Costume Report – Harley Quinn

Harley Quinn Raks al Assaya

Harley Quinn Raks al Assaya

As a belly dancer, a nerd, and a crafter/seamstress, my interests tend to intersect a lot. In this post I will show you the costume I made for Bad Weather Burlesque’s FAN-tastic show in December. It was FAN-tastic indeed! If you’d like to see how I made my prop mallet you can see it on my craft-cosplay blog here.

Harley has had a number of different costumes since she debuted on the Batman: The Animated Series in 1993. I’ve noticed that as the years have gone by she has lost a lot of her clothing, but that’s another discussion all together. I’m currently hooked on Harley Quinn’s Little Black Book. I was looking for something a bit in between classic Harley Quinn and her modern costume, with a belly dance twist.

Classic Harley

Harley with less clothing

Here’s the complete costume:

Ignore the craft room mess please.

Ignore the craft room mess please.

From the top, I did my hair in high pigtails like she does in the current comic, but my hair is all red and I wasn’t going to bother with a wig or dye my hair so there you have it.

I made the collar pattern just measuring a circle that would fit comfortably around my neck and adding several triangles.

Collar pattern

Collar pattern

Finished collar

Finished collar

I cut a base out of white felt and the fabric on top is a scrap I had leftover from another project. I used heavy duty Heat n’ Bond to hold them together. I just cut out the center circle, and securely pinned the back, but you could add a snap or Velcro® or what have you.

For the shrug I just traced out a shrug I already had and like a lot but was the wrong color. It’s only 4 pieces to stitch together, no problem. I used the black and red striped fabric because I already had it. If you have a favorite shrug you love try making your own pattern. It’s easier than you think.

The bra was made using the basic bra covering technique that I’ve blogged about before. I made appliqués by creating a square with a felt base and covered with my bra and pants fabric and bonded with Heat n’ Bond just like the collar. From there I traced out square patterns with a pen and beaded and beaded and beaded. I cut out the empty space, since Harley typically has a three-diamond pattern on her costume. I then used beads and sequins in between the beaded diamonds and over the edges to secure the applique. I’m not going to go over the technique here, because that would be a whole other post, and Davina can explain it better than I. I made a smaller appliqué for the bra and a larger one for the pants.

Applique detail

Applique detail

Bra with applique

Bra with applique

The hip scarf is super simple – triangle with long rectangles to tie it on. It is lined with black fabric and covered in a sparkly black sheer fabric, which I chose because it was just lying around my craft room. I was pretty sure there was a free pattern somewhere online for this, but for the life of me I cannot find it. I may do another post on that. In the meantime, Simplicity™ has one. Special thanks to my friend Brenda, who just happened to have a whole bag of really nice tassels and was kind enough to let me have some.

Hip scarf

Hip scarf

The pants were a little extra challenge to figure out, but easy in the end. I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel. I picked up McCalls pattern M7198 for yoga pants and embellished the bottom part of the legs. I looked at some flare pants I already had and noticed that there is about a 30° angle on the flares from the hem. This is so the flares don’t become longer than the center part of the hem and drag on the ground. If you angle up everything will settle at the same hem line. So I measured out some triangles starting from my knee to the hem, and then measured out how much flare I wanted. I left the outer seam open from the knee to the hem so you can see a little leg when I kick. That is totally optional of course. This fabric was a spandex blend and therefore won’t fray, so I didn’t actually have to finish the edges. It was pretty easy in the end, and I’ll probably reuse this pattern a lot.

Altered Yoga pants pattern

Altered Yoga pants pattern

Unembellished pants

Pants with flair

My shoes are just black ballet flats. I never dance without shoes, especially in a club. There is just too much risk of injury.

So that’s it! I hope this may be helpful to your own costume plans. Let me know in the comments if you love Harley Quinn. 🙂

Costume Report: Pink and Silver Snakeskin

From Queerfest 2014, Courtesy Douglas Klettke

From Queerfest 2014, Photo courtesy Douglas Klettke

Today I’m going to share with you the story of my latest costume, this pink and silver snakeskin Lycra number you see above. In the interest of helping you with your costumes I’m going to tell you the tale of how this costume and routine came into being, what I did and what I would have done differently and plan to change.

It started with inspiration

It started with inspiration

This all started with jewelry. My lovely sister gave me a silver and pink plate mail necklace and earring set last year. I love it to bits, and since this is a statement piece for sure it needed to see the stage. I figured I would make a pink costume based on the color combination but all we have in the local store is some pink Lycra, plain and uninteresting. One day, a few months ago, I was in the Twin Cities at SR Harris looking for stretch lace for an entirely different costume when I happened down the dance wear aisle and I ran right into the fabric you see in the pictures. Hot pink and silver snakeskin with a black background. I knew this was the one, even though I did not have a design plan yet. I got 4 yards because I knew I had a skirt pattern already that I could work with.

So now I had the fabric and the accessories, I had to put it all together into something wearable. I went to my standby bra technique, so that wasn’t too hard. At least the base part wasn’t.

As per instructions in a previous post

As per instructions in a previous post

Unlike earlier versions I am now using overlapping bands and a halter for stability

Unlike earlier versions I am now using overlapping bands and a halter for stability

I wanted to do something flashier with the skirt. I found the Madame X Mermaid Skirt pattern and decided to give it a try. This was a little trickier. The skirt pattern is the type where you make a sleeve for the elastic so it bunches at the top. Presumably you would put a belt over it to hide the bunching. I did not want to do that. This would be my first attempt at making a dance skirt that would have decorations directly on it.

I started with making the pattern as-is. This is a one-size pattern that gives you instructions on how to measure yourself for fit. It’s not as hard as I thought it would be. I was able to make it in 3 panels so that part was super easy to put together. It would not remain easy. I decided that I would make darts in the back and install a zipper so the skirt would be form fitting. The darts were hard (understatement!) but ultimately I was happy with the fit. The zipper was a complete waste of time. The fabric is so stretchy there was no reason to bother with it. I still had to add elastic so the skirt would not fall down because frankly it is rather heavy.

Photo Courtesy Douglas Klettke

Photo Courtesy Douglas Klettke

I’m not sure if you can tell from this pic, but there is a heck of a lot of fabric below the knee. It makes 1 1/2 circles; it is very full. Each pattern piece is like a rounded “T.” This also makes for the issue of sort of points where the seams meet. I had to hem this so that the points were cut off smooth because it hung longer at the seams and turned out so you could see the back side of the fabric. Once I hemmed it the whole thing was even with the floor and looked much better.

Early experiments with draping the netting

Early experiments with draping the netting

Then we have decoration. That fabric pattern is pretty overwhelming, so I wanted to break it up with something else. I came across this pink crinkle netting at JoAnn Fabrics. I tried laying it across in various ways but I found I needed something else to ground it. So I went back to the store and got some black crinkle netting and I was happy with the combination of the two. In the photos it is a little hard to tell though. My plan was to balance out the pink and black diagonal top to bottom. I eventually got kind of stuck and just made that poofy thing on the skirt. That won’t stay though.

I should mention here that I normally put beaded fringe on my costumes, but since I was going to be whipping around a prop I wanted to make sure nothing got caught or tangled. I have a tiny amount of fringe on a couple parts but I think that will come off too. It does not add anything to the piece.

The elbow gloves are super simple: measure the top part of your arm, the bottom part, length, cut a trapezoid, sew it together – bam, you got elbow gloves.

I am going to make some changes. I was on vacation for a week before Queerfest so I ended up pressed for time to finish. What I plan to do is add a bunch of sparklies over the netting, especially the black part, to give it more depth. I am also going to re-do the skirt decoration so I have a black triangle rather than the wimpy little poof. I will add sparklies diagonally from the black part of the bra to be consistent. I am going to remove the zipper so I can fully cover the back side and make it consistent with the front. I am also going to re-install the elastic with a proper x-casing instead of the quick-n-dirty zigzag stitch (I was in a hurry).

I'll be making some changes

I’ll be making some changes

Bling to be added

Bling to be added

For those of you who saw the show and said to yourself “where the heck did THAT come from ?!” I needed a special song for this costume vision and it came to me one day when I was driving with my husband. He hooked his iPhone up to the stereo and the first song on the shuffle was Britney Spears’ Work Bitch. I knew instantly that was the song and upon arriving at home I watched the video several times for inspiration. In the video there is a scene where she is whipping people and I remembered seeing a video for an LED whip. I consulted with Bender !Flames!, who is a flow artist as well as an amazing boylesque artist, and he directed me to a web site where he got some of his LED supplies. They are not cheap so you better believe this act will see the stage again and again. It was pretty boss if I do say so myself.

Pretty lights make everything better!

Pretty lights make everything better!

I hope that helps you, my fellow costumers. I will post updated pics when I get everything fixed the way I want it.

Special thanks to Doug Klettke for taking pics during Queerfest – you rock!

How To Make A Belly Dance Belt (the easy way)

Base with coin belt, stampings and Turkish buttons

Base with coin belt, stampings and Turkish buttons

I love costumes. If you are reading this you probably do too. But I am also very busy and don’t want to have to choose between looking glam and paying the mortgage. If you feel the same way, this post is for you. If you don’t get too crazy with the embellishments this project can be completed within a day, and cost as little as $15. I have adapted this technique from several books and blogs that I have read, and I have come up with my own style.

What you will need:

  • A pattern
  • about a half-yard of buckram (depending on size)
  • a half-yard of fabric (depending on your size and the width of the fabric)
  • half-yard of felt, fleece, sweatshirt, or other non-woven material, should be thick and stable
  • half-yard of lining material, may be the same as above
  • thread to match the fabric or upholstery thread (depending on technique)
  • 4 pant hook closures (heavy duty)
  • embellishments of your choice

TIP: This is a great project for remnants. If you don’t have a long enough single piece of buckram, you can zig-zag stitch a couple pieces together. It is OK to overlap the buckram. You can abut pieces of felt together to make a full pattern piece, but do not overlap or it will add uneven bulk. Nobody is going to see the base so don’t worry if it looks like Frankenstein’s monster.

Step 1: The Pattern

Confession time: I’m pretty lazy. But I am also busy. This has led me to the crossroads of efficiency. If you have worn any sort of fitted belt before you know that they are not straight, but curved to fit your hips. I’m not great at making more advanced patterns, I can’t ever seem to get the measurements right with a tailor’s curve. So I just bought a pattern. I DO NOT FOLLOW THE PATTERN INSTRUCTIONS. I just bought it for the curve. If I wait for a sale at JoAnn Fabrics I can get patterns for $1-$2, which is totally worth the money vs wasting my time trying to make my own pattern. Today I will be using Simplicity (TM) Pattern #2158. There are other patterns, you don’t have to use this specific one.

Simplicity (TM) Pattern 2158

Simplicity (TM) Pattern 2158

A note on pre-made patterns here: The sizing is not even remotely what your actual dress size is. When I buy a dress or pants at a department store I am typically about a size 8. In a Simplicity (TM) pattern I am size 16. Measure yourself before you buy the pattern. One other drawback to purchasing a pattern is that they often do not make patterns for larger ladies. The largest size they make for #2158 is their size 22, which is a 46 inch hip. You may be able to alter it up, but I leave that to you more knowledgeable sewers. Do bear in mind this is not fitted around the curve of the butt (no darts), just around the hip.

Back to the part where I don’t follow the pattern directions. If you made this to specs it would be rather thin and the instructions would have you lacing it up in the back with ribbon. This is not something I would ever do. That’s just crazy. We’ll fix that in step 2.

Step 2: Making The Base

Cut 2 pieces out of buckram

Cut 2 pieces out of buckram

First, cut out two layers of buckram for the base using the pattern as it is, and stitch them together as 2 layers. This is your sturdy base for adding embellishments that will not sag or lose shape. Pattern #2158, as I mentioned, plans for you to fasten the belt in the back. There actually may be instances when you would do so, like if you are attaching a super cool pre-made coin belt to the base for stability, and that coin belt just happens to hook in the back. But normally if I have to quick change in a dressing room between acts I like to be able to easily reach the hooks so I make it hook at the side.

I used a loose zig-zag stitch to join the two pieces. Didn't like the pointy tip so I just cut it off.

I used a loose zig-zag stitch to join the two pieces. Didn’t like the pointy tip so I just cut it off.

So, once you have cut out the 2 buckram pieces and sewn them together (DO NOT trim down the seam allowance), figure out where you want the fasteners to hook up. I usually prefer on my left hip. I place the fasteners in such a way that the front will overlap the back so the audience won’t be as likely to see the hooks. It doesn’t really matter, as long as you can comfortably hook it. You can even make a front and back piece and have fasteners on both sides. For my example I will only hook on the one side. If you want the belt to hook in the back just leave it as-is. If you want the belt to hook on the side, wrap the buckram around your hips where you want it to rest and mark (or have a friend mark) where the ends overlap across your backside. Then make a mark where you want the fasteners to go. Sew the back ends together in place so you have a full circle. Then just cut where you want the fasteners to go. I recommend making it a little loose at this point because you will need a little overlap for the fasteners. You will get extra overlap with the addition of lining and fabric, but adding all of this together gives you some wiggle room if you need to adjust for a change in your body size.

Stitch the back ends together, then cut the side where you want it to fasten

Stitch the back ends together, then cut the side where you want it to fasten

Note: this particular pattern has a point in front. If you don’t want a point you can just cut it off at this stage. But the back and front are still different, this is not reversible. If you decide you want to turn it around so the fasteners are on the other side you can’t after you have the fabric on.

Thinking ahead: You can also now cut out the lining using the buckram base as a template.

Step 3: Bulk It Up

Used a wide zig-zag stitch to attach the felt layer

Used a wide zig-zag stitch to attach the felt layer

Now you will want to use your buckram belt base as a template for your next layer of felt, fleece, or whatever material you have chosen. You will want to use something with some bulk to it for stability. The technique you choose for attaching it will actually be decided by what material you use to cover it. If you are using a thinner material I would recommend you cut out a piece of felt that exactly matches the buckram base, and stitch it on just like you stitched the buckram together. If you are using a very thick material, like Velboa or other fake fur, stitching with a sewing machine can be extremely difficult. In that case I would cut the felt an extra inch all the way around, fold it over and then top stitch it on to the buckram. That way you can hand stitch the Velboa (or whatever) directly to the felt. I would not use the overlapping felt method to work with thinner materials because it can lead to wrinkling and bunching, and just unnecessary extra work.

Step 4: Cover The Base

Top-stitched the cover fabric. Note there is some wrinkling here. This was a rubbery fabric that was difficult to work with so note that in your fabric choice.

Top-stitched the cover fabric. Note there is some wrinkling here. This was a rubbery fabric that was difficult to work with so consider that in your fabric choice.

Now you can use your buckram and felt base as a template to cut out your cover fabric. Cut the fabric an inch larger than your base. Fold it over the edges and pin it. For corners I typically fold diagonally along the point, and then fold in the sides. For thinner fabrics, top stitch it in place. For thicker fabrics, whip stitch fabric in place to the felt on the “wrong” side of the belt.

In this version, the fake fur was too thick to fold and I had to cut notches at the corners. This part will not be seen and does not have to look pretty.

In this version, the fake fur was too thick to fold and I had to cut notches at the corners. This part will not be seen and does not have to look pretty.

Step 5: Embellish

This is a good solution for stabilizing unruly coin belts.

This is a good solution for stabilizing unruly coin belts.

I embellish BEFORE I add the lining so that all of the little knots don’t rub against me or my skirt, which can be irritating to me, but also cause the knots to come loose. Here you can just go wild and do whatever you want. Or, if you have really nice fabric, or just have a minimalist style, you can do nothing at all. Totally up to you. I strongly recommend upholstery or beading thread for this stage if possible (if the thread doesn’t really show) because normal sewing thread can break easily here.

Step 6: Line it

I use whatever I have handy because nobody is going to see the lining anyway. Sometimes felt, sometimes I use whatever remnants I have around that fit the bill. I had a thin black velvet with a foil skull print I got as a remnant left over from Halloween that I was using up for a while. Bear in mind that whatever you use here can add yet more bulk to the belt, which could be good or bad, depending on how thick it is already. Totally up to you. You can do this by cutting out a piece from your original pattern, or using your current belt as a template. You will want the lining to be smaller than the belt so that it does not stick out along the edges. Just whip stitch in place directly to the fabric overlap along the edges.

Lining and fasteners installed.

Lining and fasteners installed.

Step 7: Install The Fasteners

I always do this step last, because like many people I can gain or lose weight over the course of several years and I may need to adjust the placement of the hooks. It is a lot easier to do this if you don’t have to pull off the lining. I recommend the pant hooks because they are pretty heavy duty and you don’t want your belt falling off mid-shimmy!

TIP: When hand-sewing your embellishments and fasteners, finish the knot off with some bead glue. You will be extra-sure that it will not come undone. I also recommend upholstery or beading thread for this step.

My Own Experiences

I have tried several different versions of this and I feel I have streamlined my costume making technique pretty well. From my own experience I have a few bits of advice:

  • Sew on materials rather than glue so you can re-use them if your costume gets worn out, dirty, etc. Saves you money in the long run.
  • Consider using materials you already have, but don’t use, as embellishments: old (broken) necklaces, earrings, scraps of material or trim, buttons, etc. Also saves money, and really creates a unique look.
  • Keep an eye out for nice but discounted remnant fabrics to use for this project, and for the bra project. A single remnant can make a whole bedlah!
From top: base with coin belt attached, fake fur covered base for reindeer costume, damask-covered belt with silver glass bead fringe, animal pattern Velboa covered base with gold glass bead fringe. All made using the same technique.

From top: base with coin belt attached, fake fur covered base for reindeer costume, damask-covered belt with silver glass bead fringe, animal pattern Velboa covered base with gold glass bead fringe. All made using the same technique.

Now, just match it up with your bra and you’ve made your own custom bedlah! Congrats!

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with JoAnn Fabrics or Simplicity, they do not pay me any money to endorse their products. I pay THEM loads of money all the time though!

Cheap, Fast and Easy Recital Wear

My last recital as a student, 2008. Starting left: Me, Gail, Annette, Stephanie, Lori and Laura (my teacher).

I can hardly believe it! Our first recital is only a week away. We have talked a little in class about what to wear, but I know some people leave it down to the wire. I know I do! Today’s entry is about how to put a costume together when you are running out of time and money.

If you don’t sew at all your best bet is to assemble something from clothes you may already have around the house, or hit up thrift stores or discount stores. If you can’t find anything suitable there, you can try clothing stores for juniors, like Forever 21, Vanity or Wet Seal. I have no affiliation with any of these stores, but I find that while I would not usually wear any of these clothes for everyday I do find some glam elements that are suitable for dance wear. You will be looking for something form-fitting, stretchy and comfortable to move around it. You will also want to make sure that you have enough bust support, or that you can alter a top or dress or wear a bra underneath if necessary. That means spaghetti strap may be out, depending on your personal requirements. Bikini tops can also be a good choice because they are already decorated and many have cups built in.

Here are a few examples from my own collection that meet the requirements for comfortable dance wear:

Altered T-shirt

This black choli is just a form-fitting T-shirt cut off above the midriff. That was a discount store buy.

Altered top

This shimmery purple and silver top was a clearance rack find at a department store. Once again, cut off above the midriff.

Floral tank top

You don’t have to show off your belly if you don’t want to. This floral tank was $3 at a local thrift shop.

Gold dress with coin scarf

This sparkly gold dress was one of my best ever thrift store finds. I just put a coin belt on it. Voila! Dance costume! It does have slits up both sides for leg movement.

Short party dress with interesting hemline

Dress altered into halter top and overskirt.

Here is an altered piece made from a party dress. I picked this dress up at a thrift store for about $12. It has a sort of modern sparkly pattern on it. You could just put this over a pair of yoga pants and call it good. Really, I think that would be pretty cute. I altered this one to a top and overskirt. Once again, put on a pair of yoga pants, harem pants or another skirt underneath and you got yourself a costume. It took me about a half hour to alter this. One important thing to remember when altering stretchy fabrics, make sure to use a zigzag, tricot or other stretch-friendly stitch so you don’t pop your stitches when you pull it on. If you chop out the middle of the dress remember you can use that extra fabric to make a headband, choker, arm warmers or arm bands that perfectly match the rest of the costume.

An inexpensive ensemble

Here’s a super cheap assembled costume: chopped T-shirt, silky pajama pants and a discount store scarf. The necklace was on clearance. All together this was probably about $25.

If you find something that seems appropriate but kind of boring, dress it up with jewelry. Start in your own jewelry box. I would be willing to bet that at some point you bought some really gorgeous necklace only to realize it was too ostentatious for every day. Well, today is the day to pull that sucker out and show it off. Do not go for modest or tasteful. Go big! Thrift stores and clearance racks are full of jewelry that people aren’t wearing because they are afraid it is too loud. It is not too loud for this occasion. Look for bracelets, rings and earrings too. I would avoid anklets though. They can get hooked on your skirt or pants and may cause you to trip.

Costuming is all well and good, but don’t neglect your makeup and hair. This is a special occasion – you are showing off your skills to your family and friends. Even just a headband or hair flower will really dress things up. There are lots and lots of makeup and hair tutorials on YouTube. Feel free to experiment.

Before the big day though make sure to do a full dress rehearsal, including hair, makeup and jewelry. You need to make sure that your costume will hold up to the stress of your movement, and that your accessories won’t get caught in your costume. If you are dancing with a veil make sure that it does not get hooked on your hairstyle or adornments. If you are dancing with a lot of arm jewelry make sure to practice with it on so you are accustomed to the weight. Consider what you may need to secure with fashion tape, like arm bands, gauntlets or gloves.

What happens if you have a “wardrobe malfunction” during the recital? Keep dancing. This is something that requires a bit of a cool head and grace, and I’m confident you can handle it. Keep dancing and try to disentangle yourself and then move on. And keep on smiling! If you are OK your audience is OK, and they are rooting for you to do a good job. I’ve had a couple malfunctions myself:

  • My veil got caught on a metal piece on my costume. I just kept spinning around until I got it dislodged. Nobody noticed.
  • I wore a skirt that was very heavy velvet, and when I did a spin the skirt lifted up, nearly exposing my underwear! There were a lot of spins in that song, so I kept my arms down for the rest of them. Lesson in favor of dress rehearsal!
  • I saw a dancer once wearing a hair garden and her flowers starting falling out during her set. As she was dancing she just pulled the loose ones out and let them fall on the stage. She just kept on dancing and smiling – what a pro!

For additional tips check out the resource links on the right side of this page, or just start surfing the web. If you have any additional advice or questions please feel free to include them in the comments. I can’t wait until next week!

How to Make a Covered Coin Bra

Photo Courtesy Roxanne Gritt

Photo Courtesy Roxanne Gritt

These instructions assume that the reader has an advanced beginner to intermediate level sewing ability.

Since I’ve been performing a bit more lately I’ve decided to go through all of my costuming and update my wardrobe. I found I didn’t have as much as I thought in terms of complete ensembles, and much of it was not at the quality level that I would prefer.

Several years ago I made a coin bra, but I didn’t do a very good job of it so I re-vamped it a couple months ago. Originally I just took a regular bra, made the straps into halters and sewed some Afghan coins onto it. Truth be told, everyone I showed it to was pretty impressed. But being older and wiser now I can tell you there is a better way and I’ll show you what I did.

My first mistake in the original concept was that I did not cover the bra. It was a lingerie bra with some padding (firm cups). The Afghan coins were quite heavy and the back strap was not reinforced at all so it put some strain on the back of my neck if I wore it for too long. Before you start:

  • Find out what your actual bra size is. The last time I was properly measured for a bra I was 14. I’ve changed a lot since then. I was lucky enough to find a great gal who does professional bra fittings and she set me straight.
  • Try on a bunch of different types of bras, and then find one style you like. Make note of it for future reference. I use the same brand/model of bra now for all of my designs, which means if I make a pattern I can use the same one every time. That can be a time saver, and a money saver if you stock up when they go on sale. Get a bra that has an underwire and firm cups so it can support you and your embellishments.
  • Decide what kind of straps work best for you. Some people need more support than others. In my coin bra example I use the crossover type of strap that is rather popular on right now. It is very adjustable.
These are really good books.

These are really good books.

I have two different books about how to cover and embellish bras. I have taken advice from both, and I’ve scoured the internet for design help too (see links in the right column). As a result I’ve come up with my own technique. I would recommend either book for some really good advice and design ideas.
Below you can see examples of a few different strap situations. There are pros and cons to each.

Cross over with halter, elastic fitted, and criss-cross with D-rings

Cross over with halter, elastic fitted, and criss-cross with D-rings

  • Professional costume with halter neck strap and overlapping band. The band has two hooks and an industrial snap. This sucker ain’t coming off. Definite pro. Also, with snaps and hooks that are sewn on you can adjust if you change size or sell it. Cons: Halter necks can put weight on your neck. A criss-cross strap could be substituted in that case. You may need help getting into this bra, so plan ahead.
  • Covered elastic band and standard over-the-shoulder straps. Pros are that the elastic will stretch with you, and it’s easier to put on by yourself. Cons are that elastic eventually wears out. Maybe by the time it does you won’t care, but if you put a lot of time and effort into embellishment this may be a let down. I sometimes have problems with the shoulder straps falling down. This can be remedied by installing a T-strap across the back.
  • Criss-cross straps with D-rings. This is very adjustable to multiple sizes, which is probably why it is such a favorite design on The criss-cross straps really distribute the weight evenly so it’s very comfortable for my neck and shoulders. Cons to this design are that you really need to have it tied tight, and you’ll need help to get dressed. It can also feel like it is shifting as you move, but I’ve never had it shift out of place.

These are not the only possibilities, but that’s all I have to show you at the moment. So here’s my process for making an embellished bra with criss-cross straps and D-rings. Yes, I know 5/8” is a standard seam allowance, but this is my pattern, so there.
You will need:

  • A bra you don’t mind cutting up
  • 1/2 yard of fabric (this is a great project for remnants)
  • 1/2 yard of lining fabric
  • At least 2 yards of 1” grosgrain ribbon, depending on the length of your straps
  • Scraps of buckram, felt, or some structural material
  • Needle, straight pins, and a thimble
  • A tube turner (optional)
  • Thread to match the fabric
  • Beading thread
  • 2 D-rings
  • Whatever embellishments you want

Covering your bra:

  1. Cut off the shoulder straps and cut down the band to about 2 inches. I keep part of the band attached so that the replacement band has something to grip on to.
  2. Make a pattern for the band by drawing around the side of the cup, then taper down to to the width of your D-ring. You’ll have to determine the length based on the circumference of your own torso. I figure about 6 inches between the D-rings when I am wearing the finished bra. Make it 1.5” longer at the end so you can fold the end over the D-ring, and give yourself .5” seam allowance all the way around.

    Making the band pattern

    Trace around where the underwire meets the band

  3. Cut two pieces from your pattern, making sure that they are opposites – one for the right and one for the left. Then cut two pieces (also opposites) of whatever lining material you would like to use. I like cotton or a cotton blend. Something comfortable against your sweaty skin.
  4. With wrong sides together, sew the fabric to the lining on top and bottom edges using a .5” seam allowance, making a sleeve. Turn them right side out and press if possible. The material I used here actually had a rubbery coating so I couldn’t press it.
  5. For extra support, cut two pieces of buckram or other structural fabric to the size of the finished band parts. Slide the buckram into place in the band sleeve that you just made. Leaving about .5” at the cup side (you’ll overlap this later), top stitch the whole band construction into place.

    Constructing the band

    Slide the old band into the new sleeve you just constructed

  6. Slide the left-over band (still attached to the bra) into the sleeve you have made. The 1/2” you left at the cup side should now overlap onto the cup snugly. Pin in place and whip stitch the band/sleeve you constructed to both the front and back of the cup – onto the underwire construction. This stitching will not be seen in the end. TIP: use beading thread. It is made to be run through over and over again, and it is very strong. Regular cotton or poly sewing thread will typically fray and break fairly quickly during this phase.

    Whip stitch the bands to the underwire and cup on both sides

    Whip stitch the bands to the underwire and cup on both sides

  7. With a zipper foot, or by hand, sew along the band from top to bottom as closely as you can to the cup. This will catch the existing band, so you have a triple-stitched band. Very sturdy!

    Stitch with zipper foot or hand stitch along underwire

    Stitch with zipper foot or hand stitch along underwire

  8. Run the end of each band through a D-ring, folding the fabric over, and zig-zag stitch it in place.
  9. Next we cover the cups. Cut a rectangle of fabric that will easily cover the entire cup, and add about an inch on all sides to overlap. In the book Embellished Bras: Basic Techniques by Dawn Devine Brown and Stage Belt and Bra for Bellydancers by Dina Lydia they recommend making a pattern for the cups.  I haven’t done this for the new bra model because I was impatient. The lazy technique still works, you just have to trim off the excess when you’re done.
  10. Fold the fabric over the outside edges of the bra and pin in place. On the band side, fold the fabric under and pin, covering the previous stitching. Let the fabric overlap the center panel as this will be covered later.
  11.  Create a dart and pin in place. At this point you may have to re-position some of your other pins to finesse it just right. If your fabric is rather thick you will have to cut away the extra, but if it is very thin you may be able to get away with tucking the dart in. It is helpful to have some sort of ball or other round object to put under the cup while you are working. MAKE SURE THE DARTS ARE GOING THE SAME WAY ON BOTH CUPS.

    Cover and pin

    This is the hard part

  12.  Whip stitch the fabric covering to the back side of the bra where the fabric folds over. Blind stitch the fabric to the band, and blind stitch the dart in place.
  13.  Cut a triangle of fabric to the size of the center panel, plus .5” seam allowance. Fold the sides under and fold the top and bottom over the panel. Blind stitch the side to the cups and whip stitch the back side. IF YOU NEED MORE SUPPORT FOR THE CENTER PANEL REINFORCE WITH GROSGRAIN RIBBON BEFORE YOU COVER IT.

    Finished cup

    Finished cup. Not too shabby.

  14. Next we make the straps. Cut 2 pieces of matching or coordinating fabric 3 inches wide by 36-45 inches long (depending on how much you need or feel comfortable with). These will need to be long enough to go over your shoulders, criss-cross through the D-rings and tie into a knot. I double-tie to make sure it won’t come loose.
  15. Fold each strip lengthwise, wrong sides together. Pin and stitch with .5” seam allowance. You will end up with 2 long tubes of fabric. Turn them right side out and press.
  16.  Feed a length of 1” grosgrain ribbon through the tubes for extra support.
  17.  Top stitch it all in place, tucking in the raw edges of the tube inside for a finished look on the ends.

    close up of strap

    Finished strap, attached to cup, back view

  18.  Determine the best placement and angle for the straps. With about .5” overlapping, stitch them to the tops of each cup. I did a machine top stitch very close to the edge of the cup. THIS STEP CAN ACTUALLY BE DONE BEFORE YOU COVER THE BRA, DEPENDING ON THE FABRIC AND ORNAMENTATION YOU CHOOSE. Whip stitch the remainder into the inside of the cups for extra strength.

You have now covered the bra. You can decorate it any way you want! If you have very heavy ornaments you may choose to add strips of grosgrain ribbon to reinforce the cups. In the case of the coin bra I did this:

Front and back

Front and back of finished bra before lining

  1. I drew lines with tailor’s chalk as guides where the decoration should go.
  2. I wanted the spacing between the coins to look finished and consistent, so I re-purposed beads from a broken necklace. Starting from the backside of the cup I ran thread through, caught a coin, back through the cup, four beads, through the cup, coin, an so on.
  3. I finished the knots with beading glue to make sure they wouldn’t come undone.
  4. I added a lining so my skin wouldn’t be irritated by the stitching and knots. Also the lining can be removed and washed if necessary.
  5. The center piece is a brooch that my mother gave to me. She received it from a friend who had actually lived in Afghanistan many years ago. Authentic!

Hopefully soon I’ll get around to posting a belt tutorial. I hope this was helpful. Please post any questions or suggestions in the comments.

UPDATE: See also “How to make a belly dance belt (the easy way).”

Shopping Win! Belly dance gear at Applause!


Harem pants, skirts, coin belts

On Tuesday I stopped by Applause to pick up some tights and had a very pleasant surprise! The first person I saw working there was a bellydancer (Amy – I hope I’m spelling your name right – with Oasis and also Bad Weather Burlesque. She’s fantastic!). Then I found that their selection of belly dance wear had expanded since the last time I was there. Unfortunately, for the last couple of years the hours of my day job kept me from being able to stop by, so things have changed a little bit. They have some really pretty stuff in stock, and will do special orders. Just ask to see the catalog.


New 10 week class session starts Sept. 10 at 10am at the Spirit Room. Email me if you have any questions at

Shimmy Sisters, Oasis Dancers, Middle Eastern Dance students and special guests will be performing Saturday September 17th at the Beckwith Auditorium on NDSU Campus. Show begins at 7:30 pm.