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How to Make a Bellydance Panel Skirt

Updated on June 17, 2014

About Belly Dance Skirts

The panel skirt is part of the traditional belly dance costume, so called because it is made up of rectangular pieces (panels) of fabric. Panel skirts can be made in most kinds of fabric: sheers, soft, stiff, heavy, opaque, solids, prints. Some of the most common fabrics used in belly dance costumes are chiffons, georgettes, satins, and challis, but even unusual fabrics may give you the look you want.

Belly dance panel skirts are easy to make, so if you want to have a great belly dance costume, a belly dance panel skirt is one of the best ways to start building your costume. This is a project suitable even for novice sewers. If you are new to sewing, eventually, you can then work your way up to more complicated costume pieces, such as a belly dance bra.

Choose a Bellydance Costume Look

A bellydancer in a traditional costume.
A bellydancer in a traditional costume. | Source

Measuring Your Fabric

Depending on the fabric you have selected, you will need at least two widths, and another width if you want a matching veil. If you have selected a stiff fabric, there is a limit to how much gathering you can do to achieve your desired fullness. Experimenting with an odd piece of material, bunch up the material until you achieve the gathered look you want. Measure the width of the material bunched up and write it down, then lay it out straight and measure the width of the material and write it down. Put the width (in inches) of the straight material in to your calculator, and divide by the width of the bunched-up material. This will give you the gathering factor. This could be anything from 1.2 to 6 or more, depending on the stiffness of the material. Now measure around your hips. Put that measurement into your calculator and then multiply by your gathering factor. This will tell you how wide in inches your skirt must be. Now to get the length, measure from your waist to the floor. (This allows for hemming and constructing the skirt, as well as a little room for mistakes.) Keep this measurement separate from the width measurement, but it will figure into the final fabric measurement. Go to the fabric store, and find your fabric. There are four standard widths for fabric: 36", 45", 54" or 60". Your selected fabric may fall into one of these standard widths, or it may be an unusual width.

Expo Feather Fringe 4" Wide 10 Yards-Black
Expo Feather Fringe 4" Wide 10 Yards-Black
This trim is good for belly dancing because it doesn't hurt when you kneel on it, but be careful not to get it snagged or dirty.

Estimating Your Fabric

Here's where some math comes into the picture, but don't despair--you can do it, with the help of your calculator! Just take your time and make sure that you're following the instructions.

  1. Start with your hip measurement. Divide by two.
  2. Multiply by your gathering factor. This will give you how many inches in width in fabric you will need to cover half your costume.
  3. If this width is wider than the width of your fabric, you will need to divide your fabric width into the number you got in step two. This means that you will have to have multiple panels sewn together. If the width is narrower than the width of your fabric, then may be able to get 1½ or 2 panels out of a single width of fabric. (For example, if you have 35-inch hips, and a gathering factor of 1.2, and 72-inch wide fabric, you'll be able to get multiple panels out of a single width of fabric. On the other hand, if you have 45-inch hips, a gathering factor of 2.2 , and 45-inch fabric, you'll need two widths of fabric for a single panel.
  4. Now that you know how many widths you will need (don't forget that the number of widths you got in the previous step is for only half your costume; you'll need to multiply that by two), you multiply that number by the number in inches of your waist-to-floor measurement. That will give you the amount of fabric to buy. (If you are making a matching hipscarf, or veil, or both, do not forget to include that measurement as well.)

If you come out with some ridiculous amount, like 45 yards of fabric, don't despair. Clerks at most fabric stores can help you with figuring out your fabric needs.

Trim and Notions

If you are making a skirt, you will need 4 lengthwise pieces of trim, plus two crosswise pieces of trim. You will also need a piece of sturdy elastic, sufficient to support the weight of the skirt fabric, to go around your hips. To figure out how much elastic you need, take your hip measurement and multiply by 0.65. Try this out to see if it is comfortably snug. If it is a little too snug, add an inch or so.

The lengthwise pieces of trim and the crosswise pieces of trim do not have to match, as long as they coordinate. If you love the look of fringe or little beads or shells dangling from your skirt hem (make sure they are comfortable enough to kneel on), then you can have those from the hem, and a coordinating flat trim around the sides of the belly dance panel skirt. If you have chosen a heavier fabric, you may prefer something like gimp; a lighter fabric may be more suitable for sequins or even lace. For the lengthwise trim, use your waist-to-floor measurement and multiply by four. For the crosswise trim, measure across the bottom (ungathered) width of your fabric, times the number of widths you need to create your panel, times two (one for the front, one for the back). If you want multiple rows of trim, don't forget to figure those in as well.

And don't forget thread!

A variety of belly dance costumes.
A variety of belly dance costumes. | Source

Constructing Your Skirt

Take the fabric for your skirt and cut it into lengths (this will be your waist to the floor measurement). If you have bought fabric for a matching veil or hipscarf, set that fabric aside. Measure first to be sure the lengths will turn out equal! Align the fabric so that all the pieces are facing the same way, top to bottom. Sew half of the widths to each other, then half of the other widths to each other (so if you have four widths, you will have two for the front, and two for the back). On each panel, hem the side edges with a ¼" hem, turning the material over twice. Now, for each panel, turn under ¼" at the top and sew, then turn under 1½" and sew again (the width of your skirt elastic), making a tunnel. Fit the panels on to your skirt elastic, and fasten the elastic together by sewing the ends together in a rectangular box pattern, then sewing along the diagonals of the box to make the "X in a box" pattern ⊠. Now for the hemming--make sure that the finished hem will clear the top of your foot--otherwise you are likely to trip! (A good area to aim for is the bottom of your ankle bone.) Mark this height, then add ¼" plus the width of your trim. (If you want tassels or fringe hanging below your skirt hem, you will need to have the tassels or fringe at the bottom of your ankle bone, and your skirt hem should be at the length of the solid part of the tassels or fringe trim, measuring up from your ankle bone.)

If you tend to stick out behind, your skirt will be longer in back than in the front. You can sew in something to mark the center back elastic to make sure that you get your skirt the right way around when you put it on. Anything will do--a small flat button, a small piece of a contrasting colour cloth, even a few stitches in a brightly-coloured contrasting thread.

Baste or pin the hem in place.

Finishing Your Belly Dance Skirt

First, try on the skirt and make any necessary corrections, and sew the hem in place. Pin the trim on and try out a few moves (if you do floor work, don't forget to try that out, too!). Finally, sew the trim on to the sides and the bottom of your belly dance skirt, using matching or invisible thread. Test the skirt again to make sure that everything is secure.

Now you have done your belly dance panel skirt! Happy belly dancing!


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