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A Pretty Little Learning Experience….

After the fluffy-white-tutu-athon of Les Sylphides, I decided that the best way to recover from all those tutus was … to make another tutu. The logic here might be a little sticky if you are not insane obsessive crazy a costumer, but after all those long fluffy white things, I wanted to try my hand at a proper platter tutu. And, happily, a fellow costumer from one of my theaters was willing to offer up her daughter as the victim of my first attempts…  

Fortunately, my boss at the costume shop and I have been mutually ape over the idea of roughly any style of tutu other than the classic/romantic/long-y numbers for months, so we’ve been trading research. Between that and the generous blogging of Oregon Ballet Theater’s Costume Shop and Lee Ann Torran’s Tutu Today, I knew enough to know that I’d better make a test tutu first.

Partially constructed tutu
A half-baked tutu… It’s a little more festive than average.

I had started cutting the layers of net at the college, because I had convenient access to long gridded rotary mats. (If you can ever possibly avoid cutting net with a scissors, you should. Cutting net with scissors is a Bad Idea™. The tips of the scissors gets caught in the little holes of the net, the layers shift, the little pokey cut ends of the net lock into the little holes of the net and the whole thing refuses to ever flatten out and line up again, resulting in foul language and much wailing. Just skip straight over to the rotary cutter and be grateful.)

Anyhoo, one of the students asked, in that very polite tone that nicer people reserve for those who are obviously having “an episode”, if it was normal to use that many colors in a tutu because she had not seen one like that. Ever.


No. But it’s my test tutu and it can be as wack-a-doodle-do as I want. ;) (Did I mention the need for color therapy after all the white poofy things?)

Also, logistically  it’s easier to figure out which layers are the right/wrong width if they’re color-coded (when you are slightly dyslexic and can blunder through trig but have inexplicable trouble counting).

Here is thing number one I learned about these buggers: there’s a lot of math involved, because every layer is a different width. The layers are all different width on the long ones, as well, but it’s a consistent difference. They’re staggered differently on the flat fellows, and, oddly, everyone who wants to talk about it on the interwebs seems to be staggering them a little differently.

Clearly, this is a fiendish plot to drive me insane.

You can stop trying, little internet – I’m already there…

Other things I learned:

sewing the final layers
There is an awful lot of tu in this particular species of tutu. By the time you get to the last layers, it physically will not go through the machine without some serious hulk-smashin’ action.
pinned layers of tutu
There are times when even I have to use pins.

I know, right?! I know a thing or two about wrustlin’ up a tutu in a big bad hurry, so I have a fair amount of practice controlling layers of tulle and net with nary a pin in sight. 8 layers of tulle onto a 4.5″ basque? Done. Easy. Puh-leese.  12 layers of net smashed into 3″? No, ma’am. That’s right, tutu, you win – I pin.  Sad face….

On the plus side, I also learnt that somehow, mysteriously, after all these years of shunning pins, I’ve somehow managed to get better at getting them in fast and not poking myself with them. So maybe I’ll start using them a little more often. We’ll have to see on that one.

sewing panty together
Sewing the back of the panty together is the biggest fight in the whole ordeal.

You wouldn’t think that, would you? Take a close look at the perspective on that shot – I was actually holding the camera (aka, phone) almost straight above the work. At arm’s length.

sempstress' eye view of the process
The view I had sewing – the tutu totally gets in your face. Literally.

Noooooo!!! It kills you in the face!

And then on the final tutu, I learned something new:

finished bodice and tutu
Alcohol does impair your judgement.

Allow me to explain…

closeup of beading
Do you see all of this lovely beading? I started it the night before hand-over. Not the morning before, or even the day before – we’re talking 6pm, people…

Let us review… It took me a year to finish beading the hem and cuffs of a dress for a dolly. A doll. A frickin’ 16″ tall doll.  That is because I hate beading with the passion of a thousand dying suns; a thousand spurned soap-opera lovers; a thousand geeks arguing Apple vs. Windows vs. Linux.  (Apple. Obviously. Duh.  But any *nix will do in a pinch….)

But I sat down to finish hand work with a martini next to me, and I thought, “Hey, I have to hand sew all the tulle vines and flowers down anyway; I’ll just add some beads while I’m there.” And I actually had a lovely time doing it. (Not sure which of these is the better sign of the deleterious effects of gin on the human brain…) I working on it for a couple hours that night – got the front almost completely done with beads winding round the vines and swarovski crystals in each little flower. Tee hee! So pretty!  The bodice was on the stand the whole time I was working, you know, because that’s how you do these things. The tutu was on the stand too. So I couldn’t rest my arms on anything while I was working. I was just holding them out between chest and nose height. Beading. For 3 or 4 hours. Me. She who doth not bead.  (She notes, emphasizing the point with a series of grammatical sins.)

Imagine, Gentle Reader, the pain I woke up with the next morning…

A hangover would have been far less offensive.

My arms were shaking. I could barely use my hands. Making the coffee felt like it required super-human strength. And I still had to finish beading.


Swear on my father’s grave, by the time I working up to the shoulder straps, I could no longer physically lift a plastic plate of beads to my needle so I could scoop some of them up. This is arguably the dumbest thing I have done in my history-of-sewing-ever.

But, gosh durn, it’s purty.

back of tutu
Purty in the back, too.
closeup of front
Purty from odd angles. Seriously. The night before. With a 1pm turnover time… I are the dumbest one.
bodice on hanger
It is even pretty on a hanger. I make very few things that are actually capable of being pretty on a hanger…

I’ve had a week to recover, and I can laugh about it now, but I had no idea it was possible to work muscles to failure by beading.  I mean, what special shade of stupid am I?  I have a new respect for all you beaders out there.  Props, yo.


tutu in car
This style of tutu is almost the same size as the back of a Tracker, as you can see from the incredibly unceremonious transport arrangements.
inside out tutu
There are portions of the tutu-construction process that look remarkable like strange-alien-nomnom-plant-creature-thing. This might explain the “kills you in the face” issue. ;)

And lastly….

tutu on dancer
Tutus look better on ballerinas. :) (Special thanks to Susan and Emma!)

As a small technical footnote, I feel obligated to point out that the tacks between the layers of  the final tutu are fairly loose (though quite numerous) -probably too loose for this to be considered a proper platter tutu, but she’s young and the test tutu didn’t move with a lot of joy, whereas her concept/music did and she as a human being certainly does.  Also, the frills angle down at center front and center back, which seems to be an area of dispute on the interwebs. (And also a pain in the butt to get on right, but mas flattering on the right body type.)

twirling ballerina
The loose tacking lets the layers of the tutu float a little when she’s twirling or jumping, without letting them flop about separately.


underside of tutu
Ok, so maybe this one is also extra-festive in coloration… She’s a flower, covered in flowering vines.  (The tutu is tied for transport here – that’s the weird grey remnant.)

It’s a design idea I was playing with for a fairy costume a while back… That was going to be a slightly darker concept I’d nicknamed “Uprooted”. I never made it, because a) I don’t have the body for that business, and b) I had no movement artist to collaborate with. Maybe someday….

So, would I do it again?


I just feel like I won’t try to do it in a week (during which I also work two jobs) next time. That was pretty silly (and totally my fault – I had months, but I had stuff, so extra special thanks to Susan and Emma for sweating it out).

I’ve already been talking to another dancer/choreographer I know through theater. We’re talking about an interesting-instead-of-strictly-pretty design concept, both for the tutu (my desire for the avante garde) and the movement (hers).  She’s excited, and she had a photographer friend who’s excited, and I have high hopes.  :)  Collaborative art can be awesome, assuming no one kills anyone.


  1. Laura
    Laura June 7, 2013

    I love me some beading, but I completely understand the beading to muscle failure. Isometric exercises….

    It is a lovely tutu. And I have to make one soonish, so I appreciate the info!

    • missa
      missa June 8, 2013

      Darned isometrics… *laugh* Thanks. Good luck with the impending tutu! I can email you my list of layer widths if you’d like.

  2. Maddi
    Maddi August 24, 2013

    Being a costumer, and a dance costumer at that, I have really enjoyed reading your blog. Tutus are both incredible and awful at the same, I’ve made so many that I can fairly whiz through them now, but I also permanently have scratches on my arms from the evil tulle, and holes in my fingers from the beading!!!

    • missa
      missa August 24, 2013

      Hi, Maddi – “both incredible and awful at the same time” – I heart that! I don’t think I can say it more concisely. I love them, but I’m never sure that’s not some form of cognitive dissonance speaking… ;)

  3. […] dusted off my original denim test-tutu last week and did a little work on it, mostly because  I was doing a talk on denim for the […]

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