How Much Fabric for the Frills

For a ten layer tutu you can use up to 120 yards of tulle and net.

A hoop layer is made from two pieces of tulle sewn together at the eight layer of netting

The skirt of the tutu is made up of the layers of frills.

Deciding how many layers of frills to use is often a product of the height and age of the dancer.

Paula Drake - TutusDivine

Paula Drake – TutusDivine

Frill Width Rule of Thumb

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 a 11″ to 12″ tutu.

Twelve frills work nicely for the taller dancer.

Sixteen frills work for a full, tight tutu.

The frills are attached to the basque one half inch apart leaving one half inch at the top to attach the panty frills to the basque.

If you decide to use a hoop it is placed in the eighth layer. However, this typically is not necessary. A hoop can be a liability in that it is difficult to partner with a hoop and in the corps the hoop can reverberate long after the dancer should not be moving.

Paula Drake of Tutus Divine

Paula Drake of Tutus Divine

For young girls baby frills down the crotch line are appropriate.

These are attached once you reach the top of the outside leg.

A baby frill is cut wide enough to attach but is generally no longer than a half to a quarter inch.

Additional trimming to shorten the frill once it is sewn on to the tutu is always required.

These baby frills imports a softness to the underside of the basque. The audience will on glimpse these frills but they are a nice touch for the secondary school dancer and certainly for those in junior high.

For the younger girls I believe they are appropriate and essential. For adults and older girls they seem extreme.

Paula Drake of Tutus Divine

Quality of Net

If you are going to put the hours and hours into this consider using proper tutu net must be used.

This is known as petticoat net at the local fabric store.

The common net found at fabric stores will not work, it just is not stiff enough.

Do not let anyone tell you just put Stiff Stuff on the cheap net.

That is fine if you have purchased a tutu and are trying desperately to improve it. You

will not want to compromise your hours and hours of work with cheap net.

Paula Drake - Tutus Divine

Paula Drake – Tutus Divine

And you will want to be certain your net or tulle meets flame retardant standards and is tested for that purpose.

Cheap net from craft stores typically does not meet that standard and is made in Mexico or China.

Tulle has been made since the late 1800’s when it was developed in Tulle, France, and came to America in the early 1900’s.

Using the best fabric possible and that includes tulle makes sense when you consider the many, many hours it takes to construct a proper tutu.

The Edley Fabric Mill in the United States has been producing tulle since 1926, and is one of the last remaining tulle mills in the U.S. Their tulle represents quality ballet tulle and most importantly is tested in laboratories and is produced in accord with all U.S. standards.

Paula Drake of Tutus Divine

Paula Drake of Tutus Divine

A Proper Tutu: Tulle v. Net

Tulle can be used for the first layer, just under the plate for a more refined look.

Tulle can be interspersed within the net for a finer look and color modification.

For a classic pancake tutu you will need buckram. This is the backbone of the pancake.

This tutu is elevated entirely by the frills.

It costs at least $1,500 to build a basic tutu, and some tutus cost over $4,000. To replace a costume in a production, the average cost is $2,200.

Italian Tutu Net

Italian Tutu Net

Johnson Ruffler
Johnson Ruffler Machine Roughly $350.000


Frill Lines Must Be Level

Make a template, then fold the net and cut multiple layers at a time.


Slip the crotch of the basque across the sewing machine and attach the first frill. The seam will be underneath the frill.


Tutu’s Divine

Using Buckram for Wide Flat Tutu Plate with Embellishment on Top

For a wide flat tutu use “buckram”. This is used in millinary work. Buckram is a very stiff wide woven fabric. Then lay your embellished plate over that.



Pancake Tutu

Using Buckram for the Powerhouse of the Pancake Tutu and for Strength

Buckram can be dull or shiny.

Millinery Buckram

Millinery buckram is impregnated with a starch, which allows it to be softened in water, pulled over a hatblock and left to dry into a hard shape. Buckram can be dyed. Buckram comes in three weights: baby buckram single-ply buckram, and double buckram which might be listed as also known as “theatrical crown”. Use the heaviest buckram available which is generally millinery buckram. While bookbinding buckram does come in all the colors of the rainbow millinery buckram typically comes in only black and white and is not the same as bookbinding buckram. Use millinery buckram in its heaviest weight.

See section on plate and embellishment in this website.

Link here for a list of sources for millinery buckram. [] Excellent

Fabric Color


Tulle may be interspersed for color when net cannot be found in the color desired. A mixture of colors will give the intended effect. Usually one or two layers of tulle is all that is required to create the illusion necessary to soften the harshness of a single color. These few layers of tulle will be supported by the petticoat net and not interfere with the structural integrity of the petticoat net for the tutu.

Karinska never used a pure white tutu and tried to never use a single color. She always added a light blue, or pale pink or even beige petticoat net to white in order to give the tutu depth. She sometimes used all three simultaneously. She did this when crafting “Snow” for Balanchine’s Nutcracker.

It is common to use white, gray or a nude color with black. With the blue or red tones it is common to use the lighter shades of blue with the blue or pink and rose with the red tones. Often black may be interspersed with red, a row or two of red brings its brightness down while the roses and pinks bring the shades up. Karinska loved silks and it is true, they shimmer on stage in a way that other fabrics cannot.

Karinska was opposed to the dying of fabrics. She believed the dyed fabric would not hold its color and would appear blotchy on stage. Dyes are somewhat better today but the risks she described are still quite real.

Beware of the red petticoat/tutu net, it is a strange red indeed. Ask for a sample for any source you use. The first image of the tutu is the color. If the color is not right, no matter how beautifully the tutu is constructed it cannot compensate for a failure in color.


This image provides a good example of a corps tutu which is longer than the soloist’s tutu. The soloist must partner and be set apart visually from the corps with her costume, consequently, for practical and visual reasons she will have the shorter tutu. NYC Ballet Costume Shop.

If you are going to make a finger-tip tutu it should not stand out straight.

Fabric at All?

airduct tutuOne of my more interesting tutus was made of bathing suit printed fabric for the basque. I used a black and yellow bathing suit fabric, covered it in black lace and for the frills I used, waffled yellow drawer lining (see image to right), black lace, yellow tulle, and black net. The tutus made by Vanessa

Air Duct used for frills in the tutu to the left.

Leyonhjelm for Stanton Welch’s Divergence is made from 15 metres of air-conditioning filter mesh!

Never be afraid to be creative!






Number of Frills

Sixteen layers is usually the greatest number of layers that can be used.

Twelve is a more common number of frills.

Obviously, with sixteen layers the frills will be as close together as possible.

The net can be cut across the 54 inch fabric; any frill under twelve inches in width receives three 54 inch lengths of fabric and over twelve inches in width receives four 54 inch lengths of fabric.

An alternative is to cut lengthwise on the fabric creating one continuous piece of net without seams.

Cutting across the 54 inch net is the easiest.

Paula Drake of Tutus Divine

Paula Drake of Tutus Divine

Cutting Net

The size and shape of the dancer will determine the number of frills and the length of the frills.

The more slender dancer needs less length in her frill. A shorter dancer can accommodate fewer frills.

For dancers whose height is over five foot four inches ten frills works with widths generally no wider than 12.5 to 13 inches:

  • 1.5 inches
  • 3.5 inches
  • 5 inches
  • 7.5 inches
  • 9.5 inches
  • 11 inches
  • 12 inches
  • 13 inches = this is average
  • 14 inches = this is average
  • 15 inches = this is tall dancer range.

The 12.5 inch length leaving a twelve inch skirt. However, different roles require different lengths. 12.5 inches is a short tutu.

Remember, it takes 13 inches of net to create a 12.5 inch tutu length. Also remember there will be mistakes and length could come off the ends! Give yourself room for error if you are new to this.

A good example of a character tutu that typically calls for a long skirt is Cinderella’s tutu which is often longer than most though not quite a romantic tutu. This is an example of a bell shaped tutu that often contains a hoop.

Paula Drake of Tutus Divine

Paula Drake of Tutus Divine

Tutu Frill Dimensions

Yards of net required for an average tutu are 14 yards which are cut into the following lengths in inches:

12.5- (cut four lengths of 54 inch fabric)
12.0 -(cut four lengths of 54 inch fabric)
10.5-(cut three lengths of 54 inch fabric)
9.5-(cut three lengths of 54 inch fabric)
8.5 -(cut three lengths of 54 inch fabric)
{the 8.5 layer is the wired layer in which a two inch strips is sewn to insert the wire.}
7.0-(cut three lengths of 54 inch fabric)
6.0-(cut three lengths of 54 inch fabric)
5.0-(cut three lengths of 54 inch fabric)
4.0-(cut three lengths of 54 inch fabric)
3.0-(cut three lengths of 54 inch fabric)
2.0-(cut three lengths of 54 inch fabric)
1.5-(cut three lengths of 54 inch fabric)

Width of First Frill

A reader asked about the width of the plate and first frill — her daughters were quite short and young. This is an important question that I had not previously addressed. Remember, ballet is a partnered dance — at least in theory — and the tutu is a dance dress that should be partnered. The point being the male dancer must be able to dance with — get close to the female dancer.

If it the dancer is not partnered the dancer is a member of the corps. They must be reasonably close to one another. Do not make the top layer garishly wide unless you intend to make a distorted tutu for a costume party.

If your child by extending her arms in a downward “V” touches the edges of the tutu with her fingertips the tutu is too wide.

Study the images at Tutus Divine and you can determine the appropriate width of the tutu plate and top layer for your child.

The White Swan, which is the first image on this web page is an excellent length for which to strive for young girls, and obviously, obtaining this length is relevant to the size of the child. Your eye should become trained in understanding proportion, but that is the key, proportion.

The taller the dancer the wider the skirt — and obviously some parts and some ballets use varying widths for the circumference of the tutu’s top layer.

I have inserted two black and white photos at the bottom of this page — these were early Karinska tutus.


Melissa Hayden (above( is wearing a short, short powderpuff with probably sixteen layers sewn together probably half an inch apart, while Danilova (below) is pictured in a short supported tutu with probably no more than ten layers which were probably sewn together as closely as possible and made of the stiffest net available.


Both of these tutus would have been excellent for partnering or for the corps.

Technique for Cutting Net

Net is intrinsically difficult to cut even with a cutting table. Without a cutting table it is virtually impossible. There is a simple solution. Press the cutting line with a steam iron on low.


A good solution is to cut four lengths of 54 inch net for the first two frills of 12.5 and 12, and three lengths of 54 inch net for the remainder: 11, 10, and 8.5. 7.5, 6.5, 5.5, 4.

I do not use these frills, because my dancer is not tall enough to accommodate this many frills, however I would cut them if she needed them: 3, 2, 1.5, 1.25.

My dancer does not like the leg frill. A locking measuring tape locked at the length you are currently working on will keep your from loosing your place in this tedious task.

Accordion pleat the three widths and measure them; press them and then cut them. This is the easiest method of obtaining a straight line. It takes approximately one and a half hours to cut the net using this method.

Cutting the Frills

Odette’s and Odile’s frills in Swan Lake are traditionally cut in points while Aurora’s are cut in tiny scallops. This cannot be done with pinking shears.

These are cut by creating a sewing template from clear template plastic.

Fold the fabric over in widths of approximately 12 inches and cut multiple layers with your template.

I hope to have an image diagram soon of the actual template in its actual size.

If you go to Tara Maginnis’ tour of Marinsky Theater Costume Shop website you will find many fabulous mechanical contraptions to do things that a home seamstress cannot do. In the virtual tour of the Marinksy Theater’s Costume Shop there is a photographed hand cranked machine used to pink and scallop the fabric.

Sew the three or four lengths together, (three lengths if under twelve inches). Press open the seams. Roll the lengths up and lay them out by size. If it will be some time before you come back to them you may want to paper clip them closed or safety pin them closed with their length attached and stated on a small piece of paper.

Using a Hoop

To accomplish this the eighth layer has a strip of net two inches wide sewn down on the middle of the frill. This allows for a hoop of crinoline wire to be inserted. This is a light steel wire approximately 1/2 to 5/8″ wide and varies from 56 to 58 inches long.

The ends of the hoop must be properly bound and and extra four inches of wire must be added so there is a proper overlap and the hoop will not sag.

Underside Tutu2 copy

Milliners Supply is a good resource for this the hoop wire used to give a tutu the hooped look. If there is to be a frill that will contain wire take one additional step. That is after this frill is cut, and the three pieces are sewn together a two inch wide piece of net is sewn down that frill roughly four inches from the outer edge leaving an entry point for the wire once the tutu is made.


Gathering is the drawing up of fabric on two rows of machine stitching. The fullness is distributed evenly and the gathers stay in place without sliding.

The two rows give the strength that is needed to allow the fabric to be pulled along the rows of gathering stitches. After two rows of thread are sewn parallel to the edge of the fabric clip them with long tails. Then pull the bobbin thread to draw up the fabric.

The dual gathering rows will hopefully keep the thread from breaking. It is fine to gather through a seam line.

Thread for Gathering

Use the sturdiest thread, NEVER USE THAT CHEAP ACRYLIC STUFF.

Coates and Clark quilting thread is a good choice.

Put in a double gathering row, never try to get by with a single gathering row.

Gathering the frills is a slow and tedious job.

The zigzag stitch for the frills will be the most forgiving stitch.


Alternative: Zigzag over upholstery thread for gather.

Technique for Attaching Frills to Basque

Begin at the top of the basque to be certain your frill is level and always try the basque on the dancer of the mannequin at this point to be certain you may proceed and the frills that follow will be level also by using this first level frill as a guide.

Cutting the crotch open (if you have chosen to use a lycra panty or leaving the crotch open if you have made your basque) before you begin this process will make the basque easier to slip on to the sewing machine. It is not essential that the frills meet exactly. They can be trimmed after attached and should be.


Attachment Point of Frills (Where to begin)

Begin attaching the frills in the back to the waistband, but do not begin each frill in the same place. Vary it four inches to the left of center, four inches to the right of center, center, two inches to the left of center, two inches to the right of center, etc.

The purpose for variance in the attachment point is so not to have one open gap.

Start at Top and Work Down Be Certain First Frill is Level

It is crucial to create a level tutu. The first frill must be attached so that it is level on the dancer that will wear the tutu. The best made basque may not create a perfect level line for the tutu.

Once the first frill is attached it is important to try the tutu on the dancer or at least a mannequin to be certain the tutu will be level. This will serve as the guideline for all levels that will follow.

Working from the top frill to the bottom is easier and a level tutu is a more certain end. What a disaster to put in all that work and find your tutu is not level.

An unlevel tutu is a serious problem and one which should be guarded against during the tutu construction. Working from the bottom to the top and starting with the 1.5 inch layer is difficult

The level line is shown above. If the first ruffle is not level the entire tutu will be off center. It is essential to try the basque on the mannequin or dancer and pencil on a level line. Secondly, it is important to try the tutu on the dancer after the attachment of the first ruffle.

I hope the picture was worth a thousand words. This is really easy. Diagram Page.

Tacking the Frills

Once the frills are attached they must be hand basted one to another or they will flop in their own directions as the dancer moves. They should move in unison. I never leave this to chance.

My final touch is to sit on the floor and watch the dancer dance. This serves two purposes: uneven frills can be evened and the tacking can be improved. Watch them leap, watch them jump and observe how the layers fall. You do not want to have the frills falling one after another. They should fall in unison. However, the tacking determines how ‘tight’ the look.

Again, look at Danilova, her tutu is tightly tacked. Look at Melissa Hayden, this is a more loosely tacked tutu. Professionals use a quilt tacking gun with plastic bullets.

The strongest thread you have doubled and tied securely will work. Clear nylon thread is best.

Fabric Not to Use

Do not let anyone tell you just put Stiff Stuff on the cheap net. That is fine if you have purchased a tutu and are trying desperately to improve it. This cheap net is appropriate for Halloween costumes and little girls’ tutus for play. (Hancock Fabric has a Kwik Sew Pattern 2618, entitled, Costumes on line for little girl’s tutus.) Use proper tutu net and tulle.

Care of Your Tutu

Hang your tutu upside down so the ruffles do not droop downwards.

You can use millinery spray starch on the tutus to help them hold their shape. See Manhatten Wardrobe Supply: you can order body adhesive, foam cups and various supplies for your individual dancer or just acquaint yourself with the tools of the trade if you are new to costume design.


This wonderful image reflects the modifications of tutu design and the continuity of tutu design through the years. Pavlova – (1881-1931). Tutu from 1905 version Swan Lake. Notice the feathered bodice.

Use keyword “Feathered Angel Wings” to find retailers for wings.

By using industrial materials—air conditioning insulation mesh, vacuum-formed synthetic material, nylon, raffia—in her costumes for Stanton Welch’s Divergence, Melbourne-based designer Vanessa Leyonhjelm moves classical dance costumes and accessories in a new direction. Jim McFarlane (b.1955) Justine Summers in Divergence, the Australian Ballet, 1994 Pictures Collection.

Plastic woven drawer lining used for one layer in tutu. This is found at JoAnne’s on back wall of 60 inch fabrics. Yellow not shown.


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