How to Make a Tutu

Jasper Gazes – Sidebar

By Alexis Doktor

A tutu can weigh 10 pounds or more, depending on how much embellishment it has. Different characters call for more detail than others. For example, the tutu for a peasant can weigh as little as five pounds. As soon as you put on rhinestones, it starts getting heavy. A lot of the trim also is heavyweight. The more tulle, the more layers, the more fabric. When it’s on your body though, it feels like it belongs there.

There are two parts to a tutu. The tutu itself is attached to what is called a basque – the skirt that sits on the hips and around the waist. That’s where the weight of the tutu is. If it doesn’t fit properly, the whole thing will feel wrong. The bodice is made separately and attached to the basque.

Building a romantic tutu – The first thing I do is cut the fabric for the bodice and basque. It is best to make them out of the same fabric, because this gives the illusion to the audience that it is one continuous piece, and that makes the dancer look taller. I usually use a heavyweight preshrunk cotton to line these pieces to give the tutu a more rigid shape. A flimsy bodice won’t last very long.

Cutting the skirt – If I am making the tutu for a particular dancer, I will mark the basque with her hip and waist measurements. This is how long the final length of skirt gathering will be. To make the skirt I need up to six yards per layer of fabric. The more the fabric is gathered, the puffier it will be at the hip. The more layers there are, the more important skirt length becomes. All the layers are cut to different lengths. The outside layer will be the longest, because it gets attached highest at the hip; each consecutive layer is just a bit shorter and attached that much lower on the basque. When done correctly, you will end up with five or more layers of fabric that finish at the exact same length. I typically use tulle for the skirt, though organza and chiffon are options. For a heavier, stiffer look, I use a silk shantung look-alike or even a textured cotton or light brocade depending on the dancer and the character she will be playing.

The fun part – Once the skirt is finished, it’s time to finish the bodice (boning and seam edges) before I measure it to the dancer. Now that all the technical work is complete, I focus on embellishing. I use the machine for everything except the embellishments. The artistic part is done by hand and can require days of work. But it’s what gives life to the tutu. And it’s where I can be creative. So much of the story is told through the costume, and I love that I get to create that for the audience.




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