Walkthrough - Classic Tutu

Article by Ranma1-2 posted Wednesday 7th July 2010


I got my instructions out of a very old ballet book and to start with they didn’t make much sense to me. At first I thought part of the tutu pattern must be missing because I was expecting to see a large circular curvy shape to cut the net tulle to. This is the key - the tutu net skirt pattern starts off as a simple long rectangle, the curve of the tutu only forms as you gather one of the long edges.

So, imagine you take a very long strip of net tulle and run a thread along one of its long edges with a loose running stitch (by hand). Then when this is done tie off one end of the thread to the corner, then pull the net tulle down toward it so it forms very tight gathers. As you tighten the gathers, the rectangle shape starts to curl into a curve. Then join the ends of the curve together to form the complete circle. This basically forms one tutu frill layer. Each rectangle has to gather down from immensely long to just your hip measurement. eg, to use some real figures.. Each of my frill layers are 224 inches long and were gathered right down to my hip measurement of 36 inches. (I say hip measurement because a tutu should really sit at the hip, not at the waist).

Now, once you get that bit the next thing to explain is there are multiple frill layers which make up the tutu skirt. The pattern called for 12 frill layers, but that includes the tiny frills. I only did 4 frill layers for my tutu, and that seemed plenty. Each layer you go down the frill reduces its radius by one inch. The top frill layer is obviously the widest part of the tutu. I made mine so it sticks out from my body by roughly 15 inches all around.

So the measurements to make my frill layers were
Top frill layer : 15 inches deep x 224 inches long.
2nd layer : 14 inches deep x 224 inches long.
3rd layer : 13 inches deep x 224 inches long.
Bottom layer : 12 inches deep x 224 inches long.


  • 6 Metres of Net Tulle (off a standard 56 inch roll ) - makes 4 frill layers
  • 4 metres of 1 inch bias tape
  • 4 inches of wide elastic

Step 1 - Once you have your material you can start on the first layer by cutting four narrow strips of net tulle.

Step 2 - Now join these four strips together end to end so they form a long, narrow piece of net tulle.

I made my joins quickly by laying two pieces on top of each other and running them through the sewing machine on zig-zag stitch.

Step 3 - Take a strong thread (like embroidery thread) and loosely make a running stitch along one of the long edges by hand.

Step 4 - Tie one end of the long thread off securely to a corner and pull the net tulle down the thread, gathering it at the tied end. It takes a lot of pressure to keep the fabric tightly gathered, so a strong thread is essential! When it is gathered down to your hip/waist measurement tie the other end off securely.

Step 5 - That is how the frill layers are formed, but obviously if you let go of the cotton thread the gathers will just spring out. To hold the gathers in place more securely I then machine sewed them onto a piece of bias tape.

Step 6 - The open ends of the frill layer are brought together to form the complete circle when it is attached around the knickers. In a classical ballet costume the outer briefs form part of the tutu (called tutu knickers on my pattern). The knickers-basque-waistband ensemble looks like a pair of very high waisted control knickers.
Ordinarily the skirt frill layers are fixed onto the tutu knickers. That’s why a tutu skirt sits on the hips not at the waist.

But for two reasons I fixed my tutu frills onto a separate stiff band, which I made out of spare folded over net tulle.
Reason 1: This was so I could slip the tutu skirt up to my hips and off again without removing the whole costume.
Reason 2: My costume fabric was thin and stretchy so I guessed the weight of all the frills would have stretched it out of shape.

The wide band I made for the net frills to attach onto is approx 2.5 inches wide, enough room for the 4 frill layers to fix onto.

Another construction detail about attaching the frill layers from the book – this is important for the strength of the tutu (so it can stick out and defy gravity!) - When you attach the frill layers onto the knickers, (or onto the frill band in my case), they should be fixed on as the diagram below shows, so the frill layers get maximum support from the seams and other frill seam allowances.

Step 7 - Move on to make the second frill layer. This will be similar except it will start off as 224 inches by 14 inches, the third layer 224 inches by 13 inches and the fourth layer 224 inches by 12 inches.
When you have sewn all the frill layers onto the knickers (or frill band) the whole thing gets pretty unwieldy. It was quite a struggle to actually get it all through the sewing machine..
The tutu at this stage will resemble a huge unruly puffball (pic shows tutu upside down at this stage).

Step 8 - So, the final thing to do is lay the tutu down on a flat surface and gently squash the frill layers together to form the neat pancake tutu shape, then sew large looped stitches through to hold the 4 layers together permanently. You can put a hoop in between layers at this stage too if you want. I didn’t bother using a hoop for mine because it seemed to have enough strength without it (pic shows tutu right side up after the frill layers had been sewn together).

Step 9 - And there you have it; my finished tutu. All that remains is to make and fit the decorative top skirt, which covers about 12 inches of the 15 inch net skirt.

Here are the parts of my costume laid out, including the top skirt on the right just before it was attached onto the knickers.

Step 10 - The main reason I made my net skirt fixed onto a separate band instead of properly onto the costume knickers is so I could remove the net skirt easily without taking the whole costume off. The top decorative skirt of my tutu is fixed on top of my basque/knickers seam line. When I slide the net tutu down and take it off, my top skirt then just flops down and looks like a ballet rehearsal skirt. This is all for better cosplay ease, eg Loo breaks whilst in costume.

Because I made my net tutu to slide off I found I needed to add soft fabric lining inside the tutu band and underneath to protect my tights from the netting - the coarse net can easily ladder a good pair of tights! So here is the net skirt after I added the protective lining inside the band and underneath..

Storage - Tutus are BIG, and present a bit of a storage problem. Here is how I store mine. Just a ribbon looped around and hung from a coat hanger.

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Great advice about the

Great advice about the position to stich the tulle to the panty/waistband. Im hving trouble getting mine to stand atm. I hv a feeling it's because I hv too many layers above the hoop, currently 5 so I'm gonna make the hoop the 3rd layer. Also mine was 50cm long from the hip which might also be why. Since yours was 38cm i think I'll make mine 30cm since I'm only 5ft lol

by littleshoni on Saturday, 18 April, 2015 - 20:41
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Thanks Again

Sent you a message earlier in the year, and wanted to say thanks again. Managed a half decent tutu for my daughter's Halloween costume, and she has a few...abominations...which were less successful, but apparently still acceptable for dress up. :)

by thistleoftexas on Sunday, 30 November, 2014 - 18:42
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double post

oopse double post

by Ranma1-2 on Monday, 24 February, 2014 - 00:49
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Sorry for missing your questions for such a long time.

To answer your questions,

1) Umm I wasnt timing it so I have to rember the best I can - probably about one week for the tulle skirt part and one week for the bodice because I was editing the patterns to fit me exactly.
2) No it doesnt have to be 224 inches long, thats just the size of 4 complete widthes straight off the roll and joined together. But the strength of the frill layer comes from all the gathering. That is why there is so much tulle in each frill layer. If you have less length and hence less gathers your tutu will be mopre floppy. So it depends wether you want a pancake type tutu which defies gravity and sticks straight out or if you want the more floppy bell type. btw It is also important to buy the stiffest tulle if you are going for pancake type. The only way to know is feel the different tulles availableand compare them.

3) Yes you can use one long length. But the way you buy normally is off the roll and by the yard/meter. This means buying appox 224 inches lenghth off the roll, and the widthe of the roll was 56 inches. So you would end up with quite a lot of unused tulle after your cutting. Its just a case of economy.

btw They are not dumb questions, they are intelligent. :) Good luck with your project.


by Ranma1-2 on Monday, 24 February, 2014 - 00:46

Thank you for this!

Aahh! I needed one of this for princess tutu cosplay! Thank you so much! ( I need to make a petticoat that could use this too if i used a light material over it i guess?) Thank you!

by No thanks on Tuesday, 17 January, 2012 - 03:52

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