Paquita Bell Tutu

I haven’t made a bell tutu for a while so it was lovely to get a request for one. They are made in a similar way to classical tutus but the layers are about 5-6cm longer, made with softer net and tacked more loosely so the layers float up and down a little. My client liked a Bolshoi tutu she has seen so we used that for inspiration. Here are our starting points.


Spanish tutu

concept sketch

starting point

rose lace and burgundy velvet

rhinestons on venise lace (640x424)

rhinestones on venise lace

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pineapple trim

For stretch tutus I use a brilliant pattern developed by my friend and fellow tutu-maker Danielle Legge of Tutus by Dani. I transformed the pattern from a faux basque bodice to a Russian bodice and put a faux laced corset panel into it. The lacing is made from narrow strips of black lycra cut with a rotary cutter for nice smooth even lines. I just zigzagged them into place.

lacing placement (424x640)

lacing placement

The tutu skirt has 7 layers of net alternating between tulle and stiff ballet net. It is loosely tacked with 25mm gun tacks to give a soft flowing effect to the skirt but still keeping the layers attached to one another.

steamed tutu (424x640)

Russian bodice with faux corset lacing

The skirt decoration was a flat net plate decoration with 3 concentric rings of gathered lace. Because I was using lace fabric and not wide lace trim I finished the cut edge of the lace with narrow black venise lace.

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top layer of lace

For the very top layer I mounted the lace on a narrow band of black tulle for a neat finish as this will be seen. I did eventually cover it with a bit of pineapple lace but I could have just neatly folded it under and stitched it down.

top layers (424x640)

pinned layers

Here is the plate with all the layers pinned placed over the skirt to see if there needs to be any last minute tweaking. The layers were then sewn down and the red pineapple lace trim applied so it just peeked out from under each layer.  Excuse the terrible blue nail polish! I had been painting white gun tags to match the blue/green net of the sea witch tutu and I got carried away!

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catching the ruffles

The tiered ruffles need to be controlled a little so I just tacked them down from underneath the plate with my tagging guns and some lovely fine gun tags a recently found. Thanks to Karen Jackson for this fantastic technique of attaching and catching things!

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Draped sleeves

Instead of the sleeves just starting at the shoulder, I’ve brought them around to the front and popped a rosette on the bodice as a focal point to break up the black of the sleeves.

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sleeves across back

And brought them across to the centre back. I guess they are more of an off the shoulder flounce than sleeves.

front 1 (424x640)




Sleeping Beauty

Last January I bought a beautiful piece of pink french lace decorated with seed beads and short bugle beads. The bugle beads give a lovely glimmer to the lace rather than the strong glitter you can get from sequins. I’ve been very pleased to use it in a tutu for a Sleeping Beauty variation. I’ve teamed it with a soft pink velvet.

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french lace and velvet

While the tutu will be an all pink affair the skirt does grade down from pink to white. I’m very fond of dyeing net to get customised colours. I’ve used Dharma Trading’s house dye in Flamingo Pink. It was a fairly light dilution. I actually used the rinsing bath as the dye bath for the very pale net.

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dye bath time

There’s a lovely subtle grading in the net. I dye the net once it’s cut to length, dry it and then scallop or feather it.

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sunrise clouds

I love the effect of coloured layers when they are al heaped together after being gathered.

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gathered and steamed net layers

The lace has a lovely scalloped edge I will use for the plate but also a number of motifs scattered over it that I can use for the bodice decoration. Unfortunately there are no mirror pairs so I’ll have to be clever in placing them to give the illusion of symmetry.

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lace motifs


I find it easier to decorate the bodice before I put the net on the skirt, so after I have made the leotard I stretch it onto a body board and pin out the motifs or appliques. This is very important as the appliques I use are non-stretch.

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motifs pinned to stretched leo

The final placement was a little different and I added some iridescent sequins to fill in the gaps and improve the texture.

beading detail (424x640)

finished bodice

The scalloped edge was trimmed from the body of the fabric and any loose beads dabbed with fray check.

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scalloped edge

The edge is, of course, a linear piece and it needs to be placed in an ellipse around the plate. This meant a bit of fussing around to get it just right and a bit of jiggery pokery to make it sit flat … well flatish. It’s quite a textural lace so ultra flat is not so important.

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lace edge as an ellipse

The lace is hand sewn onto a net plate and then attached to the top of the skirt.

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skirt plate

And then she is finished!

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pretty in pink


Giselle Romantic Tutu

Here are a few pictures of a little Giselle romantic tutu that was made for a dancer from Hong Kong. She will wear it in Paris YAGP in late October. We wanted a bright blue for this young dancer. This embroidered taffeta was perfect. I teamed it with ivory tissue silk for the bodice top, sleeves and overskirt.

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embroidered taffeta

I used Tutus That Dance corselet bodice. I love that these patterns now come in student sizes.

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lower bodice

I piped the inside of the insert to make it easier to attach. I just stitched in the ditch. In the following photo you can see the “chemise” inserted. The chemise insert is a piece of ruched tissue silk mounted on cotton drill interlining.

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chemise insert

The upper bodice was made of cotton drill and covered with ruched tissue silk as I did with the warm cream traditional tutu. This picture shows the silk gathered top and bottom on fishing line. Steaming it sets the rough pleats which are much easier to handle than gathered fabric.

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gathered silk over drill upper bodice

In the following picture you can see that the tissue silk sits nice and flat after it has been steamed.

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bodice pieces coming together

The skirt was made of 1 layer if tissue silk as the over skirt, 1 layer of soft bridal tulle and 2 layers f soft dress net (not stiff tutu net). They are sewn onto a basque much the same as for a classical tutu but the seam allowances all point upwards.

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gathered tulle going onto basque

When the skirt is finished I hand sewed the bodice to the basque through all the skirt layers by stitching in the ditch through the bodice piping. Not only does piping give a lovely finish but it is very handy for sewing into to attach separate pieces.

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hand stitching the bodice to the skirt

The bodice sits beautifully on the skirt

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bodice detail

and the finished tutu!

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off to Paris!


Aqua and Silver-white

I got a call from someone who wondered if I could make a tutu for an eisteddfod only 4 weeks away. Usually, this sort of time frame is impossible but there was a tiny window of opportunity so we managed to pull together a pretty little tutu just in time. We chose a pretty aqua stretch velvet and teamed it with cool silvery lace.

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velvet, venise lace and embroidered lace for overskirt

We teamed the silver lace for the plate and skirt with venise lace for the bodice. I added a bit of colour and definition with rhinestones.

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venise lace bodice decoration

To add a bit of interest to the skirt, I popped in a layer of blue. I love seeing how these little wisps of net blend together. It’s a lovely preview of the skirt itself.

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net trimmings

The skirt grades down to white at the shortest layers so the tutu panties are also white. I always match the colour of the lowest ruffles to the panties. Here you can see the temporary basting line for the attachment of the net and a light zigzag keeping the white pants in place.


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faux basque and panty

The net itself is gathered by zigzagging over fine fishing line. The fishing line won’t break and even if you run out of bobbin thread you can just pick up where you started once you’ve refilled the bobbin. I learnt this trick very early in my tutu making career and I can’t imagine how I could have done without it!

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gathering is done over fishing line

The edge of the plate is left raw but covered with venise lace. A small zigzag stitch in metallic thread is all that is needed. Just remember to put the rhinestones on AFTER you’ve sewn the lace to the plate. It’s no fun trying to dodge them with the presser foot!

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applying venise lace

Lightly ruffled, embroidered net lace is laid under the plate and stitched on. The edge of the plate and the edge of the lace are both loosely stitched to the net underneath. Here you can just see the light blue layer peeking through the top white layer.

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plate detail

The rhinestones were added after the venise was sewn on and left to dry overnight before the plate was finished and sewn to the tutu.

I just managed to grab a quick photo of the tutu before it was whisked away on a very misty spring morning.

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tutu on a misty morning

Ursula the Sea-Witch

I love character tutus. It means you can step away from traditional colours and designs. I was very pleased to be asked to make a tutu for a dancer playing the character of Ursula the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid. I immediately thought of a rich green velvet for the bodice. My client agreed and we built the rest of the tutu on that. But there was a little twist. They wanted the same tutu to be suitable next year’s competitions as a Spanish tutu! The plan is that we’ll lift off the “seaweed” from this tutu and replace it with heavy gold-embroidered appliques to give a bit of an Esmeralda look to the tutu.

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starting point for the sea witch

But here’s the little twist. They wanted the same tutu to be suitable next year’s competitions as a Spanish tutu! The plan is that we’ll lift off the “seaweed” from this tutu and replace it with heavy gold-embroidered appliques to give a bit of an Esmeralda look to the tutu. We’ll return to this next year.

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alternative embellishment for 2015 Spanish tutu

The dancer is quite tall and rather than modifying one of my existing stretch patterns I decided to try the Jalie 2915 tutu pattern. I’ve made it up before and found it a little long in the body so instead of a faux basque I just kept the lovely lines and made it a Russian bodice.

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Jalie 2915 bodice

We chose this gorgeous black venise lace as the embellishment because of the wave pattern. I know no-one in the audience will see it but the dancer will know it’s there.

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venise lace trim

The difficulty with using this trim is that it is just yardage rather than a mirrored pair. You can make this work with a bit a clever cutting and replacing. I could have used a reversed piece but the bobbin thread on the back was very matt compared to the top thread that had a glossy finish. The trick is to fool the eye with just enough business that the pattern is obscured but the overall effect in strong.

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cutting and rearranging pieces

I made the design busy by using 4 different types of rhinestones, iridescent blues and greens in 3 sizes and my old standby crysatl AB.

russian bodice (424x640)

not symmetrical but still balanced

I think I managed to wriggle my way around this bit of tricky trim.

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gathered edges of net

To embody the idea of the deep ocean the skirt grades from navy blue for the shortest layers up through to turquoise for the top layer. The top layer was also cut a bit shorter than the second layer to have the colours bleed together at the outer edge and a layer of black tulle with green glitter with deeply gathered edge was used as an overlay. The black tulle intensifies the colour of the top layer.

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ready for tacking

I hand dyed the layers between the navy and jade. Ballet net colours are a bit narrow. I like to use hand-dyed net as a point of difference.

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tagging gun

I generally gun tack a skirt and although coloured gun tags are available they are mostly too long for skirts and my preferred gun tags (15mm) only come in white or translucent. This means I can sometimes I can outsmart myself with fancy colours in the skirt.

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gun tags need some help


After tacking this skirt I carefully went around and painted the small tag with some of these lovely nail polishes I scrounged from my teenage daughter’s room. Problem solved!

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you can just see the tags

Here you can see the grading of the skirt from navy to turquoise. The tags are only just visible in the navy section. They are a bit easier to see at the edge of the skirt where the net fans out more. But always remember the 5 metre rule. If you can’t see it at 5 metres, it’s not there!

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The inverted scallops on the plate represent Ursula’s 8 bejewelled tentacles. The edge of the plate is decoration with the same rhinestones as the bodice.

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lovely sea green tutu

It’s quite a sparkly tutu. here is a  close-up of the rhinestone embellishment with tiny little rhinestones I bought by mistake (a good mistake I think!), some ss20 crystal AB, ss20 iridescent and ss30 iridescent.

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2 rhinestone embellishment

And no tutu is complete without a tiara

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tiara in blues and green crystal