Thursday, 22 August 2013

Evolution of a tutu

How many hours does it take to make a tutu?
I have no idea. I lost count. I also lost a lot of sleep. My fingers bled (only a little bit, but there is a sample of my DNA in the inside of the bodice).
I did enjoy the twice x 3 minutes my daughter has danced in it on stage. Here's how I got from the test tutu to this one.

Test tutu - as per pattern and instructions from
The first thing to needed to do was get a better fit. The panty pattern from didn't come close to fitting nicely, so I decided to use the bottom of  Kwik Sew 2679 which I knew fit her perfectly. I still wanted that fitted bodice over a basque look, so I used the 6-piece bodice pattern (which was intended for woven fabrics) from and redrew it a  bit smaller to suit Lycra. This took me ages as it's tricky to guestimate how it will stretch on to the body (well, it is for me, anyway).

I then made a test leotard and took the hipline measurement before I started with the net. This one turned out to be a disaster. Somehow I had the hipline way too low and could only fit 4 layers of net on, so it was a rather droopy tutu, and to top it off, the bodice was now too short and the princess lines too close to centre front. Disaster. I think her teacher was quite concerned at this point, and the competition was getting very close.
She refused to model this one.

There were some positives from this effort. Firstly, the skirt width was correct, even if floppy. And secondly, I had successfully put the plate layer over the net, and sewn the net on "in the round" with the panty crotch open, rather than flat with the panty open at centre back. This technique suited me much better, even though I did manage to get the basque caught in the stitches a few times, requiring some unpicking. Unpicking zigzag on Lycra is not fun.

It took me a week or more to start on the real tutu. This also made it a point of no return, as it was now too late to chicken out and get one made for her. I do work best under pressure! In this time I re-read Claudia Folts's book Classical Tutus for Children to make sure I was in the best headspace for this project. She doesn't cover stretch tutus, but the book is full of step by step tips on everything from calculating length and width of  net layers and cutting out, to fabric choices and construction. During this time I also discovered the Dance thread on The Sewing Forum. Members of this site include some well known professionals as well as mums like me having a go. I wish I had found this sooner. I learned a lot from searching the site as well as asking questions, particularly about sewing with Lycra, and more local issues, like where to get the best net. If  you're wondering, Spotlight has the best 100% nylon net. Now I know. For next time. I had already purchased net from elsewhere. (Polyester net from Lincraft and nylon from GJs in the colours I wanted. Apparently these will be less stiff.)

That's enough procrastination! Back to the job at hand! Cutting the net. The best possible use for a cutting mat (with grid lines) and rotary cutter ever! I settled on alternate layers of mint green and pale blue net. I wanted a more fancy edge so decided to scallop the edges and made a template to cut around from a plastic lid. I folded each length in half and again until I had just the width if the template to cut around. It worked really well. This photo also shows my gathering method. I used a zigzag over fishing line. Gather using the fishing line and remove it once it is sewn onto the tutu. For the previous 2 tutus I had used zigzag over dental floss, but sometimes the needle pierced the dental floss, which made it more difficult to pull out, so I thought fishing line wouldn't do this. Well, maybe if my sewing was better! I did manage to pierce the fishing line a couple of times, and I found that the leftover fishing line poked through the Lycra when it was relaxed. My daughter doesn't complain of prickles when worn, but I am concerned it might cause a hole or 2 over time, so I'll go back to dental floss next time. To keep the gathers even, I marked 1/4 and 1/2 points with pins prior to gathering so I knew when I pinned it to the tutu it would be as balanced as possible.

Cutting into the Lycra was a bit nerve wracking. Don't really know why.  I tested the "greatest amount of stretch" direction so many times... The panty came together easily, as expected. The bodice I was unhappy with. Skipped stitches along the princess line topstitching. Lesson: Don't buy cheap needles. Rather than unpick, I cut out more fabric as this would have been a lot of trouble to unpick. Lucky, too, as I discovered a light stain on the bodice I hadn't noticed before. The second bodice sewed up very nicely, and I even got it attached to the bottom evenly with perfect topstitching. Yay!
Next was to insert the V into the bodice. I used the previously discarded bodice front to test my skills, which is just as well, as the second attempt was much better! This also fixed the problem of the princess lines. They now fall exactly over the bust line.

For the skirt plate, I had decided on a 2 tier style with the Lycra coming out half way over glass organza sewn on to a circle of net for stiffness.

Time for a mark from the teacher again. She's happy with the skirt, but my adjustments to the bodice made it come up way too high this time. Hmmmm. How to solve this one without undoing..... My solution: Sew ribbon on the inside to stabilise the vertical seams. Worked a treat!

Now for embellishment!

I found some lovely blue flower motifs at a liquidation sale. They were perfect for the bodice. I just needed some matching trim for the skirt. I found some lovely aqua beaded and sequinned trim at Trimmings N Remnants and was very excited. I'd done all the hard work. Sewing the trim on would be easy!!  NOT!!! I'd sewn trim on many costumes before. However, I hadn't had to factor in a tutu skirt. Sewing motifs onto a bodice whilst trying not to crush the skirt was tricky to say the least. My usual techniques were not very satisfactory. And I was doing this the day before the first competition of the year. Even I was getting worried.

No one wants a disaster at this stage, but...... My beautiful trim, oh, my beautiful trim. I had read's book Finishing touches. The Art of Embellishment several times. I had been warned! The trim was way too heavy. Look how much it drags the tutu down. How stupid am I???? In a panic I took the tutu to dancing with me to pick my daughter up and show her teacher. Hmmm. I couldn't find any trim in the stash there that would suit. OMGOMGOMG What to do!! Thank the maker for Spotlight. On the way home late on a Saturday afternoon, it was still open and had some ribbon in the exact same colour as the Lycra. I was saved!!!! Now to unpick that outer circle of trim that took me ages to sew on....
I weighed it. 96g compared to the 32g of ribbon I replaced it with. Lesson learned.

Tick, tock, tick, tock. The hours passed. More hours disappeared into the night.

The tutu was finally done. Breathe out. Now for the arm bands. How to be creative at 3am!! I had another quick look at The Art of Embellishment and the internet for inspiration. I had her measurement sheet in front of me. The arm bands need to complete the outfit, not swamp her or be a distraction. I opted for simple. I wanted some sleep before I had to do hair and makeup and drive her to the theatre.
Simple arm bands with the lovely trim in the centre (well, I had plenty left over!). I was in bed by 4am.

We got to the theatre on time. She looked lovely. She danced beautifully. She came 2nd!!!! Very proud!

Now back to me ;) About 2 minutes in to her performance, horror of horrors, the edge of the organza skirt flipped over slightly and exposed the net below. My heart sank. My work was not done. Yet. She also found the sleeve puffs too loose. More alterations to be done....

You can see from this photo that the skirt still drops. I wasn't trying for a "pancake" style, but I wanted it to be a bit flatter. I think the scalloping I did to the net layers also contributed to this, as they were not "strong" all the way to their edge. That's a lesson for next time. My solution this time was to insert more net circles just under the organza. I made 3 more circles and sewed them together at the inner and outer circumferences. Then I hand sewed this piece to the tutu. I hoped this would give the top layer enough strength to stand out and not turn up when she dances. If this didn't work, I'd need to insert more layers of gathered net - something I wanted to avoid.

The skirt also needed more and better tacking. This is where the net layers are loosely sewn together to keep them in place. This is trickier than you'd think. Too loose or the wrong angle, and they pull the skirt down. too tight or the other wrong angle and they pull the skirt up like a duck's behind. Neither are good looks. I tacked tutu layers 4-7 together to the under circles I added at 8 even points around the skirt. Then I unpicked the ribbon, and sewed it back on, enclosing both circle sections. I now had a much stronger tutu.

Her teacher wanted "more" on the bodice. She suggested I use the beaded and sequinned flowers from the trim. This is a perfect idea. It was also more involved than it would seem, as I needed to secure the sequins and beads to each flower, as once cut from the trim tape, they were not anchored. And then there's the time taken agonising over placement of such little things..... And I didn't get a good photo of the final bodice, but it does look really lovely.
 You can see from this final photo that the skirt is much better with the extra circle of supporting net.

I also planned on making a tutu bag. It is all cut out and in my UFO box. I ran out of time. I also ran out of steam. The result of which is that this wonderful tutu which took me hours to make, was transported to the theatre quite unceremoniously in a big black garbage bag. We also had plans and blue crystals so add to the tiara, but maybe next year......

What a steep learning curve! Many lessons were learned. Many hours taken from other tasks. Would I make another one? Absolutely! I just hope she doesn't grow out of this one too quickly!

This is quite a long blog post. Well done if you've made it this far! Please leave a comment if you want to. I'd love to hear what you think.



  1. My Mum made a lot of my dance costumes, but would never try a tutu! Well done - the dress is beautiful as is your daughter!

  2. Fantastic job!!! You must be really proud of your efforts, which have been well rewarded by your daughter's hard work and placing.

  3. I'm in awe, reading of all your loving care put into your daughter's dance outfit. I only have 2 boys so don't get to make anything so beautiful (unless suitcoats are pretty!).
    Bravo, keep up the good work.