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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is the net steamed and piled up like a cloud on the windowsill of my studio
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Tutu will be winging its way to Victoria on Monday!