White Velvet and French Lace

This tutu is a very special first tutu for a young dancer. She and her mother have chosen a beautiful french lace from Recherche fabrics. The tutu will be in white velvet and because the background of the lace is a soft grey gathering it will intensify the grey which we don’t want for this tutu. So I will construct a flat plate but cutting and trimming motifs from the lace. I thought I’d take this opportunity to show that process.

Depending on the size of the plate you need 2-3 linear metres (and a good grasp of geometry formulae) of the lace. The inner motifs are then cut and repositioned on a net plate so there’s lots of handsewing. Hopefully the motifs are in mirror image to make my job a little more straight forward. I will often incorporate a few more different beads from my stash to finish off the appliqués on the bodice.

Beautiful French Lace from Recherche Fabrics

I made the tutu up in a pattern by Dani Legge. It’s a stretch pattern and has a faux basque giving a lovely classical line.

Sparkles in the light

I used 2.5 metres of the scalloped edge of the lace and had to cut out a few pieces to make the edge curve around the tutu. The area between the scallop and the hip line was filled with individual motifs from the lace stitched to a net plate. This tutu is for a young girl so a heavy gathered plate would have overpowered her.

hand pieced plate

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.


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


Aqua and Sea Green Tutu

A client fell in love with a beautiful French lace that I had in my stash so we decided to build a tutu around it. The lace is a beautiful sea green colour but when we teamed it with a matching bodice fabric it lost its pop. The colours of stage costumes need to stand up against strong stage lighting, so we were brave and teamed it with a bright aqua velvet. I’ve documented most of the steps in making this tutu as the young dancer wanted a pictorial diary. here’s what I sent her.

Consultations for a remote client often start with photos of fabrics and trim. I teamed the French lace with a few fabrics but this one bright aqua really seemed to work. A handful of diamantes and silver trimmings completed the concept.

colour scheme ideas
lace and bodice colour matched
Bodice colour blue against green lace

Either colour scheme would have worked well but the aqua with the sea green spoke to the client (and I was really pleased it did). The green lace would be gathered over a white skirt so the background green of the net would become clear on the tutu. So we agreed on the design and colours and made a start. Stretch tutus are great for remote clients as there is a bit more latitude in fit but still achieving the “second skin” look that ballet dancers wants from a tutu.

2. meet Abby
Meet my dancer!

I usually line my tutu bodices although it’s not really necessary for stretch velvet as it’s opaque.  However, for adolescents I’ll always line the bodice for added confidence. The velvet has been serge-lined with thin lycra that has the same level of stretch as the velvet.

3. lining the pieces
lined side bodice pieces

This tutu will have a white skirt so it needs white pants. The lining extends from the bodice and faux basque to make a one layer panty. The line of tacking stitches is the placement for the first row of tutu ruffles

Leotard sewn together ready for netting.

The next stage is sewing on 8-10 layers of gathered stiff ballet net in layers of decreasing length. The fastest and most accurate way to do this is with a rotary cutter and a self-healing mat.

8. Cutting the net
Cutting the net

Netting layers can either have a straight edge or have cut edges like scallops or points (dags). Tutus that represent birds often have dagged net edges while princesses will have scalloped edges.

9. Scalloping the net
Scalloped net
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Then the net is rolled up and labelled ready to gather and the it’s time sew onto the waiting leotard. The first layer is not too hard but as you sew more layers on the giant puff-ball threatens to eat your sewing machine.

10. Net bundles lining up
net bundled up and labelled
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untamed net

To tame the net once it’s sewn on the layers are steamed into a pleasing shape and then tacked by hand or using plastic gun tacks like the ones you find on clothing price tags.

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Skirt steamed and tacked

The lace was gathered and sewn to the top layers of the skirt. The scalloped edge was perfect for the bodice decoration but with a little bit of extra detail added to highlight the shape.

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extra beads on the French lace
beautiful French lace

Sometimes I will decorate the leotard before I attach the ruffles but in this case I wanted to see how the skirt looked before I decided on the bodice decoration … oh and I made a little tiara too with blue and green Czech crystals.

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and finally the completed tutu

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finished tutu

Floral Sydney

One of my daughter’s friends stayed over during the week. She’s a young designer trying to find her way. Well she found her way into my studio and I gave her free rein to go through my stash of trims, beads and treasures. As she rattled off ideas I quickly wrote them down. There’s nothing like a set of new young eyes to see things I hadn’t seen. So I gave her a tricky brief; give me a strong spring pallet on dark lilac coloured lycra. A client is after a robust spring coloured tutu for choreography set to Strauss’s Spring Waltz. Ella Charlotte came up with this beautiful colour scheme. To me as a (former) botanist this is Jacaranda, Illawarra Flame and Silky Oak, three trees that are all in flower in Sydney in late spring /early summer. A glorious riot of colours.

Sydney Spring Flowers