Sunday, January 31, 2016

Off The Hook – Rethinking Belt Attachment Methods

If you perform, you can picture this scene:  After weeks of practice, costume selection, and even dress rehearsals, for every performance, at least one dancer comments that she had to move her belt hooks that day.

Or, worse yet, backstage.

We have all been there.  Weight shifts, changes in which skirt you wear, even mysterious unknown factors  like time of day will suddenly make that belt too tight or too loose.

So, we scramble with our seam rippers, scissors and needles.  And, given how belts tend to attach with hooks on the decorated outside of the fabric, no matter HOW careful we are, a beadsplosion happens and our precious sequins and crystals go flying. 

If we are lucky, we are making the belt smaller and can cover the damage until we get home.

This problem REALLY bothered me.  Belts have to fit just so, in order to avoid sliding down or catastrophically flying off as a hook screams it’s last breath and gives up the ghost.

As a result, I have been pondering how on Earth to make belts more flexible.  I have experimented with making the kind that tie on the ends, and even making “applique extenders” to give that flexibility, but it only worked with some costumes: ones I made or the very few that could be adapted.

Was there any hope for the standard Egyptian or Turkish encrusted bedlah?

And then, my Mother died.

That segue may seem odd, but the stress of dealing with the end of life illness of a loved one will play havoc with your hips.

And, my Mom sewed.  A LOT.  Dad and I have spent literally MONTHS cleaning out her stash.  It has been therapeutic and healing, as seeing inspiration through her eyes helped me deal with the pain of my grief.

And, after a while, we got to the (literal) Mother Lode of bra parts.  My Mom made her own bras.

What does that have to do with belts?  It turns out, it can make you rethink how to attach them!  

Mom’s stash had a PILE of these bra back extenders.  I knew I would use them for something, I was just not sure what -- especially since so many were SO WIDE.  But, hooks are hooks, so I threw them in a tote bag and toted them home.

The tote bags kept coming home, as we worked our way through Mom’s sewing “stash,” which is an extremely polite term for an extremely large pile that had creeped until it infested most rooms of the house.  And, I kept thinking about those bra back extenders.

The hooks were pre-mounted at intervals.

The hooks were the “safety” kind, that don’t come undone easily.

The hooks were sturdy, because they were designed to stay on a woman, who moves around during the day.

And, the hooks were pre-mounted on a platform that could easily be attached to the INSIDE of the belt, where they could be hidden from view, attached without disrupting beads, and where they could, conceivably, allow last minute adjustments.

If at first you don’t succeed . . .

They even had that convenient bit of elastic!  Could that help?

So, I started attaching one to the inside of the belt I was going to wear for my next performance.  A belt that had “mysteriously” shrunk since my last wearing.

So, I attached the elastic to the inside of the inside flap of the belt.  I then set the hooks on the inside of the outside flap. (More sewing details later, and you will see why in a minute.)  I took a deep breath, and tried on my new experiment to see if it worked.

It didn’t.

(Image is from my perspective, looking down) The elastic provided too much stretch.  The belt would not stay on during a shimmy.  Down it flopped.


(Image is from my perspective, looking down) The overlap on the belt was nominal, and the outer flap (where the front of the belt crosses over the back) kept flopping open.

 . . . try, try again!

Back to the drawing board; or, in this case, the scissors.

Off with the elastic!

Looking at what was left, I was worried if I had enough to attach it to the belt.  Then I realized how many of these extenders I had.  I grabbed a second one, lopped off the elastic (which was on the piece with the eyes), and pinned the two together.


I then sewed them to join them.  If my calculations were correct, I would have AT LEAST two inches in flexibility!

I then attached them to the inside of what would be the inside flap of the belt (the edge along the back half of the belt, for this left facing belt), using contrasting thread, in case I ever had to make adjustments.  I made sure the eyes faced AWAY from my skin, so they could meet up with the hooks. Sewing was easy, because I was only sewing through the liner to the inner layers of the belt, not all the way through the sequins.

(Image is of the inside of the belt, with the end on the side that wraps around my back.)  I then went to attach the hooks.  This is the part that tends to drive dancers crazy, because they have to think through things like which side of the belt the hooks should go on, which way the hoops should point, and how the heck are they going to mark where they should go.

This is where this method makes it SUPER easy.  Now that the flap with the eyes was sewn to what would be the inner flap of the belt, all I had to do was hook the hooks form one of the extender sets to the eyes from my belt, put the belt on, and then pin the hook piece to the inside of the belt.  Because the hooks are attached to fabric, you can pin them in the exact spot with ease, getting a great fit the first time!

(Image is from my perspective, looking down).  When I did this, I made sure that I used the hooked the hooks to the set of eyes that was one row away from the “tightest setting.”

(Image is from my perspective, looking down) This would give me flexibility to make the belt smaller, as well as bigger.

I then added the second set of hooks from the second extender kit (because, remember, I sewed two sets of eyes together), at a distance so that I could either hook the outermost eyes on the flap to the 2nd hook set for stability, OR I could hook one of the two sets of eyes nearer the belt edge to it, making the belt even tighter.


(Image is of the inside of the end of the belt that crosses my front.) This way, I have quite a bit of flexibility in how loose or tight I make the belt, minimizing the need to re-sew and move the hooks.  Just in case, I used contrasting thread (upholstery, if you were wondering what kind of thread) and I sewed each piece through the liner to the inner layer of the belt, again not going through the sequined outer edge.

Now, I had a tightly fitting belt, albeit one with the outer flap edge flopping around. 

No worries, I had thought through that too. 

I didn’t need to hook the belt to hold the flap, I just needed something to keep the flap tight to the belt.  I raided my stash of red elastic (which is really just a stash of bra straps I have cut off and saved over the years.  I cut a piece short enough so that when it is stretched, it is the length of the flap height at the edge of the outer flap, and sewed it to the bottom (lower, if on the body) edge of the belt.  I then sewed an eye to the upper edge of the elastic, and a hook to the top edge of the belt.


(Image shows the inside of the belt area that goes in front.  The upper edge is the top of the belt, what would be closest to my waist.  The bottom edge is what would be closest to my feet.)  NOTE how the hook is aimed, so that the elastic pulls tightly down.

(Same angle, showing the elastic hooked)

What does this do?  Well, after I hook the belt where I need it, I feed the elastic around the bottom (closest to my feet) of the hooked belt, through the fringe, and then wrap that elastic over the inner flap of the belt, holding the outer flap tight to the inner flap.


(Image is from my perspective, looking down)  This keeps everything tight, and makes it look like I used the standard belt attachment method.  Just, it
is not standard, in that I now have quite a bit (really, three inches or more!) of flexibility in sizing.

(Image is the inside of the front flap of the belt, showing the elastic on the left, and the two rows of hooks.)  Note how I can move the hooks without losing beads!


(Image is the outside view of the back flap of a left hip close belt, where all of the hooks are hidden from outside view.)

I test drove this at Tummy Tuesday last week, and I am happy to report that It stayed in place.  It looked like any other dance belt when worn.

But, now, any adjustments will be less frantic, and less often!