Leonardo's Male Drawing

Making A Veil - Sharif Style


I get a lot of compliments and questions about my veils,
so here is how you can design and make your own!


- o O o -


So why exactly would you go through the trouble of making a veil? Because you can get it in the material, color and shape you want, and the size you need, for much less money than you would pay in a store. I have seen veils sold for $80-$100 that would cost less than $15 in materials. And a veil is quite easy to make compared to other belly dance costume parts!


1. Designing a veil

Veil material

First, you have to select the material you want to use. There is a lot of variety, and you have to determine what you want to get out of your veil. Sheer and light fabrics are nice for slow floaty moves, and have nice see-through properties. Heavier fabrics require faster motion, and will not float well if they are very porous. Yes, in addition to the regular fabric requirements, we need some almost aerodynamic properties as well! A veil fabric that looks nice but does not work well in motion is worthless. It's best to test in the fabric store if the fabric handles well (floats nicely, does not crumple up too easily). You may or may not be able to improve the flying properties of your veil by adding trimming, but it is best to start with a material that works well. Another issue is the structure of the material: if it unravels easily, you will have to hem the edges, which is a bit more work.
So far I have always used liquid lamé for my veils. This is an uncommon material for veils; it's rather heavy - I tried double veil with it, that feels like you're dragging a blanket around Smile. But as a single veil it floats really well, and the shiny surface draws a lot of attention. Its structure is quite stable, so you don't have to do anything to the edge. And it often comes with front and back in different colors, which makes for some interesting variations.


Veil size

To choose a size, you need a bit more than your arm span: the distance between your finger tips when you spread your arms horizontally. That's pretty much the same as your length for most people, as Leonardo's drawing above confirms (don't you think that's a circular veil behind the guy?). For beginners or small venues take a foot (30 cm) more, for more experienced dancers take up to two yard (1.80 m) more. For most people this will be something between 2 yard (1.85 m) and 4 yard (3.70 m) - the largest size really only applies to rectangular veils.
I started with a 2 1/2 yard (2.25 m) half circle, but that's really small for me; I now use a 10-foot (3 m) size. That reaches to my ankles when I hold it behind me at shoulder height, which is just right. Any larger and I would trip over it!


Veil shape

For veil shapes, there's basically rectangular and rounded. For rectangular veils people will just use the common width of the material and add an edge hem if required and trim to taste. Rounded shapes come in different varieties: half-circle, 3/4 circle, cut-off half circle, and ellipse. Because there is less material at the ends, they look smaller, so you should go for a bit larger size than rectangular. For larger circular veils (more than 2 1/2 yard) the standard width of fabrics is not sufficient. You can either leave off the top part of the circle (cut-off half circle), increase the rounding gradually (ellipse), or add more material with a seam (real half circle):

Small circle veil Simple real circular veils can be made out of one piece of fabric. The largest size you can make is twice the width w of the material on the roll, which is often 48" (1.22 m). So the largest possible veil size for that material is 96" or 8' or 2 2/3 yard (2.44 m). Actually a bit smaller because you lose some material on the side that is not colored, and perhaps some for a hem, but definitely 2 1/2 yard (2.25 m).
Cut-off circle veil To go larger, you can simply make a pretend circle, leaving off the top part: the cut-off half circle. Very simple, and works reasonably well, but not great.
Ellipse veil You can also increase the rounding of the veil, making a half ellipse. A bit more complicated to construct, and in practice you lose quite a bit of fabric surface. Again, this kind of veil works reasonably well, but not great.
Large circle veil A large real half circle veil requires extra-wide material that is hard to come by, or a seam. It is probably best to place the seam close to the top so it is shorter. This is my personal favorite veil shape.

I have tried all these circular shapes, and found that a real half circle looks and works best. For the seam I have tried just gluing, but that creates a stiff area in the middle of the veil. My sewing skills are poor enough that I put too much variation in the tension on the fabric, resulting in a lot of ripples on the seam. Therefore I now glue the seam first, fixing the two pieces of fabric to each other without tension, then sew it and remove the glue by washing. There are special fabric glues available for this purpose.


2. Making a veil

Creating a rounded veil pattern

Drawing a circle pattern Take a square piece of paper large enough for a quarter circle (or tape some smaller pieces together), and place a pin in one corner. Tie a piece of yarn to the pin (nothing too flexible), measure half the diameter of your veil (e.g. 1 1/2 yard for a 3 yard veil) and tie a pencil to the other end of the yarn. You can now draw the quarter circle on the paper by keeping the yarn taut and holding the pencil vertical on the paper. Nifty, huh? Well, it gets better!
Drawing an ellipse pattern To draw a quarter ellipse, put two pins at equal distance from the center on the horizontal axis. The distance between the pins determines the shape of the ellipse: the further they are apart, the more squashed the ellipse will be. Measure a piece of yarn such that you can connect both pins and put a pencil in a loop to the far edge of the veil. Then draw the quarter ellipse by keeping both connections to the pins taut at all times (and the pencil vertical).
To get the proportions right, you have to put the pins at e = sqrt(R*R - w*w)from the center. This follows from the fact that the total length of the string is 2*R and from Pythagoras's Law. You can also just mess around until you get it right... Just don't put them at different distances from the center or you'll end up with an egg, and everyone knows eggs don't fly!

Write on the pattern what it is (e.g. "10-foot half circle") - you won't believe how all these patterns look alike after a while! Now that you have your pattern, you can measure how much material you need. If you make a small half-circle or the cut-off half circle as wide as the material allows, you simply need your veil length. If you make your ellipse as wide as the material allows, you also need your veil length.

Large circle veil cut pattern

For a half-circle you can measure the pattern to see how much extra material you need for the top part. For my 10-foot veils, the difference in length between top and bottom part is small, and I need 6 yards of material. To be quite exact, if the total length of the top seam is 2*L, you will need 2*R - (R - L) + 2*L material, or R + 3*L, a result you can also see in the drawing. (Bottom part is 2*R, the top part comes in (R-L), top part is 2*L.) If L is very small (but why bother with a seam in that case?) this value can be smaller than 2*R. You will need at least 2*R.

Cheap large circle veil cut pattern

You could do with less material by adding an extra vertical seam in the top part, but I don't think that is worth it. It will affect the handling properties of the veil, and it will not look very attractive. Again, to be exact we need 2*R - (2*R - 2*L) + 2*L = 4*L material, a result you can again see in the drawing. Again, at a minimum you will need 2*R, so it's actually max( 2*R, 4*L ).


Cutting the bottom part of the veil

Veil cutting left(1) Veil cutting right(2)

(1) Place the quarter pattern on the material on a flat surface, leaving enough material for a hem at the bottom if you want one. You can either draw the shape on the material with a marker first, or cut the fabric directly (pin the pattern to the fabric in that case). Cut the left half of the veil.

(2) Now put the quarter pattern on the other half of the veil and draw and/or cut the right side of the veil. Cut the top part to the correct length (the liquid lamé has an unfinished edge on both sides of the roll; you can use about 10 mm (0.5") of that for the underside of the seam. If your material unravels easily, stitch it to avoid that.

Veil checking(3) Veil top gluing(4)

(3) The material we just cut off is used for the top part (if you are making a full half-circle). You can now try and make sure that you actually have enough material by laying the remainder it on the top. It's always good to double-check these things!

(4) The top part is going to be sewn to the bottom with a very simple seam: just the two layers sewn flat together. You can use any other kind of seam you like, but the thicker it gets the more inflexible it will be and the more the seam will show during veil moves. First cut off the bottom unfinished edge of the top part, and stitch it if it unravels easily. Then put the bottom part on a flat surface that's protected with some plastic foil. Put a thin line of glue on the top edge of the top part, and spread it out to about 1 cm wide. Put the top part on the glue without stretching it out too much, and adjust where necessary. We want both parts to lie flat without tension and form one surface. Allow to dry according to the glue instructions.


Cutting the top part of the veil

Mark left half of veil top(5) Mark right
half of veil top(6)

(5), (6) Now use the pattern to mark the outline of the top part so as to form a half circle (or whatever final shape you are aiming for).

Cut the top part of the veil(7) Veil shape

(7), (8) Cut off the remainder of the top part.

Resist the urge to try out your new veil now, as the seam may not hold if you have applied glue sparingly as prescribed. Better wait until the sewing is done!


Sewing your veil

Sewing top hem of veil(9) Sewing the veil

(9) Put the hem in the top of your new veil if you want one. I use the "invisible hem" stitch of the sewing machine (which will show very little yarn on the front side), but simpler stitches will work too. If your fabric is flexible in that direction, choose a flexible stitch like a zigzag to avoid tension in the material during use. For liquid lamé, you can use the non-glossy edge of the material for this seam.

(10) Put the seam in your veil with a stretchy stitch on the machine. The fabric is held together nicely with the glue, so all you have to do is feed the fabric through the machine. You can use different colors of upper and lower thread to match the front/back colors of your veil. That way the seam stitching will be hardly visible. For liquid lamé, sew with the glossy side on top, as it is too slippery to feed well through the machine.

Wash the veil in the machine (on delicates, slow spin) to remove the glue. Cut off any superfluous fabric around the seam. Steam iron to remove any folds in the fabric and any remaining tension in the seam.


Using your veil

Veil spin back Veil spin front Veil turn Windmill turn

Now you can start giving your veil a spin! For a veil with two colors, you want to keep the nice color to your body. That way you get the best effect when you frame your moves with the veil behind you.


3. Improving a veil

A while ago I bought a pair of half-circle silk veils but had a hard time using them in my spinning routine. The veils would often collapse and generally misbehave. To improve them I added a thin seam on the straight side with a length of thick nylon fishing line in it. This will act as a spring to keep the straight side unfolded. On the circular edge I put some glue-on sequins to give it a bit more weight. That should help to unfold the veils will spinning (centrifugal force).
Of course, this only helps a bit, don't expect miracles from these modifications. A lot of these problems can be solved with more practice, working with the veil material instead of forcing it. With silk you really have to slow down your moves to get it to unfold nicely.