Inside Look: The Making of a Tutu

By Boston Ballet Staff

Sunset Tutu by Lauren Pajer

Photo credit: Lauren Pajer

Light, beautiful, and wonderfully ethereal, the tutu is a timeless symbol of classical ballet that has evolved over the years but remains an integral part of the art form.

In process

Photo credit: Shwetali Sapte

Photo credit: Shwetali Sapte

In process

Photo credit: Shwetali Sapte

Photo credit: Shwetali Sapte

A Brief History of the Tutu

Tutu-clad ballerinas have been mesmerizing audiences for centuries. In the early 1700s, French danseuse Marie Camargo was one of the first to shorten her skirt to her calves to allow her to move more freely while dancing. A century later, ballerina Marie Taglioni, the most famous dancer of the Romantic era, pioneered an early prototype of the tutu—an airy, voluminous skirt that revealed her ankles to showcase her pointe work, and the romantic tutu was born. Romantic tutus are similar to those on display in ballets such as  La Sylphide or Giselle.  As tutus became shorter and less restrictive, they eventually evolved into the classical tutus seen in performances around the world today in ballets like The Sleeping Beauty.
 
Boston Ballet Costume Shop Stitcher Allie Caporale takes you behind the scenes as she creates a new classical tutu for Company dancers.

Sunset Tutu by Shwetali Sapte

Photo credit: Shwetali Sapte

The Sunset Tutu

In July, Caporale designed and built a practice tutu, affectionately dubbed the “Sunset Tutu” for its beautiful layers of yellow, pink, and purple tulle, structured to look like the sky at dusk. While it won’t be seen in performances, this practice tutu will get extensive use in rehearsals, allowing dancers to practice choreography and partnering while wearing something that resembles the feel and fit of the costumes they’ll eventually wear on stage.
 
To design the tutu, Caporale drew from the techniques of Barbara Karinska, a renowned Russian costume designer who worked in Hollywood in the 1940s and was known for her mastery of using color to create depth. The Sunset Tutu took 60 hours from start to finish, from blending colors to cutting scalloped edges for a soft effect. It’s a highly technical process with a specific order of operations that must be followed; Caporale deems herself a “tutu mechanic.”

How It’s Made

First, the inside panty is made and has lines drawn on it to guide the creator in putting on its layers. Next, the basque (waist piece) is made with heavy fabric cut at different curves depending on the dancer’s body shape. Then, the length of the tutu is fixed to flatter the dancer’s height. The stitcher cuts the layers of tulle and numbers them, stitching together the panels after determining the tutu’s fullness. The edges are dagged, or cut, to create the desired effect depending on the ballet. For instance, the Sunset Tutu has scalloped edges while some tutus created for The Nutcracker had a feathery effect. Finally, the bodice is attached, either with buttonhole elastic and buttons or by hard-tacking it to the tutu.

Costume stitchers are careful to make sure the tutu is impeccably layered. They gather layers evenly to create density and balance, all the while ensuring that they are durable. They adjust hooks and bars frequently to fit dancers’ measurements. Quality fabrics and threads are also essential. And with so many moving parts, paying attention to “sewing hygiene”—Caporale’s term for keeping things neat and organized—makes a big difference as well.
 
The results of this careful and creative process can be seen throughout Boston Ballet’s Costume Shop, where dozens of intricately designed tutus are displayed in a dazzling array. Some stand out with their velvety fabrics, while others catch the eye with sequins and beads.
 
“It’s important to push boundaries and create new work, but the tulle tutu isn’t going anywhere,” said Caporale. It will continue to complete a ballerina’s look for decades, if not centuries, to come.


 

The illusion we create is intended to deepen your understanding of reality.

Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director
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