Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Hip Scarves 1: General Notes and What to Look For

I get regular questions about where I get my hip scarves and various other class props, and what do look for, so I thought I would transfer and update the information from my class handouts, creating a little series of posts on the subject of belly dance clothing and accessories, starting with hip scarves and coin belts.

Once the belly dancing bug has bitten you, probably the first thing you’ll want is a hip scarf or coin belt. Wearing a scarf decorated with beads and coins makes you more aware of your hips and the urge to have a little shimmy just to hear your hips jingle is irresistible. Traditionally, a dancer may just have tied a scarf or shawl around her hips.  Heavy hip scarves, glittering and jingling with coins and beads look, feel and sound wonderful when you’re dancing.  They may seem expensive, but considering the work that goes into them, not to mention all the beads and coins, they are generally good value for money, and you tend to get what you pay for.

At the bottom of the scale, many scarves are made of fairly light chiffon with fewer coins and perhaps not as well finished, and are often narrow and not long enough to go around larger hips.  However, these light scarves can be great for slender beginners and children, as they’re cheap, light and often nicely jingly.
At the top end of the scale, scarves are heavy with beads and coins, long and deep and made of heavier crepe georgette.
In between, there is a large range of materials, shapes and decoration.  Here are some ideas of what to look for:

Fabric         Chiffon, crepe georgette, stretch velvet/velour, mesh, assuit, crochet, lamé …
Shape         Rectangle, triangle, curved, or some fancy shape.
Size           Look for details, or look at the picture for how it’s tied, to check how long and deep it is.  Some sellers give details of how long the decorated part is.  If you’re slim and the decorated part is much longer than your low waist/hip size, it could be difficult to tie.  If you’re big, a short scarf may just about tie, but not give good coverage.  Beware some of the photos with the scarf tied around a dummy and with no size details - some of the dummies only have 32" hips.
Coins          …Or are they large sequins (paillettes)?  Generally gold or silver, but some are mixed and some are copper (rare and more expensive!)
Beads          Some scarves have no coins and this is preferred in some classes and workshops, where the noise of a lot of people in loud coin scarves would make it impossible to hear the tutor or drummer.  Most of the larger beads are metallised plastic, which is actually better – less likely to cut and break the thread that’s holding them, lighter, and safer underfoot if they do come off.  Some Indian belts have intricate beaded designs which look beautiful, but tend to spill their glass (ouch!) beads everywhere.
Stitching     Difficult to tell even when you hold a scarf, let alone from a picture.  Sometimes the thread used to string the beads and coins is so soft, the coins cut through it very easily.  If you have beads and coins falling after the first couple of uses of your scarf, take some time to sew through all of the bead and coin dangles, to reinforce them.  Tedious, but necessary.  Use doubled thread and sew a knot in between each dangle.  I'll do another post looking specifically at care and repair.

Hip scarves from different countries have various characteristics, but these aren’t absolute rules and fashions come and go:
Egyptian        Simple rows of coins, or beaded loops and dangling bead and coin fringes.  Generally the largest in terms of length and width.  A recent fashion is for beaded dangles sewn into the centres of flower-shaped sequins, covering the main section of the scarf.
Turkish         More use of crochet work to attach the coins, particularly panels or triangles of lattice/netting, which allows the coins to bounce and jingle (and sometimes get caught and tangled, too!).
Indian           Often intricately beaded or very light, with just a couple of rows of coins.
Chinese/Hong Kong       Lots of large sequins/paillettes.  A row of colourful plastic translucent ‘stones’ on braid along the top edge is a current fashion.  There are also some available now with massive sequins, very flashy!  I have also seen some Egyptian style scarves on some of the wholesale export sites, which makes me wonder how, in the end, anyone can be sure of the provenance of their hip scarf.

Some dancers find that bead and coin hip scarves are too heavy, distracting or not appropriate for their style of dance.  Alternative hip decorations include:
  • Elasticated beaded belts with graduated bead fringes are also available, but most only stretch to approx 40” hip.
  • Fabric belts with embroidery, dangles or fringe, for example to match a galabeya in the same fabric.
  • Shaped, stiffened belts with fringe, which could be part of a bra and belt set (bedleh).
  • Chain belts, ranging from lightweight decorative chains with a single row of coins or small bells to heavy metal.
  • Accent overskirts, such as petals, panels and stretch fabric mini skirts.
For a more tribal look, scarves and belts tend to be layered.  Crochet, embroidered or devoré velvet scarves may form a base, with or without fringe, under a tasselled belt which may also feature cowries, shisha (glass mirrors), beaded rondelles (guls), chains and Kuchi coins and pendants.

I always have some hip scarves to borrow when I'm teaching.  I've never forgotten my first lessons, when my teacher happily lent me a hip scarf and I watched, fascinated by the way her beads and coins moved as she turned and did a fast hagallah back up the room. The start of my love affair with hip scarves!


Penny Walters said...

you can vouch for my luxury quality hip scarves ;o) http://www.everythingegyptian.co.uk/catalogue/10-0_coin-belts-hip-scarves-.htm

wholesale jewelry said...

Interesting post. I have been wondering
about this issue,so thanks for posting.