By Kim Dawson, Stitcher

We’re down to the final days before full dress rehearsal and opening night, and with new costumes being constructed for two of the three ballets on the Russian program, the costume shop has shifted into overdrive and is a whirlwind of nearly round-the-clock activity!

As you’ve read in previous postings, the most significant costume build for this program and for OBT is for the world premiere of Yuri Possokhov’s Raymonda. Since the end of January, I’ve been responsible for constructing 10 new tutu skirts for this ballet. At the end of last week, I felt a sense of accomplishment and melancholy as I took down the very last layer of tightly gathered and carefully ironed light blue tulle from the hangers, where layers and layers have hung from the ceiling in various stages of preparedness over the past several months.

About eight weeks ago, the construction process also began for the women’s bodices, sleevettes and headpieces, the men’s tunics and unitards, and the preparation of yards and yards of decorative gold lace and rhinestone trims. In these final days we’re completing and stitching all of the elements together; gluing remaining rhinestones; sewing hooks, eyes and snaps; attaching trims to bodices and skirts; attaching bodices to tutu skirts; attaching sleeves to tunis, etc. And the results? Simply stunning . . . if we do say so ourselves!

Fun Facts:

  • Each Raymonda tutu skirt takes about 80 hours to construct — not including trimming (decoration). A few photos (below) illustrate the process.
  • If all of the layers of un-gathered tulle and netting for a single Raymonda tutu skirt were placed end-to-end, they would stretch nearly 120 yards — longer than a football field!
  • The longest single layer of the Raymonda tutu skirt is the “hoop” layer, which includes two overlapping pieces of tulle/netting that are about 60 feet long each, before gathering.
  • If all 10 layers of tulle and netting for the 10 blue Raymonda tutu skirts were laid out flat, they would cover an area of abotu 2500 square feet — nearly 1.5 times the area of the Keller stage floor.
  • In total, the Raymonda costumes are trimmed with nearly 400 feet of gold lace and trim.
  • In total, more than 12,000 tiny rhinestones have been glued on one-by-one and more than 600 teardrop-shaped stones have been hand sewn on to the Raymonda costumes.
Photos of the Tutu-Making Process

The base that all of the tulle/netting layers are sewn on to consists of two pieces — the basque (top) and the panty, which are carefully fitted to each dancer and then sewn together. Note, the safety pins indicate where the lowest layer of tulle should be sewn.


This is a piece of 60′ long tulle for the hoop layer, which has been dyed the appropriate color and now needs to be ironed flat in order to be gathered.


Once the tulle/netting is ironed flat, it is run through the sewing machine using a special gathering foot.  After this, another gathering thread is zig-zagged on top of this gathering so that each piece can be gathered even more tightly to fit the appropriate space on the basque/panty.


The narrowest/bottom layer, before and after gathering.


Layer in the process of being ironed.


In the ironing process, each layer is pinned securely to the ironing board, and then sections are gathered tightly and then steamed/pressed.  It takes a full day to iron all the layers for a single tutu.


Some layers for two tutus, in various stages of preparedness.


To create the hoop layer, two gathered pieces are sewn onto a flat piece of netting, and a casing for the hoop is then created underneath. On the long/right side of the flat piece you can see the zig-zag over gathering threads which will be used to gather up and position this very-long-layer on the basque/panty.


The positioning for each layer is carefully measured and drawn. At the narrowest part (the front leg), ten tightly gathered layers must be sewn into a space of only about 2.5 – 3″. Here you can see the 10th (bottom) layer is pinned on and ready to be sewn. After this, we pin and sew on the 1st (top) layer and continue working our way down, layer by layer.


The 3rd layer being sewn on. Six more layers to add!


The hoop layer (4th layer) has just been sewn on.


The final layer is being sewn on. Once this is complete, panty is sewn together at the back seam and the crotch, and each individual layer is sewn together at the center back.


Once all the layers have been sewn on, we tie-up the top three layers so that we can insert the hoop into the 4th layer.


The hoop is inserted into the casting. The size of the hoop helps determine the shape of the tutu — smaller for more bell-shaped or larger for more flat


Once the hoop is inserted and the gathers are spread out evenly around the tutu and ironed, it is secured with tying down to the 6th layer.


Lastly, each of the layers is secured with individually tied knots…layers 9-10 together, layers 7-8-9 together, etc


All the layers are now tied and the tutu has gone from fluffy to flat. Now the tutu skirt is ready for decoration…on the top side, of course.


Here’s a sneak peak at the tutu skirt and bodice decorations in progress.

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