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Hey everyone! Hope you're all busy getting ready for performances, whether it be your first or 100th - summer is here and the belly dance scene is crazy! I've received several calls from dancers requiring help with altering used costumes they've just bought or old costumes that no longer fit, and thought an article on alterations might be timely.

The following information will make it easier for you whether you're updating an old costume or adjusting a new costume to your specific shape. Whatever you do, don't wear any costume until you have reinforced the seams, even if it fits you perfectly. Don't panic if that new costume you ordered seems to be falling apart - it's probably tacked together. Most costumes are designed to fit a variety of sizes and costume makers assume that you will be altering the costume, so they don't reinforce the seams.

Grab a friend to help you with the alterations if possible. Try on the entire costume, including accessories. Make sure the belt covers the top of the skirt and that the design is centered at your back (spine) and front (belly button). Look for any gaps, bulges, holes (especially in a used costume), rips or "thinning" areas. Note problems and get ready to solve them!

First the belt… Check to see if it consists of two pieces or one and whether it is attached at both hips or not. Remove the lining, belt closures and any sequins, trim, fringe or beads from the hip seams. Place them in a jar and set aside for later. Use a seam ripper or small scissors to separate the belt. If the belt is one piece, it's going to be more difficult to adjust while keeping the pattern centered. You will have to cut through the side that doesn't attach or overlap. If the belt is too large, fold and sew the edges over where you have cut through, to prevent fraying. If the belt is too small, you will have to add extra "length", which is discussed later.

Once the belt is in two pieces, try it on again. Using chalk and pins, mark where the center (front and back) of the belt are. I suggest pinning the belt into your skirt or whatever you are wearing to hold it in place. Next, mark where the belt meets the middle of your hips and pin in place, overlapping the front part on the back. Mark where you would like the closures to be.

If there are gaps, make one-inch darts or pinches evenly around the back, at the top, using large safety pins. Try to use the original dart locations if possible. If the belt is still sticking up or gaping, you will have to add darts in the front as well.

Once the belt is fitting correctly, take it off and sit at a table or somewhere comfortable. Mark where the new darts will be and remove pins. Remove the trim, beads or sequins from the area. Use your seam ripper or needle to pull loose threads from the front to the back and knot so the remaining sequins and beads don't fall off. Use a seam ripper or small scissors to undo the original dart(s) if any. Tack the new darts together by either sewing together the "pinch" and folding over or cutting through all layers and overlapping the edges along the marked lines. The belt should curve as you make the darts. When tacking the hip seams, you might want to angle the seam for a better fit. You can either tack one side together and have closures on the other side or have closures on both sides.

Once you have tacked everything together, by the belt on again. If the fit is good, reinforce all seams and closures with heavy thread. If not, keep adjusting until you get a good fit. Re-attach all sequins, trims, fringe and beads following the original pattern. Re-attach the lining. Hint: if you don't think you will remember the pattern, take a picture beforehand or mark the pattern as you remove the beads and sequins.

If the belt is too small and is creating bulges or doesn't fit, follow the above procedure(s) for ensuring the belt is centered. Hopefully, the costume maker left a few inches of overlap at the hips for weight gain and used two pieces for the belt. If the extra length is sewn/folded over, undo using a seam ripper and separate the belt into two pieces. Put the belt on and mark where the sides should meet and closures should go. Tack the hip seams together and tack closures to the belt. If the belt fits, reinforce the seams; if not, repeat until it does. Attach sequins, beads, etc., and lining.

If the belt is made of one piece or there is no overlap, you can add "extra" material. Place the belt on newspaper or pattern paper and trace the outline. Extend the required end(s) by the amount needed. It is this "extended" part that you will use to cut out the buckram or heavy interfacing and matching material. Cut the material piece(s) by an extra ¼ to ½ inch all around and sew over the buckram, folding the edges under. Now attach the extra piece(s) to the belt ends using heavy thread and reinforce. Try the belt on, checking for any gaps or bulges and make the necessary changes until the belt fits. Reinforce all seams and fill in with additional sequins, beads, etc.

Now the bra! Check for bulges or gaps, especially at the sides, top, and bottom. Raise your arms and make sure your breasts are not squeezing out. As with the belt, bulges mean the bra is too tight and gaps too big. If you have bulges or oozing when you raise your arms the back-strap is probably too loose or the front center attachment is too high. If alterations are necessary, use a seam ripper or small scissors and detach the necessary pieces. Usually, you only need to remove the shoulder straps, as the back-strap should have extra length. Remove the closures and necessary sequins, beads, etc. and set aside. If alterations are not required, reinforce the seams.

Try on the bra as a strapless. If you use padding, add it now. You want a nice smooth fit, but snug enough that it feels secure. On the back-strap, mark where the closures should be and pin, always using two closures for security. Find a good, comfortable, attractive placement for the shoulder straps, ensuring any appliqués or fringe are aligned properly (top of shoulder, center of front strap, etc.). Mark where straps should be attached on bra cups in front and on back-strap.

Remove bra and tack straps onto the bra. Place bra face down and fold back-strap over to see if front and back of shoulder straps align. This is usually the most comfortable placement, but it's okay if they don't meet. Try on the "tacked" bra and check once again for bulges or gaps. Move your arms up and down to make sure it's comfortable for dancing. Re-fit as required. Re-attach the sequins, beads, etc. to the cups and straps and reinforce all seams.

If the straps are not long enough add extra material by following the instructions for extending belts above. If straps are uncomfortable, try cushioning under the straps with foam or something similar for comfort. If the bra straps are not strong enough to support the cups, try adding a band between the straps at the back. You can also double your straps in front, back, or both.

Generic alterations include rips, holes, "thinning" areas or problems that can be found on any part of a costume. Thinning areas just require additional sequins or beads to fill in the sparse appearance. For rips and holes, I suggest adding patches of the same or similar material with supporting backing (interfacing or buckram). Make the patch a little larger than the actual hole or rip and place it behind the hole. Fold the original material under (where the hold is) for a neat seam and sew onto the patch. If it's something that will not be covered and you have a sewing machine, use an invisible hemstitch. If sewing by hand, make your top stitches as small as possible and your bottom stitches larger - it will still hold the patch in place. If the hole or tear is in your skirt and you're game, create a sequin pattern out of the patch and repeat this pattern randomly on your skirt. An alternative is to use metallic or needlework thread and repeat the pattern or shape. Not only will you solve the problem - you'll add extra glamour to your skirt!

I could go on, but we've covered lots here. If you have any costuming questions or suggestions for future articles, please e-mail me at babs_designs@yahoo.com. I will address them in future articles - no question or problem is too small!


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