TIP: Choosing fabric for costuming

What kind of fabrics are best to stand up to the special wear and tear of dancing? I keep ogling the gorgeous metallics and sheers and foils at the store, but then I think: “Would that hold up a bead? And if not, would reinforcement destroy the qualities I love about that particular fabric?”

I’ve seen imported “pro” costumes with that heavy-duty stretch mesh, for example, and it sure looks sturdier than the sheer stretch fabrics I find at my local stores. I’m afraid to make a costume out of the fabrics I love to look at (and play with), for fear it won’t hold up! ~ Janell

Answer: You’re right to be concerned about suitability for performance in fabrics. I have a chapter about fabrics in Books 1, Flattering Costume for Bellydancers and 2, Easy Costume for Bellydancers.

MESH
Net, 3 typesThe heavy-duty mesh is called “Powermesh.” It can support the weight of beaded ornaments (within reason).
The photo shows Powermesh on the top; sheer, lightweight mesh in the middle; denser, more opaque net on the bottom (but not as thick as Powernet).
I’ve found the lightweight sheer mesh to be sturdy, but I wouldn’t sew any but the lightest ornaments onto it.
The thicker the net, the more important that it match your skin tone well, otherwise it ruins the illusion of bare skin (at a distance).
I see in in a number of colors now at Spandex World,  and a search on “Powernet” will bring up more online sources. Fabric Depot has many colors of the lighter mesh that might work. I believe they’ll send samples, if you request.
Also consider fleshtoned stretch lace. Because it’s on a sturdy net base, it can sub for net if you want a subtle pattern, so you don’t look TOO naked in certain areas.

METALLICSmetallic scarf
Some metallic or metallic-threaded fabrics, especially sheers, snag or run easily. Some feel scratchy on bare skin. Those must be lined to avoid irritation, or used where they don’t contact skin.

lame patternFOIL” or LIQUID LAMÉ
This is a soft synthetic knit with a nice shimmery texture or pattern fused to the surface. It may eventually wear off from friction or perspiration, leaving dull patches. The friction might be where rows of coins, for instance, are rubbing against the fabric.

glitterdotGLITTERDOT
This is shiny dots fused to a sturdy knit fabric with a one-way stretch. Creates a “sequined” effect under stage lights. The dots (especially the larger ¼” dot size) clog the machine needle with adhesive, and cause it to skip stitches, if you don’t stop and clean it frequently. I stitch by hand when possible – in between dots.
Also, over time some of the dots may start to peel off.

SYNTHETICS
Some acetate or nylon fabrics melt under a medium-hot iron. Use Caution!

burnout velvetSILKS and VELVETS
Luxurious, but some must be dry-cleaned. They stain easily. They can feel too warm (patterned “burnout velvet,” left, on sheer fabric can provide more ventilation).
Stretch velvet wears and drapes better, in my experience.

sheer knitSHEER or VERY LIGHTWEIGHT FABRICS
Some may tear under the stress of dancing, if not reinforced in the seams with twill tape or something similar. The sheer knits (left) snag easily, so shouldn’t be placed next to rough-edged coins, for instance, or rhinestones set in sharp metal prongs.

tissue lameMETALLIC TISSUE LAMÉ
My special bugaboo! Cheap, gaudy, stiff and frays badly – I feel it’s good only for children’s costumes. Possibly headpieces.

REINFORCEMENT
Almost any fabric would have to be reinforced if you want to sew heavy beads or coins on it. For some, reinforcement would change the soft quality of the fabric completely (like chiffon, lame, or sheer knits) so use these fabrics for costume pieces that are not heavily ornamented, like veils, beladi dresses and skirts.

From Easy Costume for Bellydancers: TESTS TO AVOID MISTAKES
Drapability: When you’re shopping for fabric, unroll a few yards from the bolt and gather the fabric over your body to see how it drapes. Soft blouson styles, such as full pants, require a fabric that drapes gracefully and easily gathers into narrow folds.

Wrinkling: Crush it in your fist. If it quickly creases, avoid that fabric,  especially for skirts and pants. You will be sitting on these, and chances are, no iron will be handy to press it before a performance. In general, knits are less prone to crease.

Color: Hold it up to your face, in both natural and artificial light if possible, to make sure the color is flattering. Bring along swatches of other fabrics or trims you plan to use. Compare the color and texture. Book #1, Flattering Costume for Bellydancers, includes advice for choosing your best colors.

Science Experiments: Buy a small sample of fabric. Topstitch it, interface it, dampen it, wash it, stretch it. Sew and glue jewels and trim on it. Attempt to snag or stain it. Try to melt or burn it with the iron.

And ask the salesperson’s advice, that’s her job. If it passes the tests, it’s probably okay. ~ Dina Lydia