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Narah ~ Tribal Fusion Belly Dance Performer and Instructor
The Folk Dress/Beladi Dress By Neefa
Here are a couple of basic “no pattern needed” Beladi dress designs, taken from a hand-out by Tamara and Rayah Blackstar that I use all the time. Much of my inspiration and information for these dresses comes from a book called Palestinian Costume by Jehan Rajab. This book is full of actual pictures of these kinds of dresses. The book explains that most dresses were probably worn until they were threadbare with embroidery that was still intact from old dresses being sewn on new ones. Although none of the dresses pictured fall within the SCA time period, I still feel that it’s somewhat of a valid resource.
These designs should look familiar because they are basically the standard SCA T-tunic. What separates the beladi dress is really the material, embellishments and accessories you use. I highly recommend using natural fibers or a blend of them as for me they are the most comfortable to dance in (yes, cotton and silk are in period for the ME, as is wool). Recently I have seen many prints and stripes that resemble fabrics that were available in the ME.
Think of the type of person you wish to portray with your dress. Are you a nomad? If you are, you may want to use a solid or stripped cotton or linen material for your dress and braid, tassels, and /or fringe to trim it with. Are you a wearer of slippers (city dweller)? Then you may want to use lightweight silks or cottons in delicate prints with gold encrusted trim, bells, and jewels as your embellishments. Really anything goes! With little effort at all you will look as if you just stepped from the pages of a book of history!
Generally speaking, there are all sorts of variations you are able to do with these dresses. They can be split up part of the sides, sewn shut, or you can even add triangular side panels to the dress to make it fuller. Sleeves vary in width from about as wide as sleeves on a modern coat or blazer to very wide triangular bell shaped ones. I have not seen any examples of a garment of this type with any sleeves shorter than wrist length.
The neck can be finished with a variety of methods. The raw edge can be rolled down and stitched, like a hem. The edge can be finished with bias tape or trim. You could make facing or do the reverse of facing and make a yoke that is sewn to the outside of the dress. The yoke can be done by cutting a rectangle of material so that it will form a square of material in the front and in the back chest location of the dress. Cut the neck hole into the yoke to match the neck hole of the dress. Sew the neck of the dress to the neck of the yoke with the right side of the yoke touching the wrong side of the dress. Next pull the yoke so the right side of the yoke is lying on top of the right side of the dress. Now turn the edges of the yoke under and topstitched, then you’re done. I like the traditional way the yoke makes the dress look. The yoke was/is traditionally a spot that was covered with embroidery, so for the industrious this would make a great place to show off your handy work. The book Palestinian Costume is also a great resource for traditional embroidery patterns (they are already graphed out!)
The material is doubled so when you cut along the dotted line you have a front and a back to sew together. You can cut the entire garment out with the sleeves as a whole or cut the body of the dress out then sew the sleeves on separately. I prefer to sew the sleeves on separately. I like the way this looks and it makes it easier to put gussets in under the arm, which I highly recommend for comfort. To determined how wide/long you would like the body of the garment to be you can (A) measure yourself and add inches for your seam allowance and ease of movement. I generally add about 12 inches to my widest width measurement (for me that’s my hips). I also add 6 inches to my length measurement (shoulder to the floor). This gives me plenty of material for ¾ in. seams, a deep rolled hem and enough easement to move in. You may want to add more to your measurement depending how big you like your seams to be and how full you prefer your garment. Once you have your measurements use dress makers chalk and a yard stick to mark them; then cut. (B) This is the easy method. Lay down a pair of nice fitted jeans and a fitted dress shirt on the material. Trace around them with chalk using a yard stick to make your lines at straight angles. Do not trace too close to the clothing because you want your dress to be less fitted than your western clothing and you want to make sure you have enough material for seam allowances and easement. I currently use method B using my favorite beladi dress as the form to trace around; however, I had to use method A to get that favorite dress.
Dress variation 2
This is a great variation to use if you have material that is not long enough to follow the above directions or you want embellishments or designs in your fabric to be at the hem and cuffs of your dress. This design is perfect for transforming an Indian sari into a beladi dress. This design is more difficult to do because you must do it by your own measurements. In the design I have included my measurements. I wear a dress size 7/8, so I hope my measurements will give you some kind of guideline for your own. Basically, the front panel of the dress should come up to your chest (about at the arm pit). The sleeves form the rest of the upper body of the dress. This can be done with one long tube forming both sleeves and the upper body or by sewing two tubes together. In this case, each tube forms one sleeve and half of the upper body.
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