I like to make little kid tutus, and thought I would share my method for making them. Ordinarily I wouldn't bother, because it's just a dumb tutu, right? Well, no. It's a smart tutu. I looked around the web and found hundreds of tutu tutorials, but no one was making them like this, and I don't know why. My goal in creating this tutu method was to make them FAST. I sell these at holiday craft bazaars, and the price has to be reasonable for people to actually buy them. My previous tutus were very labor intensive and thus had to have a higher price tag… and no one wanted a tutu with a price tag that reflected the amount of work put in. No one. People don’t care. So, I needed a way to make them so quickly that I could sell them cheap and still have a fair profit. I wasn’t willing to make cheapo little crappy tutus, they had to be nice. Really nice. I wanted a tutu that was able to survive years of careless handling. It had to be reversible, so inside out didn’t matter. It had to be fluffy and tidy looking, like a real ballet tutu—not a giant snarly ball of knotted strips. It had to have a nice trim waistband that wasn’t bulky and was easy for the kid to find, grasp and dress themselves. (If you have ever seen a kid all frustrated with a messy half inside out WTF type of tutu, you know why this is important.)
Although this tutu is fast and easy to make, it is not careless. You need to pay attention to what you are doing. REALLY pay attention, so turn off Judge Judy. Tulle can get away from you and ruin your project while you are taking in the luxury to blink. There are several simple steps here aimed at eliminating possible problems and making your construction time easier. Don’t skip these steps, thinking you’ll just be careful and it won’t happen to you. It will. Trust me, I know. Please take the time to steam and press and tape and mark and sew very straight lines. It really makes a world of difference and eliminates loads of potential frustration. I promise. Don’t be a hero.
Making this tutu is mostly tulle taming, and very little actual sewing. You only have to sew 6 straight lines and that’s about it. Really. Less than 10 minutes using the actual machines, not kidding. The rest of the time you are forcing that tulle to behave so it will slide through the machines nice and smooth without any frustration at all. Tulle can be tamed, and it can be very pleasant to work with. If you have the right tools for the job, tutu making is a piece of cake. There are a lot of little steps, but they are quickly achieved. I can make one of these tutus in about 30 minutes when I'm on a roll.
Are you ready? Here we go!
The short version, for all you smartypants seamsters who already know what's what:
Sandwich a waistband with elastic between two layers of ruffled tulle. Done.
The long version, for those who'd like a step-by-step tutorial that is very loquacious and full of too many photos:
How I make a super cute, fast, cheap, and quality sewn tutu...
Construction time: around 30 minutes
*does not include time taken for wandering around the internet, getting sucked into an episode of Magnum PI or staring into the refridgerator… just sayin’.
Matching thread for both sewing machine and serger
non-roll elastic, 1 inch wide
*The amounts needed depends on the size and length you want to make! I note the amounts I'm using for a general kid sized one with the photos below.
Sewing machine with a ruffler foot attachment
Steam iron and ironing board
Cutting mat, rotary cutter and big clear quilt ruler
Duct tape (yes, really)
Large safety pin
Long straight pin
Step 0: Prep, prep and more prep.
*Make sure your iron is the proper temperature to press and steam the tulle without melting it into a smoking crater. Not that I’ve ever done that. *cough*cough*
*Thread up the serger with matching thread.
*Thread up the sewing machine with matching thread and full new bobbin.
*Attach ruffler foot to sewing machine.
*Brand new blade for the rotary cutter (VERY IMPORTANT, a dull blade + tulle = crazy squirrelpants lady. Not worth it.)
*Dust, sweep, mop, vacuum, wipe down everything in sight. Seriously. Tulle picks up lint and random threads and cat hair even if you don’t own a cat.
Step 1: Steam and press the tulle.
If you are lucky to pull this right off a neatly rolled factory bolt, there is no need to steam and press it first. However, if you brought it home from the fabric store where a harried clerk hacked it off a manhandled stock bolt… well, yeah. Refold with selvages together, steam and press. Good as new.
Step 2: Slice up the tulle.
A cutting mat and rotary cutter make this quick and easy work. For this particular tutu, you are looking at 14 slices that are 11 inches wide, cut from a 54” bolt. You can make your width however long you'd like your tutu. You can also skip this step and just buy one of those 25 yard rolls. You are limited as to how long your tutu will be, but it does save time! (Just to be clear, each strip is 11x54 inches, and there are 14 strips total.)
Fold them neatly, stack them and set them aside. Don’t unfold them or bunch them up or swing them around for any reason, that would be like poking a grumpy bear who was minding his own business.
Step 4: RUFFLE ALL THE THINGS!
Make two piles of seven folded tulle slices each, to make two separate ruffles of seven sections each. I get confused easily so I have to have two piles, I can’t just count as I go along. Don’t judge me.
Get to Rufflin’.
I have my ruffler set to take a tuck with each stitch, and I have my stitch length set as small as possible, in my case it is a 0.5, whereas 2.5 is the default stitch length. This means I’m going to get a small pleat with every teensy tiny stitch, squashing 54 inches of tulle down to 6 inches in less than 30 seconds. I love it! A ruffler is what professional stage tutus are made with, and it is indeed the right tool for the job. If it takes you more than 6 minutes to permanently and evenly ruffle down a 21 yard strip of tulle, then you need to rethink your tutu making method… especially if you are making tutus to sell. Save your sanity. Buy a ruffler.
I overlap each strip about 2 inches as I feed it into the ruffler, so it is one long continuous ruffle when I’m done. (You can kinda see what I mean in the photo below, the strip ends are overlapped before they get gobbled into the ruffler.)
Remove the ruffler foot and replace with your regular foot.
On a flat surface gently stretch out the ruffle at the thread line. This will save your sanity later when you can’t for the life of you figure out why you have so much leftover when you already measured! Aaarrgh!
I now have two 48 inch ruffles with seven sections each. Voila. It is important to not make this ruffled strip any longer than your ironing board. It's just too much hassle when it's hanging off the edge and you have to keep moving it around.
Step 5: Steam and press the crap out of those ruffles.
Lay ruffle #1 out on the ironing board, then finger comb it so it is more orderly and straight.
Then steam and press it until it is nice and compressed and as flat as can be, like so:
Then flip it over and do it again to the other side, because each side of the tulle ruffle has a different personality, and they both want to stab you in the back.
Step 6: Duct tape!
Yes, duct tape. Gag that tulle! Tape those ruffles in place:
I used a piece of tape ¼ the length of the ruffle, and then ripped it in half lengthwise, and then in quarters, and then used it on the tulle. Only a thin strip is needed. Tape nearer to the thread line than the middle.
Don’t be a hero, TAPE BOTH SIDES. Flip it over and do it again on the other side, too.
Don’t worry, the duct tape doesn’t leave any residue and does the job well. Other tapes sucked, don’t even try them. Duct tape is king. (But, to be sure, give it a test on a scrap first!)
Step 7 & 8: Repeat Steps 6 and 7 for Ruffle #2.
Roll up the ruffles and set by your sewing machine.
Step 3: Prepare the waistband.
*With rotary cutter and a big clear quilt ruler, trim the waist band fabric to 5 inches wide and however long you need the waistband to be. You are looking at a strip that has been cut to 5 X 50 inches.
*Press it flat, and fold each end over about ¾ inch or so, pressing that again so it creases.
*Place a small dab of Stitch Witchery in the center of the folds on either end and press/melt it in place. This is important for stringing the elastic later. You’ll thank me. No need for any more than a dot, you don’t want this little hem to be stiff at all.
*Fold the long strip in half lengthwise (carefully and evenly!) and press with a crease
Step 9: Sew a guideline onto the waistband.
Sew the waistband closed, making sure it is perfectly straight and 1.25 inches from the fold. VERY IMPORTANT, this is your guideline and if you mess this up you will want to throw yourself off a cliff while inserting the elastic later. Essentially, you need to sew a line ¼ inch wider than the elastic you are using. I am using 1 inch elastic, so my sheath is 1.25 inches wide. Pay close attention and don’t screw it up! That line needs to be perfectly parallel and 1.25 inches from the fold at all times.
Here you are looking at a 5X50 inch strip folded in half to a 2.5 inch width, and sewn with a guideline down the middle:
Step 10: Add the first tulle ruffle.
This is where that guide line comes in handy. Fold the raw ruffle edge on top of itself about ½ inch or so, and then sew the ruffle down onto the waistband, lining up to the guide line and ruffle stitch line nice and neat.
Fold the edge on top of itself at the end as well. (If you have more ruffle than waistband, trim it away about ½ inch beyond the edge of the waistband, and then fold it and complete the step.)
Step 11: Add the second tulle ruffle.
Flip the ruffle and waistband over...
...and attach the second ruffle using the same method, CAREFULLY lining up the stitching lines. All three stitching lines should be practically on top of each other.
Look at all those raw edges. Let's get rid of them!
Step 12: Overlock.
Time to make it nice and neat: I love using my serger. I have mine set to the slimmest 4 thread setting, have a stitch length of about 3, and a neutral differential.
Trim and enclose, nice and easy. Be extra careful to follow that stitched guideline with the RIGHT needle, so that the LEFT needle is stitching just barely 1/8 inch to the left of the original guide line.
I cannot stress enough to BE CAREFUL and mind those needle placements AT ALL TIMES. Don’t let your mind wander to LOLcats or Ryan Reynolds in his underpants, don’t even hardly blink until you are done.
...nice and tidy, but still inside out...
You can see why matching serger thread is important. Any contrasting thread is going to show through when flipped right side out. If you are only making a single tutu, you can just fill 4 bobbins with the matching thread you are using in your regular machine, no need to buy cone thread unless you are making a lot of them.
Step 13: More pressing and steaming.
You might be thinking to take the tape off now, but don’t! It’s a trap! If you take it off now you’ll be dealing with a giant angry kicking caterpillar you’ll want to kill with fire.
Flip the tutu right side out, so now you have this:
Press and steam just the waistband and a few inches of the tulle, avoiding the tape.
Step 14: Insert the elastic.
Prep the elastic by trimming the corners of one side and inserting the safety pin. On the other side, place the straight pin. This will keep it from disappearing inside the waistband and causing you to curse dramatically and possibly kick something.
Snake that bastard through. If you sewed everything straight and neat, that elastic shouldn’t give you a lick of trouble. Also, YOU’RE WELCOME for the dot of Stitch Witchery placed so the elastic comes right out the other side like butter.
Step 15: Sew the elastic.
I use a zig zag stitch and overlap about an inch. I zig zag over each raw edge to make it slide around inside the waistband easier. (usually I use white thread, but I wanted you to see what I did.)
Step 16: Even out the ruching.
Play with it and stretch it around until it is all even, and make sure the overlapped elastic seam is lost somewhere inside.
Step 17: Dude, you’re almost done, just one more little thing.
Find the waistband seam, flip that mother inside out and make a small overlap with the overlocked seam allowance.
Tack it down with a zig zag on a small stitch length, only on that small seam allowance There, now the elastic won’t show while it’s being stretched. That waistband seam is still open, but the ruching keeps it hidden. This is important, because you have easy access to that elastic inside, in case you need to make it bigger or smaller. Darn kids, always growing bigger or being smaller than you think they are.
Step 18: Okay, NOW you can remove the tape.
Step 19: Fluff it, fluff it good.
Flip it rightside out again. Shake it out, shoot it with steam, squoogle it up with your hands. You heard me: squoogle.
Step 20: Embellish.
Add bow or flower or whatever, right at the seam to cover where it might look a little different. Here is an example with a more pale pink tutu:
I found that this amount of fluff was the perfect balance between fullness, ease of construction, and cost of materials. You can always make them fluffier by adding extra ruffled layers to steps 10 and 11, or you can simply make tighter gathers with extra fabric in step 4. Of course, this makes everything more expensive, time consuming and difficult due to the additional thickness, but it can be done.
Rose pink (that did not photo well, oops) waistband made with Casa Collection satin from Joann Fabrics:
Light pink and aqua waistbands made with Casa Collection Taffeta from Joann Fabrics:
Purple waistband made with a nice crepe back satin:
Ready for twirling!
...and there you have it. It's easy to make these in an "assembly line" fashion if you are selling them or making them for a party or something. I know it seems like a lot to do, but really it's not-- each step takes less than a few minutes each. I hope you make beautiful tutus!