport pieces

I then cut the bra pieces off the crushed velvet, being careful to leave plenty of seam allowance on what would be the top and bottom to wrap around the existing padded cups, and covered the cups, again using the overlocker to have stiffer seams that would create a firmer cup. Attached them by hand to the bra’s skeleton (image 6).

bra teal baseAfter that, I threaded beads onto a double strand of extra-strong Gutterman thread (the kind I’ve used for beaded tassels in the past), making sure I knotted every 5 beads or so. I made four of them, one for the top of the bra, one for the botton where the small fake coins would go, and then laid everything out with pins to make sure the decoration worked. You can see a bit of how this was done in image 7, check out the pins holding the amulets together on the left!

Bra decoration stage 1

The beads were attached using spiral stich to hold the middle thread in place; these beaded threads, the sari ribbon and the amulets were sewn carefully using Gutterman Extra Strong thread, to give it all extra durability. The threads used quite a few different beads, including etched copper beads, Kuchi metal rings that I obtained from the same necklace I got the small coins, and black, smoke AB, amethyst AB, blue iris, topaz AB and bronze Czech crystals, all faceted. The “AB” in the colour names indicate what they call “Aurora Borealis”, and it gives a lovely oil slick sheen to the pieces, making them far more interesting when the light hits them.

I’ll cover the beading and final details in a separate post.

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