Dragonscale belly dance skirt/bra project notes and tutorial…ish.

Two posts in a week? When it rains, it pours. And guess what? It’s another super wordy post! I love seeing myself type, I guess. As always, for the straight tutorial, skip down until you start seeing bold.

I made a swords-and-sorcery-inspired costume. For some reason, I enjoy the late ’70s and ’80s fantasy comic-book/video game aesthetic. It’s just so gloriously over the top. It’s not gritty or dark. It’s colorful and shamelessly self-indulgent. I wanted a costume for a party that would be utterly ridiculous, colorful and silly. Like something out of Elf, maybe, or early Thor comics. Or even Everquest, come to think of it.

Swords and sorcery!

Swords and sorcery!

It's like a coin belt/scarf, but with dragon scale.

It’s like a coin belt/scarf, but with dragon scale.

While I love that corny, colorful fantasy aesthetic, I do have a few problems with the way that women are portrayed. Specifically, women warriors. Even more specifically, scalemail/chainmail bikinis. It’s no secret that I HATE impractical armor. I like the idea of a dragonscale bra, but can’t quite bring myself to have scale mail that just covers my boobs. It just doesn’t jive with the whole “powerful, yet scantily clad” argument. I’m down with nearly naked mages, belly dancers, and so on, male and female, but knights and warriors gotta have some coverage!

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. The crazy dragonscale vinyl is the best of both worlds! It looks like dragon hide, but not armor. It works pretty well with my whole “fantasy desert mage nomad” aesthetic. And I already had it.

Can we talk about the fabric for a second? It’s just so… something. I found it in the clearance bin at JoAnne’s. No joke. It weighed about a billion pounds and was marked down to $8/yard. Which is kind of a lot for me normally, but I mean, look at it. Have you ever seen something like this at JoAnne’s?

The guy at the cutting counter hadn’t.

“What on earth is that?” he asked when I gleefully hoisted it onto the cutting table.

“Don’t know. Isn’t it awful?” I crowed.

“Where did this come from?” He wrinkled his nose. It did kind of smell like plastic.

“Clearance rack.”

“Seriously?”

“Yep!” Sure enough, JoAnne’s stickers on the cardboard center piece, along with an orange “$8” sticker.

“I have never seen this before,” he told me. “I would remember if I had seen this thing before. I have no idea how it got there.”

But he gamely cut it for me anyway.

Before you judge, it was for a pair of Halloween costumes that required crazy gloves and boot covers and a bag. The bag came out fine, but the boots and gloves didn’t end up happening. So I was left with this stuff. Which, luckily, stopped smelling after a few days. I know this sort of thing kind of goes against my environmentally friendly worldview. But, from my self-justifying point of view, it was already on the clearance rack and headed for the landfill, so saving a little bit can only be good. Right?

So I cut out a bunch of “scales” from the fabric, and punched a hole in the top of each one with a nail. This took quite a while. I free-handed the scale design and traced it many times over.

If I were using larger scales, or had a tiny hole punch, I would have used a hole punch instead of a nail. If I were REALLY dedicated, I’d have hammered a small eyelet into each one. But I ended up liking the almost feathered look with no hardware.

Then, I improvised a knitted bra and belly-dance-style belt. If you wanted to do the same thing and aren’t comfortable with improvising something like that, I would suggest taking one of the free patterns on Ravelry and just adding scales every few rows. Do a swatch test first. I’m serious. I NEVER swatch, but I needed to figure out how many stitches across/tall my scales were. Mine turned out to be 4 stitches across (I was OK with a fairly loose gauge and large needles because the scales cover the holes really well) and 8 rows tall (My bra stretches a lot more out and sideways than it does up).

My “pattern” included casting on enough stitches to cover the front of my chest, including connecting stitches. I chose not to do totally separate cups because I have just enough oomph to need the support of cups connected by a band, rather than a triangle-style cups. After a few rows of garter stitch, I used a provisional cast off to hold the stitches in one cup, and from there knit each cup separately.

Adding the “scales” (or coins, or sequins, or actual metal scales, if you are so inclined) to a pattern:

Figure out how many stitches wide your scale is. Divide that by 2; odd numbers work best for this. Knit to the center stitch (if your scale is 5 stitches wide, K2). Then knit the center stitch like a K2 together, through both the stitch and the scale. If your scale is 5 stitches wide, K2 again. Repeat. K2, add scale, K2, repeat. There’s videos online if you’re still having trouble.

I made sure all of my increase/decrease rows were on rows that didn’t have scales. My placement horizontally was every 5 stitches, and vertically was every 5 rows (this created an overlap, partially hiding the tops of the scales.) I also tried to stagger my scales, offsetting them by one every other row.

Knitting Formula (For Belt and Bra):

Draw out your scales so they’re about 5 stitches wide on the size needles you want to use. I used size 15 needles, because it takes FOREVER to cut out that many scales. The scales I used on the skirt were pretty large, more feather shaped, and the bra scales were pretty small.

Cast on 5 stitches. In general, you will be adding scales on WS rows (at least, that’s how it worked out for me), as well as increasing on WS rows. All RS rows will be K all. (This doesn’t matter so much, as I worked it in garter stitch, knitting every stitch.)

For Larger Scales/Feathers:

CO 5 stitches

WS: K 2, Kaddscale, K2

RS: K all

WS: Kfb into every stitch. (10 stitches)

RS: K all

WS: (K2, Kaddscale, K2) – repeat () across

RS: K all

Ws: K1, ktbl,ktbl, K to center, lift and K1, kfb,kfb, K1

Rs: K all

Continue on in this established pattern. On alternate RS rows, increase 5 stitches with this forumula: K1, Kfb twice. Knit to center stitch. IF there are an even number of stitches (no center stitch) pick up and knit one stitch. If there is a center stitch, ktbl. Knit to last three stitches, Kfb twice, K1. You will have increased 5 stitches on every increase row, and will add one more scale on the next row.

Decrease the same way, but substitute K2tog for Kfb.

For Smaller Scales:

Same as for larger scales/feathers, except omit the K all rows. Simply alternate increase and add scale rows, increasing on RS rows and adding scales on WS rows.

Once the form of the bra was made, I sewed eyelet tape all around it, making straps out of it as well. I could have easily used ribbon or knit long ties, but I have lots of eyelet tape and not much use for it, preferring to use individual eyelets when I need them.

Pattern Shape Bra/Belt:

Bra cups: start with enough stitches to cover 1/4 of your ribcage measurement. (If you’re starting from a band, you’ll pick up and knit that many stitches.) Knit increase rows until the height of the cup is at least to the fullest part of your breast. Then switch to decrease rows. If you don’t do a lot of knit design, I strongly recommend using an existing bra/swimsuit top pattern.

Belt: Start with 5 stitches. Work in pattern, working increase rows until the belt is the desired height/width. Easy. If your belt is a large gauge/stretchy like mine, I would recommend adding twice as many scale/feather pieces on the top row. Mine looks a little bare because I ran out of fabric to cut the feather-scales from. Either knit long ties in i-cord, or attach to a waistband.

So there you have it. A super secret formula to create your own awesome dragonscale pieces. How about a cloak? I would LOVE to see a capelet covered in these fluttery, shiny, beautiful feathery bits. Of course, that would take forever, unless you had some kind of cutting machine to cut out approximately a jillion pieces with holes in them. Someday.

Intrepid. Or something.

Intrepid. Or something.

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