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Inspiration/tech know-how for tutus

JeanetteR | Posted in General Discussion on

To RJF and all Gatherers,
I had a eureka moment this morning of what I could possibly do to earn money from home, as sewing generally doesn’t appear to be highly valued unless you’re professionally proficient and have a known name. I used to sew wedding dresses for an hourly rate. How could I find a Mentor for designing and sewing ballet costumes, or maybe Belly-dancing costumes?

Thank you, Jeanette


  1. rjf | | #1

    The first thought that occurs to me is find the nearest ballet or belly-dancing school.  You could see the costumes close-up and find out how much work is involved, the cost and time involved and how often schools or students need costumes.  I hope there are some readers who know a lot more about this than I do.  I'll be watching to see what ideas surface.        rjf

    1. sueb | | #2

      You may want to put together a couple of outfits first so when  you visit the local dance centers you'll have samples to show.  This gives the owners a chance to see what you can do as well as evaluate the quality of your sewing at the same time.  I have a home based sewing business doing my own line of handbags as well as home decorator items and everytime I've approached a shop owner regarding carrying my products I've always had samples or inventory with me. 

      I've also printed up some 4x6 postcards right from my computer and ink jet printer that have my company name, contact info and several pictures of my products so that when I leave them with store owners or in some cases on display at my local bookstore and manicurist boutique people can see from my card what types of products I'm offering.  I've also mailed these to several places as well.

      Good luck !



  2. anneelsberry | | #3

    Gosh, don't mean to rain on you parade, but this is my take as a person who works for a professional dance company. Professional companies own their costumes, so they are used for many dancers and have to last many years. Primas and principals will sometimes buy their own costumes so they can use them when they dance as guest artists. Dance studios that do recitals tend to have the kids buy their own costumes. Same with amateur companies.

    So, it really depends on what kind of "audience" you want. Professional and semi-professional dance companies are very picky about their costumes (which is why a real tutu costs at least $600 to purchase) because they have to be extremely sturdy and easy to alter for different dancers. There are a lot of tricks of the trade for making men's tunics and women's basques to be sure that they have enough give to dance in but don't stretch too much with all the sweat and movement they get. We often have to alter basques from performance to performance (and act to act) to deal with the vagaries of the fabric. Which is why companies usually have a seamstress or a whole team on staff.

    There is a woman in N. Carolina who runs a clinic to learn how to make classical tutus. One of our seamstresses has done it, but decided it wasn't worth the time or effort when we can order a tutu from Grishko and then baste the tulle and trim it ourselves. (Tutus are generally, depending on the style, basted on the bottom so the layers stay together.)

    You might find an audience with amateur companies or dance schools, although many "recital" schools make their money by ordering cheap costumes from the national companies and then passing along a mark-up to the parents of the dancers. (Can you tell this is a pet-peeve of mine?)

    A good audience might be belly-dancers, flamenco dancers, ballroom dancers and dance teams, who usually keep their own costumes and use them repeatedly. These costumes are generally easier to make and more like garment construction than classical ballet costumes.

    1. JeanetteR | | #4

      Thanks very much for the suggestions received thus far.  Couldn't reply yesterday, there was a gremlin in the modem, so the net connection was dropping out incessantly!  But there is more to report back on now anyway.

      I've followed up today with the following:- Australian ballet, but all their costume and production is now done in Melbourne.  Opera Australia is based in Sydney and sound partial to work experience to assist even with mid-life career decisions!  NIDA have a BDA degree course that sounds delicious including millinary and footware streams!!!  Part of what makes this sound so wonderful is that they only take four students per year.  The Tech has a 3yr full time Costume course that also sounds good, and very hands- on, but the first one sounds more stimulating and delicious to me form what I've found out thus far, the Heads of School form each have messages to ring me.  The only thing that would hold me back is the twins, now 3.5.  but hey, never say die, till I've actually found out all the information.

      My Greek-Aussie friend from playgroup, Dora, who used to bellydance professionally, said that there is a HUGE untapped market out there, also for ballroom costumes, ballet and ice-dancing, gymnastics ect.  I really do appreciate your comments Pomona,  about the need for flexibility of size and industrial strength construcion techniques.  What I originally had in mind was ballet students for their show-peice exams etc.s.  Will keep my eyes peeled for local ballet school notices, thanks for that one!  Thinking about this led me to enquirt about the above formal courses.

      My Mum used to work a long time ago in payroll for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, so we were very familiar with the dance, the green room, crates(!) of used toe-shoes, racks and racks of semi-archived costumes, and the Dancers themselves.  The magic is still with me, I'd just forgotten....

      I also joined the Friends of the Ballet today over the phone, something I'd meant to do for so long, you can get very reasonably priced tickets to dress rehearsals of the Ballet, and all the newsletters etc!  How exciting.  Eleanor wants to switch from gym to ballet too, asap as the 'Angelina Ballerina' series is on kids tele weekday mornings again, it's a magical age for a little girl to do some ballet.

      Any other sugestions welcomed, kind readers, lateral-thinking, fantasy or commonsense!  Thanks thus far, and keep 'em coming, one and all. 

      a PS for June, spring is in the air, cool bright and sunny!

      1. anneelsberry | | #5

        I hadn't realized you were in Australia -- probably a better place for classical ballet than the U.S. in some respects, since schools there probably require the RAD uniforms for exams. In the U.S. there isn't the same kind of uniformity and a lot of schools "sort of" teach ballet -- enough that the kids can do a recital and their parents shell out a bunch of money for a cheaply made costume. Its an unfortunate scam.

        I envy you having an opportunity to take classes on construction. Its one of those things I've had to teach myself by watching our costume mistress and looking at the costumes our guest artists bring in.

        1. JeanetteR | | #6

          Yes, Aus is a fairly cultured place, with highly active theatre, arts, ballet, Opera.  Almost all the little kids do music, ballet, gym, trapeze, whatever their parents can afford!  And every little girl who does gets her moment in the sun, so tutus for these occasional concerts do not have to be as robustly constructed as for the stage.

          Thanks again for your considered advice, I'm going to print this whole strand out to see all bases have been covered!  I've no idea how I'd fit the twins around the 9-6 full time pattern of attendance requirement, and of course there would be competition to get in, but imagine the tuition, with only four students in any one year!  This is so they don't flood the market, and devalue the profession, as I also spoke with a third year student.

          I'll have to send you some of my juvenile ballerina sketches!

  3. RParrill | | #7


    I make belly dancing costumes. I started with just one dancer, she posted my info at the school, and now I do them all. It's a great gig if you can get it, just consider myself in the right place at the right time. Anyway, the fabrics can be a pain (poly chiffon, liquid lame) but other than that, it's fabulous, never boring. I don't do any of their beading, they usually order bras and belts from the Middle East and I make them fit with pads and hooks. I have gone to their shows and taken pictures so I have examples of my work. It's not very steady, I usually am swamped before a show and then it dies down a bit, but that's okay because I have enough to keep me busy in the off time.


    1. JeanetteR | | #8


      Thanks so much for your reply, this is the sort of thing I'd really like to do, and for ballroom maybe.  The courses I found out , it seems are just impossible in the atttendance patterns (9-6, every weekday!), as the point of being home with the twins for me is to be their mother the best I can after waiting so long to have them (second family, IVF).  thank you so much for your encouraging story. 

      On the 'blower to my friend in Ireland the other night, she reckons just jump in at the deep end like you did. Did you find you had to 'sell' yourself to get off the ground at first, how did you give the ladies the confidence that you'd produce the goods, how did you commence with a pricing policy? I have made plenty of wedding dresses, but have saved very few photos.

      Maybe I could make one at cost for my belly dancing friend Dora, and that could sow the seed!  cast your bread....as they say.  As you say, you at least start with purchased bras with this sort of costume, everythign else is embellishment, and more is more, no subtelty here!

      1. RParrill | | #9


        I think that every dance place is probably different, but as for me the sewing I do is really pretty basic. I make three layers of stuff (harem pants, 1 1/2 circle skirt, overlay) that go under the belt, and then sometimes they need headpieces and arm things too. Since it is not really difficult sewing, I don't have to charge much to make a pretty decent hourly wage. I think this is a factor with the dancers, considering some of the bras/ belts can be more than $300. I thought it would be nice to make $25 an hour, but the skirts sew up so quickly now, I can easily make $100 an hour if the work is there.

        I really didn't have to do much convincing, because I left my card at the fabric store (where I teach upholstery) and the first dancer was pretty desperate to get her outfit made quickly. She's now a teacher and does the recommending for me. I want to wish you good luck in your search, because it is really nice to be able to work from home with kids. By the way, I'm a twin too.


    2. rjf | | #11

      How about posting a picture or two?  I only see those outfits occaisonally and they go by very fast.  It would be nice to see one or two and have the time to really look.   rjf

      1. RParrill | | #12


        I have two examples of my work here, let's hope everyone can open them. I have a Mac and no ones else does so there's always trouble.

        I made the whole outfit except the bras and belts- those I altered and made them fit tight. I also usually take the bra from two straps to a halter.

        II highly recommend going to a show if there's one in your area. You'll get a good look at all the beading and layers up close. I took my girls and all of a sudden their mom wasn't such a dork because I made all the suits.


        1. User avater
          ehBeth | | #13

          RParrill - that is an enormous attachment. Would you be able to shrink it, so others could look at it? Thanks, Beth

          1. RParrill | | #14

            I hope this one is easier to see. I deleted the other to avoid confusion.


          2. User avater
            ehBeth | | #15

            Very nice, Renee.

            Thanks for shrinking those (they were too big for me to try and capture them, and shrink them myself - I'm on antique dial-up)

            I'm very interested in historical costuming and try to attend any talks Dora Rust-D'Eye gives here in Toronto. She costumes for Opera Atelier.

          3. GinnaS | | #16

            Just received Clotilde's catalog.  On page 63 there is a book titled, The Ultimate Guide to Sewing Dance Competition Costumes by Gail Blanchette.  You can probably find it online at her site also.



          4. rjf | | #17

            Wow!  I was really disappointed to see the "deleted" message.  Thanks for redoing so we could see.  The ladies look spectacular; I hope they danced as well as they looked.  That must be lots of fun to do and to see in action.  Now.....what are the chances of getting an animated viewing??  Maybe Tauton could come to the rescue.  I certainly will go to see a show if one ever comes to our small-town conservative area.        rjf

          5. RParrill | | #18


            Thanks so much... I wouldn't know the first thing about animating, maybe someone who knows what she's doing could chime in on that one. These dancers are having a labor day show (been very busy with crazed dancers needing last minute stuff) and that might be a good place to get footage. It really is a neat show, and always entertaining.


  4. Hansi | | #10

    As the mother of two girls, I think that you might find some easy money sewing dance skirts and dance bags for children who attend ballet lessons.  The dance school my children attend is like a fashion show.


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