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Costume Design Approach: Line and Cluster

There are many strategies for designing belly dance costume bra and belt sets.  One design approach I use often I like to call the “Line and Cluster.”  In this technique, I begin with a flexible, but linear design element, such as rope, narrow ribbon, chain, or, as in this example, rhinestone chain.  Choose something long and thin with some ability to bend and twist, curving to create undulations in the line.  While my demo piece is pretty high glam with bright fabric and glittering AB rhinestones, you can choose to take this approach in a more fusion or tribal way using chain for the line, and coins and metal fillets for the clusters.

Prepare your Belly Dance Bra

Pink Rhinestone Bra prepped for slip stitching the dart legs. Studio Davina - www.davina.us

We’re starting at the mid-way point in the construction of this lovely pink costume that I’m calling “Stoned Pinky.”  I’m working with the same client who commissioned the “Lavender Garden” bedlah set I designed in the spring.  For that costume, we did a “Stash Attack” and pulled items from storage, recycled from previous projects, and found materials stored in my cabinet of curiosities.  to create a lovely floral-themed belly dance bra and belt.  I posted a 4 part series of blog posts about that project which begins here.

If you would like more information about how I prepared and covered these bra cups, directions and step-by-step photos are in my book Embellished Bras.

Design Approach: Line and Cluster

In this method, you’re essentially “drawing” a series of undulating lines across the surface of your costume. There are three design groups that I find look lovely on a belly dance costume bra and belt set.

Uniformly Shaped Embellishments: Filling the spaces between the lines with one uniformly shaped design motif is perhaps the quickest and easiest from a design perspective.  Remember, though the size remains the same, the color and material can vary.  For example,  you could use rainbow hued rhinestones, or you could use the same size stones of various composition like pearly, stone, and metal.

Repetitive Motifs: One way to tie a full head to toe ensemble together is to use a repeating motif on each of the garments.  You can pull a design from the fabric of your skirt, or your bra and belt, or just pick a motif at

Random Sized Clusters: In this style, I use a variety of different shaped and sized design motifs to fill the area between the lines.  I often will stick to one color, but change the shapes and finishes to create a more dynamic that contrasts with the lines.

Line drawing of three styles of the "Line and Cluster" design approach. | Dawn Devine www.davina.us

First line of the "Line and Cluster" design approach on a Pink Belly Dance Bra. | Studio Davina www.davina.us

Draw your Main Style Line

The most important part of this project is laying in your first design line.  You want to create your ideal amount of “Wiggle.”  If you are new to this method, you can experiment with thread tracing until you find the line you like, and then apply your linear design element.  In this example, I’m using rhinestone on chain.

I like using rhinestone chain for its ability to gently curve, allowing me to draw a sparkly line across the surface of the bra cup.  I pin the design onto the first cup and get it perfectly to my taste. Then using measurements, I recreate a mirror image of the design on the opposite cup.

If you would like to work along with this project, this is the chain size I used for the first and second lines of the design.  I used a smaller 2mm size rhinestone chain for the third and fourth lines.

Rhinestones spread out and ready to sew on using the "Line and Cluster" design approach. | Studio Davina www.davina.us

Choose your cluster style

For this costume, I’ve chosen to use an uneven cluster that I’m going to build up in an organic way. I begin the clusters by working from the largest rhinestones to the smallest.  Think of it like a jar.  If you want to put large rocks, medium pebbles, and sand into the jar, it’s best to put the rocks in first, then add the pebbles and finish with sand. If you put the sand in first, it’s hard to get the rocks and pebbles to fit in.

For this project, I’m using four of these AB rhinestones assortments,  as well as a bag of additional 10mm AB Rhinestones,   I had some fuchsia stones in my stash, but they are 7mm similar to these.

To see what I have to work with, I spread out all the materials on a piece of fuzzy fleece cloth. This will prevent beads, sequins, and stones from rolling away. Sometimes, if I’m using particularly bouncing or rolling prone materials, I will lay my cloth in a box-lid or on a cookie sheet, or tray to prevent the supplies from wandering off.

Sew on the Rhinestones

For the bra, I really wanted to stay as symmetrical as possible, but still loose and free.  Instead of mapping out the whole project, I just worked free-form, but in a symmetrical pattern.  I would stitch down one big stone on the left, then repeat that placement on the right.  I would repeat this process working in clusters of 2-5 stones, sewing them down on the left and then repeating the same cluster on the right, mirroring the placement and pattern.  It’s not an exact match, but with this much bling, is an exact match essential?   If you are looking for tighter, more symmetrical process, I recommend using chalk, or a fabric pen that will disappear (test first on a scrap) and then place your stones in the pattern.  Since my customer has a fixed budget, flying freeform saves time – which in turn saves her money.

Pink Rhinestone bra in progress, demonstrating the "Line and Cluster" design approach. | Studio Davina www.davina.us

Repeat Cluster and Lines

Once the look is established with the first design line, and the clusters have been applied around it, I added the second design line.  Then I repeated the process, laying down the biggest stones first, filling in with clusters around the larger stones.  When the third line was added I pinned the bra cups to my dress form and stepped back to take a look at the bra.  It’s good to get an “audience view” of a costume.  Because Shalimar likes to dance in restaurants with low lighting and a close audience, I dimmed my lights and stood back 8 feet to see the costume in progress.Pink Rhinestone bra made using the "Line and Cluster" design approach. | Studio Davina - www.davina.us

One of the things I like best about the line and cluster approach to design is that it’s very versatile.  It can be applied vertically, horizontally, or as I did in this bra, following the angled line of the upper cup.  At this stage, I need to finish the design all the way to the bottom of the cups and then attach the bands and straps to complete this garment.

To the SEWING TABLE,
Dawn Devine ~ Davina
Aug. 19, 2017

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