How to recognize good quality beaded fringe

Though there are no rules set in stone when it comes to costuming, I strongly believe that using good quality materials and supplies for your costume is the best decision you can make. I can’t make a long lasting high quality costume with low quality materials. What happens to costumes when they are made with low quality materials? The paint from the beads will soon start to flake, the glass beads will break, crystals get scratched and loose their shine, fabric will fray, tear or start to pill and your fringe will break and fall apart.

Breaded fringe is one of the most effective material to use in a bellydance costume and also the one that causes the most trouble when it breaks down. Stepping into tiny beads during a performance is painful and covering the stage with beads coming from your fringe can cause harm to other performers.

Wearing a costume will influence how quickly a costume is in need of repair, but choosing materials carefully before starting a project will keep the regular upkeep to a minimum.  I like to spend less time on costume upkeep and more time on dancing :-). When beaded fringe gets damaged, it looses fringe creating a bit of a jagged and sparse look. The little bit of wiggle room created by jagged edges on beads is allowing the beads to move around on the thread during movement, causing even more wear. Jagged edges also act like a mini knife (if you ever cut yourself on broken glass, you know what I am talking about) and slowely saw through the threads holding the fringe together. In the example below, you can see an example of what damaged fringe looks like.

Damaged beaded fringe
Damaged beaded fringe

The fringe in this image happens to be twenty year old high quality Egyptian fringe. Given the age and the amount of use and abuse, I’d say this fringe is holding up great. In fact, most of the fringe is in such a good state that I can reuse it into a new costume I am making.

What is beaded fringe?

One of the best time saving materials for costumers is (pre) beaded fringe. Beaded fringe is hand made and thus on the expensive side. If you compare the amount of beads that go into making the fringe and the amount of labor to make your own, beaded fringe is a steal. Not having to slave away hours and hours on beading your own is a big plus in my book!

The fringe is sewn to a heavy cord, allowing you to cut and sew the fringe on your costume as you see fit. The most common type of beaded fringe is straight fringe, in 4″ / 10 cm and 8 / 20cm length. Beaded fringe is usually knotted to a cord of approximately “1 yard/ 1 meter. For a belt, I use approximately one piece and a bit for a size 12 /EU size 42 hips.

Beaded fringe is also available though less common as beaded swags, or in ‘triangle sets’. These triangle sets consist of two pieces for the belt and one for the bra, beaded small at the ends and long in the center, thus creating a triangle shape.

Triangle fringe sewn to the bra and belt
Triangle fringe sewn to the bra and belt

More rare but also available is pre beaded swagged fringe. Falling down in loops, these swags can be sewn to any costume in no time. The fringe is made of seed beads, which is a term used for all types and shapes of smaller sized beads. The beads can be rounded or tubular shaped. The beads used for Egyptian pre beaded fringe are usually glass beads lined with a reflective layer to increase the shiny effect of the fringe.

What fringe is best suited for a bellydance costume?

Different types of beaded fringe are available online. Personally, I stay away from the decorative beaded fringe that is sold in sewing shops. This type is meant to be decorative and won’t stand up to heavy use. I also stay away from plastic beaded fringe. Plastic beaded fringe is cheap and the luster will soon disappear from the beads. It is ofcourse totally up to you what type of beaded fringe you’d like to use in your costume and these types can certainly create stunning effects.

I prefer using Egyptian pre beaded fringe, as the quality is superb. Handpicking beaded fringe in Mahmoud’s store in Cairo is one of my favorite parts of a trip to Egypt. Since I can’t afford to go to Egypt twice a year, I resort to buying fringe from online stores and eBay. The subject of buying beaded fringe online deserves a post all by itself, so I’ll post more about it later.

How to recognize good quality beaded fringe

Buying online is always tricky, it is easier to determine quality when you can see the fringe up close and personal. However, with detailed pictures I can make a pretty close guess on how long the fringe will last. These are the things to look for:

– Beads. Check if the beads are straight cut on the edges. Sharp edged beads will slowly saw through the thread, causing the fringe to break. The beads should have straight edges, and there should be little to no broken beads in the fringe.

Difference between two strands of beaded fringe
Difference between two strands of beaded fringe

– Thread. The thread is heavy cotton thread, securely knotted on the bottom and the top. Do not trust fringe made with regular sewing thread and don’t make your own fringe with regular sewing thread.

– Knots. The knots are important, as they keep the fringe tied to the cord on one side, and it ties of the fringe on the other side. The knots should be tied, double knots. To make the fringe longer lasting, use cear nail polish to seal the knots by dabbing a bit on each and every one.

– Material. There is a use for every type of fringe, but glass fringe works best for the low light environment . The durability of glass is also much longer, which is why I prefer using fringe made from glass beads instead of plastic.

– Amount of fringes per inch / cm. Good quality beaded fringe has fringes that are set closely together, thus creating a curtain of fringe. An easy way to reduce the labor on beaded fringe is by creating bigger gaps between the individual fringes. This changes the look and feel of the costume completely: sparse fringe makes a costume look unfinished unless it is a well thought out design element.

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