Thursday, 8 March 2012

Adding sleeves to Kebi's dress

My friend and fellow Ya Raqs member, Kebi, has always said that it would take something very special to persuade her to perform a solo. That something recently came along, in the shape of a sponsored solo as a fundraiser for the Michael Hayward "Whatever" Appeal.

"What to wear" is always an important (sometimes the most important) decision to be made for a new dance. Kebi has a lovely velvet dance dress which she bought in Cairo, but it was sleeveless. She wanted something with a bit more coverage, so I offered to add sleeves to it for her.
The original dress

Like a lot of dance dresses, this one came with separate, matching pieces to be worn on the lower arm. I considered making the sleeves from these, as this would be the only way I could match the fabric, but decided against it for several reasons. Firstly, Kebi may want to wear the dress in its original form in the future. Secondly, underneath the sequins Egyptian dresses often have the beading design marked out in a very permanent, contrasting colour, so there was no guarantee that I would be able to reuse the fabric. Finally, if the sleeves were made of the same fabric as the rest of the dress, the sequin trim around the armholes would look strange, and should really be removed. Given all of this I decided that new, chiffon sleeves would be better,

To create the sleeve pattern I used scrap chiffon to make up a tube the same size as the armhole, and with the dress on my dressform I pinned the sleeve into place. Then I tacked along where the velvet met the chiffon, and unpinned the 'sleeve'.
The sleeve mock-up, with the shape of the sleeve head marked with tacking stitches

As you can see, the sleeve head is far flatter than is usual. In Arabic dance the arms are raised a lot of the time, and a sleeve shaped in the normal manner would pull the whole garment up. That is why sleeves on dance dresses are often not attached the whole way round, but have a gap at the bottom of the armhole.

I had a stroke of luck, and managed to buy some chiffon in a similar purple-tinged blue to the dress. Then I found that I already had suitable beads and sequins in my stash. The sleeves are intended to be easily removable, so I made them entirely separate from the dress. They have French seams to keep the edges neat, a double hem and a chiffon binding around the sleeve head.
One of the sleeves, with the bound sleeve head and slightly different shaping for the back of the sleeve

I decided to trim the sleeves before attaching them to the dress, as they would be easier to handle that way. I drew out the design based on the proportions of the motifs on the dress, then traced it onto the sleeves using tailor's chalk. Then I stitched on the beads and sequins in the same manner as on the dress.

The completed sleeves

Once completed, I sewed the sleeves into the dress, using a slightly contrasting thread so that they can be easily unpicked if required.

The completed dress

Finally, here is a picture of Kebi on the night, wearing the finished dress. Many thanks to Tracey Gibbs for permission to use her lovely photograph.

Kebi performing her solo