Tutus – How Beauty Emerges From Layers of Tulle

by Danielle Hernandez on July 30, 2018


They are mystical and an epitome of grace and magic and so iconic of Ballet. From understanding the parts of the tutu to how they are made, this article will want you to take up Ballet just for the Tutus!

The modern tutu is a dress worn as a costume in a ballet performance, often with an attached bodice. A tutu may be made of fabric such as tarlatan, muslin, silk, tulle, gauze, or nylon. Worn by ballerinas in classical ballet, tutus are designed to allow the full length of a dancer's legs to be visible while retaining the elegance and shimmer of a full skirt.

A magical piece of clothing, a tutu transforms ballerinas into black swans and sleeping beauties. Tutus are detailed to the extreme and customized to every sequin because they have to tell the audience in a nanosecond what role or character the dancer is playing. Without subtitles or narration, the audience relies on every aspect of the costume to understand critical aspects of the story. With such details enmeshed into the tutu, the process of making one is just as sensational as the end product itself.

Some professional tutus have ten to twelve layers of net sewn in, (in fact, the Paris Opera Ballet uses thirteen layers; in Italy, it's ten or less) and amateur tutus, for cost and time efficiency, tend to have six to eight layers.

What Tutus are Made of

Tutus are made from tulle, which is a kind of thin, net-like fabric, and many layers are needed to make a skirt of any substance. There are different kinds of tulle: some are stiff; and some are soft and fold in gentle, airy waves. Professionally built tutus are designed to retain their rigidity throughout the movement, but some forms of will need a little bit of help. Stiffening the soft, netted material called tulle will be the ideal way to create the angular effect of the tutu.

The Five Types of Tutus

There are quite a few types of tutus they are used for different characters in different ballets -

The Five Types of Tutus

The Romantic Tutu 

The romantic tutu is a long flowing tulle skirt, made of five or six layers and usually reaching somewhere around mid-calf.

The Bell Tutu

The Bell tutu is well known and made famous as it was represented in many Degas paintings.  It is short, stiff, and made of many layers of netting coming down to the same length. The layers of netting are not supported by a hoop and therefore falls a little in a bell shape. It is one of the two types of classical tutu

The Pancake Tutu

The pancake tutu is the other type of classical tutu. Coming straight out from the hips, this type of tutu is short, with several layers of tulle and net and supported by a wire hoop embedded in the layers. Because of this support, the whole thing tends to bounce sometime after the dancer has finished a movement. Since these types of tutus are short, they are often constructed with on a pair of briefs, so they don't slip down.

The Platter Tutu

The Platter Tutu is similar to the pancake tutu as it sticks out straight from the dancer's waist, but this style has a flat top. The top layer in the platter tutu is flat and decorated instead of being pleated.

The Powder-puff Tutu or the Balanchine Tutu

The powder puff tutu as its name indicates is short tutu that doesn't stick out as far as the pancake and platter options.  It does not have a wire hoop in the layers, and the layers are mostly the same length. This tutu moves more with the dancer and has a soft yet full appearance.

The Anatomy of a Tutu

The Anatomy of a Tutu

The Bodice -

The bodice of a tutu is shaped like a corset and shoulder straps. The tutu bodice must move with every move of the dancer and hence fit like a glove; wrinkling because of any loose fabric is unacceptable. In fact, the designers and seamstresses cut the side pieces on the fabric's bias to take advantage of its stretchy nature.

The Basque –

The Basque is the part that extends from the dancer's waist to the crotch and looks like a pair of panties. While it is separate from the bodice, it matches the bodice by being from the same fabric. The Basque has two parts - the upper and the lower. The upper Basque extends from the waist to the hips and can be seen while the lower Basque is the panties part and forms the base for the layers of tulle and net. The tulle is added layer by layer to each part of the Basque and then sewn together.

The Frills -

A tutu usually has an average of 12 layers of frills with some going up to 16 layers for extra fullness. When a hoop is used, it will be placed in a casing on the 8th layer. The length of the tutu depends on the height of the dancer.

The layers of the tutu are attached 15 mm from each other to be perfectly aligned on the Basque. Dressmakers trace the lines on the Basque with a ruler and an L-square to ensure the layers are sewn on straight. The layers need to decrease in length, from the longest on top to the shortest at the very bottom; this helps the tutu to be self-supported.

Tutus for younger girls will also have small frills, no longer than 1 to 1.5 cm, from the top of the leg hole all the way down the crotch line.

The Intricate Process of Making a Tutu

Tutus are the ethereal yet finely detailed garments that transform dancers into black swans and sugar plum fairies, so it's not surprising that the process of making them is a painstaking one.

The Intricate Process of Making a Tutu

In preparing to make tutus for a massive production, a team may work round the clock, cutting, hand sewing and rushing dozens of tutus for the production. The basic tutu which is just the skirt takes about 20 hours. With embellishments, a tutu can take anything between 40 to 60 hours.

They're complicated and time-consuming to make. Making a tutu involves a lot of handworks as many things cannot be done using a machine. The hand sewing that we do is long catches which are about two inches long, holding the tulle together, so it's not sewn flat, but it's got room to move between the thread.

The Reality Behind These Stunning Magical Costumes - How Does It Feel to Wear a Tutu?

How Does It Feel To Wear A Tutu?

Things are not as they seem in the magical world of tutus. Here are some hard-hitting facts about these mystical things so iconic of ballet.

They're expensive - A teenaged, pre-professional dancer entering a competition might pay $1000 for one. The average professional tutu costs around $2,000. More jewels and feathers and glitter can bring the price up even higher.

Dancers don't wear tutus in ballet class - given their cost and delicate structure, tutu costumes are saved exclusively for the performances and dress rehearsals. A practice tutu is used for rehearsals, to help dancers acclimate with their partners and the space around them. A practice tutu is just the lower Basque.

They can't be washed - With all the labor involved in attaching delicate net and festooning with glittery jewelry and beads and feathers, tutus must be deconstructed first to be cleaned. Even then, only the bodice may be washable, and because of the complexity involved, usually, dancers resort to spot cleaning and with vodka if you please! Spray a vodka- water mixture liberally on the area in question dries odors and kills odor-causing bacteria.

They aren't particularly comfortable - with a corset-like fit and yards of fabric which is often not too soft, don't expect the tutu costume to offer the comfort of a stretchy, Lycra kind of material.

They use a ton of material - Each tutu requires roughly 100 yards of tulle with the embellishments making up the final layer. The detachable outer layer is a work of art on its own, with beads, feathers, lace, jewels (including Swarovski crystals)

The size is adjustable - With tutu costumes being so expensive to make, dance companies ensure the costume can fit more than just one dancer. Rows of hooks and bars are placed down the back of the bodice of the tutu to help dancers of different sizes use the same costume.

With every little girl in ballet dreaming of wearing a tutu, a tutu is inseparable from ballet. What was the most dazzling and exquisite tutu you ever saw?



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