Re: Bustin’ Out, Part Two

So you’ve decided to take the plunge (no pun intended) and create your own bellydance bra? Let’s talk about what you are going to need to make one.

First, if you intend to make a traditional covered bra, you are going to need a well-fitting, hard shelled bra. By “hard shelled”, I mean a bra with sturdy cups that are made out of solid fabric.

Why a hard shelled bra? Because a decorated bra with beads, coins, shells, or some combination of all of the above is heavy and stretchy lingerie fabric will pull apart under the weight.  Yes, you can reinforce the cups to some extent, but that won’t help if the bra wasn’t built well to begin with. And yes, you can make your own bra from scratch, but be advised that making a bra completely from scratch requires very advanced sewing skills. If you are a beginning or intermediate sewer or a complete non-sewer, you are better off using an existing bra and transforming it.

Finding the right bra is the most critical step of the process. The most important thing is the fit of the cups. Do they fit your breasts without wrinkling (too big) or  your breasts bulging out at the top (too small)?  The larger your bust, the more you will need support along the sides. Can the current sides be covered and used as is or are they too delicate? If the latter, you can chop off the bra sides and use them as a pattern to make sturdier ones.

  • If you have tried to find a decent hard shelled bra in your size and have come up empty-handed, don’t despair. There are several bra alternatives you can use.
  • The first is, as I mentioned earlier, to chuck the whole idea of a two-piece costume and go with a beladi dress. The term “beladi dress” covers a wide range of garments from simple T-shaped tunics to close-fitting, heavily beaded, evening gown-style dance dresses. The advantage of going with a beladi dress is that it provides a head-to-toe line which is very flattering to petite and short-torsoed dancers.
  • The second is to go with a midriff length top. This can be Indian-style choli or it can be a T-shirt or dress that you have hacked off under the bust, hemmed, and elasticized. A big advantage to wearing an Indian-style choli, as many Tribal dancers do, is that it makes the fit of the bra less critical. Since the dancer is wearing her own lingerie bra underneath the choli, the costume bra worn over the top can be for decoration and doesn’t have to be supportive. Some Tribal style dancers wear decorated bikini tops over their cholis.
  • A third possibility, especially if you are a Fusion dancer, is to go with a leotard top.  There are a plethora of midriff-length, jazz dance-inspired tops and unitards that you can buy right off the rack which is a big plus especially if you are a troupe costumer and are trying to outfit a group of people on a tight budget.

Back to the basics of bra construction. Once you’ve found your ideal hard shelled bra, you will need to do the following:

  • Cover the bra with your fashion fabric. Pick a bra base that matches as closely as possible your covering fabric e.g. black bras for dark fabrics, white or beige for dark color fabrics. That way, if a little bit of the base peeks through, it won’t be that obvious.
  • Chop off the straps and the side band (unless you are covering the side band). Whatever you do, don’t rely on delicate lingerie straps to hold up your heavily decorated costume bra. You’re going to need either ties or elastic. Personally, I favor tough, inch-wide waistband elastic. It’s easy to get and holds up well under the stress of performance. However, ties are also very popular and have the advantage of being adjustable.
  • Decide on the placement of the straps. It helps to have an assistant when you’re doing this.  The halter is a favorite because it is quick, easy, and doesn’t require an individualized fitting. You’ll see this style a lot especially with purchased bras. My problem with halter-style straps is that the weight of the cups and of your breasts presses on the vertebrae in your neck. At best, the bra will literally give you a pain in the neck. At worst, you might develop serious back or disc problems.  A more ergonomic way to do the straps is to have them extend naturally over the shoulders or to cross them in the back.  That way, the weight of the bra and your bust is balanced evenly.
  • Decorate the cups of your bra, your straps, and side pieces and connect them all together.  We’ll discuss the decoration part in more detail in the next post.
  • Try the finished product on and make the final corrections. Remember, anything that’s mildly irritating now is going to be agonizing about half-way through your performance.

For more detailed accounts and photos of the bra construction process, I recommend Googling “how to make a bellydance bra.” Thanks to the magic of the Internet, a number of dancers have shared their techniques on-line and while each one has her individual preferences, especially when it comes to covering the bra, the basic process is the same.