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The tutu

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The tutu

About 150 years ago, when ballerinas first began dancing on their toes, a new type of dress called a tutu was invented. This was for two reasons. Firstly, it was very light, so the dancers could move easily about the stage. Secondly, and most importantly, they allowed the audience to see the complicated footwork and leg movements that are so important in a ballet.


To make a tutu you require two pieces of fabric, cut to the shape shown in picture 1, to the right of the page. These two pieces, joined together, form a ‘basque’, which wraps around the waist and hips.

The whole dress is made to the waist measurement of the individual dancer who will be wearing it. However, each dress is designed so that alterations can be made quickly. This might be necessary if the dancer is injured and a substitute dancer has to appear.

For the next stage, you will need two more pieces of fabric to make the front and the back of the pants, as shown in picture 2 to the right. These are joined together down one edge. The lines on the pattern indicate where the frills will be sewn. The pants are left flat for the moment, as in picture 3.

The frills, made of netting, are now added. The designer has already chosen what colours to use, and may also now decide to add more details to the fabric. This could included cutting the edges of the fabric so the dress looks like it is made of feathers. Early tutus were often sprayed with paint after they had been sewn together, to give the colour required. The spray unfortunately made them very stiff, and difficult to iron!

The first frill is now attached along the curved bottom line of the pants using a sewing machine. It is important that the stitching is straight. Four more frills are then added, along the bottom four lines drawn on the pants. Each of these frills faces upwards. Four further fills are then sewn along each of the remaining lines on the pants, this time with the frills facing downwards. Picture 4, to the right of the page shows a side view diagram of this. All of this means that the bottom frills push against those at the top, which is what gives the tutu so much body and shape. In total, between 6 and 7 metres of netting will be used!

The pants are now joined together at the other edge, and elasticated at the leg line. They are sewn onto the basque that was made earlier, and each later of frill is joined at the back, so that each one will wrap all the way around the dancer’s body.

The tutu is now joined to a lined bodice, which is the part of the dress which covers the dancers stomach, chest and back. It can now be decorated with sequins or extra lace, or left plain, depending on which ballet it has been made for.

The whole process will take an experienced dressmaker (a ‘cutter), about two days for one tutu.
Picture 1

Picture 2

Picture 3

Picture 4 (side view)

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