How NOT to Make a Belly Dance Skirt

I'm not much good at sewing - I can put thread in the sewing machine and press the pedal, but that's about all! So when I had to start making my own belly dance skirts, I made several false starts. I found plenty of advice on the internet from experienced dressmakers on how to make a skirt - but I found a lot of it didn't work for a belly dance skirt - and some of it was too difficult for a novice like me anyway.

After a lot of trial and error, I finally worked out how to make an easy belly dance skirt.   You don't need a pattern - it's basically a straight tube. If you'd like to know how to make it, you can cut to the chase and read the article now - but I've decided to document the advice I didn't follow, in case you're wondering why my instructions are different from those you may find elsewhere on the internet.

Hip Measurement is Vital

Nice but shapeless!

I found several examples of this kind of skirt on the web, but most of them will tell you to measure your hips at their widest point. That seems logical - after all, the skirt has to be big enough to fit your widest point, right?

Wrong! There are two problems with that.  The first is that, if your skirt fits over your widest point, it will just hang straight down from there. If you look at the two photos to the right, I hope you can see what I mean.

The first skirt was cut to fit the widest part of my hips.

It's made of gorgeous holographic Lycra, but it just hangs from hip level. I imagined that was a good thing, because it disguises my bumps - but when I saw a video of myself performing in it, I was shocked - I looked like a shapeless box.

The second photo shows another skirt, this time measured at my hip bones.  This time, the skirt stretches gently around my butt then comes in again at the thigh. Yes, I know it highlights my saddle bags - but because it curves in and out again, it's much more flattering when I dance. It's a similar effect to bootcut jeans!

No Darts!

The second problem with using your "big hip" measurement depends on whether you're good at sewing.

If you cut the fabric to suit your widest part, your waistband is going to be much wider than your waist. The simple way to address that is to put elastic through the waistband and tighten it to fit - but if the band is a lot bigger than your waist (which it will be using this method) the material will bunch up unattractively. Not a problem if you wear a hip belt, but horrible if you don't!

A better way to make the waist fit is darts (two at the front, two at the back), but it takes some skill to create darts that shape your waist in smoothly - get it wrong, and you'll create bulges at the pointy end of the dart! If you're not experienced, be sure to tack and check first before sewing your darts in place.

Ease

Ease is related to hip measurement. If you're making a conventional garment, you would always take your measurement, then add a bit extra for luck. Ease is the difference between wriggling into a skirt, and being able to slip it on smoothly. And if you didn't have ease in a non-stretch skirt, you'd bust the seams every time you sat down!

Belly dance skirts are different. As we've seen above, making a skirt as wide as your widest point doesn't work - it creates a shapeless box. So obviously, making it even wider would be a disaster! Ease allows a skirt to sit lightly on your hips instead of hugging them tightly - but in belly dance, "hug" is exactly what you want.

Even in conventional skirts, you don't need to add much ease if you're using a stretch fabric (because it will "give" as you move instead of straining the seams). So you don't need any ease in a belly dance skirt. True, a tight skirt will put pressure on seams - but there's only one seam in my simple skirt, so it won't take much time to double-reinforce it!

Godets

Godets are such a vexed subject, I've done a separate article on how to make godets. In a nutshell, though: always make your godets with semi-circles, not quarter circles or anything in-between. The semi-circle gives you a straight line to sew into the opening: anything else is too difficult to line up. Getting the hem straight is an absolute pain, but easier than the alternative!

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