Tools of a Seamstress for a Tutu
Sewing is like cooking, there are very few mistakes which cannot be undone.
However, there are some essentials in sewing.
A seamstress’ tools are as important as any craftsman’s tools.
It is important to note, time is the asset of the greatest value in tutu construction. The given is for the construction of a professional tutu.
The use of less expensive fabrics will not reduce the time and effort involved in the construction of a tutu.
Tailor’s Scissors: The first and foremost necessity is at least one pair of proper fabric cutting scissors also known as tailor’s scissors. A tutu can be made with this single pair of scissors. Never cut paper or thread with these scissors. Use them only on fabric. These are not inexpensive but they are essential.
Fabric Cutting Scissors: A seven inch dressmaker scissor is best for cutting fine fabrics with a slight serration. For regular weight fabrics straight edge scissors of roughly seven inches are best for tutu design.
Embroidery Scissors: These will be very helpful in working to rip out the inevitable mistakes, particularly on delicate fabrics. A three and a half inch curved embroidery scissor with extra narrow blades works best. During the embellishment phase embroidery scissors are essential.
Seam Picker: There is something known as a seam picker. They come in various sizes and can be quite helpful when used in conjunction with the embroidery scissors.
Seam Rippers: Never use a seam ripper on net or fine, thin fabrics such as silk. Seam rippers will tear the net or the silk no matter how careful you are.
A ruffling attachment will save you a great deal of time.
Also, the Singer Featherweight has a ruffler attachment! I love mine, love, love, love it!
Johnson Ruffling Machines
Thread: Different jobs require different threads. For gathering the heaviest duty that your sewing machine will accommodate date is essential. Never use polyester thread. Use either silk on silk or cotton.
Ruffles or frills require the use of the strongest thread. Coates and Clark Extra Strong Hand Quilting Thread is easy to find and ready available and works well for this purpose.
Silk bodices require the use of silk thread. Cotton thread works fine for seaming and applying elastic.
Never, never, never use polyester, single ply cheap thread. This thread breaks easily, stretches when it should remain stable and can create puckering of your seam. Just don’t use it.
If dyeing will be involved polyester thread does not accept the dye.
Boning is used for the bodice. There are two major categories of boning: flexible polyester boning that can be cased or sewn directly into the bodice or bodice lining is one type; another is metal cased boning. It requires special cutters that cut it in a rounded edge and metal overlays can be purchased that snap on to the metal boning to keep the boning from poking through the fabric. The boning chosen will be a direct result of the experience of the seamstress.
Cased boning is for the more advanced seamstress.
See Farthingales for detailed instructions on casing and boning together with its use in costuming:
Farthingale explains bone/steel you need, read Working with Steel in Costume Building
Polyester direct sew in boning is best for the novice seamstress.
Boning is sold by the yard in the notions section of the fabric store. While boning is not used for the tutu skirt it will be used if a bodice is attached to the tutu.
Tutu and Basque Dressmaker Supplies:
Farthingales of Canada – http://www.farthingales.on.ca/indexpage.htm
Klein’s U.K. – http://www.kleins.co.uk/
(I have stopped inserting direct links because they change so often.)
Professional basque fasteners can be purchased. These are flexible fastener with a five disc closing system in nickel and typically cost less than five dollars. Handmade spoon basque type fastener that curve cost five times as much.
See Kleins and Farthingales for boning and basque closings.
Corset hooks and eyes are the best inexpensive method for closing the tutu but they have a limited life and come loose from the fabric easily.
Do not use a zipper. They break easily, there are varying qualities but if it breaks the opportunity for it to break at a critical time (just before going on stage) is much too high. Have you ever sewn a dancer into her tutu? I have but ONLY when a zipper was used.
Miscellaneous Sewing Accessories
- Use the longest pins you can find.
- Pins come in different lengths and widths and typically ‘quilting pins’ are the longest.
- The longest thinnest pins are the most versatile.
- Buy appropriate needles for both your machine and for handwork.
- Use the finest needles on silks and broader needs to attach the frills.
- Be certain to change your machine needles if they become dull.
Tailor’s Chalk. You will find tailor’s chalk and indispensible tool. Use white chalk on black and blue chalk on white and pale colors. A dressmaker’s tape measure is essential.
Pressing Cloth: Two good clean tea towels make a good pressing cloth where one is needed.
Before cutting fabric take the dancer’s measurements. Measure the waist, the upper hip, the lower hip, and the stride. When taking measurements remember that the foundation of the tutu, the lycra lining must fit snuggly. The dancer must feel secure in the tutu. The outer fabric can have a bit more give. How a dancer feels in the costume is as important as how the costume looks. The interior of the costume should fit like a second skin and serve as the foundation for the outer costume which will have more ‘give.’
Measure from the waist, the widest part of the hips and the front waist, through the crotch to the back waist.
A close fitting ease allowance allows 1 7/8ths inch to the total measurement.
A 34 inch upper hip would be 35 7/8ths total width.
A good seam allowance is 5/8ths of an inch. This means add 5/8ths inch added to both sides of each seam.
Not essential but nice! (SeeL How to make mannequin with duct tape.)
Cleaning a Tutu
Choose natural fibers and try not to have them dry-cleaned because this loosens the color and stretches the fabrics.
Air them, turn them inside out, spray one part water and one part vodka on them.
Use inexpensive vodka to kill bacteria. Turn everything inside out and put a fan on it.
Store a tutu hung upside down.
Time Involved in Tutu Construction
- Obviously, the time involved here will vary greatly. (See Time Line below.)
- The most important point for you to take away from this timeline is the fact that this is a labor intensive process.
- Rushing it might provide a few additional moments at completion time but may well compromise the quality.
- There is no great gain in rushing the completion.
- The best approach is to understand the depth of the time investment you are making.
If you are diligent the time lines are as follow:
- Press cut the net in an hour and a half.
- Sew the lengths in 45 minutes.
- Gather in three hours.
- Attach the frills in 1.5 to 2 hours.
- Make the upper basque in 45 minutes to 1.5 hours
- Join the upper and lower basque in 30 minutes.
- Lay the net over the finished tutu and cut your plate in 20 minutes.
- Fit the plate on the dancer in 15 minutes.
- Hand join the frills and hand attach the plate in one hour.
If you are interested in a Halloween Costume please see the section on child’s easy costume: http://halloweentutu.com for easy sew and no sew tutus including a duct tape tutu.
There is no need to have a stage quality tutu for Halloween!