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Ask the Costume Goddess

Dina Lydia, the Costume Goddess

Ask the Costume Goddess:

Fabric Suggestions for Belly Dance Costumes

by Dina Lydia



The Question

Dear Costume Goddess:

My question is, what are some of your favorite fabrics to work with? I am such a beginner at sewing that it is almost embarrassing. I have no idea what ravels, what flows well, what is good or bad to use etc. I don't know the names of anything, so that's why I ask you!

I just wanted to let you know that I thoroughly enjoy reading your articles. I am awe struck with the sheer beauty and creativity in the costumes I saw in the gallery! I just wanted to say, "WOW!"

--An Impressed Beginner



The Costume Goddess Responds

Dear Beginner,

Thanks for your shower of compliments. I could tell you I'm blushing, but I'm not all that modest! I'm smiling!

The subject of fabrics is crucial. What a disappointment to finish a project and realize you've made a bad choice of fabric, so it looks second-rate.

Fibers are either woven or knitted together to make fabric. Keep in mind that knits are better for beginners to work with, because they don't ravel much on the cut edges and have some degree of stretch, making them easier to handle and fit around curves.

Buy the best fabric that you can afford. A poor quality fabric will make your costume appear amateurish, no matter how you fashion it.


Stretch velvet and velour have a nap (fuzzy texture). They're good for skirts, belt and bra; may be too warm for harem pants and sleeves. The matte surface makes an elegant background for glittery costume parts. Remember that the pattern pieces must be cut in the same direction, especially panné velvet, which is pressed flat and appears shiny or not depending on the angle of light.

Metallic knit has shiny threads running through the fabric. Make sure these threads aren't too easily snagged. If the fabric is scratchy, the costume piece may need a lining between fabric and skin.

Glitter dot fabric has reflective dots fused to the fabric. Use a minimum of seams because the gluey residue causes the needle to stick and need frequent cleaning or changing. It makes a dramatic caftan cover-up.

Liquid lamé has a very slick, shiny surface and it too is difficult to sew, so use the simplest possible shapes.

Stretch lace is excellent for snug pieces such as fitted sleeves or dress, and the open texture allows some ventilation and a glimpse of skin. Expensive sequined lace is glamorous.

Mesh and net are very stretchy and semi-sheer. They're used for fitted sleeves, cutouts, and tummy covers; may be flesh-colored or not, plain or glittered. Power net is a less sheer, heavier weight net that can support the weight of jewels and beaded fringe.

Sheer knit may be striped, glittered, or otherwise decorative. It can be lined or not for use as skirts, pants, and dresses. May snag easily: test first!


Silk is available in a range of weights (momme or mm). Chiffon (or gauze) (4 mm) is a very sheer fabric often used for the veil and circle skirt. Because it's so fine, the fabric can be gathered into a small fraction of its original width, creating voluminous folds. Featherweight silk (5 mm) is ideal for a veil; because of its lightness and dense weave, it floats and billows like no other fabric. Usually this is white and must be dyed to match costume; it's worth it. Lingerie- or blouse-weight silk (7-8 mm), sometimes called charmeuse, has fluidity and sheen, is suitable for a skirt, harem pant, or lining, but it stains and creases easily, and must be dry-cleaned.

Synthetics, such as polyester, are often substituted for silk when cost and easy care are considerations. These include chiffon, georgette (a heavier gauze), and soft lingerie satins. Avoid stiff, heavy satins.

Sequined chiffon is suitable for unstructured skirts and dresses. The sequins dull the needle quickly, so it will need frequent changing.

Metallics are flashy, but again, test for snagging and scratching. The best quality are brocades; the least expensive, gaudy tissue lamé, is popular with beginners, but it's stiff and cheap looking.

Lace, plain or glittered, does not ravel, and makes nice sleeves and ruffles, but sharp ornaments such as rhinestones with prongs can get caught on it.

Velvet (see under knit) may be solid or woven in patterns on a chiffon background, which is elegant and not as hot to dance in.

Cotton and linen, and easy-care synthetic blends, are available in a wide variety of patterns, stripes, and florals, from sheer batiste to heavy textures, and these are suitable for less formal ethnic and folk costumes: vests, gypsy skirts, peasant blouses and Turkish pants.

Additional Suggestions

I'll add a few more suggestions. When you're shopping, unroll a few yards from the bolt and gather the fabric over your body to see how it drapes. Crush it in your fist to see if it creases easily. Hold it up to your face in the mirror to make sure the color is flattering. If you have any doubts, buy a small sample of the fabric and experiment with it. Stitch one layer, stitch seven layers. Topstitch it, narrow-hem it, interface it, wash it, dye it, stretch it. Sew jewels and trim on it, glue jewels and trim on it. Attempt to snag or stain or burn it with the iron. Compare the color and texture with pieces you already own. If you're satisfied, make the investment.

--The Costume Goddess



Related Articles

Other articles on this web site related to choosing costume fabrics 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 wedding gowns.

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 figures.

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.

Photo of Dina Lydia, The Costume Goddess

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 For reviews here on of some of her books, see:

Photo of Dina Lydia, the Costume Goddess

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:


All about belly dancing! Explore belly dance!

The contents of this page are copyrighted 2009 by Dina Lydia. All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication is forbidden.



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