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Keeping Costumes in Good Shape

It's hopefully been a very busy summer of performances - sharing your wonderful dancing and costumes with everyone! Speaking of costumes, how about a timely article on keeping those beautiful creations in good shape and smelling fresh for your next show? Let's discuss cleaning and care of those tricky beads and sequins.

One of the biggest concerns is odour. The traditional way of solving this problem was to expose costumes to incense smoke - not a bad idea, but not very practical these days with our busy schedules. Today, the easiest and least expensive way to get rid of this offender is to air out your costume after a performance, preferably outside. What about the sun and UV rays you may ask? The sun may fade the material of your costume, but it's unlikely to happen. Your costume would have to be in strong sunlight for a very long time for this to occur. If you have any concerns, just put your costume in the shade.

Another good idea, which I personally use, is to line your bra and belt with cotton or felt to absorb sweat and protect your costume. When the material becomes soiled, remove and wash or replace entirely. Still air out your costume for extra freshness.

Never pack your costume away in an airtight container or plastic bag while damp. The moisture from your costume might create mold and will definitely increase the odour - phew! If you can find garment bags made of breathable fabric, like cotton, that would be best. If you can't find any, try placing a couple of mothballs or fill some pouches with baking soda to help keep the air fresh and absorb odours.

If you are thinking of washing your costume, please make sure your costume is made with pre-shrunk material, including the trim. If you are unsure, don't wash the entire costume - a disaster could happen. The material that your sequins and beads are sewn to might shrink and pucker underneath, not a pleasant sight! An alternative is to wash the sequins and beads with a damp cloth (cold water preferably). Be careful, sequins and beads are dyed, so test one of each before you start cleaning. Rub an extra bead and sequin (one at a time) between your fingers with a little water to see if they bleed. If they stain your fingers, do not wash your costume. The colour(s) from the beads and sequins will run onto the material of your costume and you will be left with silver beads and sequins. Now some may like this tie-died effect, but I'm pretty sure most of you won't. Be especially careful of stronger colours like purple, fuschia and red, which bleed easily.

I can hear you all saying "what about dry cleaning?" This is a tricky solution. Dry cleaning can actually be more dangerous than doing it yourself. In general, the material of your costume should be safe for dry cleaning. It's the sequins, trim and beads that are the problem. Most of the sequins today are plastic, not metal, and more care has to be taken. The same goes for beads that are not made of glass, such as plastic or wood.

The chemicals used in dry cleaning are very strong and can dissolve sequins and some beads (especially plastic). Metallic or coloured coatings may lose some of their luster. If sequins are glued on, the adhesive may soften or dissolve and the sequins will fall off. As well, sequins may curl or become distorted in shape from the heat and steam involved in the dry cleaning process.

Lots of things to watch out for and prevent! Fortunately, there are some dry cleaners that are experienced with sequins, beads and other tricky items. You can feel safe using them, but follow these suggestions just in case:

- go to a dry cleaner that specializes in wedding gowns or other beaded and sequined garments- ask them if they would test a sample first to make sure no harm occurs - give them a sample of extra material, beads and sequins to use- ask them to use Pure Perchlorethylene only for the cleaning process and not to use heat when drying the costume (air dry or use as low a heat setting as possible)- make sure costumes are thoroughly dry before storing

Now that your costume is clean, how do you protect it from losing beads, its shape and other irritating problems?

In regards to protecting bead colour, I've heard a lot about a spray called Varathane. All you have to do is spray the Varathane onto the bead strands and it provides a protective coat that will prevent running. You can also try Dulux spray-on-water-based clear varnish. Some people have tried clear nail polish, but with varied results and it's very time consuming.

A good idea for sequins is to protect them from contact with perfume, deodorant, hair spray and alcohol beverages. The acid and chemicals in these products could harm the sequins and some beads.

Fringe breaking and flying into the audience is another problem and unfortunately, not 100% solvable. Bugle beads are gorgeous when used as fringe, but when they whack against each other they often break or chip. If the beads are glass, they tend to break ragged and the edge can saw it's way through the strand it's on, causing a catastrophe. The best way to prevent this from occurring is not to shake, but we have to shimmy! One solution is to use the smallest size bugle beads you can find or sticking with seed beads (like Egyptian fringe). Some other suggestions for care of fringe are:

- double stringing each strand, so that if a bead wears through one string, you still have the other holding the strand together- dabbing a bit of glue or jewelers cement to the bottom of each knot- reinforcing each strand with a knot at the top as well, so if you lose one strand the rest won't follow

If your bra is starting to lose shape, you could try storing it with filler, like extra bra pads, or socks filled with baking soda. Some friends have tried using fabric stiffener, but you have to be very careful not to soak through to the beading on the front. It worked for them, so you never know. A rather elaborate way of storing costumes is to find cheap mannequins and placing your costumes on them (it's been done)!

If your skirt has an elastic waist, try not to stretch the band when storing. Over time the elastic will retain this shape and won't return to its original size. The same goes for loaning your skirt to other dancers who are not your size. This rule applies to any part of your costume that has elastic in it, such as armbands and headbands.

I'm running out of problems and solutions, so if you have any of your own and would like to share them with the rest of us, just let us know! For now, I hope these suggestions help. Happy Dancing!

The information in this article was acquired from my own experience, other belly dancers, wedding dress designers, dry cleaners and of course, the web.


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