Many of the things that I learned when I started sewing come in handy time and time again. Picking the right shade of thread is one of those things. We all know how to pick an item: simply point and say: ‘I’ll take that one, please.’. But picking the right shade for your project is on a completely different level!
Choose the type of thread according to your fabric
Before you start, examine the fabric that you are using. For most projects, standard polyesther thread works fine for sewing things together. However, silk fabric needs to be sewn with silk thread for the best results, and if you are planning on beading fringe or sewing hooks and eyes in place, heavy duty button thread is a more suitable choice. I am very pleased with the thread from Guttermann, a German sewing company. It is expensive but worth it. With inexpensive thread, the thread break, knots, and the color might fade over time.
Bring the fabric with you when you go out shopping for thread: the best match can be made by day light and with the fabric placed underneath the thread. The trick of picking a shade that matches is by unwinding the thread and putting the thread on top of your fabric. Take a step back and see which thread is ‘dissappearing’ before your eyes. This will give you a good image of what the seam will look like. If the thread is nearly undiscernable when it is on top of the fabric, you have found your match!
As an example, I pulled out some purple chiffon and laid out four possible choices. You might notice that the top two are both suitable matches. In that case, go with your gut feeling. Either one would give great results when used.
Have you ever been to a multiple day bellydance event? It is the perfect opportuniy to take workshops, watch performances, browse merchandise and talk with fellow dancers. Often these events are not in my area and I usually travel with public transportation. Packing enough clean clothes for a couple of days plus something nice to wear in the evening AND being able to lugg it with me from train station to train station is a bit of a challenge. Through the years I’ve learned to pack smarter, not harder. What it means is that I am not focussing on how I can find the biggest available suitcase and the maximum ammount of weight I can carry with me (pack harder). Instead I am going for packing as little and as light as possible whil still covering all situations and bringing enough clothes with me for the whole event. For example, a 3/4 legging is considerably light compared to Melodia pants. An accent skirt made of fabric is not as hefty as a Egyptian glass beaded hip scarf.
Without further ado, I these are my tips for packing smarter:
Let’s face it, I want to look good while working my ass off during a workshop. For convenience I wear leggings plus a top, and accent hipskirts made of left over fabric. These are easy to make, will only take you a couple of minutes and they really brighten up your outfit. There are several tutorials floating around the internet, like Andalee’s Bellydance overskirt and this tutorial by Sparkle Belly. For extra flair, I like to bring a couple of silk flowers that can be attached with a pin, hairclip and elastic. It looks really cut pinned to the hipskirt or in my hair, and it doubles as an accesoire for gala nights. Jewelry works great too, a couple of sparkly earrings will look great with lots of outfits. Since sweat a lot, I bring a shirt and a legging for every day of workshops.
I like the opportunity to perform on the open stage or I am invited to perform in the show. Sometimes bringing a 25 yard skirt with me is inevitable, but given a choice I’ll bring lightweight costumes with me. Eman Zaki and Sahar Okasha makes beautiful lightweight costumes that really pop on stage, and I made a couple myself that also work really wear. More fringe equals more weight! I love my vintage and fringy costumes but for events, I rather leave them at home.
When performing, I need the whole shebang in the original package. But for everyday use I have a minimal make-up kit: eyebrow powder (I like the Bodyshop brow and liner kit), a simple gold tone eye tint base that doesn’t run and looks good all day (I prefer MAC pro longwear paint pot Rubenesque) a black eye pencil for creating a slightly smokey eye (Rimmel London soft khole eye liner) and a black mascara (I get a cheap one from a local drug store). Five products that can be used to create a day look and an evening look. If you have a gala or something, add fake lashes and a lipstick to your kit.
Go small. I have couple of small plastic containers that will hold enough cream, lotion or other product to last a couple of days. I rarely bring shower gel as most hotels provide soap or shower gel. This can easily bring the weight of my suitcase back a couple of pounds. I bring almost every product back in size, including toothpaste and cotton pads. Cut the pads in two and you get two uses out of one pad.
Walking around inbetween workshops, going outside to get something to eat and travel to and from the event, I am in need of day wear. Though I like wearing my bellydance costumes, 24/7 is a bit too hardcore for me! I like to bring items that can be worn on top of a practice outfit and can be worn several ways. Like the thousandways dress from Supertrash, or the infinity dress that you can makeyourself. Important reminder: knit fabric has a tendency to show panty lines and white knit fabric is slightly see through. Avoid at all costs. Second important reminder: just because a dress can be worn a thousand ways, doesn’t mean it will stay clean all week. They are easy to wash and dry in a hotel room though.
Yes, the gala! I have been caught unaware before because in my culture, people dress for practicality, not for fashion sense. Some say the Dutch don’t have a fashion sense, which might very well be true. After my fair share of festivals where I turned out to be a bit underdresses, I am now prepared for every occassion. A little black dress works wonders paired with simple black heels, or sandals with rhinestones. Layers are my friend, when travelling I wear a scarf around my neck that can double as an evening wrap. With the silk flower in my hair and fake lashes on, I am ready to party in no time!
Yes, dancers need food to keep on dancing! During my first workshops I bought food at home an took it with me to the event, but nowadays I arrive early and buy water, fruit and snacks close to the venue. Check in advance if bringing your own food is allowed and if it is not allowed, bring enough cash to pay for food. Which brings me to…
Bringing a bit of cash comes in handy. If you are sure that you can withdraw money at the place of the venue (in some countries your card might not work, or you need to inform your bank that you are taking a holiday so they enable your card) only take enough money with you for calculated expenses like food and a bit of merchandise. If I see a costume that I like, I can always come back later with the full payment. Form a safety point of view, I never keep all my money in the same place: I carry part of it with me, and a smaller part is in the safety deposit box in my hotel room. If I get robbed, at least I can still get some food and get home.
When it comes down to costuming, there are no hard and fast rules that work for every project. Costuming is about what works for you. Different types of costuming require different choices in design and material. A costume made for a one time wear during a renfair is different from a (belly) dance costume that has to withstand years of vigorous dance performances. I started at a young age with making clothes for my dolls. When I was sixteen, I made clothes for myself instead. I have made retro dresses in fiftees and sixtees style, went through a phase where I would make a lot of tie-dye and flared pants, made a truckload of Gothic clothes (never cut black velvet in a house with carpeting. Really.) ventured into historical costumes and made medieval dresses, corsets and Victorian outfits. For the past fifteen years most of my projects were bellydance costumes. In short, I did a whole lot of sewing and costuming and I developed a couple of rules that work for me. Take advantage of my mistakes and try the following rules when you’re on your next project.
1. Use high quality material for time intensive costumes. You don’t want to spend many hours on a costume, only to have it fall apart after your first performance
2. Make costumes that can be adjusted for size. When I started costuming, I was an A cup. Years later, I wear a C cup. I always make my bellydance bra one cup size bigger and leave a bit of overlap in my belt. It takes just a little bit of extra effort to create a costume that can be adjusted to size changes. You’ll get more wear out of your costume and it will be easier to sell.
3. Work tidy. I am not referring to your workspace because mine is a mess, but to your sewing. If it is worth doing it is worth doing well, tidy stitches will hold a long, long time.
4. No sewing after 23.00. Most of my errors in judgement were made after 23.00 when I was too tired to think straight or work tidy (see nr. 3).
5. Don’t wear clothes in the same color as the costume you are sewing. For example, working on a black costume while wearing black pants and black t-shirt. Way too easy to stitch things together that shouldn’t.
6. Always work with good light. Daylight is best but if that is not available, make sure your workspace is well lighted. Save your eyes, you’ll probably want to use them later in life too.
7. Take breaks. It is tempting to keep on costuming because you’re soooo close to finishing your costume. A break will allow you to rest your hands, back and head and place things into perspective. Also see rule 4. As a life long costumer I can tell you that you might finish this costume, but there will always be a next project right around the corner so don’t rush it.
8. A quick trick to check if your design is balanced is by looking at it through a reflection in the mirror.
9. Think before you act. I spend many hours on sketching and planning a costume before actually making it. The times that I rushed into it, I regretted some of the choices I made and had to go back and fix it. Save yourself the effort and think it through before you start.
10. Enjoy the proces. Costuming takes time, so make sure you are enjoying yourself. I like to settle on the couch, watching movies or series with one eye while beading my way through another inch of rope beading. With a nice pot of tea within arms reach and no dead lines, I can relax and let my mind relax too. After finishing the project I can look back on hours that I spent being happy and relaxed, and a costume imbued with good mojo.
Those are my ten rules for costuming. What are yours? Leave your reply in the comments or on facebook!