Make a Ballet Dress or Tutu
for Child or Adult
Instructions by Susan Helene Kramer
Intermediate Sewing Skill
Tutus modeled by Susan Helene Kramer, ages 5, 7, and 25.
- a dance skirt - is a project that may seem daunting at first but is not that
Here is a method for a child or adult - the difference being the waist and hip measurements and the length of the layers in the skirt and the number of layers of skirt.
The photo to the right above shows the classic long tutu from the ballet Pas de Quatre with 4 under-layers and one top layer.
For the adult tutu, you'll first need to sew a cotton under garment that snuggly fits the waist to hips such as the old cotton swim suit bottoms. Sew elastic in the top of leg openings, which should be shaped to the same shape as the leotard it is worn over.
A short zipper at the back of the tutu is a good way to put on and take off the tutu. This is what you sew your layers of netting to. And then the completed tutu is worn over a full leotard.
The skirt of a tutu is usually made from nylon net, though I've made them from organdy or organza.
The width of the net and number of layers will determine the exact yardage needed.
For a tutu to stand out almost straight to the side you'll need 10 layers of skirt in graduated lengths with the shortest at the lowest hip level, and the longest and fanciest layer on top, supported by all those shorter layers, just below the waist.
The top of the tutu is joined below the waist so the male dancer can find a solid grip to support the ballerina in partnering.
I use 7 times the hip width measurement for each layer of tutu skirt.
For a child's tutu for a school play, Halloween, or dance performance, 3 or 4 layers makes a nice bouncy tutu.
The top layer of netting will be the longest length and have any decorations added such as tiny satin bows or sequins or glitter.
For a child's 4 layer tutu cut the top layer first to determine the longest length, then make each under layer one half inch to one inch shorter.
Gather each layer using a basting stitch and then sew in levels from the hip to the waist. So that means the first layer is sewn around the hips, the 2nd a bit higher, the 3rd near the waist and the 4th just below the waist - that looks the nicest.
The first photo is me at age 5. The tutu skirt is cotton organza. And each week for regular ballet lessons I wore a pink starched cotton tunic that tied in back, and short bloomers of the same material. This was the 1950s, by the way, even before black cotton knit leotards were worn.
Summary - An example
of the tutu positioned just below the waist is shown in the photo above by the
dancer standing in the center, By the way, she is representing the 19th century
Italian ballerina Maria Taglioni (1804-1884). This
photo gives an idea of a tutu modeled from that time period.
Tutus are not difficult to make but from the description you can see they take a good amount of time, so think of it as a lifetime costume that can be passed from person to person - the top layer perhaps being changed from time to time to suit the occasion!
Article copyright Susan Helene Kramer; photo credit of long tutus from Annapolis Capitol Newspaper. Used with permission. First two photos are the author as a child.
E-pattern by Susan Kramer
For 15 to 18 Inch Dolls
E-pattern by Susan Kramer
Inspired by doll of Laura Ingalls Wilder
E-patterns by Susan Kramer
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page updated July 24, 2015