costuming, craft, dance, Uncategorized

Let’s hear it for good workmanship!

By the time the night before the studio anniversary show rolled around I felt like I’d been altering costumes forever, before even tackling my own.

It wasn’t forever but I had altered three costumes for my dance partner and had a student who’d bought her first ever costume. It was new to her but previously owned and..well..WORN.

My students had been worried about finding any costume because she’s chubby by local sizes and already had a lot of insecurity around showing her body. I wanted it to be as fixed up as possible so she could enjoy wearing it and focus on her dancing. For three lessons she’d bring her costume, and before and after the lesson, I’d see what work was to be done. Each time I did a fair amount of sewing to show how to do the work (explaining sewing and alterations purely verbally to someone who doesn’t sew is hard enough in one’s own language, I didn’t think it was worth it to try) and send her home with more pins in her costume.

On the eve of the show I had to make sure that I had a costume that would complement my dance partner’s choice for our duet. She still can’t locate her duet costume so she’d be wearing another bra/belt I made in 2006 that she now owns. Luckily I’d made that costume for myself, in colors I know work for my completion, and had other handmade choices in similar colorways.

Me, 2007, in a bra and belt I’d made.

My bra/belt from 2007 would work. It’s an example of me playing with layers of plastic lamp-fringe, ribbon, and Kuchi jewelry embellishments to make a light-weight, quick-to-sew, “Tribaret” (tribal-inspired cabaret) costume, the sort I used to wear more often.

It still fits but the bra edge has always been a bit shallow so I added to the cups on Saturday night. The edge looks floppy here but when filled with cleavage it does the job.

The show opened it’s doors at noon, a lunchtime block, so I had to be there in make-up by 10:30. Well, I didn’t officially have to be there in make-up…but when you know a place is going to be crowded with dancers getting ready, probably poorly lit, without enough mirrors it’s best to come made up.

Me, leaving the house at 9am

A student show isn’t a place to spend time doing my own face anyways. My job before a student show is to have supplies on hand to add MORE make-up to student faces: add highlights here, a pop of color there, help with false eyelashes until everyone feels lovely and confident.

Then, after we’ve checked blocking and made sure everyone knows the schedule, where to enter and exit the stage and such, I run around with safety pins double-checking the fit of everyone’s costumes.

It’s only after that when I can catch up with the other teachers, my dance partner, our guest musicians/dancers and such…and then worry about my own costumes.

Of course, my costumes are then under a groovy cover-up until stage time. Other people choose Middle-Eastern cover-ups. I raid Mrs. Roper’s closet.

The first set I watched my students perform my veil choreography and then got ready with my student of 8+ years, Yuko, and Jnana (a former student and now teacher) for my Turkish Roma choreography. My skirt, vest, and belt are all self-made.

Second set meant changing for my duet (and unfortunately missing other students who were performing a finger cymbal choreography I taught in a workshop last year) and performing with H.

me, Delyce (in dance drag) and H

The final set I could get back into quirky teacher garb and just enjoy.

Here I am heading back to my home with two bouquets of flowers from students and peers.

On the train home there were a groups of JR school girls on some sort of team low-key freaking out about me. I tried to ask why (in Japanese), they then asked me if I was Japanese and I replied that I’m American and they squealed more and I didn’t ask anything else.

The last time I encountered a similar reaction, and pushed for an answer, it turned out to be girls who thought I was a Tokyo Disneyland/Disney Sea face character actor getting off my shift. It’s not a crazy assumption to make on the train line that serves both parks…except that time I wasn’t one of Ariel’s sisters, I was just in very tropical dance face.

This time, if that’s what they thought, I can only wonder if they thought…


Partners in mind

Last night and tonight’s art is dance and altering dance costumes.

I’ve confirmed that my health clinic treats ADHD as well as anxiety/depression, but my next appointment is still a week and a half away.

As much as I want to I can’t drop everything and deep dive into ADHD learning right now. And I want to. Oh when I want to do something boy do I want to.

The current priorities are:
I’m wrapping up third/last semester at school. This involves a lot of lesson plans, busy days, shifting schedules.

Studio 10th year anniversary show this Sunday.

Last night, after work, I went to the studio to rehearse with my dance partner/ friend/ studio owner, H.

Reading how ADHD presents in adult women hasn’t simply meant that I’ve seen >me< on the pages. H and I are very similarly wired but where we differ has always been a source of stress.

I am punctual. I have clocks in every room and make full use of kitchen timers to stay on track. I religiously use the train schedule app on my phone.

If kept waiting once I’ve made it somewhere, I become a fidgety mess. I can’t just wait. This is why I often pack projects and extra distractions.

H is habitually late. She has great difficulty estimating time and distance.

She’s gotten better about alerting me that she will be late, instead of just being tardy and then apologizing.

I’ve also learned that sending her a text message about 1-2 hours before we meet, that’ says I’m looking forward to seeing her at (time and place) is helpful for her and isn’t seen as a rude reminder.

Our other major clash.

I am a clutter bug who has developed an intense focus on decluttering. I know how clutter creates external stress for me and work hard to reduce it.

H is a clutterbug but at the studio her priority is managing the studio and often teaching while her 1 year old son is also present.

Clutter at the studio drives me to distraction. I will focus on items out of place and child handprints on mirrors instead of choreography and what I’m teaching next.

We’ve reached a defined agreement for the sake of our relationship. I will come early for extra studio cleaning when I teach, which tends to be the evening after her teaching. She knows I’ll clean what she doesn’t register at messy or can’t deal with. I’ve budgeted the time do I can do so without feeling like it interferes with my work and focus.

Before we rehearsed H and I had a long discussion about how to better communicate and schedule in light of our brains.

My love of making thing with my hands and her loathing of anything to do with sewing defines my art practice tonight.

She figured out years ago that she’ll never be up for moving hooks on her dance costumes. If she doesn’t pay someone to alter and adjust her costumes it won’t get done. She pays me.

I make costumes.

So tonight I’ll be altering some of her costumes, including one I first made for myself in 2009. H purchased it two years ago, early in her pregnancy, so accommodate her changing body.

We’d wear the matching costumes I made us but her house ate hers and she’s been realistic about the fact she would not have the energy to find it before the show.

costuming, sewing, Uncategorized

Finished Costume Pictures.

I totally forgot to show you finished costume pictures from RomaFest.

But you need to know that I got there nice and early for pre-show rehearsal and spent times napping dressed like this.


The show was huge, those of us dancing in a Turkish Roma influenced style were but a small part, probably making up about 10-20% of the performer. This is Team Turkish Roma Style, minus one. We danced improvisationally with live music and then did our own solos or work with our troupes. I have no troupe yet so I soloed.

Left to Right:
Marika, Nourah, Miho, Me, Ikuyo and Tomoka.


The last member, Ai Donya, can be seen in front here.

I liked how the body stocking looked, and got good feedback on it, but I will add more bling to it so it doesn’t stop below my ribcage.

There was also a camel costume.

Other random shots.

I don’t know if there are any in-action photos.

costuming, craft, sewing, Uncategorized

Costume Finished!

I hope to get better photos at the show on Sunday but here we go!

RomaFest is this Sunday. I am having some strong imposter syndrome feelings but I know I love to dance.

I didn’t have time to make something from scratch nor the money to buy anything that would be of  the same quality as my handmade skirts.

And when I make skirts I generally make GIANT HUGE SKIRTS.


So I took an existing skirt I’d bought used and changed it up instead. I also made it a narrower skirt, more like my favorite teacher Reyhan Tuzsuz would wear.


I think I invested about 20$ in trim for this project, which is cheap.

Final skirt and general outfit (sans accessories):


I’d also literally made the vest top from pieced together fabric scraps from a too-small pair of fancy dance pants someone gave me for the fabric. I did that in 2017 here.

I’ve decided to give a body stocking a try. Not out of feeling insecure about my tummy but because Turkish Roma women who dance often do NOT show their stomachs and feel like that’s a better choice for me to make when participating in a festival about Roma music and dance.

If you’re wondering about Roma/Romani people and wonder why my dance costumes look like what you’d describe as “g*psy” costuming, here’s a fine start to why I don’t use that word and you probably shouldn’t either.

costuming, craft, sewing, Uncategorized

Costume Alterations.

Today brings me to sewing I don’t really want to do but need to do.

I have two jobs. One as a mild-mannered English teacher (for Japanese children) and the other as a belly dance teacher/performer (for Japanese adults, Turkish restaurants, etc.).

My English teaching is within set hours that don’t fluctuate from week to week except during vacations. I teach six dance lessons a week and that only fluctuates if I do any substitute teaching or have a workshop to teach.

Then there’s gig life. That can be super dry or super busy, rarely anything reasonable in-between.

It’s been dry. Maybe a studio show, restaurant gig, or dance show here and there. When it’s like that I can get away rotating the same few costumes i’m feeling and fitting well into and not altering much.

My costumes I often make from scratch . Some I fix up after buying them used. years of that can be found on my FB costuming page.

And now, suddenly, I find myself doing two restaurants shows (two different nights) a week in Shinjuku…every week.

It’s time to open the costume closet (yes, I have a closet of just costumes) and figuring out what needs altering. NEVER FUN. Sure, I see things I haven’t worn in a while but I also have to confront the why of it.

Bellydance costumes are tricky to fit as you want everything tight enough that you don’t worry about anything sloshing out or slipping down but not SO tight as to give you excess muffins tops or injury.

I’ve gained some weight at my waist, but my belts and skirts are fine! The thing I’m finding my costumes need is wider ribcages. For some this means just moving hooks but other costumes actually need longer ribcage straps…which is what I’m doing tonight. Luckily this was a used costume in bad shape I fixed up…so I still have extra fabric from my past changes. These alterations don’t help me in cleaning my stash “but what if i neeeeeed it”


An album of ALL this costume has been through can be found here.

I even used this as part of one of the tutorials I made for a Japanese book on how to DIY when you’re a bellydancer in Japan.


That girl in the corner? That’s me. I was the sequin and bead master and hand model. These medallions are my creation and my tutorial.

So, again, I’m changing another part of this costume.

Tonight I extend the rib cage.In the future I’ll probably change the neck straps so they cross over and connect to the back instead of attaching like a halter. The chest uplift of a halter is no longer worth the risk of pinching nerves in my neck. Criss-cross straps are a bit harder to get into but they provide the same lift with less neck strain.

I won’t wear it for tomorrow night’s gig, I’m already packed, but it might be worn this Friday or Saturday.

And, I’ll be packing some train sewing for the train into and out of Shinjuku. I’ve wrote a few of my blog posts on the ride last week.

Back to the machine!

costuming, craft, Doll, pullip, sewing, Uncategorized

Dressing to Dance. Nah-atto part 1

I’m a belly dancer. I teach and perform and study belly dance. I also make belly dance costumes.

There was no doubt that I’d combine dolls with dance. As soon as I saw a used Pullip Nah-atto doll I had to have it.


But let’s be honest, Nahh-ato is all Orientalist tropes.


Genie lamp, harem pants, odd collar with a ring, lounging couch, a not included in this photo but totally included in the outfit face veil….

That’s not to say that I, as a Western white woman involved in the dance, am not guilty of appropriation and Orientalism. I try to educate myself. I listen. I make mistakes and hopefully I have and will continue to correct myself when called out.

My Nahh-Ato has arms that have grown loose and floppy over time. So, she’s getting a new body. The closest skin match I could find for her was the MTM Soccer barbie.


This Barbie can easily fit in every part of the outfit except the bra-top. So, while repainting the face and awaiting new eyes, I made a dance costume modeled after 1960’s/1970’s belly dance albums and fashions…all from leftovers in my stash.

I serged/roll hemmed four half circles (two larger, two smaller) to make the skirt. Then I sewed the remaining serger tail into the serged area and beaded the edge.

I then made harem pants with side slits that close at the ankles and are open on one side at the hips.

I stitched the pants onto a Barbie bikini bottom that closes on the side (you can see my basting stitches). I then attached the skirt to the panty-harem pants combo. In human-sized belly dance these would be three separate items you could mix and match but a doll can’t afford that many rolls of elastic and fabric bulking up her form.

All of these layers were eventually attached to her belt so her waist-down outfit snaps at the side and the ankles.

I used interfacing to start making the belt form.

If I were costuming for a human the form and back of the belt would be two separate pieces  that overlapped at the sides… makes altering costumes when dealing with weight changes easier, you just unstitch the joined side and the hooked side and adjust symmetrically. But dolls don’t change size and don’t appreciate the extra layers.

The fray check stained the satin but that wouldn’t be an issue as I was adding another layer of fabric, silver lace.


I started using chains and decorations from some cannibalized jewelry I have in my stash for decorating dance costumes…


I made a top based loosely off her original one using the same techniques. It snaps at the back and neck.


The ribcage articulation reads a little like underboob from this angle.

This is her face, waiting for eyes and a few finishing touches.


Enter a caption

….and I found Nahh-Ato’s lounging couch at my local Hobby-Off….so she’s ready for her eyes, wig, and the sort of “lounging bellydance” photos that bring ALL the haters and shamers to the yards.


craft, Uncategorized

Gratitude and pictures.

I’ve been thinking this but not typing it…for fear of jinxing it…it’s nice to be writing.

I used to blog daily…yes…Live Journal. I’m older than you may think.

A lot of things squelshed it. Depression hitting new lows after 3/11 the Tohoku quake and everything at Fukushima. The great NEED to write for emotional reasons or stresses often followed by an energy crash once whatever it was was finally dealt with. Face Book. My personal schedule. The ups and down of transitioning to professional help for my anxiety and depression. Life.

It’s been lovely to start to write something that, ultimatly, doesn’t need to be writen. My mind will not be a mess if I don’t work through this. My world doesn’t need this. No one is going to have emotionally deep breakthroughs or feel less alone without these words…and yet writing this brings me, and hopefully others, small but real joy.

That’s all.

But, because I live in Japan…here’s some fan service. The dance top I finished:

The silver bra and belt were also made by me. In fact the bra, half finished, and some sewing supplies traveled with me in my backpack to Tokyo-Nagoya-Taiwan in the worst weeks after 3/11. Here’s the album of that project.

craft, Disney, Mary Frances sewing, sewing

Chapter XII & XIII: Mary Frances’ Treasure Box & Making a Doll’s Apron.

Let me start with corrections and omissions regarding this passage from the last post:

“Oh, ancestors go-to-China!” exclaimed Emery Bag. “We live in the present, and I demand—I demand justice. I leave it to anybody if it’s fair to have twenty needles stuck into your heart at once!”

A friend of mine contacted me to say she feels that Mr. Thimble and Mr. Emery bag’s conflict may be purely class-based and with no racial undertones. Her take is that “Go to China” may have been a polite (but racist/xenophobic) way to say ‘go to hell’. Mr. Thimble had evoked his ancestor’s history of power and Emery was simply saying “fuck your ancestors, this is now and stabbing people of less status is bullshit.

Even with this more clarified reading, Mr. Thimble is still the worst.

Chapter XII: Mary Frances’ Treasure Box


Let’s return to the sewing room.

The Sewing Bird, now awake, informs Mary of their future sewing plans.

“For your dear dolly we will make, And every pains will try to take, An apron, and a pinafore; And later, other things galore;“Her wardrobe we so full will fill, No one would care to pay her bill.”

I’m not sure what to make of that last line. The doll’s wardrobe will be so luxurious..and she will have no obvious means of employment or benefactor…that folks will suspect much money is owed to a seamstress and think “well, I’m not paying for THAT”?

Mary gets all excited about this news, covers her eyes, and orders the Bird to transform into her Fairy Form,

“Oh,” said Mary Frances somewhat breathlessly, “excuse me for calling you so suddenly, but I so wanted to talk with another woman—” and then she blushed, fearing she had offended the little bird.

“And not a bird,” smiled Fairy Lady. “I understand,” she nodded, “a bird, be she ever so wise, doesn’t understand the needs of a doll-child or the heart of her mother.”

“Thank you, dear Fairy Lady,” replied Mary Frances.

It might have been that Mary was close to tears once more and wanted a motherly figure. There had been talk that Mary’s mother was to teach Mary how to sew over summer but her ill-health prevented her from doing so and Mary had been told not to pester her Grandma about it, for Granny’s eyesight can no longer handle the delicate work of stitching. Or perhaps Mary had grown up being taught that sewing and clothing is a women’s domain that to even discuss it requires a human-like woman’s presence to be near.

“And I know how brave you are while your mother is away, Mary Frances, child,” continued Fairy Lady, “but I’ve had orders from our King not to speak of that—so we’ll get the material ready for dolly’s apron.”

Awww, hell. The Fairy Lady can control Thimble Folks with her bodkin-wand but she ultimately reports back to a King? Smash the patriarchy.

“By the way,” said Fairy Lady. “Where will you put these things as you make them? You must keep them a secret, you know, until we finish the lessons, or we’ll become Never-Nevers.”


I hate the idea of a fantasy existence that must be kept secret from adults. I really do. Nothing good comes from swearing children to secrecy under the threat that they will lose something they care about if they speak. Nothing. I’m far more in favor of fantasy realms that children can speak of but that adults do not have the imagination and power of youth to experience/believe in.

“I shall keep them in my treasure box. Mother gave it to me a year ago. It has a little key and it locks. Mother said all girls love to have a kind of a secret place to keep treasures in.”


Yes, Mary, in times when women’s belongings…and women themselves..are believed to be the property of men, even something so simple as a small tin box with a fragile lock feels thrilling. It was not yet time for a room of one’s own…but a secret box of one’s own? Yes.

Smash the patriarchy.

Mary brings in her tin box and asks the Fairy Lady if she might tell someone someday of these lessons.

“Yes,” smiled Fairy Lady. “You may,—some day. We do not want our help to be given to one little girl only—so when we are all through, you can form a Sewing Circle to which your girl friends may belong, and you can teach them all you have learned.”

Nobody likes a selfish girl, Mary, share what you’ve learned with other girl. GIRLS. Not boys, they are too busy being good scouts and important people.
The Fairy Lady goes on to tell Mary that after this summer she’ll have her mother to help and won’t need the Thimble People.
Then, because our author can’t always find a good segue for introducing information, the Fairy Lady announces that the lesson is about to begin but not without a few words…and then performs an info-dump…which I will add to.
 About Cloth, Weaving, and Spinning
Cotton cloth is made from the cotton plant; wool cloth from sheep’s fleece; silk cloth from silk worm’s cocoon; linen cloth from the flax plant.
The soft cotton is the warm coat for the cotton plant seed-baby. The fleecy wool is the warm coat of the sheep, or the little lambs. The web from the silk worm’s cocoon is the cradle in which it sleeps. Linen is made from the stalks of the flax plant.

This is all before most man-made synthetic fibers, of course.

Rayon (discovered in 1850’s and in commercial productions by 1890’s) actually predates the book but it isn’t considered 100% synthetic. because rayon is made from the cellulose of wood pulp and cotton. Prior to the 1920’s the manufacture of it was quite hazardous to the workers expensive and the resulting fabric was highly flammable, so by the time Mary Frances’ book was published rayon wasn’t yet popular enough to be covered in a home-sewing book.

Nylon, the start of man-made fibers synthesized solely from chemical compounds,  was invented in the early 1930’s by a chemist in America and the resulting fabric was in production by the end of that decade. Polyester cloth was invented by British scientists in 1941 and in 1945 the DuPont company in America had bought the rights to produce it. DuPont expanded its synthetic reign by inventing the chemicals needed to create Spandex (invented 1958 and in production by 1962). By 1980’s DuPont had created the world’s first synthetic automaton: (Diamond) David Lee Roth.


More of this artist’s work can be found at

Back to the info dump:

 When these materials are spun, or twisted, into long threads, we have spool cotton and silk, wool yarns, and linen thread, for sewing. When the threads are woven or laced together into cloth, the stronger threads run the length of the goods—they are the warp threads. The weaker, or woof threads, run crosswise of the good.


As you can see in this illustration, the woof threads also go by the name weft threads.

The relatively weaker thread is why it’s possible to cleanly tear fabric in a line perpendicular to the selvage but not parallel to it.

Chapter XIII: Making a Doll’s Apron

A constant I’ve discovered so far in the book (because I’ve made more of the projects than I have yet written about) is how much I don’t look forward to making clothing items of a domestic nature like aprons or pinafores.

It’s not like I don’t cook. I cook frequently and have a variety of homemade aprons.

Yet I have no memories of my dolls cooking and cleaning. It may have been that as a small child I was a notoriously picky eater and took little joy in preparing food other than ice-cream sundaes.

I do remember that Megan A. and I would play Barbies together. Our Barbies had scandalous dating lives, imitating what we thought was going on on Dallas and daytime soap-operas. Our Barbies also dated the aforementioned David Lee Roth.

But, once I decided to sew the outfits of this book I knew I’d have to stitch an apron.


I didn’t have quite enough of either of these prints to make a whole apron, so I mixed prints.

The primary skill learned in this lessons was how to hand gather fabric, stroke the gathers to distribute them evenly, and stitch them into a band.


I’d previously avoided ever hand gathering fabric because my first adventure in making a gathered skirt was HUGE.

dancer in forrest

Photo by Maaserhit Honda. Dancer and Costume: Me!!!

Albums of these sorts of skirts I’ve made with in-progress photos.

For industrial level ruffling I’ve invested in a ruffler foot for my sewing machine, seen here next to its simple sibling the gathering foot.

ruffler attachment

On the apron the gathering was done by a single thread (starting with a large knot) sewing a running stitch and then pulling that thread so the fabric gathers along the thread.


I wasn’t satisfied with how the single thread hand-stitched gather worked on the apron but I didn’t want to make a second one.

I find that gathering works much better when I use a machine, set to a long stitch, and stitch two parallel seams (no back stitching). Then I pull on the bobbin threads (the thread on the underside of the stitch) to gather the fabric, like so:


As you can see above, the gathers are not evenly distributed…because it’s time to STROKE. THAT. FABRIC.

(When Googling, include ‘fabric’ or ‘sewing’ in your search terms…don’t rely just on stroking gather/ gathering)

Stroking the fabric involves running a bodkin or blunt needle back and forth across the gathers to more evenly distribute them.

If historic sewing is your thing, here’s also an amazing blog entry on stroking the gathers on a mid-nineteenth century petticoat

And with a mostly finished apron we end yet another two chapters.

My tiny, not quite even, hand stitches on the back of the apron.

Coming up soon: Mary is given a sewing gift I’d sell the children I teach for…and maybe I’ll be ready to talk about the racism in the Mary Frances Housekeeping book.