Golden Goddess Costume – Part 1

Shalimar in pinkAfter taking a month off in December of 2018, I’m now diving back into a project that I began last summer.  I sometimes am asked why I need so much “lead time” to make a costume, and the answer is simple.  Everything takes time.  From designing the initial concept to meetings, fittings, patternmaking, and sewing, there’s simply a lot to do for each garment.  In this blog post, I’m going to map out the steps that I take when working with a client to design a custom costume.

Last year, I completed this lovely ensemble for Bay Area professional dancer, Shalimar. I was thrilled that she was happy with the performance and audience response to this costume.  She commissioned a new costume that we are calling “The Golden Goddess.”

Shalimar’s Idea: A head to toe gold and rhinestone costume suitable for close-up performances in dark restaurants. 

Design Brief

When I’m working on a project with a customer, it’s a good idea to create a design brief and project contract.  This can be a formal negotiation with a contract or an informal goals list.  Every designer is different, but at a bare minimum, you want your contract to include budget, timeline, and costume summary. For more detail about the design brief, check out this blog post.

Initial Sketch

Once you have hammered out the fine points of your contract, it’s time to design. For the Golden Goddess costume, I did these initial design sketches.

I generally have some ideas on the types of materials we are considering for use in this costume.  For the Golden Goddess, we choose a micro-sequin base with individual rhinestones, rhinestone chain, and sequin on string.

This type of sketch is called a flat, and I like to draw in pencil on gridded paper to help maintain the proportions of the costume.  These initial sketches are a point of discussion and development when working with the customer.  Often these designs will be refined and adjusted as the project progresses.


Agreeing on a budget is always an important part of the contract between designer and client. In my business, the budget is broken into two parts.

Cost of Materials

When calculating the total cost of a project, I always begin with materials.  The materials, fabrics, and trims that you choose to use in your costuming project play the biggest role in determining how lush or sparse a costume will appear.  Often, more expensive fabrics are so spectacular, they require less work to craft into a show-stopping costume.  As a designer, I always have estimates of what each element in the costume will cost when budget planning.

Cost of Labour and Time

The second part of the budget is my labor and time. My time falls into three categories.  The first is design services, and that’s the time it takes to sketch the designs, source materials, project planning and set up. The second category of the budget is time. This includes meeting times, fitting, and shopping and sourcing time. The third section is sewing and construction. This is simply the time I spend during the build of the costume.  With experience, I’ve learned how much time it takes to design, source materials, and construction, so my estimates are accurate, barring design changes.

Sourcing Materials

Once my client and I have decided on a design, set a budget, and tentatively chosen the materials and supplies needed for a design, we begin sourcing materials. Sometimes my clients arrive with fabric and all we need to buy are the things we need to complete a garment. Often my customers like to buy their materials on their own.  For this Golden Goddess costume, my client authorized me to make all the purchases necessary to complete the costume.

For the Golden Goddess ensemble, we are using gold micro-sequin cloth, individual rhinestones, and rhinestones on chain.  For speed and convenience, I wound up purchasing most of the materials and supplies from Amazon.  I do not have a great selection of fabric stores in my area so I will frequently resort to internet shopping to get the price and quantities I need to craft my ensembles.  We had to allow time for all the materials and supplies to arrive before beginning the costume.  Sourcing took about three months last summer.

Create a Project Box

As we gather the materials and supplies, I create a project box that will contain all of the design elements in one convenient location.  I will label it with the customer’s name and place it on a shelf in my sewing studio.  When it’s time to work on a costume, I can easily pull down their box and dive into the project with a minimum of hassle and running around.

All of these steps are part of my design flow that helps me move from a rough concept to finished costume.  Every designer, costumer, or seamstress will have a different process.  I hope that this process break down inspires you!

Happy Costuming and Dance,
Dawn Devine ~ Davina
January 9, 2019 


By Davina

Davina ~ Dawn Devine is a belly dance costume designer, dance instructor and author of more than a dozen publications on Middle Eastern dance.