Ask the Costume Goddess
Ask the Costume Goddess:
by Dina Lydia
Dear Costume Goddess:
Could you please give me some ideas for arm bands? My arms
are not fat or skinny so I have nothing to hide. My costume is
silver beading and sequins, halterneck, and white harem pants
with silver sequins and beading with royal blue crystals and
blue chiffon scarving tied to pants. Any ideas
would be great!
--Arms Are Us
The Costume Goddess Responds
Dear Arms Are Us,
Armbands are another way of decorating bare arms and easier
than making sleeves or gauntlets. (See Making
They really call attention to your upper arms — so are not
the best choice if that area is large or squishy (See Flabby
Arms). If your arms are too thin, wide beaded bands add the
illusion of more bulk, and if your arms are nicely proportioned,
like yours, narrow to medium sized bands will look very attractive.
Just a single armband is fine too.
So often I see beginners wearing a band of stretch sequin
trim, but it can look amateurish. Any ornate trim works with
my easy instructions below under "A Trim Band".
If your sewing skills are a step higher, you can make a shaped
armband and cover it with costume fabric as described below under
"A Fabric Armband".
A chiffon triangle drape might be added when the band is finished
(See Sleeve Drapes)
or strips of chiffon for a "feathery" look.
Any of the beads from your costume could be applied to the
armband as fringe, tassels or drapes, and the band could be covered
with matching fabric, trim, appliques or sequins.
Click on this image to see it in more detail.
How to Make a Basic Armband
My armband is simple to make, while more sophisticated than
the often-seen stretch sequin band of the beginner.
Description: A snug fitting elastic band is covered
with a band of decorative trim or interfaced band of costume
fabric. Because the outer band is slightly larger than elastic,
and attached to the elastic at two points only, it fits smoothly
around arm without puckering, while the elastic holds it securely
Variations: Decorative trim may be used, or a band
of interfacing may be cut to any shape and covered with fabric
to match costume. Band may be ornamented with tassels, beads,
fringe or drapes. Gauntlets (sleeves) may be attached, or strips
of sheer fabric for a floaty effect. Strings of beads may be
attached from armband to wristband.
Suitable for: Any costumed occasion. May not be flattering
on a large or soft upper arm.
Fabric suggestions: For a trim band, choose sequined,
corded, ribbon, or metallic trim ½" to 1½"
wide. Avoid trim that is sheer, round, very thick, or fragile.
For a fabric band, choose any costume fabric that is not sheer
or fragile. Metallic, sequinned, or sparkled fabric is already
decorative, while a plain fabric such as velvet may need ornaments.
A Trim Band
The diagram at the right shows how to make it. Click on the image to see it in more detail.
- Ten to fifteen inches of trim, depending on arm size.
- A similar amount of half-inch elastic in color closest to
- Measure upper arm where band will be worn. Elastic will be
¼" smaller than this measurement, to hold it firmly
in place. It will have a ½" overlap, so cut elastic
¼" larger than arm measurement.
- Overlap ends of elastic ½" and hand or machine
stitch. Try on. Elastic band should be snug but comfortable.
- Upper band of trim will be 1/4" larger than arm. It
will have ½" seam allowance on each end, so cut trim
1 ¼" larger than arm measurement.
- Fold trim right sides together and sew a ½" seam
by hand or machine. Try on. Band should slip easily over arm.
Press open seam, or fold open and hand sew in place. (Don't press
sequins.) If trim ravels easily, you may secure the edges with
glue; it won't show on the outside. Let glue dry.
- Insert elastic band into trim band.
- Tack the two layers together by hand invisible at two points
opposite each other on the circle, as illustrated.
- Decorate as desired. See "Decoration", below.
A Fabric Armband With Felt Backing
The felt backing is soft, absorbs perspiration and can be
replaced if it gets grubby. Because it doesn't ravel, the edges
need not be finished.
- One eighth yard of costume fabric. Choose any costume fabric
that is not sheer or fragile. Metallic, sequined, or sparkled
fabric is already decorative, while a plain fabric such as velvet
may need ornaments.
- Matching felt
- Medium to stiff non-woven interfacing
- Paper about 2" larger than arm measurement and about
- Ten to fifteen inches of ½" elastic.
- Matching thread or Glue (Fabric-Tac or glue-gun).
- Repeat steps 1 and 2 above for trim armband to make elastic
- Draw the shape of armband on paper. Finished outer band will
be 1/4" larger than arm. It will have ½" seam
allowance on each end, so cut pattern 1 ¼" longer
than arm measurement, and allow ¼" to ½"
for seams top and bottom.
- Pin pattern on fabric; cut fabric from pattern adding 1/2"
- Pin pattern on interfacing; cut interfacing with no seam
- Fold seam allowances under the top and bottom edges of interfacing,
clipping angles and curves where necessary, and edge-stitch through
all layers. OR Apply glue to back side edges of interfacing and
fold fabric over edges, clipping angles and curves where necessary,
and let glue dry. Now you have raw edges visible on the underside
of the piece.
- Using the same pattern, cut a piece from felt (which does
not ravel), trim off seam allowances, glue or stitch to the backside
- If intricate design with jewels, trim, or beads is to be
applied, decorate while flat, before seam in next step is sewn.
- Finish by seaming armband neatly, tacking in inner elastic
band as above for TRIM band.
- Decorate as desired. See "Decoration", below.
Here are some ideas for decorating your armbands:
- Sew one or more tassels at bottom or top edge of band.
- Sew beaded or nylon fringe along bottom edge of band.
- Sew bead or jewelry pendants along bottom edge of band.
- Drape strings of beads from bottom edge of band.
- Sew large glass or acrylic jewels to band singly or in clusters.
- Outline the edges of band with narrow trim.
- Outline the edges of band with bugle beads.
- Sew finished chiffon strips or triangles to band, as shown
in the Feather Sleeves diagram to the right.
- Sew a gauntlet (sleeve) to band.
--The Costume Goddess
Other articles on this web
site related to costuming for the arms include:
About the Costume Goddess
Dina has been sewing for more than twenty-five
years (yes, she started as a toddler!)
She's also an artist (Maryland Institute of Art) and perfected
her sewing techniques apprenticed to various designers, freelancing
for small theaters, restyling vintage garments, and altering
Dina fell in love with belly dancing costumes upon her very
first lesson. Now the pleasure of wearing her own designs, and
seeing others wear them, offers as much pleasure as dancing. She's
become expert as well in altering those troublesome ready-made
Egyptian costumes, and modifying designs to flatter individual
She holds workshops in Seattle to teach design and construction
of cabaret costumes, and analysis of figure characteristics.
She will also give private lessons, or resize or repair a secondhand
costume. She's thus earned her Costume Goddess title.
The Costume Goddess Tells All Costuming Books
Dina has published six books of her own on belly dance costuming
as well as writing nearly all the costuming section for The
Belly Dance Book. For information on her series of books, The Costume Goddess Tells All, see her web site at www.costumegoddess.com.
For reviews here on Shira.net of some of her books, see:
Costume Goddess Photos
To view a photo gallery featuring pictures of Dina, costumes
she has designed, and her friends, either click on the choices below or visit her web site:
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