Here are some answers to common questions I've been asked. If you have a question that isn't answered below, feel free to contact me at Shushanna at Yahoo.com.
Q: Will you make me a costume?
A: No. That's the short answer. The very long answer is all about the economics of time and money. I already work 40+ hours a week as a Mechanical Engineer, making what free time I have very limited. And I use that free time to train as a bellydancer, teach classes, perform, make my own costumes, spend time with my friends and family, watch "Murder She Wrote", eat and sleep... you get the idea. A single costume can take at least 20 solid hours to make, and I just don't have the time to make all the costumes people have asked me for. Then there is the money question. If I did have the time to spare, my time is worth roughly $45 an hour (based both on my level of experience with costuming, and based on opportunities competing for my time). That $45 an hour is just my labor, not materials or profit. If you assume materials cost roughly $200 for a fabulous costume, that's a cost of easily $1100 for a single costume - and that is with absolutely no profit, just covering time and materials. The retail markup of a $1100 costume would typically be twice as much - $2200. What would you get for that $2200? A very well made, custom designed costume that fits you perfectly, will last a lifetime, and looks amazing. But what WON'T you get? Resale value. When you buy a Bella or an Eman Zaki, your costume has Brand Name Recognition. When you decide you need to revamp your wardrobe and sell your old costumes on Bhuz, people will see those brand names and automatically know what level of quality they are. Now you may be asking yourself how those fabulous designers can sell their costumes for as little as $600 brand new (and that's the marked up retail value). The answer is a combination of a lower cost of living and the savings of buying materials in bulk. Their labor costs per hour are significantly lower (as is their cost of living). And if you buy crystals, fabric, beads, and the rest in bulk you can save amazing amounts of money. So... no. I recommend you buy a Bella, or better yet, learn how to make your own.
Q: Can I hire you to alter my costumes for me?
A: Nope. I'm afraid I'm not a seamstress for hire. There's even less fun in being a seamstress for hire than in being a full-out costume designer, and my lack of spare time and the lack of economic incentive (both described above) still apply. I'm just here to help you help yourself. If your particular predicament is one that I haven't covered, please feel free to contact me by email or phone and I may just add a new topic to cover whatever your costume issue is. I get emails like this all the time and I always take the time to give a thorough response. I want you to succeed.
Q: If the economics you talked about above are true, why do you make your own costumes, and why are you helping others learn how to do the same?
A: I make costumes for myself because it's fun. Also, if all I have to spend is $200 on materials and I can get the exact costume I want perfectly fitted to my body, I find it hard to bring myself to spend the $600 on a Hanan or Eman Zaki (though I have at least one of both). I imagine the same thing is true for others. Also, the information on this site can help you make that new (or new to you) costume you buy fit you like it was made for you. Knowledge is power.
Q: Shouldn't you ask people to pay for this information?
A: Let's talk about copyright laws. You can own a pattern, a logo, a trademark, something you've written, a photo you've taken, a formula, or even a patented process. But you can't own common knowledge, a dress silhouette, a color, a style, or math. (This is why Louis Vuitton puts "LV" on everything they make, because only the "LV" is protected by the law.) What I'm providing on this site is not something I invented. I learned most of what I know by reverse engineering existing costumes and using common sense. What is my property is how I write about it, and the images and diagrams I created (I'm a wizard with MS Paint). So if I wanted to publish a book someday I suppose I could, but there isn't a lot of money in publishing for a niche market. If I reserved this content for printed book sales I would probably never make a profit while simultaneously limiting the number of people who could benefit from my tutorials. The value of this website is that all this information is located in one place and clearly explained and illustrated. All I ask is that if you share the content of this site, that you give credit with a link back to the site, or if you print it to put the name of the site on the footer of each page. Also, I'd love to hear your feed back. It would make me feel really good to know if this site helped you. And if you'd like to throw some money my way to help cover the cost of maintaining this site, I have a PayPal button right above the list of tutorials.
Q: Can I use the skills and mathematical formulas (because they're not actually patterns) on this site to make costumes and sell them myself?
A: Yes, knock yourself out! But let me talk about the difference between what I provide and a pattern. A pattern is something on paper that you cut out and use as a template for your project. The ratios, curves, and math are all done for you ahead of time, and the pattern is based off of the designer's model of the human body. For instance, Tempest sells a corset belt pattern. It would be illegal for you to buy her pattern, make belts based on that pattern, and sell them to other people. Her pattern is for personal use only, as is also the case for Simplicity, McCall, and Vogue patterns. I'm not giving you patterns. Your own body is going to be the model, and by using the mathematical formulas that I've derived on this site, YOU can make a pattern. Yay math!
Q: If I'm new to bellydance and don't have any costumes, what should I buy or make first?
A: It depends on what style of bellydance you perform and at what venues you intend to perform it. A beginner bellydancer taking classes for the first time is not expected to run out and buy a $1000 costume. Most bellydance schools put on casual, cover-dish, student recitals called a "hafla" where your first costume could be as simple as black yoga pants, a colorful tank top, and a hip scarf. After a year or so, you might be asked to buy or make a simple costume consisting of a tiered skirt or circle skirt, a hip scarf, harem pants, and a decorated bra or a choli. After you've been taking lessons for a while you may decide to branch out into different stylizations. The three main ones are Cabaret (sparkly), Tribal (earthy), or Folkloric (historical). Within each of these main categories are dozens of sub-categories of dance and costume styles. If you intend to perform at a Renn Fair, Tribal or Folkloric costumes are the most appropriate, and the simple costume listed above would be a place to start. If you intend to perform at a restaurant, Cabaret costumes are the most appropriate, and it is best to get a gold or silver bra and belt set (bedlah) that could be worn with different skirts to make different outfits (best bang for your buck). A gold or silver coin bra and belt set (sold as assembled coins and chains to be sewn onto fabric bases) is a great costume piece which could be used for either Cabaret or Tribal costumes. A good one can cost around $300. But let me advise you not to waste money on lesser products. Don't go onto Ebay and buy a "bellydance costume" for $20 from China. It will fall apart the first time you shimmy. Instead, wait until you really need a costume, and then make or buy one that will last.
Q: Can I copy your designs?
A: Be my guest! Shapes, motifs, colors, etc. can't be copyrighted. Want to make your own Silver Lotus Bedlah? You can! And send me pictures. It is completely legal to look at an image of any fashion or style and make something similar. And this is why high fashion designers tend to cover their fabrics with their logo - CC for Coco Chanel, LV for Louis Vuitton - because that's the only way they can preserve their product identity. Along those lines, you could not sell your creations as "Shushanna" costumes, because they are not my work or work done with my endorsement. Although you can definitely make copies of all my designs to your heart's delight, I suggest instead you let them inspire you to make something out of your own imagination. And send me pictures. ;-)
Q: What do you get out of all of this?
A: I have friends and students who have asked me for this type of resource for a long time. I've taught workshops on how to cover a bra or make a belt, but I can only reach so many people, and there are a lot of people out there who need this help. Creating this website enables me to help them, to help you. If the website helps you get started, but you need more help, you could hire me or many other experienced bellydance-seamstresses to teach a workshop to your troupe or school on how to make bellydance costumes. There's no cheaper troupe costume than one made by the troupe. If you're interested in hiring me, I can be reached at Shushanna at Yahoo.com.
Q: Are you absolutely sure you won't make me a costume.