What do you look for when you choose a tutu maker?
Is it because you like their designs? Is it because they are the cheapest? Is it because they are convenient? Or is it just because they said they could do it for when you needed it? Would we choose our daughters prom dress or wedding dress with the same criteria I wonder?
I was shocked when a mum from a local dance school contacted me at the weekend. She had just colleced her daughters new custom made structured ballet tutu from the tutu maker who she had bought her daughters previous tutu from. The mum was so disappointed with fit of the ballet tutu when she got home, that she contacted the tutu maker again. The tutu maker did offer to alter the tutu again for the mum.
The mum was upset with quality and fit of the tutu given the £325 price and it was needed for November Blackpool championships in two weeks. The mum contacted me and asked me to look at the tutu to see it I could help as she had lost confidence that the origional tutu maker could fix it and make it better.
The Tutu TLC Clinic
The mum sent these photos at first to show the poor fit. I advised the mum the fit was so poor to take it back and ask for a refund if she was not happy. I am not naming names here but offering advice on what to look for and to ensure you select the right tutu maker who adheres to professional standards.
As is clearly visible in the photos, the bodice didnt fit well at the back, it was too long for the dancer and the front was ‘wonky and uneven’ (quoted the dancer). I was shocked at the poor fitting ‘nana nappy‘ panties, but the mum said her previous one was made the same.
At first I thought it may have been made by new inexperienced tutu maker who didn’t know how to fit or construct the bodice or was a postal order tutu. But when the mum informed me that she had taken the dancer to be measured and had fittings during the construction from the well established tutu maker I was shocked.
The dancer loved the pink gemstone decoration and I agreed to see if I could make it fit better as I would not have wanted one of my daughters or grandaughters to go on stage with that constume. I arranged for the mum to come bring her daughter to the studio.
The first thing was to take the bodice off as it was obviously too long for the dancers body. I unpicked the bodice from the drooping skirt and set about trying to fit the bodice correctly. The use of hook and eye tape at the back seemed to give the impression of the dancer having a spinal curvature which was not the case. The dancer complained that one side of the bodice front was uneven and the design not central on the fit. The bottom piping was unpicked and several seams were taken in to give a shape to the flat bodice.
I had to add in extra darts in the back to pull in at the back waist was essential to get any sort of a fit as there were not enough panels to shape the bodice correctly. The bottom edge was taken up and realigned by 5 cm at one side and 3cm at the other and the piping sewn back on, so it was uneven when first made.
At the next fitting, the back was centred to fit the dancer and a boned support was added to the separate hook and bar fasteners which I prefer. There was not much which could be done with the front bodice shaping which was baggy around the bust due to the placement of the trims and stoning. The lack of structural boning or quality lining did not provide the ususal bodice stability I was used to.
I set about tackling the drooping skirt and rather unflattering panties. To be honest, if the original tutu maker had made a decorated plate which is then tacked onto the top of the skirt as is the usual way of decorating, then I would have just removed the decorated place which the dancer loved, and made a complete new skirt. The decoration had somehow been machine sewn onto the top pleated layer and stoned up.
So I had to cut off the skirt from the bottom of the ‘nana nappy’ lycra panties. The non-existent Basque was two layers of unshaped lycra with no fastenings or structure to hold it to the waist of the dancer, just flapping about under the bodice. That, coupled with six pleated layers of very stiff heavy tutu net and a small wire as a hoop which was not channelled but tacked between layers meant that the skirt had no structure to stay horizontal. The mum and dancer were expecting a ‘pancake style’ tutu.
I made new heavy powernet panties and a structural basque from coutil to secure and hold to the dancers waist. Added on the what could be extraced from the existing skirt, and added additional net layers down under the existing skirt. There is nothing flattering about panties where the skirt layers are so high up that there is just an expanse of bottom to the audience! The layers of a skirt assist with the movement of the skirt, high layers cause a wobble movement.
The existing pleated skirt was still not covering the back join due to a lack of net placing. I tried to tease out some of the pleats to cover the opening and re-tacked the skirt adding a new stronger coated steel hooping. Next task was to reattach the bodice before adjusting the straps and back fastenings.
This had become a personal challange to get this looking better given the constraints of the original tutu I had to work with. I had the dancer back twice for fittings. Here are the photos of the dancer after I had rebuilt the ballet tutu.
I take pride in my work and I was honestly shocked that this mum had paid a full price for this garment in good faith understanding they were getting a quality structured ballet tutu. When in fact they had been fobbed off with a substitute stage costume with no underpinning tutu construction. Making a tutu is not about following a dress making pattern, there is a defined skill set which must be taught and the reasons why the tutu must be constructed in a certain way.
So if any of you are looking for a tutu maker, consider the following standards which a professional tutu maker would adhere to. Everyone can cut corners but there are somethings which cannot be skimped on with e ballet tutu.
- Full Money back Guarentee – A professional tutu maker will take pride in the quality of their work and should always offer a refund or a remake.
- Flattering Panties – to shape and elongate the dancers legs and allow full movement.
- Well fitting Basque – the construction of the tutu and how it sits depends on the basque to anchor it to the dancers waist.
- Well fitting bodice – most bodices would have front stabilisation and boning to allow free movement of the dancer.
- Adjustable fastenings – we all change shape over time and the tutu bodice should fit like a skin on the dancer, therefore individual fastenings can be altered where needed. Fastenings such as hook and eye tape or buttons, zips and laceup will not provide the level of adjustments needed for ballet.
- Seek reviews from past customers – recommendations are always the best sign of quality, a good tutu maker doesnt have to adverise and chase orders as their books are full from recommendations.
I do this job for the love of Ballet tutus and tunics, and not just as a business venture. It gives me a sense of pride and satisfaction when I have a dancer and parent walk out of my studio beaming and happiness with their bespoke designed product. Please make sure you are happy with your new ballet costume before you part with payments.
I am here to offer a good customer service and want the dancers to love their tutus and feel good about wearing them to dance their best performance. If your tutu is in need of a refresh and refurbishment, book it into the tutu clinic for some Tutu TLC.