Black traditional tutu

I’ve been asked to make a black traditional tutu that the client would like to decorate herself so I thought this would be a good opportunity to track the construction progress of a traditional tutu. I will use a Tutus That Dance pattern with a pointed bodice. There will be no nude inset as the dancer loves the neckline as it is.

We’ve chosen a black faille with a slight lustre. The overlay fabric is beautifully ornate so we’re keeping the tutu as understated as possible.

At the first consultation Clara tried on a couple of ready made tutus I have to see which was a good fit. From there I made up the pattern in calico and she came in for her first fitting. It was a close fit but just a bit too loose at the underbust so I pinned the side seams in a little and resewed them. You can see that the toile is made with the seam allowances on the right side. This makes resewing and refitting much easier.

adjusted side front

adjusted side seam

Once the tweaked toile was completed I unpicked it and recut the toile pieces that needed adjustment and voila … my new customised pattern! I’ll keep this on file for a new tutu for Clara.

adjusted toile

Adjusted toile

Using the new pattern I cut out the top fabric and the cotton drill lining fabric. Soft coutil is a good alternative if you can get hold of it. Most of the coutil available in Australia is very stiff and more suited to corsetry. The faille and drill are then overlocked together. While this may make for a less aesthetically pleasing bodice interior it creates much less work if alternations are required later on.

serge lined 10-piece bodice

Serge-lined 10 piece bodice

I love Suzanne Dieckmann’s patterns. They are easy to fit and adapt, and they sew together beautifully. Here is the bodice front. I’ve left the centre front seam open to make it easier to apply the piping and get a good match.

Bodice front

bodice front

When the whole bodice is sewn together the top and bottom edges are finished off with piping. I like to make this from the same fabric as the bodice (rather than buy ready-made) unless I’m after a particular effect. I overlock one edge of the bias strip so it can be sewn down to the lining without extra bulk especially at places like the bodice point, at the top of the princess seam or over side seams.

bias sewn onto point

Applying piping to bodice point

When the bottom of the bodice has been piped then it’s time to add the boning casing. The piping at the top of the bodice will cover over the top of the boning casing so this is sewn down last.

boning casing sewn in

boning casing added to front seams

Up to this stage the bodice has required sewing skills. Now we move onto the “engineering” skills and the toolbox.

bodice kit

tutu toolbox

To give a crisp wrinkle-free look to the bodice I will add spiral steel boning to the bust seams and the side front seams. Spiral boning can bend from side to side as well as backwards and forwards to allow movement. The centre front seam will have flat steel boning that only bends forwards and backwards. The bodice point will be floating to allow the dancer to bend backwards and allow the bodice to move with her (thereby avoiding costume “malfunctions”).


spiral and spring steel boning perform different functions

Boning can be bought in precut lengths but I prefer to cut my own. Tin snips are fine for the flat steel (white coated boning in the photo) but the spiral steel needs a cutter with a clamping action. Bolt cutters are the tool for this. I had an amusing time with the guy at the hardware store who insisted I was wrong and ruined a pair of tin snips showing me that I didn’t need bolt cutters. Just because I make “fluffy” things doesn’t mean I don’t understand hardware!

bolt cutters

bolt cutters … every tutu-maker’s tool de jour

Of course the cut end of the bones can be very sharp and jagged so little caps are required. It’s a juggling act using 2 sets of needle nose pliers to attach with equal pressure from the side and above. Sorry, no picture … I’d need three hands or an assistant!

boning caps

spiral steel boning caps

The finished bone can then be easily inserted into the boning casing with a nice soft rounded edge.

capped spiral bone

capped spiral bone

The flat steel is treated a little differently. The sharp corners are filed down and the new rounded edge is dipped into a plastic coating (tipping fluid) and allowed to dry. This will soften the edge and prevent rusting.

spring steel

tipping fluid for spring steel bones

The bones slip into the casing easily but you have to be careful not to sew into the open section of the tube. I sew the casing in first but this photo just shows how the casing works.

boning in casing

boning casing

Boning is then inserted into the casing that has already been handstitched onto the seam allowances and then the facing of the piping is sewn down over the top of the casing. If the dancer decides to remove or replace the boning at some stage is just a simple matter of unpicking the piping facing, slipping the boning out and restitching.

reverse side of finished bodice

bodice interior with boning inserted

Now that the bodice is finished I move onto the skirt. I’ve taped the ruffle guide to the window and with some difficulty I have traced the lines onto the panty with chalk.

drawing on ruffle lines

tracing skirt ruffles

Taking some care not to lose the chalk markings I sew the ruffle lines onto the panty in 2 colours so I can see them. These won’t be seen on the skirt itself and the bobbin thread is black.


ruffle lines

tutu ruffles marked

There will be 9 layers in this skirt and the edges have been scalloped to match to overlay fabric that will be used. Layer 4 looks a bit bigger but it has a hooping case sewn in for hoop to be sewn in at a later date if needed. It’s much easier to do it now that trying to sew one into a completed skirt.


ruffles cut and scalloped

The ruffles are then sewn together into a long strip and gathered ready for steaming and attachment to the panty. Gone are the days when I would try to gather the ruffles using thread. It could bring me to tears when a gathering thread would break! So now I use fishing line.

fishing line

fishing line to the rescue!

I use my cording foot to hold the fishing line in place and then I just zig zag over it. Even if I run out of thread there is no drama! I love this technique. Thanks to the tutu-makers on The Sewing Forum for this tip.

fishing line zig zag

fishing line gathering

Now my ruffles are gathered and looking like a storm cloud on my window sill.

black ruffles

ruffles ready for steaming

I number the ruffles from 1-9, 1 being the longest. Layers 1 and 2 are sewn with the seam allowance pointing upwards. Layer 2 goes on first so that the layers are on the left hand side of the sewing machine, then layer 1.

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layer 2

Layers 3-9 are sewn with the seam allowance downwards. The ruffles are sewn very closely together over the hip flexor so the guidelines in different colours are very helpful.

layers 1 and 2

Guidelines for layer 3-9

From layer 3 the ruffles are sewn seam allowance downwards. This has the effect of pushing these layers upwards. Layers 1 and 2 push downwards against these layers and the resultant resistance is captured in the tacking for the traditional tutu shape.

layer 3

layer 3 seam allowance down

More layers, more pins and more sewing … I have my pins sorted into colours. For this tutu white and yellow are great for black.

layer 6

3 ruffles to go

At this stage I sew up the back panty seam and sew on the last three ruffles in the round. When that has been done the crotch seam is sewn up and elastic threaded through the casing.

size 2 hooks in panty

Size 2 hooks

The back of the panty is secured with size 2 hooks and bars. I prefer to sew in individual hooks and bars rather than using hook and eye tape as it’s less bulky.


9 layers sewn on and steamed

The layers are steamed into shape giving the ruffles a soft downward angle ready for tacking.

starting to tack


Tacking starts at the bottom with layers 9, 8 and 7  tacked together with small loops of heavy thread tied together. Then layers 7, 6 and 5 and tacked together, 5, 4 and 3 then 3, 2 and 1. The wide elastic holds layers out of the way as I work.


steamed tacked and ready for the bodice

I love this stage where the bodice and skirt have their own individual lives. The next step is making the skirt and bodice more than the sum of its parts by joining them to the basque.

petersham vs grosgrain

Petersham vs grosgrain ribbon

The basque sits between the bodice and the skirt fitting snugly around the dancer’s waist. At the waist a length of Petersham is added. Petersham (on the left) looks a lot like grosgrain ribbon but is quite different in function. While both have an attractive ridged surface, Petersham  has a flexible selvedge that assists movement. Grosgrain is a stable ribbon more useful for decoration. Its selvedge is hard and rigid.

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Like the bodice edges, the visible basque edge  is piped where is sits against the skirt. The Petersham has been sewn across the top to form the anchoring waistband.

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basque and bodice basted together

You can see here that the bodice is not completely sewn to the front. I leave the point free unless the client has a need for it to be sewn down.

At this point I realised I had not attached the internal elastic stays that keep the bodice point in place but still allow the dancer to bend backwards without her bodice slipping down. So I had to wriggle some elastic onto the basque and hand sew the ends onto the seam allowances of the centre and side front seams … there’s always something you forget isn’t there?


elastic stays


I find it easier to sew the basque and bodice together and then hand sew the basque to the skirt. It can also be done with the basque being machine sewn to the skirt first and the bodice hand sewn to the basque. It’s just a preference really.


stitching in the ditch

Once I’ve basted the bodice in place over the basque I stitch in the ditch … into the bodice piping. This is a tidy and elegant way to hide the stitching.


bodice and basque

Shoulder elastics go on next but I don’t sew them down at the back until I have the tutu on the dancer.


thimble time

I sew the basque on by hand as it’s impossible to get this ensemble under the machine. There are quite a few layers of fabric so I use a heavy upholstery or top-stitching thread, a large, sharp needle and my trusty thimble.

hooks and bars

hooks and bars

I use number 6 hooks and bars for top, waist and high hip closures and number 3 hooks and bars for the rest of the bodice back. These sizes are difficult to find in Australia (certainly number 6) so I buy them from Richard the Thread who is an America costume supplier well acquainted with the ballet world. I also get my hooping and boning from him.


et voila

So here we have it! A lovely black tutu ready for my client to decorate. This is a Suzanne Dieckmann pattern. If you’re looking for a beautiful tutu pattern you can’t go past Tutus That Dance patterns; timeless elegance!

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My 2 favourite black things

And the tutu also gets the tick of approval from Tybalt, Prince of Cats.

Tiny Red and White Tutu

Sally and little Ellie (and Nanna!) came all the way from Orange to Hornsby for a tutu consultation. Ellie is a very petite dancer and her tutu is a tiny size 4. She has a fair complexion and golden blonde hair so their choice of a red and white tutu was perfect! I am quite a fan of strong colours although there is always a place for soft colours especially when the choreography demands it. Between the 4 of us we found the perfect watermelon red from my stash and some lovely organza lace with pearls and translucent sequins for the plate. As Ellie is only 6 the tutu will have no nude insert. I found the sweetest little neckline applique with a heart with tendrils of flowers. The skirt for this tutu is just a plain crisp white with scalloped edges to tie in with the pretty scalloped lace.

red and white tutu

Starting point for tiny tutu

I like to line my lycra tutus and I do this by serge-lining rather than bag lining which can cause wrinkles. There are some lovely matt lycras available now so I’m using my remaining shiny lycra as a lining fabric. Each tutu piece has a piece of lining lycra overlocked (serged) to it and then the pieces are sewn together using a stretch stitch.

serge liing 2

Pieces ready to be sewn together.

The first pieces I sew together are the 2 backs because as soon as I’ve done that I get to sew in my wee label. Having a label for my tutus says to me I’m doing a job I love, not a job I have to do!


sewing this in is my favourite thing!

Although the tutu is a strong colour everyone agreed that delicate embellishment would be the order of the day. So of course I start with Preciosa crystal AB rhinestones. There are a lot of resin rhinestones around at the moment. They are wonderful for splashes of colour but you can’t beat the subtle glimmer of crystal rhinestones!


rhinestones and embroidery on organza

The lace is rally pretty but takes on a whole new life against the red. Also by pulling it into a rounded shape the lace gets a more 3-D look which adds to the effect. It needed just a little something else so I added some pearlescent flower shaped sequins with a tiny pearl in the middle.


lace on plate

The bodice appliqué is so sweet I thought perhaps just some rhinestones would be enough … for now.

heart bling

bodice bling

Between sewing on the net I give myself other wee jobs to do otherwise I wold go crazy just sewing on net. So before the skirt becomes unwieldy I sew the elastic straps onto the front side seam allowance. The elastic can fray so I give a good 3cm to work with ad leave the straps long at the back for the dancer (or dancer’s mum/nanna to sew on. It’s good to keep a bit of length too in case the dancer stretches out a bit.

sewing on straps

sewing elastic straps


pearls, sequins, seed beads and rhinestones!

Just a bit more textural bling. This is more for the dancer than the audience as it can’t be seen. It only adds a tiny bit of sparkle.


Sewing the plate to the skirt

The plate has to be sewn down to the skirt so it doesn’t flap around. I sewed it firmly to emphasize the little scallops that make the plate look like a pretty flower.


Pretty little red and white tutu ready to go west

This tutu was a delight to make. Little swoop sleeves were added as will for a finishing touch and trimmed with narrow embroidered organza.

This tutu was just a bit too small for the mannequin but it shows that these stretch tutus will last girls up to 2 years. The smallest size for this mannequin is for a 6-8 year old and the 4-6 pattern just squeaks on.


Teal Velvet with Gold French Lace

I received a call a little while ago asking if I could make a tutu for a championship in April. My schedule was pretty full but with some tweaking I managed to fit this one in. After a bit of email tennis we came up with fabrics and design.

Sophie Vale

Teal and Gold concept drawing

The hero of this tutu is the utterly beautiful lace from Recherche in Sydney. It has an ivory background with soft gold sequins and beads. It teams so well with the teal velvet  and looks beautiful over the light teal for the skirt.

lace + velvet

Lace and Velvet

The stretch velvet was ordered in from the US. We have such a limited colour palette for lycra and velvet here that tutu makers often have to look far and wide for less common colours. Stretch velvet is a polyester fabric so dyeing isn’t an option for strong colours either.

lace and net

Lace over teal net

The french lace will sit over the tutu skirt but instead of a solid teal skirt this one will grade from teal through paler shades to ivory. To get these colours I had to dye ivory net with an acid dye.


Acid dyes are made for dyeing nylon net!

There’s a little bit of trial and error with these dyes but perseverance gives good results. Really dark colours are generally not attainable but strong colours are easy and then getting shades is just a matter or timing. For very pale shades I let the dye bath temperature drop a bit.

dyed net

drying net

The net is cut to lengths before dyeing but not clipped until later. I love the look of clothesline full of varying shades. It looked so pretty shifting around in the breeze. 

graded net

Colour grading from teal to ivory

These look very pretty together but from here things become  so much more fun. Making a tutu skirt  can be dull dreary work when the skirt is a single colour. With one or two colours it’s fun but with 8 different shades it’s exciting to put each layer on! Each step is a joy. Here are the layers all lined up. A friend suggested they look like a cloud scape.

graded colours teal to ivory

ballet net cloudscape

Here is the net steamed and piled up like a cloud on the windowsill of my studio


lovely clouds of netting




The stretch velvet leotard is lined with ivory lycra that extends below the hip line to form the panty. The panty colour matches the lowest layer of the skirt.

sewing layers

sewing on the layers

There are 8 layers sewing on from longest to shortest. In the photo above there are still 3 layers to sew on. Putting this under the sewing machine is the stage known as “wrasslin’ the tulle ‘gator” leading to scratched left forearm and muscle spasms. Tutu makers are easy to spot because of their left arm rash and overdeveloped biceps.


tutu puff showing graded layers

Once it’s all on there is a puff to tame. The netting is sewn with the seam allowance facing downwards which gives the tutu its “spring”. Steaming will soften the net to allow it to be pulled into shape before tacking which maintains the shape.


my friend “Steamy””

These steamers are often advertised on late night telly as the alternative to ironing. I wouldn’t know; I don’t iron but they are perfect for tutus.



To tack the tutu the layers are all tied up out of the way and the bottom three layers (6,7 and 8) are released and tacked together. The layers 4 and  are relased and tacked to layer 6 and so on. In this way the layers are tacked together but still free to move over each other. I make fairly fluff tutus, not the sharp flat Russian style skirts.

hooping equipment

hooping time

The lace overlay for the skirt is very heavy so I thought it would be best to hoop the skirt. The skirt hooping is a plastic coated double steel ring. To make it disappear I covered it with some light poplin the same colour as the hooping layer. For this tutu it is layer 4.


hoop casing

I will put a hoop casing into layer 4 of a tutu if the net is a bit soft so that a hoop can be added at a later date in case the netting fails. Some net is much better than others. I rely on the strength of Italian net. The hoop casing is just a strip of netting about 10 cm wide placed in the middle of the layer. In this picture you can see the hooping (covered with matching fabric) inserted into the casing. I usually tack both side of the hoop to keep it stable.

trimming the lace

trimming the lace

The beautiful lace had to have a 2cm wide strip debeaded so I could sew a gathering line across it to attach it to the skirt. Even then there was still a danger of stray beads flying off into my eyes while I sewed. It’s been a long time since I wore safety glasses (1982 Chemistry at Macquarie University).

safety gear

safety gear

cut up appliques

bodice decoration

The french lace has a number of sprays of sequin and bead flowers that can be trimmed and hand-sewn onto the bodice. Similar pieces were sewn ontp the velvet swoop sleeves for continuity across the shoulders.


finished tutu with sleeves

Tutu will be winging its way to Victoria on Monday!

Lemon and Lime tutu

I love the colour combinations clients come up with! From New South Wales’ glorious central west came a request for a lemon and lime tutu! The starting point was cool lemon ballet net and a gold and lime lace.


starting point

I teamed this with a beautiful lemon lycra. The dancer is only young so there is no nude insert. The colours and the floral motifs are perfect for a young girl. To give the skirt a bit of movement I used white netting in the second and fourth layer (I count layer 1 as the top layer). I really love the puff stage. It’s pretty and untamed.

net puff

net puff

My studio has been in chaos this week with 3 projects on the go at once. The wee Spanish tutu is just sneaking into the picture here. I’ve lined up the net layers around the leotard to get a picture of where I’m going. At this point I get some validation that the skirt colours will work. If it’s not looking OK it might just be a matter of changing one layer to a slightly different colour.

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Leotard on mannequin and virtual skirt!

My US tutu-making friends refer to sewing on the tutu skirt as “wrasslin’ the tulle alligator”. The Australian version of “wrestling the net crocodile” has more fear and less whimsy. To keep the alligator subdued I steam the net before sewing it onto the leotard. I then give the skirt a quick steam again once it’s sewn on. To tack the skirt I hold the layers in with some elastic and work on a few layers at a time.


tacking the skirt

To keep the tutu light and fresh I decided that a net plate was best. I used a flat layer of the lemon net and a layer of glimmer tulle to give a delicate sparkle and then placed the scalloped edge of the lace around the edge. The linear edge had to be tweaked a bit to fit the flattened oval. I then added some of the centre panels of the lace to fill the gap between the scalloped edge and the hip line of the bodice.


Net plate with appliqués

I added some brighter blue-green to the skirt with some resin stones and crystal AB rhinestones to lift the colours a bit.

plate 2

plate sewn onto skirt

The lace background is a warm beige colour so I had to trim it very closely so it wouldn’t detract from the fresh colours of the tutu. Choosing components of the lace to make into an appliqué involves a lot of cutting up, arranging, rearranging, walking away, rearranging and then some tweaking. When it’s done then I add the rhinestones and let them sit for 24 hours on the window ledge to dry well. This is the time the cat wants to sit in the sun. She has radar!

bodice applique

Bodice appliqué with jonquil and crystal AB rhinestones

appliques 2

Appliqués for the skirt

side profile

Lemon and Lime tutu

And to finalise the tutu a little matching tiara! I love to collect pretty beads and tiara making has “enabled” by addiction.  Tremendous thanks to the wonderful and talented Dani Legge for her instruction on this technique.


tiara prep


Tiara in pretty greens and yellow

Pastel Winter Tutu

It’s important for a costume maker to know as much as possible about the dancer, the choreography and the music for a piece.  Recently a tutu was requested for choreography to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, more specifically for Winter. Immediately my thoughts turned to icy blues and whites and lots of crystals but the dancer’s teacher saw the tutu in apricot and decorated with ribbon. Even an Australian winter wouldn’t be this warm but I still needed a way of introducing warmth into the tutu somehow. Both my client and I played around with lots of ideas but she eventually had a stroke of genius  (I wish I could say it had been my idea, but all credit must go to her) to make a cool minty green tutu with the second layer from the top of the tutu skirt baby pink. Here it is in its puffball stage.

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pink and mint puff

Sewing net onto the leotard has to be the most tedious and agonising part of making tutus but the little pink layer made it fun (sort of) watching the colours shift and then steaming and tacking the skirt into this beautiful Winter pastel tutu was a complete delight. I absolutely must do this again. My mind was racing with all the possibilities.


beautiful dancing colours

Once the netting is on the leo, steamed and tacked, the plate can be put together. It’s not strictly a circle but more an ellipse. The wee pink ribbon roses will highlight the pink layer in the skirt. I added a sprinkle of crystal AB rhinestones. They have a lovely pink and green cast so were perfect for this colour scheme.

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mapping out the plate

I didn’t want too much of the pink in the skirt showing through so a lace overskirt was added with just a little bit of subtle sparkle from the tiny sequins.

Sneak peek

Finished skirt plate

The bodice decoration was a combination of 2 types of venise lace with slightly different colours. By cutting the lace up and rearranging the difference in the colours can add to the intricacy of the design. I’ve added my favourite Preciosa rhinestones in pretty rose for the bodice to bring the pink up from the skirt.

Bling it on


I’ve also added some pearls for a nice texture on the leaves and then a few pink ribbon roses to tie the skirt and bodice together.


Bodice decoration

The whole tutu came together beautifully and is off to Victoria for a Championship.



Spanish with a twist of purple

I was asked to make a Spanish style tutu but not in the usual red and black. The young dancer wanted red and sparkly so it was up to Mum to find the non-Spanish element; purple! So we decided on a red velvet tutu with the top 2 layers of the skirt in red and the remainder of the skirt bright purple … and gold, lots of gold!


purple and red!

After scalloping the net and gathering it I like to steam it before sewing it onto the leotard. I stretch the gathered ruffle onto my ironing board and peg it onto a metal ruler. This makes the steaming much easier and quicker.

Steaming the net

steaming the net

There’s something really satisfying about cutting up the net, gathering and steaming it then lining it up!

layers lined up

layers lined up!

I do love multi-coloured skirts. Sewing 8 layers of netting all in one colour can drive me to distraction. This one was lovely to put together. The purple and red really played with each other. The photo below shows the effect from above and below.


underskirt in the mirror

Next step was to decorate a plate for the skirt with lots of rich ornate gold work.


gold detail on plate

And then brining the design up to the bodice.


Preciosa rhinestones

And putting it all together I think I managed quite a lovely non-traditional Spanish tutu.

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red and purple Spanish tutu