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Folkloric Beladi Dress: Sew a Beledi Dress

From the costumer's point of view, there are two 'categories' of beladi dresses: fitted and folkloric. The fitted beladi dress is often used for cabaret dancing and can be as elaborately decorated as a bra-and-belt set. The looser-fitting folkloric type is often worn for cane dances, as a coverup or to set the right tone when working a booth at a festival or public event. This article focuses on the folkloric type with a few suggested refinements to make it more fitted.

Study the diagrams to the right. Notice the different ways a garment design creates room for hips and room to raise your arms without ripping the garment. Flared side panels are a common way to add room for hips. Gussets (square or triangular inserts under the arms are often used to add room to move your arms.

  1. The gusset in the figure labeled 'Typical Gusset Construction' is attached to side of both the arm and the side panel pieces.
  2. The gusset in figure labeled 'Gusset on top of side panel' shows another way use a gusset.
  3. The gusset in the figure labeled 'Folkwear 104 Sleeve Detail' has been merged into the sleeve design. It creates a one-piece version of the sleeve treatment seen in the Tilke book's 19th plate, a "Characteristic garment of the modern Egyptian population."

Next, make or acquire a pattern.

  1. The Tilke book drawing gives you a clear look at how to assemble the folkloric dress.
  2. Folkwear pattern 105, the Syrian Dress, has a typical gusset treatment;
  3. Folkwear pattern 104, the Egyptian Shirt, has the one-piece sleeve-gusset shown in the third figure.

Folkwear patterns are multi-sized and include wonderful instructions for decorating your costume and are more than worth the price. You can order them online from

You can create also create your own pattern using the following suggested dimensions:

Cutting suggestions, which include a 1/2" seam allowance:

Center panel width 14" 15" 16"
Side Panels width at armpit/bust 8" 10" 10.5"
Finish circumference at armpit/bust 40" 46" 49"

When you have your pattern, cut it out of cheap or scrap fabric with large seam allowances to check your fit. DON'T SKIP THIS STEP!

Fitting refinements:

  1. The top of the center panel can be slanted down a bit to provide a more 'western' shoulder. Half an inch is enough to make a nice difference. If you refine the shoulder line in this manner, consider refining the sleeve pattern a bit as well, since the shoulder seam will no longer be straight; add a slight curve (half an inch deep) to the top of the sleeve and CHECK YOUR FIT. (See illustration, left.)
  2. Experiment with the width of the front panel to create the most comfortable fit. Start with a panel that extends 2" to the side of each bust point.
  3. Choose your fabric carefully. A soft, drapey fabric, such as a silk crepe-de-chine, will make the garment look more fitted and will subtract pounds. But if you are planning on elaborate hand embroidery, linen would probably be a lot easier! In any event, do NOT use a very loose-woven fabric unless you are planning on making the dress very full or lining it with a tightly woven fabric; stress on the seam of a loosely-woven fabric will cause it to come apart.
  4. Mark your hem while wearing the shoes, undergarments, and belt or sash that you intend to wear while performing.
  5. Finish your seams, or they WILL fray (sooner or later) and your garment will rip! This is why the chiffon costumes available commercially fall apart; chiffon is a loose-woven material and the seams are left unfinished!
Typical Gusset treatment
Gusset on top of side panel
Extend sleeve cap 1/2 inch
Maura Enright, Proprietor
©2013 by Maura Enright
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