The Australian Ballet

How to make a tutu

The Australian Ballet artist Benedicte Bemet in a white tutu, being held by her partner around her waist in an arabesque position.

Ever wondered what goes into creating the sparkling tutus that adorn the ballerinas on stage? Discover the history and the process behind constructing a tutu fit for an on-stage princess.

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Mara Blumenfeld's sketch for the Odile tutu, Swan Lake (Woolliams) 2023


When constructing a tutu for a production, The Australian Ballet costumiers and cutters work from the designers’ original designs. If this is an established ballet performed around the globe, we will recreate the costumes to match the original designs. For a new work, the costume department will work with the designer throughout the entire process, from construction to fitting to ensure their vision is realised.

Your First Look at the Black Swan Tutu | Swan Lake 2023
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The many layers of netting create the iconic tutu shape
Photo Ally Deacon


There are several different shapes that exist in the tutu universe. From the long flowing gauze-like Romantic tutu debuted by Marie Taglioni in 1832 to the stiff pancake style tutu worn in Don Quixote and Swan Lake, each tutu comes with their own unique requirements and challenges.

The Romantic tutu is generally made of between 3-5 layers of tulle and flows down to the mid-calf. Designed to make the dancer appear as if they are floating, the Romantic tutu is often a feature of ethereal ballets like Giselle or La Sylphide.

As ballet evolved in the 19th century so did the tutu. Styles became shorter to show off the legs and advanced pointework. Through the 1930s and 40s the tutu style we are most familiar with today emerged. The fitted and boned bodice was accentuated by the pancake style skirt that flared out at the hips and was reinforced with a metal hoop to give it the iconic shape we associate with ballet.

A group of three ballerinas dancing en pointe in a circle, in red ruby, green emerald and white diamond costumes.

Principal Artists Amy Harris, Dimity Azoury and Benedicte Bemet wearing Karinska's Jewels costumes
Photo Simon Eeles


One of the most influential designers of the modern tutu was Karinska. The Oscar Award-winning designer worked closely with choreographer George Balanchine and assisted in his vision to allow the dancers more freedom of movement. Karinska began adapting the tutu in the 1930s, cutting the bodice on the bias and using flexible fabrics to create a tight-fitting costume without compromising on the dancer's movement. Karinska’s tutu skirts were smaller, shorter and lighter than the traditional pancake style tutu and used only seven layers of netting without the rigid hoop.

As the choreography became more demanding, the dancers advanced technique and athletic ability could be highlighted with these lighter costumes, nicknamed the “powder-puff tutu”.

“She often would combine different colours of tulle, mixing them like paint, the illusion onstage would be one colour with a lot of nuance.” — Cos­tume design­er Hol­ly Hynes on Karinska’s tutu designs
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Principal Artist Benedict Bemet, Swan Lake (Woolliams) 2023
Photo Daniel Boud


There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to a tutu. Mara Blumenfeld, who designed the costumes for the 2023 season of Anne Woolliams’ Swan Lake says, “They look very elegant and simple, but there’s so much that goes into making them be the thing that they are.” What appears to be a simple black tutu onstage is 100s of hours of work, layers of alternating tulle including sequins and sparkling gold fabric, that creates a dynamic, living piece of art.

Karinska used this technique when creating her tutus, mixing different colours of tulle to create a dazzling effect when worn on stage.

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The Australian Ballet costume department fits a tutu to an artist
Photo Lynette Wills


In 2023, The Australian Ballet had 2,540 costume fittings to ensure our artists are comfortable when they perform. One of the most important elements in creating a tutu is ensuring they are made to perfectly fit the dancer. Anything that might rub or scratch the dancer is checked and removed and fittings take place right up to the very end of the construction. If there is a lot of athletic movements, jumping or floor work, this must be carefully considered when fitting the costume, as nobody wants an onstage wardrobe malfunction! Fortunately, The Australian Ballet has expert costumiers with a wealth of experience to create beautiful and functional costumes that delight and amaze audiences every time.

Tutu Tidbits

  • The word ‘tutu’ comes from the French ‘cucu’ and means ‘bottom’.
  • A professional state tutu can cost up to anywhere between $5000 to $10,000 to construct.
  • An elaborate tutu can take up to 120 hours to construct.
  • Classical tutus consist of many layers of tulle, netting or Lycra which can add up to over 25 meters of fabric.
  • Tutus are made to be worn 1000s of times and to last for anywhere between 20-30 years.

How to make a tutu

Step by luscious step, we take you through the remarkable art of tutu construction, from first cut to final glory.


To learn more about the costume and wardrobe team

Costume Atelier