First, there are five types of professional ballet tutus:
The Romantic Tutu
This is a long flowing tulle skirt, made of five or six layers and usually reaching somewhere around mid-calf.
The Bell Tutu
Bell Tutu by Class Act Tutu & Dancewear
This style is well known as it was represented in many Degas painting (Edgar Degas is one of my favourite painters). It is short, stiff, and made of many layers of netting which are not supported by a hoop (contrary to the pancake tutu) and therefore falls a little in a bell shape.
The Pancake Tutu
The classical tutu that comes out straight from the hips, is short, has many layers of tulle and net and is supported by a hoop. Because of this support, the whole thing tends to bounce sometime after the dancer has finished a movement.
The Platter Tutu
Similar to the Pancake Tutu, the Platter Tutu sticks out straight from the dancer’s waist, but this style has a flat top.
The Powder Puff Tutu
Also known as the Balanchine/Karinska Tutu. It was developed by Barbara Karinska, a Russian born embroiderer turned Ballet costume designer. Balanchine loved great assembly of dancers in his ballet, but the traditional "pancake" tutu with its stiff wired layer would bob and dip when the dancers' skirts brushed up against one another and this bobbing and dipping would reverberate long after the steps were complete. Karinska devised the "powder puff" tutu, with a shorter skirt made of six or seven layers of gathered net, each layer a half inch longer than the preceding layer as a solution to this problem. The layers were tacked together for a fluffier, looser appearance (as opposed to the stiff "pancake" tutu). Because the shorter layers are self-supporting, no wire hoop is needed.
How does one construct one of these? First, you should know what the parts of the Tutu are.
Tutu Bodice illustration by Gwenyver
Shaped like a corset with shoulder straps, the tutu bodice must move and fit the dancer like a glove. It must feel like a second skin! Wrinkling or pulling fabric is unacceptable. It is strongly suggested that side pieces be cut on the fabric’s bias to take advantage of its stretchy nature.
This is the part that covers the dancer from the waist all the way to the crotch. It is shaped like a pair of panties if you like. It is a separate piece from the bodice, but it should match it and be made of the same fabric (cut on bias) if possible.
Tutu Lower Basque illustration by Gwenyver
Normally, it is made up of two parts: the upper Basque, which is the visible part that covers from the waist to the hips, and the lower Basque which is what you don’t see (not really) and looks like panties under the layers of tulle and net. The tulle is added layer by layer to each part before they are sewn together.
What we always think of when we mention the word “tutu” is the frills. A tutu is made of on average 12 layers of frills, but it can go up to 16 layers for extra fullness. If a hoop is used, it will be placed in a casing on the 8th layer. As for length, it depends on the height of the dancer. Tututoday.com gives this rule of thumb for tutu’s length:
- A dancer 5'8" or taller then can wear a 15 or 16" tutu.
- A dancer 5'5" to 5'7" the she should be in a 13" to 14" tutu.
- A dancer 5'3" to 5'4' then is best in a 12" to 13" tutu.
- A dancer the 4'10 to 5'2" tall (tiny) works best in an 11" to 12" tutu.
Layers should be attached 15 mm from each other and be perfectly aligned on the basque, otherwise it will look wonky. You can trace your lines on the basque with a ruler and an L-square to make sure everything gets sewn on straight. For the tutu to be self supported, layers need to decrease in length, from the longest on top to the shortest at the very bottom. Again, according to Tututoday.com, this is how you should plan the cutting of your net fabric for all of your tutu layers.
- Layer 12 (top): 12.5- (cut four widths of 54 inch fabric)
- Layer 11: 12.0 -(cut four widths of 54 inch fabric)
- Layer 10:10.5-(cut three widths of 54 inch fabric)
- Layer 9: 9.5-(cut three widths of 54 inch fabric)
- Layer 8: 8.5 -(cut three widths of 54 inch fabric)
(the 8.5 layer is the wired layer in which a two inch strips is sewn to insert the wire.}
- Layer 7: 7.0-(cut three widths of 54 inch fabric)
- Layer 6: 6.0-(cut three widths of 54 inch fabric)
- Layer 5: 5.0-(cut three widths of 54 inch fabric)
- Layer 4: 4.0-(cut three widths of 54 inch fabric)
- Layer 3: 3.0-(cut three widths of 54 inch fabric)
- Layer 2: 2.0-(cut three widths of 54 inch fabric)
- Layer 1 (bottom):1.5-(cut three widths of 54 inch fabric)
For younger girls (junior high and younger) it is appropriate to add baby frills from the top of the leg hole all the way down the crotch line. These are no longer than 1 to 1.5 cm once sewn.
One last thing (okay, two) that I have learned by reading the articles on Tututoday.com: never use cheap crinoline from the fabric store if you want to make a professional tutu – use petticoat net, it is more solid – and never, NEVER use a zipper for the basque or bodice – you can get professional basque closure for as little a 10$ a piece (from specialty store, but hey, what is Internet shopping for!).
Now if you are looking for links to find gorgeous tutus to drool on, go visit Tutu Devine and Rossetti Costumes.
Maybe I should start thinking of taking Ballet classes… It would give me a legitimate excuse!