Steampunk Costume for Tribal Bellydance

I made this skirt / belt for  Bella’s Steampunk Show (it looked a bit like this …)

Here is a little montage of some of the night’s performances .. and der’s my little threads in action!

When I was making this I realised it was easier to take construction cues from playing with the fabric itself, rather than trying to abstract the pattern onto paper in 2D first. Adhering to that too rigidly can be pretty restrictive for design ideas in general when I think about it!

“…A writer in the magazine The Young Englishwoman (1876) complains that “it is now impossible to describe dresses with exactitude: the skirts are draped so mysteriously, the arrangements of trimmings is usually one-sided and the fastenings are so curiously contrived that if I study any particular toilette for even a quarter of an hour the task of writing down how it is all made remains hopeless.”

I began with this first of all: a quick sketch is helpful for “logicising” to myself how a construction might work. It’s a good way of articulating the steps you might go through as you visualise them (however roughly) on paper and highlighting potential problems that you might not have envisaged. Here is my wonderful sketch:

Step 1

For a dance belt I always make a proper darted waistband. I just draft a standard skirt block and lop off a good 11cm or so from the top. If you want details on how to do this just ask; it’s easy peasy. Meanwhile, here are my belt/waistband patterns:

Step 2

I begin with the back of the skirt. I still have no true formalised idea of how I want it to turn out but I do know I want Stripes. So I cut out my Back waistband and a big semi-circle of chocolate Stripey fabric, about 3 times the width of the waistband. This is because I want to “scrunch” the fabric onto the waistband to create a bit of volume and bulk in the way it falls.

I do this by pinning a series of little folds along the width of the Stripey fabric until it’s the same width as the waistband, and running a stitch along the folds to hold it in place. 

Step 3

Next I decided to put an overlay of gathered material in contrasting fabric on top. I lay a large width of brown fabric flat on top and draped it by making a series of folds like so, holding them in place at the sides with pins:

I initially tried creating the Drapes by draping it onto Bernadette – my mannequin – but found I had better control and precision by making them flat on the table. I then pinned the ready folded fabric onto Bernadette my mannequin, just to see how it fell:

Step 4

Yes! I’m happy with this, so I stitch the folds into place. The next step is to fix the two layers together. I get my back Waistband (from step 1) and place it flat down on top of the outside of the skirt. It’s basically going to function like the interfacing on a skirt. Making sure all three layers of material (the 2 skirt layers and the waistband) are evenly aligned, I stitch it into place and then fold the Waistband in behind the skirt layers, ironing it flat into place. You now have your underlying “anchor” holding the 2 skirt layers together. I really should have photo-ed this part because it’s more complex to verbalise than it is to visualise. Ask me if you’re confused about that part.

Step 5

Now it’s time to move onto the front of the skirt, like so:

To do the pleats around the edge I just cut a strip of the fabric, pinned it on in little folds and stitched it down like this:

You can probably see that I overlocked the strip of fabric around the edges. It may seem like too much bother (not that it doesn’t just take a couple of seconds to do! I guess threading the damn thing is the main disincentive for little petty Overlocking tasks!) BUT it’s the only way to create a nice reinforced “edge” that will fold nicely under into a tidy hem and create a nice smooth seam. You can have fun with this and use all different kinds of contrasting fabricky scraps & remnants to trim and frill your things.

Step 6

Next up I decided to overlay the front with some kind of nice texturey Peach explosion. I stitched a Ruffly Gypsy Penney’s scarf onto a wedge of satin fabric and ended up with this:

Two things to note:

1. I repeated Step 4 with the FRONT waistband (to seal the two layers into place)

2. I made it a good bit wider than the brown base of the skirt so I’d be able to drape the excess material up at the sides.

Step 7

So now I’m ready to put my two skirt halves together. I align the seams by laying them both front-to-front on top of one another, LEAVING the peach part free on the inside so it’s free to overlap the back of the skirt at the very end.

I only sew ONE side of the skirt together, leaving the other half open. I devise a crafty tying mechanism on the Open side with a couple of washer rings and shoe laces (lovely, eh?). 

Step 8

So the last step is to swag and tail the peach fabric into that lovely cascading-forth-from-the-hip form, revealing the lower layers of fabric in a lovely cascading freefall underneath. Doing it on the ready-seamed side is easy. I tweaked and arranged and pinned the long peach tail of fabric until it looked nice and sewed it into place.

I had to think of how I was going to achieve the same effect on the Open-side of the skirt, so I got some Rings, strings and bits of hardware. I stitched a pair of little chain-link loops onto the peach fabric tail and the waistband of the skirt, to be fastened together with a small ribbon once the skirt was on me, like this:

And voila! We’ve come full circle 🙂

Steampunk bellyqueens Ailbhe and I


~ by FAFA on February 24, 2011.

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