How to SEW a Simple Tutu


Usually I am the one searching for tutorials on how to make things.  I admit it.  If it’s something that doesn’t really need a pattern, I’m not about to spend the money to buy one when all I need are decent instructions.  So when I was asked to make angelic tutus for the angels in our church’s Christmas program, I opened my big mouth and volunteered to make them.  I figured a few minutes of googling would generate a dozen or so tutorials on what I wanted to do.

I was wrong.  There are dozens of tutorials on how to NOT sew a tutu.  There are a few on how to make tiered tutus a la the peasant skirt.  There are a few on how to sew them onto random things like the bottom of a tank top or a skirt an adult would wear out to a night club.


So I made no less than 4 trial tutus before I figured out how to do this simple variety.  And now, because I was so frustrated in trying to do something so simple without directions, I am putting together this tutorial for those who are wanting to make a simple, sewn tutu that works. 

First of all, I feel that I must share what I have learned about the fabrics available out there for making a tutu.  All of the (no sew) tutorials say to run out and buy a roll of tulle.  This is great if you only want a sewn tutu that is 6-9 inches long.  Not so great if you want a long romantic one with a bit of flowiness.  I couldn’t find any tulle on a bolt.  What I did find was “illusion”, nylon net, and can can net at Hancock Fabrics.

There’s a reason they call it “illusion.”  This stuff is light and airy and you can get it in iridescent colors.  It’s 108 inches wide and gathers beautifully.  You spend an hour or so cutting, gathering, and sewing while humming “Waltz of the Snowflakes.”  You put it on your precious darling and after 30 seconds of twirling it looks like she’s wearing a meringue around her waste. 


Yes.  It’s an illusion that it will turn out nice and stay that way.  I think this stuff is better suited for wedding veils or something.  Come to think of it.  It does look a bit like a bunched up bridal..thingy.  If there’s ever a pie fairy who needs a wedding outfit, I know how to make her one.

The can can netting is much denser and stiffer.  It’s 54 inches wide and comes in white.  I’ve made a longer tutu out of it and decided that it is best suited for the shorter Swan Lake style tutu.  You could use this kind in the same way I describe here just as well.  Just be aware that it will turn out stiffer and need less layers.

The 72 inch wide nylon netting worked the best for my romantic tutu.  It also comes in a variety of colors.

I’ll stop babbling already and get on with the actual tutorial!

nylon netting
measuring tape/yardstick
elastic (I used 1/2 inch wide)
sewing machine

1. Start by figuring out how long you want your tutu to be.  Multiply that number by the number of layers you’d like.  This is how much you’ll want to buy.

In this case, I wanted a 16 inch long, 4 layer tutu.
16 X 4 = 64 –> about 1 and 7/8 yards
(this will leave extra if they don’t cut it perfectly even at the store)

2. Cut out your layers of fabric at your desired length.  Don’t worry about the width.  You’ll use all 72 inches of it and gather it to a less daunting measurement.

For this tutu I have 4 layers of 72 inch wide, 16 inch long netting.


It comes folded in fourths.  I leave it that way for cutting.

3. Cut the waist elastic.  Take the the waist measurement of your ballerina and cut a piece of elastic that length plus an extra half inch. 

20 + 1/2 = 20 1/2 inches


4. Overlap the ends of the elastic and sew them together.


5. Gather each layer of netting to the waist measurement.  You could use your long machine stitch and pull the bobbin threads up.  I prefer to do it by hand because I can measure out the thread to the approximate length I want it to gather and not have to fuss with it so much.

Pull your thread out to the waist measurement plus 2 inches.


Double it up.


Thread your needle and knot the end.  I like to use a large, blunt one since the holes are already in the fabric and I tend to prick myself a bit. 

Start at one end of the netting near the top.  Slide your thread through it and tie it to that end.  Work your needle in and out along the top edge.  You don’t have to be exact.  I’ve counted holes to the exact stitch and done it randomly.  the ending result is the same.


Once you reach the end of the netting, tie off the end as close to the needle as you can and snip the thread between the knot and the needle.


You should end up with a gathered length that is pretty close to the length of the elastic.


Do this with all of your layers.


6. Pin your gathered layers to the elastic.  Line up the top edge of the layer with the top edge of the elastic.  I’m paranoid about missing a layer, so I go a little beyond the top edge.

I recommend staggering where you start/stop them so that you don’t have a slit in your tutu.  I have found that I have to pin each layer on individually.  I use the same pins for all of the layers and repin the first layer(s) as I add each additional one. 



7. Sew your layers to your elastic.  Set your stitch to straight.  Sew 2-3 stitches and backstitch 2-3 stitches.  Change your stitch to the longest, widest zig zag stitch on your machine.  (Unless it happens to have a stitch wider than your elastic.  I’ve never seen one that does it wider than 1/2 an inch, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have one that does!)  Do NOT stretch your elastic as you sew.  Sew all the way around with your elastic as centered as possible under the presser foot and needle.  When you get all the way around, change your stitch back to straight, sew 2-3 stitches and backstitch 2-3 stitches.


Be careful of getting one of the holes looped over the presser foot!  Going slowly and holding down the netting to the left of the foot as I feed it through helps.


8. Stretch out the elastic.  You will hear the gathering stitches break.  Don’t panic.  The zig zag stitch will stretch with the elastic but the gather stitches won’t.  Look for any loose gather stitches and pull them out gently. 

Note:  It IS possible to pull the elastic hard enough to break the zigzag stitches, but you’d have to be trying to pull the elastic to its limits.  This is unnecessary unless your ballerina’s hip to waist ratio is greater than the stretch of the elastic.  The goal here is to break only the gather stitches, not use the waistband as a bungee cord.  If you do manage to snap the zig zags, you can go around the tutu again with your zig zag stitch and it will still stretch.  I’ve sewn 4 layers on separately this way and still gotten a decent stretch.  It just looked really messy with all the stitching.

9. Flip the tutu. Turn the tutu so that the long part of the netting covers the stitching and the “pokey” top is pointing down.  Only elastic and thread should be on the inside.



10. Put the tutu on your ballerina!


If you want to add vertical ribbons, keep in mind that you will want to put them on before you start to pin your netting to the elastic so that they will be on top when you flip the tutu.

If you are making a dark colored tutu and the blaring white elastic band showing is not desired, don’t flip the tutu. 

For reference, this photo shows the tutu”unflipped.”  The flipping just adds a little more fluffiness.  (My model was done by this time.  Please excuse the pitiful face.)


If you absolutely hate working with elastic, sew the gathered layers together along the top and sandwich them between a 2-4 inch wide piece of satin ribbon folded over.  Sew the bottom edges of the folded ribbon together.  Leave enough ribbon at each end for tying.

Happy sewing!

  • By Marge/Mom/Grandma, December 8, 2010 @ 12:09 pm

    Very clever and entertaining too. I am proud of you.

  • By Amanda, December 8, 2010 @ 12:13 pm

    This is great. I love your writing and although I doubt I’ll be making tutus around here I plan to forward it to Petra :)

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