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Ask the Costume Goddess

Dina Lydia, the Costume Goddess

Ask the Costume Goddess:

How to Cover a Costume Bra

by Dina Lydia

 

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The Question

Dear Costume Goddess:

So how in the world does one go about covering a bra with fabric? I have created several gorgeous skirts and harem pants, but haven't got a clue how to make the matching tops! Where should the darts go, and all that mess?

Your instructions are an excellent! I especially love your drawings.

---Muddled In Mississippi

 

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The Costume Goddess Responds

Dear Muddled,

A lingerie bra goes through some dramatic changes to transform it into a well-constructed costume piece. It must be covered with costume fabric, reinforced, and ornamented.

A ready-made velvet-covered or satin-covered bra such as those made by Victoria’s Secret is a suitable substitute for those who find the following instructions too much of a challenge, but it may still need reinforcement.

You will need:

  • About 3/8 to 1/2 of a yard (depending on size) of sturdy knit or woven costume fabric. (See Fabric Choices.)
  • 1 1/2 to 3 yards of grosgrain ribbon in ½” and 1” widths
  • Skirt hooks and eyes
  • About 1/8 yard of heavy interfacing
  • Bra pads (if applicable)
  • Varying amounts of decorative trim

This method uses a two-piece cover for the bra cups, which is easier than attempting to cover cups using a single fabric piece.

Purchasing The Foundation Bra

Start with a well-fitting, well-made underwire bra. If you plan to add padding, you may start with a cup that is one size larger than you normally wear. If cups seem slightly too close together or too far apart, make a seam or extension in center front to correct the problem. The cups should be as sturdy as possible, to support the weight of any fringe or coins you add. If the cup seems too soft, it needs to be lined with a stiff bra cup such as those made for swimsuits, or interfaced on the inside. If your breast seems to ooze out of the bottom when you raise your arms, either the band is too loose or the center strip is sewn too high up between the cups. Adding a second lower center strip between the cups may fix this problem. If your breast bulges out of the top or sides, the cup is too small.

Add Bra Pads If Desired

Add bra pads, if you wish more fullness and have allowed for a slightly larger cup size. The pads are usually placed at outside or bottom half of bra for push-together or push-up effect. Pin to bra lining and adjust (they may be removed while you are covering bra). Do not overpad bra: this will cause it to stand away from the body.

Click on the image below to see it in more detail:

How to Cover a Bra

Replace Shoulder Straps

Replace elastic shoulder straps with grosgrain ribbon or a double layer of heavy woven interfacing. The ribbon or interfacing will be covered with costume fabric or decorative trim. Try on bra, with ribbon safety-pinned in place front and back. Make sure the straps are tight enough to be supportive. (A second set of straps, or wider straps, may have to be added if finished bra is particularly heavy with decoration, or bust larger than average.) Mark attachment point on cup, midriff band, and strap with safety pins; add an inch to front of strap and an inch to back for underlap. Remove straps. Hand or machine sew a reinforcing 1” square of folded interfacing on backside of cup at attachment point, through all layers, to avoid future strap disasters. If converting to halter, mark center back of neck on straps; add an inch on each strap for overlap and a half-inch to turn under for extra strength.

Cover Shoulder Straps

Cover shoulder straps with costume fabric or matching trim, tucking under seam allowances neatly so no raw edge is visible underneath. Lining straps with felt will add comfort. If you are beading straps or attaching jewels, it’s convenient to do it before attaching straps.

Attach Straps

Sew straps to cups securely with heavy button thread, through all layers. If using halter straps, cut to proper length, and sew hooks to back neck. Leave straps unattached at back, until midriff band is completed.

Reinforce Midriff Band

If you prefer no stretch at all in your midriff band, like many large busted dancers, reinforce (or replace) entire band with ribbon at top and bottom edge. If you prefer a degree of stretch for comfort in the sides, reinforce band only across back for with ribbon to provide strength for closure and shoulder straps. Either way will make the strap tighter, so try on again and adjust fit. Leave two or more inches of overlap at center back.

Cover Back and Side Strap

Cover back and side strap. If you have opted for no stretch, use instructions below using straight instead of zigzag stitches, disregarding references to stretch. If you have opted for stretch in the sides, they can be covered several ways, as illustrated:

  • For a solid, covered strap, cut a piece of fabric the size of stretched strap, adding ½ inch all around to turn under. Pin fabric to strap, stretching elastic as you do. Seam allowance should be tucked under between outer surface and elastic, so no messy edge shows on the inside of bra. (That way, you need not line bra to cover raw edges.) Hand sew fabric to midriff strap with zigzag stitches, which expand and contract with elastic. (Straight stitches will prevent elastic from stretching and result in a too-tight fit.) The stitches should appear long and slanted on the inside of bra and small on outside. If sewn properly, the finished strap will appear slightly puckered on the side and will expand smoothly when worn.
  • For a double side strap, cut off original side strap, leaving elastic stubs. Replace lingerie elastic with ½” or ¾” non-roll elastic, stitching it securely to stubs of lingerie elastic or bra cup, and to reinforced ribbon at center back. Try on and adjust fit. It should be snug, but not stretched to the max. Cover these elastic straps with elastic trim such as stretch sequins, or use decorative ribbon or other trim sewn on in zigzag stitch as described above. Overlap the trim where the straps converge and continue across back.

Hooks and Eyes

Sew skirt hooks and eyes to back closure with heavy thread, after trying on again and adjusting fit. Do not leave flimsy lingerie hooks. Do not secure with safety pins!

Attach Straps to Band

Attach straps to midriff band with heavy thread, after adjusting fit once more.

Cover Bottom Half of Cups

Cover cups, starting with bottom half. Cut a generous oval bigger than bottom half of cup. Top edge of this piece should be slightly higher than apex of cup. Pin, folding and adjusting dart (or two darts, for large size cups) until piece fits smoothly over cup. Trim, leaving a ¼ ” seam allowance all around. Baste raw edge flat across top (this will be covered by upper piece). On the underwired edge, tuck under seam allowance (clipping, if necessary, to flatten it) and sew, using small stitches. Again, don’t leave a messy raw edge on underside of cup, unless you plan to line it.

Cover Top Half of Cups

Cover top half with a rectangular strip cut on bias (if using woven fabric) or stretchy grain (if using a knit) to allow some give.The seamline should be at apex of cup. Pin to fit, trim and tuck seam allowances under, and sew as above. If sewn properly, the cup should be smoothly covered with unobtrusive seams and nearly invisible stitches.

Cover Center of Bra

Cover center of bra with costume fabric, if it will be visible under ornament.

Decorate!

Your bra is now ready to be decorated.

--The Costume Goddess

 

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Note from Shira

Note from Shira: although my usual web site policy is to not recommend specific vendors, I will sometimes do so for products that are very difficult to find. It's extremely difficult to find bras in the extra-large sizes that are suitable as a base for costume construction, so I've made an exception to that rule to bring you two web sites that The Costume Goddess found which sell them:

 

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Related Articles

Other articles on this web site related to making belly dance costume bras include:

 

Explore belly dancing! Learn all about bellydance!

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 www.costumegoddess.com. For reviews here on Shira.net 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:

 

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

 

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