How to Make a Belly Dance Veil
It's quite easy to make your own veil without a pattern, because it's just a large rectangle. The only hurdle is hemming the material, which is usually slippery and prone to fraying.
How to Make a Belly Dance Veil
You have a choice of several materials for your belly dance veil.
Veils were traditionally made of silk, but it has a few drawbacks. For one thing, it's expensive. It also needs to be treated carefully - I know one belly dancer whose favorite veil was ruined when someone spilled water on it. Just plain water, too!
If you decide to use silk, look for a fine, lightweight version.
Because I'm used to twirling a flamenco shawl, I like the heft of a heavier pure silk veil - the extra weight takes more effort to control, but it means I can do more spectacular things with it. Most choreographies are constructed to work with a lighter fabric, which has less of a mind of its own.
The other problem with a silk veil is that it's not very see-through, which limits your choreography. For instance, you can't dance with it in front of your face - you'll trip over something! And the audience can't see you through it either, so you lose the opportunity to dance seductively behind the veil (unless you have a strong light behind you). On the plus side, they're often in beautiful vivid colors, as in the photo above.
Note: silk chiffon will give you transparency, but it is even more expensive and delicate.
You’ll occasionally see organza veils advertised – they're tempting because they're often cheaper, and have a lovely sheen, but they don't float as predictably as silk or chiffon because they're stiffer.
I know one dancer who swears by organza - she says the secret is to put the veil through a wash and spin cycle several times before you use it. So if you see a bargain organza veil and are prepared to take the chance washing will soften it - by all means go ahead, you may end up with a treasure.
Most belly dance veils these days are made of synthetic chiffon. It's inexpensive and floats reasonably well - a good choice for students. It's also easy-care - you can stuff it in your dance bag after class and it won't mind, and throw it in the washing machine if necessary.
Cutting and Sewing
Now you've decided on your fabric, the next step is to measure your size and sew the veil. The right length is important, and can make a big difference to your ability to control the veil.
Before you buy material
Ask someone to measure you from fingertip to fingertip while you have your arms stretched out to each side, then add 2 feet (60 cm). That is the length of your veil. I like to buy a bit more fabric than I think I need, just in case I've got the measurement wrong.
After you've bought material
- Drape the fabric over your shoulders, and let your arms hang loose at your sides.
- If you’re measuring by yourself, put a pin in the material marking where your fingertips reach on each side.
- Take the veil off and add about a foot (30cm) on each end (if you have a helper, they can do the whole measurement while it’s still on your shoulders, of course).
Your veil will be easier to work if you get the width right, rather than just accepting the width of the material. The ideal width is the distance from the top of your shoulders to the middle of your thighs.
Don’t forget to add a hem allowance – which will be around 1cm or less than half an inch.
Ah, hemming! It's often the make or break for would-be veil makers, especially if you're not used to sewing. Unlike other dancers who perform on a distant stage, belly dancers are often close to their audience - so every detail has to be perfect. The veil is visible from both sides, so the hem must be immaculate.
If you have a "rolled hem" foot on your sewing machine, that will give you the best result - but practice first, because there's a knack to it, especially with slippery fabrics.
Another option is to make a very narrow flat hem.
- On your sewing machine, stitch a straight line along the edge of the veil, barely half a centimetre in.
- Go to your ironing board. You'll find you can fold the chiffon easily along the stitched line. Press into place.
- Now start again and fold the hem over once more to conceal the raw edge, pressing into place (and pinning if necessary).
- Stitch down.
If you have to hand stitch, make it a job you do while you're watching TV - it's going to take you a long, long time!
One way to cover a less-than-perfect hem is to put a trim over it, but be careful! Any kind of trim is heavy compared to the weight of the veil, so it will affect how the veil drapes and swoops.
If you usually dance in a troupe, a heavy trim can also be dangerous. I once gave a friend a nasty bruise under the eye with my veil, which had a finely beaded trim. I was shocked at how much damage such tiny beads could do, and was only grateful it hadn't struck her in the eye. These days I only use my trimmed veil for solo work - and even then, only when I'm dancing a safe distance from my audience.
If you find it easier to follow visual instructions, you'll find Shoshanna's DVD, , a good investment as an introduction to veil. Fabrics and sizes are discussed, and there's even a "Troubleshooting" section which goes over some of the pitfalls of dancing with veil - including knowing when to abandon it! Fabulous Four Yard Veil
Don't be confused by the "four yards" reference. Shoshanna herself uses a 4-yard veil, but she has two assistants dancing with different veils so you can see how shape and size affect the moves.
The veil lesson is good for beginners because it covers the basic moves, but it also includes a few complex ones. I particularly like the way they drop the veil and demonstrate the more difficult movements without - it makes it so much easier to follow what the arms and hands are doing.
© 2020 Marisa Wright