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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Up to this stage the bodice has required sewing skills. Now we move onto the “engineering” skills and the 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”).
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!
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!
The finished bone can then be easily inserted into the boning casing with a nice soft rounded edge.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Now my ruffles are gathered and looking like a storm cloud on my window sill.
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.
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.
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.
More layers, more pins and more sewing … I have my pins sorted into colours. For this tutu white and yellow are great for black.
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.
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.
The layers are steamed into shape giving the ruffles a soft downward angle ready for tacking.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Shoulder elastics go on next but I don’t sew them down at the back until I have the tutu on the dancer.
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.
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.
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!
And the tutu also gets the tick of approval from Tybalt, Prince of Cats.