Tag Archives: bellydance

Cover Up


Cover Up, AKA Caftan

I made a cover-up. Better known as a caftan. We have some major (major by my standards, anyway) dance performances coming up and my instructor was giving me a rough time about my habit of throwing a tablecloth over my shoulder and calling that a cover-up. Sheesh. But it’s not as if I don’t have plenty of fabric in stash already earmarked for just such a project.


With gold dress, for effect. Without head because I am too lazy to do makeup today.

I got the fabric from a friend who quilts; someone brought it back to her as a souvenir from India, but of course although cotton, it’s not at all a quilting fabric. Her loss. 😉 It’s a very crisp, but thin and sheer fabric—I’ve never seen a cotton organza in the threads, so to speak, but this might be something like that, though maybe a bit heavier than organza ought to be. It’s a shot cotton, with warp threads of gold and weft threads of purple (or is it the other way around? Too lazy to look up my weaving terms right now, sorry), with a darker purple print overlaid on top, and I absolutely adore everything about the iridescent, multi-hued look that gives it, right down to the golden selvedges. I actually have a gloriously-70s caftan pattern, but it involves somewhat shaped side-seams, and I couldn’t bear to cut those gorgeous golden selvedges. So this one is made of whole cloth.


Edging with bias tape.

Not all forms of dance have the concept of a cover-up—an easy-to-remove, all-engulfing piece of clothing that hides (or at least obscures) the costume before and after performance. Maybe because not all forms of dance have you, um, baring quite so much skin as bellydance can. Being a high school drama alumnus, I like to think of it as our version of “not breaking curtain,” since only rarely do we have a show with an actual backstage where we can hide before performance. Ideally, a cover-up is great to look at, without being so eye-catching it detracts from another performer.


Closeup, with selvedge and trim

It’s the simplest form of clothing construction after the toga—fold in half, slit one half up the middle for a front opening, widening into a space for the head. I finished the neck and front opening with bias-tape, since I had some that was the perfect gold to match the selvedges. It’s a bit heavier than I might have chosen, but when else am I ever going to use harvest gold bias tape? I attached it with the “applique” stitch, and then got cocky and figured I’d add another row of applique stitch with the meandering vine in between (I have a very limited array of decorative stitches that aren’t strictly zig-zag based). The White did not like doing the applique stitch along the outer edge of the bias tape, and whenever I got too close to it the stitch dissolved in a mess of edge-wrapping and skipped stitches, and I’d probably be picking them all out except that I’m pretty sure trying to match up those stitches would look just as bad (and it’s a costume so theoretically no one is looking closely anyway. Right? Right? K, I’m glad I’m not being graded on this. My gorgeous Indian cotton deserves much better, I know. *hangs head in shame.*



Bias-tape neckline, actually not completely standing up.

My biggest fear, when it came to the bias-tape finish, was that it would be too heavy and end up puckered or stretched out and just ugly-looking. While it’s far from perfect, I think I managed pretty well (helped in no small measure by the lovely, crisp cotton), and while I didn’t have the foresight to try to pre-iron my neck-surrounding portions into shape, a bit of stretching and squishing while sewing, plus a little more than a bit of steamy pressing after sewing, and it’s all lying a lot better than I thought it might, really.


Although not really inclined to, the front is capable of overlap. I could pin it if I really needed to stay shut, but mostly it needs to be something that can come off and on quickly.

For the side-seams, I marked a point under the arm (12″ down from the shoulder-fold and 10″ out from the centre, for those who might find such minutiae useful), and then angled out to the bottom corner. This gives me more width in the “skirt” at the botton, and something vaguely resembling trailing half-sleeves at the top. So it works.


Back view, showing sleeve.

I tried to get a closeup of my hem (I used my rolled-hem foot on the regular sewing machine, with a long, wide zig-zag for a soft effect), but none of the photos seem to have made it onto this computer, so you’ll have to live without. No one in the real world will be looking at it, either.

I still love this fabric (which is good, because I don’t love caftans in general), though, and now I will get to use (wear) it, while also not getting accused of wearing a table-cloth. Win!




Filed under Sewing

A tiered skirt workflow

Tiered skirt

Before I get into the meat of this post (the construction of a basic tiered skirt), allow me to philosophize a wee bit. Y’know the best thing about being home? I have my village back. You’ve heard the saying “it takes a village to raise a child”? Well, maybe it doesn’t, but life is sure a lot better when you have one, and not just for the free babysitting. Case in point? My dance class. I bellydance with what just might be one of the best groups of ladies in the universe. I’ve been involved with the troupe for over half my life at this point, and many others have been there longer.

Dancing c. 2005, dodging a very small Syo.

It’s the kind of class where I could bring my kids when they were babies and everyone would hand them off during practice. Where I could show up for street-fair performances with toddlers in tow and never worry that someone wouldn’t watch them while I danced. Where I can talk to the instructor about paying my fees this term in sewing. But the coolest thing since coming back has been the way my kids interact with the troupe now they’re older. Syo, in particular, has decided she wants to dance this year. Not just the kids class. Every class (well, every class that I go to). Which means that most of the costumes I have to make so far are for her, but anyway. It’s so neat to see her following along with the adults, and also the moments in between where one teacher or another takes a few moments to show her something we didn’t do in class, or go over something a bit more slowly.

Which ties into this post only because one of the costume pieces I’ve been making for Syo is a tiered skirt for American Tribal Style Bellydance. And while I’m sure most of you don’t have use for a ridiculously full tiered skirt, well, it’s exactly the same idea as making a crinoline or a fluffy petticoat. The only differences really are a matter of proportion, fabric choice, and fullness.

Fluffy petticoat

Now, this is not a particularly original concept for a post, and I know there’s some lovely tutorials out there (feel free to link your fave in the comments!). I particularly like this one by Sugardale, of the petticoat variety, for the fine finish she gets using ribbon to cover the seams. Zena has a nice post or three on her particularly painstaking (and super-well-finished) method. But I’ve made enough of these, at this point, that I feel like I have at least something to contribute in terms of what works, for me. (And I will confess to being much more slapdash and imprecise than either Sugardale or Zena.) This falls into basically two categories:

I) workflow
II) gathering techniques.

I’m going to talk about gathering techniques separately, so today I’m going to go into my workflow.

1) Design Decisions

Tiered skirt in action

A typical tiered skirt is a layer-cake of gathered rectangles of fabric, smallest at the top. The most common gathering ratio is 2:1—that is, each tier is twice as much fabric gathered on to the tier above it. There’s nothing sacred about this ratio, but it’s a handy starting place. How full (or poufy) your skirt is will be determined by several factors: 1) gathering ratio, 2) number of tiers, 3) fabric. I tend to cut (or rip, for preference) my tiers across the width of the fabric, so I tend to measure my fullness in terms of fabric widths. (Ideally 60″/150 cm)

So, how long do you want your skirt to be?
–A typical Tribal skirt goes from hip to floor. A typical petticoat, maybe from waist to knee. I’m told petticoats should be about 1″ shorter than the skirt they go with, if that’s what you’re trying for. Measure this distance on yourself.

A long, long time ago…

How many tiers?
A minimal tiered skirt has three tiers (two doesn’t work. I tried. It looks like a dumpy mermaid skirt). Personally, being a fan of excess, I like four or five or, y’know, nine. OK, 9 was maybe overkill. (Obviously: number of tiers interacts with your gathering ratio to create fullness: eg. at a 2:1 ratio, if your top tier is two widths and you have three tiers, you’ll have eight widths on the bottom tier. If you have four tiers, the same ratios will give you a bottom tier with 16 widths, unless you reduce the gathering ratio.

For Syo’s skirt, I picked four tiers. I planned for the top tier to be one fabric width (60″/150cm in this case), next tier down two fabric widths, ending up with eight at the bottom tier.

Divide your skirt length by the number of tiers

For Syo, this was: 28″/4—my tiers for Syo’s skirt needed to be 7″ high. Add width for two seam allowances to each tier—for simplicity’s sake, I’ll go with 1/2″ seam allowances, so I add 1″ to each tier. So I’m going to cut all my tiers 8″ high.)

Advanced Tip #1: Some people are particular about where the tiers fall on their body—there’s no rule they all have to be the same widths. It just makes the calculations a bit more complicated. Similarly if you want to allow for a waistband casing on the top tier, or a wider or narrower hem on the bottom tier.)

This skirt has seven or eight tiers and thirty-two fabric widths along the bottom tier. This is overkill.

How full at the hips?
My first few skirts I made as narrow at the top as I could. I’ve since decided this isn’t actually the best look, especially if your tiers are tall (or, like me, your hips need all the help they can get). For Syo here, I used one fabric width for the top tier; I’d probably do this for myself if I made another skirt, at least if the fabric was 60″ wide. If you’re quite large, one and a half widths or even two would be good.

Advanced Tip #2: If you’re concerned with bulk at the hips, you could make your top tier circular or semi-circular. You will have to correct for some bias stretching, but this is a really nice look. This also uses a bit more fabric.

Full Skirt

How full at the hem?

A “typical” ATS tiered skirt is sometimes called a ten-yard skirt—it has ten yards of fullness at the hem. A petticoat could have much less, a crinoline much more. I actually prefer my ATS skirts much more full, in the 20+ yard range. Note that this is just the length of the bottom tier, not how many yards of fabric are required, although skirts like these are still fabric pigs.

Anyway, for Syo’s skirt, I didn’t want to go too overboard (as I have in the past for myself), but I also didn’t want to skimp. I decided to stick with my default gathering-ratio to determine the number of tiers at the hem:

2:1 gathering ratio, 4 tiers

1 width
2 widths
4 widths
8 widths

Since my fabric was 60″/150 cm wide, this will give me a final hem of 13.3 yards/12 metres. Just over my “bare minimum” of ten yards.

Advanced tip #3: depending on the fabric, it can be just as easy to construct your skirt using strips cut lengthwise from your fabric. I find it easier to do the calculations (especially determining how much fabric I need) using widths, but on the other hand there’s less joining together of panels of fabric if you use one or two long lengths rather than eight or ten or twenty short ones.

A very minimal tiered skirt

So, how many fabric widths is that?


I will need to be able to rip/cut fifteen strips from my fabric length.

Now, how much fabric do I need?
15 widths x 8″ high = 120″ = 10′ = ~3m. (Ooo, look what I did, switching to metric like that. I wish I had the self-discipline to do it all in metric. I think Imperial is kind of like a drug… awkward and bad for you, but you keep coming back to it…)

I would, however, recommend buying a bit more fabric than strictly necessary. At least one extra tier’s worth. Sometimes, not everything works out according to the math. You may also want to add a waistband casing on the top.

There are many ways you could go about constructing a skirt like this—mine is what works for me psychologially.

1) Cut fabric
First, I cut or rip my fabric into panels (I’ll keep calling them widths) of the right height. If I can at all possibly rip the fabric, I will, but for this project I was using satin (oh, how I hate satin) and I had to cut.

For this project, I was using two different fabrics—I cut the eight widths for the bottom tier from the purple satin and the remaining seven widths from the black satin.

I always start with the bottom tier—it’s the most daunting, by far, and once it’s complete the skirt is over half done!

2) join panels together.
Join enough panels to make your bottom tier. For troubleshooting reasons, I usually don’t do all the tiers at once.

Finish the seams as you go, using your preferred method (mine is to use the selvedges so I don’t need to finish them. 😉 )

NOTE: I do all the construction for a tiered skirt flat—I will sew the single vertical seam turning it into a “tube” (cone?) almost dead last.

3) hem bottom edge.
I use a rolled hem foot on a regular sewing machine; if your serger does a fancy, easy rolled hem, that would work fine, too. Or, of course, lace or ribbon if you’re making a petticoat. This is a great chance to practice your rolled-hem technique, though, as a) a perfectly straight edge is the easiest to hem, and b) over this many feet of hem, you really won’t care about the odd booboo later.

4) Gather upper edge of bottom tier.
I use a ruffler attachment for this stage. I’ll talk more about the particulars of the different gathering techniques in the future. If you don’t have a ruffler foot, I’d recommend using a zigzag casing gathering technique, which I’ll also talk about next post.

Testing the gathering ratio.

5) Measure gathered length, and make next tier up accordingly.
This only really applies if you’re using a ruffler foot, which produces a gathered length of a fairly fixed ratio. Otherwise just make up your next tier, and arrange the gathers on it.

6) Attach gathered bottom tier to next tier up.
On a ruffler foot, it is actually possible to do steps 4 and 6 together. I don’t usually do this, mostly because I’m chickenshit. Also I feel more secure having two rows of stitching in place. Finish the seam allowance using your preferred method.

Fancy topstitching

Advanced tip: I really like a bit of topstitching to hold my seam allowance up… it smooths things out and tidies the inside. In this case I got to play with embroidery stitches on the fancy machine, so WOOT!

7) Repeat steps 4-6 until all tiers are attached.

8) Sew vertical seam along whole length of skirt. Finish as desired.

9) add elastic/drawstring casing to top edge of skirt.

10) Wear, and sweep them off their feet! 🙂

Ooo lala!

I mentioned above not making your next tier up until the lower one has been gathered. This applies if you’re using a ruffling attachment, or using a differential feed on your serger. Although the ratio of gathering it outputs is adjustable and you can (and should) do some tests to make sure your ratio is roughly correct before you start, often (always) there is a slight discrepancy between your calculated gathered length and your actual gathered length. This isn’t the end of the world, but it does require a bit of finessing. I usually make my next tier up to match my actual length, which can involve adding a bit more fabric or shortening the tier by a little bit. A few inches one way or another is NOT going to affect the final look of your project. (Although ask me about the time what I thought was a 2:1 ratio turned out to be more like a 4:1 ratio…)

In this particular case, it turned out I only had enough of the purple satin to make seven panels, not the eight I had planned for. I used a slightly lower gathering ratio… and really no one will ever notice a difference.

The other thing that can be a bit of a wild-card is length, partly because of some simplifications I made in the calculations (not accounting for hem depth or added width for an elastic casing on the top tier), but mostly, in my experience, having to do with how much a fabric stretches under the weight of all those tiers, or shortens (visually) as it poofs out, in the crinoline variety. The easiest way to adjust the length of a tiered skirt is on the top tier, by removing (pretty obvious) or adding length—usually just adding a casting or waistband to the top is enough for the kind of adjustments I’m talking about.

And finally, don’t sweat the small stuff. Tiered skirts of any variety are exercises in excess—there is a lot of fabric involved, a lot of hems, a lot of poof. Small flaws in your hemming or slightly uneven gathering will not be noticeable.


Whew! That’s a lot of post. And a lot of memories. Not exactly a tutorial… but that’s how I do it.


Filed under Sewing

Oldies but goodies: Pantaloons

Because I should be in bed right now, I’ll start working on a post about an older project.

In case you didn’t know (and why should you?) I’m a long-time hobby-level bellydancer (I did mention I have way too many hobbies, right?). The best part about bellydancing is how totally awesome it is, but the second-best part is the costumes. Dance costumes (and a few club costumes) were the first full-size things I tried sewing, in my late teens. One of the staples of bellydance costume is pantaloons—aka harem pants. By themselves for a more athletic dance or under a full skirt to show when spinning, they really finish off—and fill out—a costume. And the best part (for my neophyte seamstress-skillz—is they don’t require a pattern, really, at all.


My first pair of pantaloons

These are my first pair; I was 17 or so when I made them. I was totally digging the side slits. I always meant to jazz them up with some gold trim, and tack the side-slits closed in a couple of places, but I never did get around to it. The waistband was a rectangle. The cuffs were rectangles. The legs were two big rectangles with a bit cut out at the crotch. can we say simple? (though not AS simple as pantaloons can be… the absolute base-line would be just an elasticized casing at waist and ankle. Which brings us to my next major pair:

These blue satin ones were made from a pseudo-sari type fabric. Aside from the gold pattern in the blue, there’s a wide, ornate gold border on top and bottom (which of course you can’t really see at all in the picture). These are absolutely-basic harem pants: two panels, elastic casing at hip and ankle. And they were MURDER. Almost enough to get me to give up on sewing. I mean, it doesn’t get much easier than harem pants, right?

I knew the satin was ravelly, so I figured I would serge the edges of the pieces. I did. The serging fell off. I hadn’t heard of fray-check at this point, so I muddled on, ending up with some truly massive French Seams. It’s a good thing the fabric itself is so gorgeous, because there’s nothing great about the workmanship itself.

Blue satin pantaloons... "simple"

My most recent attempt at pantaloons was in a cream damask. These ones are easily my most complex pants to date. The fabric was a light upholstery weight, so bulky, and I wanted them HUGE. I mean, HUGE. The fabric was almost two yards wide and I used a full width for each pant-leg. (For reference, the blue pants were a metre width for each leg, ok maybe a yard after all the fabric I lost to ravelling, while the first pair were even less than that). To accomodate this bulk, I wanted to pleat the top onto a yoke, and I used another trick I’d read about on the bottoms: I gathered the ankles onto a smaller doughnut of fabric, and put the cuff on the inside of the doughnut. My aim on these was to have the inside be as nicely finished as the outside (my main issue with my costume-grade sewing), which I almost achieved.

cream pantaloons: ankle circle

Maybe at some future date I’ll add more on my latest pair of dance pants, the rufflies…


Filed under Sewing