Ask the Costume Goddess
Ask the Costume Goddess:
Altering a Purchased Belt
by Dina Lydia
Dear Costume Goddess:
I have a sequined Egyptian belt that is too big for me. I
can not cut it because all the sequins would fall off, and it
has no shaping. How can I adjust it to fit without destroying
The Costume Goddess Responds
Yours is a short question with a long answer.
Everyone's sequinned Egyptian belt is too big and and
has no shape. I hear this constantly. Just shortening and angling
the opening edge won't work. The belt will end up asymmetrical
and still ill-fitting. Major surgery will be necessary.
You can cut it and the sequins will not all fall off
because you will carefully pick them off where necessary, save
them in a little plastic box and sew them back on later. Don't
be too intimidated. You will find a belt is no mystery but just
a construction that can be manipulated and transformed. No blood
is invoved. (Unless you jab your finger with a needle!)
Will this be a pain? Yes, yes! But you will end up with a
perfectly fitting, curve-hugging costume that you'll be proud
to wear. If you don't have good sewing skills, find someone who
does, and learn by doing and watching, because you may run into
this problem again.
Firstly, refer to my instructions on how
to make a belt to fit using a paper pattern. You will use
the same principle to determine where your belt needs to be altered.
Have a friend help, if possible. Try on the belt over form-fitting clothing, making sure it is centered, if it has a center motif, and of course the longer section is in the back. Use stout safety pins to pinch in the excess material at the top edge, which is probably the problem area.
If any appliques or rows of beaded fringe are in the way, pick them off. Pin symmetrical "darts" at the biggest gaping part first, whether sides or back, or both. If the belt still sticks out in the front, you may have to pin center front as well. The side with the opening can be pinned at an angle and trimmed shorter, if necessary.
Continue adjusting in this fashion until the belt shape conforms to your body, making sure it still is centered.
Click on the image to the right to see the illustration in more detail.
Yes, I know that the material is stiff and thick, and actual
folded darts would be too bulky, but I will explain how to get
around that in a moment.
You will use brightly colored thread to mark where the pin
pinches the fabric together. Two tacks for each dart. Then remove
the pins. Now you can see how much material needs to be taken
in. It may be a half inch to an inch for each dart. If more than
an inch, two smaller darts would be better. Make sure all of
these are evenly spaced, and the belt remains centered.
Baste in the wedge shape of the dart with thread. If it's
a small dart, it might be two and a half to three inches long.
If a large dart, it may have to extend nearly to the bottom edge
of the belt.
Remove the hand stitching that attaches the lining to the
outer belt at top edge and peel it back so that you can see the
backside of the belt, probably stiff white buckram. Now you are
beginning to feel like a surgeon, right? In the area of the wedge
and a quarter inch or so to either side, you will pick off the
beads and sequins (yes!), saving these and leaving the thread
ends as long as possible. These you will pull to the back side
of the belt, using a needle or seam ripper. If the threads are
long enough, tie them in a little knot to secure the remaining
Wow! Time to take a break. Don't remain hunched over this
project for too many hours at a time. Have lunch, go for a walk
in the sunshine, get the kinks out.
Okay, you have returned to see a half-dissected belt with
pathetic-looking bald spots and trailing threads, like your dad
the first day after his hair plugs. It's time to get out the
big scissors. Cut straight through the middle of the wedge shape
through all layers. Overlap these cut edges, lining up the marks
carefully. The edges can be trimmed a bit if too wide. Now pin
and sew through all layers, both sides of dart, with stout thread.
When all the (overlapped, not folded) darts are basted in, you
can see that the belt has taken on a curved shape.
The opening edge can be cut shorter now if necessary, but
leave two inches of overlap in case of weight gain or later sale
to a larger person.
Try it on once again, making sure it really is a perfect fit,
adjusting if necessary, and marking the overlap. A friend can
see the back better.
Now you have a raw edge exposed on each dart. The beads and
sequins will cover this, but to make sure it does not ravel,
cover this edge with white glue or Fray-check and let it dry
thoroughly. Time for another break.
Now you must sew the beads and sequins back over the surgically
altered areas. Typically, the sequin-covered belt is sewn in
a pattern of two sequins side by side connected by a "bridge"
of three beads. This isn't hard to do. Sometimes there's a border
at the top, which needs to be duplicated, as well. The satisfaction
of seeing the belt's bald spots filled in with sequins and returning
to its original glory is considerable.
When this is accomplished, you will replace any appliques
and rows of fringe that you picked off earlier, making sure the
spacing is correct, of course.
All that's left to do is replace the lining, folding under
the open edges neatly, and securely sewing on hooks and eyes
with heavy thread. If you followed each step correctly, the belt
should fit better than a glove.
You can be proud. This is like replacing your own transmission
or brakes — quite an accomplishment. Well, at least like changing
your oil. Now, go and practice those belly rolls!!
--The Costume Goddess
Other articles on this web
site related to working with belly dance belts 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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