Monday, October 7, 2013

How to make a TUTU

In 2011 I was taking classes as Ballet New Braunfels, for exercise. I hadn't performed in a ballet since 2004, or on pointe. I tried to take ballet classes when I could because I got bored doing the elliptical and treadmill at the gym, plus, I never stopped loving to dance.

One of the dancers in the Nutcracker that year got injured, and so the director asked me to dance in her roles.

Again, I was 30 years old, hadn't danced on stage in 7 years, let alone on pointe and I foolishly said yes.

Well, that year I noticed that the costumes we were dancing in (namely the tutu's) had seen better days. They had originally been recital costumes which are really only made for one or two uses and were falling apart, and didn't fit very well. They had been used 5 years in a row, and they just weren't the kind of costumes you really need or want for a production like the Nutcracker. (You want costumes that really show off from stage, and that will hold up well to many uses) I said I would like to volunteer to help make some nicer, long lasting tutu's. Let it be known that I had only made tutu's once before. So, I went about it like a dressmaker/pattern-maker would. As opposed to  a ballet costumer would.

Last year we tackled Snow Tutu's.

Here was my idea.

The final product minus sleeves

Look better on the dancers than on my dress form. Still, I don't like
 the way I had gathered the tulle, it was expedient, but hardly the
kind of gathers you want on a tutu. Each layer should have been gathered separately,
rather than together. Lesson learned.

It was really just a constructed bodice, with an attached skirt of gathered tulle attached. Due to budget restraints, we only had maybe 6 layers of tulle gathered together, as opposed to 10 gathered separately and attached to a basque (waistband). A proper tutu is supposed to be 2 pieces, and attached later (or tacked). I hadn't done a bunch of research because I thought I knew everything already. (Spoiler alert: I did not)
They didn't really pop from stage

Costumes in 2011

Up-cycled costumes in 2012
Last year, being that I was 8 months pregnant and the due date was right before the Nutcracker, we "updated" the original pink waltz of the flower costumes, and said next year we'd tackle them from scratch.

This year, we tackled Waltz of the Flowers costumes.

Inspiration for new Waltz of the Flowers costumes.
My sketch

Finished costume

Again, this year we used the netting from the original costumes from last year, which was good due to budget, but bad because it is really stiff and gives a weird shape to the gathers. I used 6 layers of tulle above it, but that netting is just too stiff to have the fluff you usually associate with a romantic tutu. All the different colors are gathered separately, and attached to a basque, as opposed to last years tutu's.  I would have liked to have 4 layers of tulle for each color, but again, it just couldn't happen with prices. We went with two layers per color.

A tutu of this kind of construction would probably sell retail for about $300 or more. (not handmade but made in a factory) A regular recital costume would go for about $50. I was able to make these for $60 cost of materials, not including labor or design or development. I volunteered as well as some others. 

Again, this year I used a store bought pattern rather than draping my own for the bodice because why? It's there already and all I have to do is modify it a bit. I added 2 inches of overlap, for the hook and eye closures on the back, and also to allow for different size dancers each year. This is a student company so it doesn't require a certain body size. We will be making 8 this year. I went and did a step by step instruction manual that totaled at about 31 pages. With pictures and drawings. I guess I went a bit overboard but I wanted something that would be easy to follow with just a moderate amount of sewing experience, and when I am no longer able to volunteer, would be able to be followed again without my input. 

I have gotten some feedback from my volunteers about the issues with the instructions, so always, perfection is unattainable. It was nice to have a few hours to remember my designer days of constructing product packs and living in Adobe Illustrator. 

Now, I've got 3 more tutu's to construct, and miles more yards of tulle to go. I'm just glad that the temperature has dropped enough to make sewing in my garage much better. If only I could get rid of the mosquitos. 

In all the years I was sewing, my friends would jokingly call my sewing room a sweat shop. I would love to have those back, now I work in a real sweatshop, a garage, fraught with all the horrible conditions that usually come with working in an overseas sweatshop. Well, it's not that bad. But I like to whine and complain. It comes with being me I guess. 

When It comes to sewing rooms, I'm pretty lucky
because I have a space to do it. Most must just deal with
having no space at all to sew. 

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