The Pearl Costume: Art Nouveau Decadence

Posted on Feb 14, 2011

I’ve finally finished the pearl costume, and I’ve posted it for sale. It’s not like I don’t like the costume, I do. It’s just that it has been in progress for so long that I am just over it. I actually started working on this costume in 2008. I worked on it diligently for a few months and then put it away. About 6 months later, I revisited the costume and decided that it would need a lot more work in order to make it what I had envisioned. I put it away again and didn’t open it back up for another year.

And believe it or not, this costume was the first bedlah I ever made (ok, second but I don’t talk about the first one. It never saw the light of day). Since I started the costume, I’ve actually hand-made or refurbished three costumes. And I’ve learned so much since then.

I think a lot of reason why I started and stopped this costume so many times is because there are so many things I would change about it if I could…but I just didn’t have the experience or the know-how at the time. Now that I do know, and once I figured it out, I decided to keep it as is and just finish it already.

So in hindsight, I am going to go over my lessons learned and hope that you can glean some insight from them:

  1. The bra is everything:  I purchased Sugar Petals cups and back straps and I don’t think I will ever do that again. It’s not that I don’t like their products, I do…but it was wrong for me and my shape. I like commercial bras because they have the right angle for me. With the Sugar Petals you have to adjust the angle yourself and at the time, I just didn’t know what I needed in terms of angle…So I ended up not angling it up enough and so the shape of the bra doesn’t quite flatter me the way I want it to. However, the shape works because this costume has a vintage feel to it, and the bra shape is very close to something you might see in a 1950s Golden Era belly dance costume.

    Another thing about the bra is that I made it a halter. Most costume bras are halters, and over time I have come to dislike this trend. Yes, they are more flattering and easy to make and fit/adjust. However, they can be horribly uncomfortable if you have a large bust and you need a lot of lift. All of the costume bras I have made since this one have had over-the-shoulder straps.

    And finally, another change I would make would be with regard to the side straps. I used the Sugar Petals straps and lengthened them with gross-grain ribbon. Now, I have a pattern for side straps that I made based on my Pharaonics Great Loop. It’s got the right height and length to fully extend across my back and it is at the right angle. I had to play with the angle on these side straps for a long time before I got them just right.

    Bra and side straps purchased from Sugar Petals

    The cups are covered with fabric

    The final shape. The thing is, you can't tilt the cups too much or you'll have under-wire in your armpits.

    You can see here that the bra is actually very flattering.

  2. The belt is important, too. The belt is also based on a Sugar Petals product, which I believe has been discontinued. I made the belt out of two layers of the base fabric with two layers of felt and interfacing sandwiched in between.  The shape is quite nice, but if I had to do it over again, I would’ve made it a little thicker and perhaps wider. I was able to fix the thickness issue by adding a layer of EZ-felt. And I tell you what, EZ-felt is a costume maker’s best friend. It provides a brilliant structure and sturdiness. I can assure you that all of my costumes will contain EZ-felt from now on.Another newbie mistake was that  I made both the outside and the underside of the belt at the same time,  not even taking into account that I would have to sew through it! By the end, the underside was covered in knots and threads. I ended up sewing a layer of EZ-felt, regular felt and cotton lining to it  to protect the knots and provide a better structure.

    You can see in this photo that both the inside and outside of the belt look exactly the same!

    Here's where I have added the two layers of felt (EZ-felt and regular felt) to the inside of the belt

    All done! Neatly lined with cotton quilting fabric

    Finally, in hindsight, I would have made the belt two pieces instead of one. In fact, all of the bedlahs I have made have one piece belts. I do this, quite frankly, because they are easier to make. But now that I have several designer costumes with two-piece belts, I have learned that they are easier adjust…well, not actually easier to adjust, they can be quite tricky to put on and fit. But they are more forgiving in terms of shape and symmetry, when you need to adjust due to weight fluctuations or when selling. Plus they are easier to store and handle.

  3. Don’t forget the accessories! I made matching arm bands for this costume on a whim. I do think that accessories can be really nice additions to costumes, although I often forget to wear them. These arm bands are made using an adjusted pattern from Ozma’s Costumes. However, I wasn’t paying as much attention to detail as I usually do, because I was beading my armbands, and well, the elastic going all away around them sort of changes the beading. If I had to do it over again, I would have made the arm bands flat with the elastic only about 1 inch long attaching the two sides of the arm band together. That being said, I do really like how the arm turned out and they fit quite well.

  4. Plan your design ahead of time and purchase accordingly. When I started this costume, I had no definite plan in place. I was just buying pearls and beads like crazy. I didn’t know what size to buy or what to look for. Naively, I thought I would have everything I needed. Boy, was I wrong. I can’t even count the number of times I was running to craft stores and looking online for more supplies. I just didn’t know what I needed or how much of it I needed until I was there and working on it. I even had a couple of panic attacks when the beads I needed were nowhere to be found.I spent a lot of money on this costume. Way more than I can actually sell it for, sadly. But in the end, when I was doing my ritual post-costume-completion clean up, I found loads and loads of extra supplies; mostly extra glass pearls in sizes that I didn’t end up using very much of. So perhaps the supplies on the actual costume aren’t as expensive as it looks on paper, because of all the surplus. I hope I can use those extra beads for my jewelry endeavors, but if not, there is always ebay.

    Because of this costume experience I am scared of running out of supplies again. For my subsequent costumes, I have drawn or sketched my designs ahead of time so that I know what I am going for. I did that with this costume at some point, because I found some post-it notes with sketches of the bra and belt at the bottom of my costume bin, but I don’t know when I did that. Now, I am doing the sketching early on in the process and buying supplies in bulk. It will save me time, money and hassle in the end.

I hope you have learned something about costume-making as a result of my first-bedlah adventure. All in all, it was a valuable experience and I am proud of myself for the diligence, effort and attention to detail. Finishing it always seemed impossible…but I have done it and I am glad.


  1. I found your post about this costume on I must say this costume is gorgeous. You did amazing job.

  2. Thank you so much!

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