Bluebird Demi-character

While i seem to mostly be making tutus every now and again i get to do a lyrical costume or a demi-character costume. Demi-character is a wonderful combination of ballet technique and characterisation. This can be dramatic or funny or sometimes just darn cute here’s a costume for the latter category; a little bluebird.

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The “character” part of this dance form is firmly embedded in the choreography and the dancer’s ability to characterise. The costume is there for support. So with that in mind we decided that this costume only needed to evoke a bird. Feathers were the first idea we settled on and we thought we’d team it with a little upside down bell tutu with a bit of a tail. Here’s how we did it.

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ballet leotard

I used Dani Legge’s tutu pattern for the leotard. I thought it was cute to bring the tutu back into demi-character. This leotard has a faux basque and lovely line.

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clipped tulle

Bird tutus in classical ballet often have dagged nets (princesses have scallops!) so it made sense for this wee bird to have pointy tutu layers too. This tutu was made from sparkle tulle and bridal tulle so it’s very soft and floppy.

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skirt ruffles

I cut the layers longer at the back to give the idea of a bird’s tail. There are 4 layers of alternating sparkle and bridal tulle. Layer 1 was sewn seam allowance down and the remaining were sewn seam allowance up so the skirt would lie fairly flat.

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cute little tutu skirt

The top layer was a bit perky so i needed to tame it a bit. So out came my trusty tagging gun and some fantastic blue tags!

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the tutu-maker’s friend

I really just needed to hold the top layer down a bit so I placed tags through all layers quite close to the top of the skirt. Bell tutus have light tacking as well so it’s not surprising this little one needed a bit.

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tags holding skirt nicely

The bodice decoration had to be feathers and Roisin chose the rhinestones she wanted; lovely AB garnet Preciosa rhinestones and a gorgeous sparkly acrylic focal piece. These rhinestones were repeated across other parts of the costume.


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bodice decoration

The last time I’d made a feathery costume I used a glue gun. You have to work fast but a quick drying glue is the best for this so the feathers don’t just waft all over the studio. To keep the ballet theme alive with avian cliches I made some blue hackle pads as a head-dress and repeated the skirt design for the arm frills.

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hackle pads and arm frills

And here is the little blue bird in all her sparkly blue glory.

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little bird

I dipped the tulle layers down at the back to exaggerate the bird tail.

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back detail


Warm Cream and Gold Traditional Tutu

This was a lovely tutu to make. There were no time pressures and Lillian, Izzy and I had a great time putting together the design. I really had to call on my inner princess for this one.

The first thing we do of course is decide on a bodice fabric. Tutu making has given me a glorious excuse to buy and stash away beautiful fabrics to make into dance costumes. I’m a real jeans and t-shirt girl but I still can’t resist a luxuriant fabric.

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starting point

Here we have a beautiful brocade with warm gold and a soft silvery thread woven through. We matched it with a rose venise lace, some pretty ivory and gold braid for added texture and lovely citrine Czech Preciosa rhinestones to catch the bluish tones in the brocade. I use Preciosa rhinestones rather than Swarovski as they have a better glimmer at a distance. Both are superior to the cheaper machine pressed rhinestones that are available. Having said that the cheaper ones are great for colour and can be teamed with machine cut stones for sparkle.

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first steps

With the lovely brocade on stand-by I cut out the cotton drill foundation fabric first. You cans ee the side panels have been placed on the bias for a little bit of give at the side of the bodice.

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prep for serge-lining

The foundation pieces are laid right side up onto the wrong side of the top fabric (got that?) and then cut out with a bit extra to be trimmed off by the overlocker (serger). This stabilises the top fabric and gives the bodice some body. Some tutu makers use coutil but a sturdy 7 or 10 ounce cotton drill also works well.

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lower bodice pieces sewn together

This bodice will have a ruched silk upper bodice; a corselet bodice. The serge lined pieces go together so well in this pattern. Again I’m using a pattern from Tutus That Dance. This is Bodice 2107.

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steamed tissue silk

The upper bodice will be of cotton drill covered in roughly pleated silk. The bodice is about 1 metre around (including the wide seam allowances at the back closure).  I gathered four metres of tissue silk top and bottom and steamed it like I steam my ballet net holding the bottom edge taut and steaming in the rough pleats. It’s a magical technique taught to me by the very talented and generous tutu maker Suzanne Dieckman of Tutus That Dance.

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ruched silk pinned to bodice

I interlined the silk and the drill with deep cream coloured poplin to give a warmer colour to the silk, then I pinned the ruched silk over the top keeping the pleats more or less even but still keeping a slightly ordered chaos … my stylistic excuse for lack of perfection!

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upper bodice with attached silk

It came out looking so beautiful I just kept looking at it. I handstitched it in first so I could control where the pleats sat and then basted it by machine. A bit of overworking here but I love the result. I used the same technique for the centre panel but it was a bit trickier to keep the pleats in place over a long vertical piece so I basted them down lightly.

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centre panel pinned in

I piped the deep V of the lower bodice so I could attach the centre panel by stitching in the ditch through the piping. I love that technique and try to use it wherever I can. It’s neat, controllable and piping always gives such a classy finish. The upper bodice is piped with duchesse satin and I piped the bottom edge of the lower bodice with gold satin. I used the same satin around the basque as well. The soft gold and blended well with the brocade offering just a little bit of definition without detracting from the line of the bodice.

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I was really looking forward to the next step. The 2 pieces fitted together beautifully of course (thanks Suzanne!) and the lustre of the brocade and the rich depth of the silk  looked so luscious together!

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Oh I loved this bit too! We had agreed on the rose venise lace and the ivory and gold braid but between consultation and starting the tutu I ordered some new laces and the smaller dark gold rose venise lace arrived. It was the perfect complement! I put citrine AB rhinestones on the light gold lace and crystal AB on the darker lace. Next came the tutu skirt itself.

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panty and numbered net layers

The panty has had the elastic casing already sewn on and the ruffle guidelines marked in alternating white and beige thread (so I can see where I’m up to). The panty is 2 layers of cotton poplin. White was too stark against the ivory net so the lining was beige and the 2 colours together matched the net beautifully.

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layer 3 going on


Layer 3 is the first of the layers with seam allowance pointing down. It’s probably the trickiest layer to sew. There’s a bit of wrestling and a bit of cussin’.

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fishing line gathering

With over 60 linear metres of gathering, broken threads or running out of bobbin thread can be a nightmare … until I learnt how to gather onto fishing line. May I say, if it were not for the humble spool of $5 10lb fishing line from Kmart I would not be a tutu-maker! I applaud anyone, past or present, pulling up gathering threads!

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steamed, attached and steamed again

And here is the lovely skirt that emerges from under the presser foot. A lovely fluffy thing waiting to be further tamed into shape. This beauty was hand-tacked used good old fashioned thread, scissors and endless patience.

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plate decoration

The plate needed to balance the ornate bodice. I chose a fairly traditional 6 petalled plate and filled in the gaps with the duchesse satin I used for the bodice piping. I toyed with the idea of more ruched silk but I pulled back from that as the design was already rich and all I needed was the colour of the silk to tie the plate design in.

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all systems go

And then a nice early morning start for the final phase of construction.

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lovely ruched bodice

A delicate sequinned lace was also used as an overlay from under the plate. This was the finishing touch.

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Plate detail

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inner princess channelled

I really enjoyed making this tutu. Thanks to Lillian and Izzy for being such great fun.


Dusty Rose Stretch Tutu

One of the reason I blog about my tutus is to help my remote clients see how out a design together from fabric choices and consultation about choreography, music and dancer’s personal style. It must be hard to try to develop a design with a person you’ve never met so I think the blog fills in a few gaps.

This post is about a pink tutu I put together for a client and her daughter in Victoria about 1000 km from where I live in Sydney. We went through a few different coloured pinks fabrics and laces but finally settled in this combination.

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Corded and sequinned lace

Next we decided on skirt colours. We decided on a white top layer grading down to a dark pink to match the leotard fabric. I do a bit of hand dyeing of net and I often dye a few extra pieces or experiment with colours ( or just make mistakes) which I stash away for future use. In this case my dyeing frenzies yielded great results.

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hand dyed net

And from chaos and experimentation comes order with the addition of a layer of glitter tulle for a bit of sparkle.

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pink clouds

Putting this skirt together was a dream. The different pink layers played against each other so beautifully. As i tacked the layer together the skirt’s personality changed. There are some things about make tutus I love and the transformation of a formless puff to a tutu skirt is a miracle of engineering!

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tulle lotus

My client just wanted a flat plate like she has seen on my lemon and lime tutu. The trick is to make a piece of linear scalloped selvedge curve around the tutu skirt. I had to judiciously snip out some pieces of the lace and bring the lace over to fill the gap. This creates a gentle curve. The arrangement at the sides is a little different because the curve is steeper around the dancer’s hips but with a bit of cleverness I can divert the eye from these differences.

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reconstructed lace as a plate

Corded lace lends itself beautifully to bodice decoration giving a rich textural feel to the embellishment. The lace had a lot of holographic flat sequins so it didn’t need much more bling. I added some pretty little flower shaped sequins and secured them with red AB seed beads to continue the textural feel. A few large rhinestones finished the look.

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textural embellishment

Using the lace as a bodice decoration ties it in perfectly with the flat plate.

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And the whole effect was really very pleasing.

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another tutu floating in my garden

The studio cat was also pretty pleased … really he was!

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Tybalt, Photographic assistant

and then of course on a real dancer


Lovely young dancer

the smile says it all

Odalisque tutu

This is my first two piece tutu and I modified Dani Legge’s stretch tutu pattern to make the bodice and used Jalie’s pull on tutu pattern for the skirt but added an additional 3 layer to the skirt. The colours are strong and we kept the design simple. The teacher said no bling but the dancer’s Mum and I routed her and sneaked in 1/2 gross of SS20 crystal AB rhinestones; just enough for a tiny tiny glimmer on stage.

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colours for 2-piece tutu

I made the crop top much the same as the leotards for my stretch tutus but I wanted it a little more secure so I used wider elastic at the top. The pull on pants will have an elastic waist that will fit on the dance when the costume is picked up.

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Modified Dani Legge pattern and Jalie pants

The embroidered gold appliqués looked perfect against this strong turquoise

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appliqués pinned into place

The skirt appliqués were “floated”in on a net plate and arranged is a balanced pattern. When they were firmly pinned in place I turned the net over and applied a water based glue to the back of the appliqués rather than sewing them on. The technique worked well so I will try it again.


testing position for skirt decoration

The bodice looks really lovely with some rhinestones attached but the design was still clean and simple as the teacher requested. How could I say ‘no” to a mother request for a little bling?

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bodice bling

I squeezed the costume onto a bigger mannequin so I get a feel for how it would look on the dancer. The waist sits too low and the bodice is a little short on the mannequin but the general effect is good.

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sparkle arkle

And with a bit of distance the big picture effect …

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Fuchsia Tutu with a Spanish Flair

I love it when clients want something outside of the square. Here are a few photos of putting together a traditional tutu in a beautiful fuchsia taffeta with a bit of a Spanish flair in the choreography and music. Instead of a rose in her hair she wore a pink and white peony


Bodice with shaped nude insert

The client already had a fabric in mind and brought it along with her. Unfortunately it was a stretch taffeta so I had to stabilise it with iron interfacing. This meant there would be no stretch in the bias panels and too much stretch in the piping … but we managed! We were going for a design where the colour would sing so the bodice design was pulled back to simplicity; venise lace and a bit of bling.

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venise lace, rhinestones, filigree sequins and seed beads

A lovely touch to the skirt was the addition of a layer of soft fuchsia bridal tulle as the very top layer. It was 2/3 the depth of the skirt but cut into very long points to give a graded effect but not the smooth effect of ombre painting.

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top tulle layer

The plate echoed the design on the bodice and was decorated simply with rhinestones. We kept it very small, really just a hip plate to allow the colour of the bodice to extend to the skirt without overwhelming it.

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small tutu plate

I added some sleeves with the same trim and here we have the beautiful tutu.

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completed tutu

And it goes without saying that this looks so much better on a real dancer.


The beautiful Jasmine


strong colours are beautiful on stage

Spring Waltz

Occasionally clients will give me pictures of costumes they like or admire. I won’t copy someone else’s work but I’m happy to evoke its spirit. I was sent this picture to inspire a classical tutu design to match the choreography to Strauss’s Spring Waltz.



I set to work pulling together fabrics that would work.

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Rose velvet and embroidered roses

I decided on a second layer in ballet pink to soften the skirt a little.

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coloured second layer

The tutu design needed a nice romantic touch so a small scalloped plate edged with gold lace was the perfect accompaniment.


8-petal plate

The central hole is smaller than the hip outline and also not perfectly circular. If you could take a cross-section through the dancer she would have a slightly flattened oval shape. This means the plate is symmetrical around 2 axes only … just in case you’re interested.


venise lace trim on plate

The gold trim makes a nice delineation between the velvet and the lace overskirt. You’ll recognise the embroidered lace from my neon and navy tutu just placed here before final sewing.


the lovely Chloe


Velvet and Gold Stretch Tutu

I am constantly amazed and surprised to see how yardage transforms into a tutu. Here is some plain white stretch velvet and a dark gold corded lace. They look pretty together but I was stunned how well these 2 fabrics eventually teamed up.

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Scalloped edge of corded lace

I used the decorative selvedge of the lace to form the outer edge of the flat plate. To make the plate curve around the tutu skirt I cut out a portion of the design and resewed. In this case I took out the smiley mouth you can see here (and saved it for another project!). The rest of the lace had tendrils of cording spanning across the centre to the opposite selvedge.


blinged tendrils

Because this fabric is basically just embroidered net pieces can be cut out and used as appliqués. I always try to find fabrics that have mirror images in the design. Here I’ve blinged up the tendrils with some small AB gold navettes and AB crystal rhinestones.


reconstructed lace

Here you can see the lace as it has been reconstructed. I sewed it down to a net plate with gold embroidery thread so that it disappeared into the design and I carefully rearranged the pieces to hide the cut edges. The most efficient way to do this is with the embroidery foot/darning foot on your machine and the feed-dogs down.  A lock stitch at the beginning and end keeps it all secure. I also added some tendrils to soften the block of gold on the skirt. The dancer’s teacher likes tutus to have a continuation of the bodice fabric onto the skirt. This is a nice way to elongate a dancer’s torso.

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bodice detail

A sprinkling of floral cup sequins and gold seed beads completes the bodice detailing for a love sculptural effect.

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floating tutu in my garden

And just as I finished the tutu a last minute request for a matching tiara!

Katarina's tiara

matching tiara

Apricot and Gold Stretch tutu

I’m not a pastel sort of a person but pastel colours are quite traditional for tutus. So here is my take on an apricot tutu.


starting point

The dancer is blonde but with a naturally tanned complexion so strong gold on the apricot would create a lovely balance. We decided on a baroque design for the tutu using crystals, venise lace and embroidered motifs.

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layer of apricot net under the top ivory layer

An ivory skirt suited the bodice colour better than white but (if you’ve read my blog before) you all know I get really bored sewing a one colour skirt so there are a couple of hand dyed apricot layers in the skirt. I used Dharma Trading’s Persimmon acid dye. The apricot available in ballet net is too pink.


plate and skirt

The skirt is very soft and delicate with the apricot layers and contrasts well with the robust plate design. The photo below shows the lovely contrast.


plate and skirt

I added a beads and a variety of rhinestones  to the bodice decoration.

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strong baroque feel


finished tutu

And news just in, Analise placed third in the recent Coast Quest Eisteddfod in NSW


Congratulations on getting 3rd place!