Tutu Refurb

Wow – long time no post. Here is a post with lots of pics by way of making amends.

Tutus take a lot of sewing, and that makes them time-consuming to make, and that makes them expensive.

So if you can pick one up secondhand which has a decently constructed skirt then it might be a cheaper way to get a lovely costume to dance in even if you have to adjust it a little – or, as in this case, almost completely rebuild it!

Take one tutu that is a bit short in the bodice length but which fits around the hips. Actually, I didn’t make it but this tutu and I have a bit of a history.

At first it was just a tiny bit short in the body for the lovely tall dancer (age 12). The first alterations I did were to open up the crotch seam and add a gusset of around 2” which allowed the skirt to sit at the high hip. I also added the white lace at the top of the bodice to preserve the dancer’s modesty and make her feel a bit more secure. The professional ballerinas might not bat an eyelid at an inadvertent La Toyah moment but it is a different matter when you’re 12.

That worked for a while but I swear this dancer stands in compost and it wasn’t long before she’d grown again. By this time, although the tutu still fitted around the hips and body, the gusset needed to be lengthened again, the skirt length itself looked a little short and out of balance with the dancer’s height and the frill on the bodice just wasn’t going to cover much anymore.

I wasn’t going to be able to match that purple, although it suited the dancer’s colouring very well, and I needed to create a completely new bodice so we decided on a more dramatic black and white theme.

In some ways the tutu was a little dated in its decoration with the nylon lace and all of those sequins, and to be completely honest it looked vaguely tacky up close and not to my taste really.  But this tutu taught me a lot.

The skirt was only very lightly hooped and had been knocking around backstage so was a bit grubby too – but on the dancer the skirt held its shape beautifully, it had been very well put together indeed.

And the sequins and lace? Sitting in the audience watching the dancer do her beautiful dancing on stage, some kind of costume magic happened and it looked really enchanting, very sparkly and definitely not tacky.

First the deconstruction.

The tutu had been made with no separate basque or knickers, more like a leotard shape (but not in stretch fabric) with the net layers sewn straight on.

So to create a pseudo-basque to build on I first cut off the top of the bodice, this looks quite drastic.

I like to think of it as a bodice-ectomy.

Then I removed as much of the top fabric layer as I could (but I left the sequins on because I couldn’t pick them off without damaging the net – and I like the idea that they’re still hiding somewhere in there).


The next step was performed with my heart in my mouth. It really was quite grubby. I decided that I would give it a gentle swish around in the bath with some warm water and a little Fairy Snow. I was prepared the remake the skirt if the worst happened, but happily I didn’t have to – the dirt floated out, the skirt remained intact, and it dried beautifully white on my line in the sunshine.

Skirt Adjustments

The 2” gusset I’d added previously was swapped for a 5” one, and a petersham waistband was added to the top of the pseudo-basque, along with two layers of stiff net to give some much needed extra length to the skirt. I now had a respectable base for building the rest of the tutu.

Outer basque, plate and bodice construction

The new theme was to be black and white mostly because  I’d found some white voile with a black flock design on it in a remnant bin at Abakhan.

At this point I usually get excited about completing the tutu and this was no exception – I got so carried away that I didn’t take any more photos until it was finished.

I cut a plate in white net, and then appliquéd selected motifs cut from the printed voile onto the plate. The plate was tacked to the top of the skirt.

Next came a decorative outer basque with a piped bottom edge, all in a heavy black satin. This was sewn by hand to the skirt, the stitches being buried between the piping and the bottom of the basque, and the piped edge neatly covering where the inner edge of the plate and the new layers of net met the pseudo-basque.

Finally, a completely new bodice in black satin. The trim is white braid which has some diamante stones in it, and it is relatively simple since the plate is quite patterned. The dancer is very slim and still young so I didn’t want to overwhelm her with decoration on the bodice as well as the skirt, although there is plenty of scope to add more to the bodice if it is needed in future.

A few crystals were applied to give the motifs on the plate to give the skirt some sparkle, and the skirt tacked together again.

I got a huge amount of pleasure from giving this tutu a new lease of life in a very cost effective way, and making it suit the dancer’s style but I think a lot of credit should go to the original maker of the tutu for doing such a good job of the skirt in the first placel.


Neptune Jacket from Sew Hip #10

Sew HIP! sent me the fabric for this jacket – I thought it was going to be a jelly roll of “Nest” by Tula Pink but it turned out to be some fat quarters of Tula Pink’s “Neptune” instead. It did mean a little rejigging of the design but it was the details rather than the main shape so nothing too drastic. One thing that didn’t need to change was the quilting.  I loved doing the quilting on this jacket so much – I like straight lines and neatness, really I do – but what really gets me going is a bit of asymmetry, or when things aren’t too perfect, so these quilting lines are wavy and curving and definitely not regular. You don’t need to mark them on the fabric and you don’t need to measure or use any funny gadgets on your machine. Just take a deep breath and flow along. I’d planned on it looking a little like tree bark when I thought it was “Nest”, but it worked just as well with nautical “Neptune” – think ripples left in the sand at low tide.

I really loved this fabric too – lovely quality. It was with a very heavy heart that I sent this jacket back off to Sew HIP! 

My friend, who so kindly agreed to model it for me liked it too – a lot (it is completely her colours). I think she looks fab in it, but don’t be decieved gentle reader, she may look sweet and lovely but shortly after this pic I had to pin her to the ground so I could wrestle the jacket from her. She is stronger than she looks I tell you!

One thing that did change was the neck detail. I’d planned to do something arty farty with the longs strips of “Nest” jelly roll, covering some cord with them and intertwining them like a, well, like a nest. Probably just as well I didn’t get that fabric. But I did feel I ought to provide something by way of neck adornment…..more about that in another post. For now just look at that gorgeous whippet, isn’t she a lovely one?

“Flights of Fancy” featured in Sew Hip #9

Two sets of butterflies and some smoking hot flames

Yikes! It’s been a while. Ok to celebrate the end of my winter’s hibernation I will do a few little catch up posts.
I think I may have gone a bit off-piste with this project (but I did have fun!).  I was walking around Leeds one day and I say a pair of gilded Adidas trainers by Jeremy Scott) in cage in a shop window, just like birds. I thought they looked so much fun, like wearing a fantasy on your feet. My family may have spoken to me during the rest of that day, I really couldn’t say*, I couldn’t wait to get home and start drawing and planning and designing and such.

The starting point was my childhood dream – I had long wished I could fly, but Mr Scott had already done birds….so how else could I soar … “What do I want to be today?” – a dragon, a butterfly, a bat? Fire, Hokusai’s Great Wave? OK I know those last two don’t strictly involve wings, but I was on a roll – and besides, catching a wave is the nearest thing to flying I can physically imagine.

So then the practicalities, what should it be made from? Well, something that doesn’t fray would seem appropriate, so felt, in layers to give it some body, was chosen.

How big? A quick examination of the lace up trainers in our house showed that the hole spacings were all very different. But I have a soft spot for Converse High Tops, and Sew Hip had asked for the project to be sized for children, so I popped into our local shoe shop where a very patient lady and her team have fitted shoes on my children since they each began to walk. The kind soul must’ve thought me completely batty, but did allow me access to her rather extensive stock of Converse for children so I could measure the lacing spacing. (Thank you so much Yarna at “Soley Kids” in S-O-T).

Then we came back, and I cut and stitched to my heart’s content, and generally had more fun with felt than I ever knew  could  be possible (I know, I’m easily pleased).  And don’t forget the sequins and beads and such – auditioning the trimmings is a very important part.

It was nice to see how they looked laced into the shoes back at the shop though!

These are quite easy to make and if you hated sewing then you could just glue the the layers together and use fabric pens for adding the details to make them even easier (update 29/4/10 – Threadbanger has a great project showing how to do this exact thing- go Threadbanger!).  So really, there is no excuse not to make a pair of your own, you know you want to – go for it – PIMP YOUR CONVERSE!!

* don’t worry gentle reader, they tend to squeak a lot if I don’t feed and water them regularly so I’m pretty sure they didn’t suffer – poor little felt orphans!

“So Small Necklace” from Sew Hip Magazine Issue 10

Sew Small necklaces - blues and greensI love the textile necklace designed by Anna Hodgson, I really like that it isn’t symmetrical and I admire the restrained use of just the one colour of green linen against the dark blue of the felt. The textures look lovely together and the outline stitching in fushia pink is genius. I was itching to have an excuse to make one and I got it when I finally got around to replacing the zip in my lovely friend’s dress. I don’t usually do repairs, I will normally explain to people who ask that I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than do repairs, but I dare not say that to this particular friend …..who practices as a fully qualified *acupuncturist!!! Anyhow, what with one thing and another it took me a L…..O…..N….G time to do this simple task, so long I’m embarrassed to admit to it and definitely long enough to warrant a heartfelt apology…..and a nice necklace to help to say sorry.

However, unlike the esteemed Ms Hodgson, when it comes to fabric I have absolutely no restraint whatsoever – I spent a happy 15 minutes sorting through my extensive scrap basket to find some suitable snippets for the leaves and matching them up to the felt I had in. Each leaf is very small so you can use up some of the ridiculously tiny bits that have been saved just because.

I felt sort of destined to make this necklace – I had everything already in my stash to make it. Felt, Bondaweb and eyelets – left over from the “Flights of Fancy” project in issue 9, leather thong left over from a beading project, and buttons from the Scottish Highland biscuit tin full of buttons which I inherited from Great Aunt Freda’s stash. Aunty Betty and Aunty Freda were Mr Topstitched’s great aunts.

Originally from the North East where they worked in mills in the ‘30s, they moved to Yorkshire to “better themselves”, becoming respectively a nursery nurse and the manager of a cake shop. I could never get them to talk much about the mills, but they retained a great knowledge and love of textiles and made a lot of their own clothes, although this dwindled off as they got older and engaged in a love/hate relationship with the tension on their newfangled electric Bernina. I feel it a privilege to be the current custodian of the button tin with all of its buttony loveliness. There are all kinds of treasures in there, and it was my son’s second favourite way of learning to count (the first being learning subtraction using Smarties).

It didn’t take long to make, although I confess I couldn’t actually locate the Bondaweb, so I made do with the ordinary fusible interfacing I COULD find and a Pritt stick instead.

The next important question was what colour to do the all important topstitching? I have print fabrics in various shades of blue and the felt in lime green, the dress is navy corduroy. So, obviously I chose orange! Well, perhaps not so obvious. Long experience with sewing morsbags from recycled fabrics and donated and leftover threads has led to the growing realisation that thread in lime green or orange will make a pleasing contrast with most colours. The felt was already green, and I didn’t want it too matchy matchy so orange it was.

Almost didn’t want to hand it over, but in the end, both necklace and apology were well received.

It was such a satisfying project that of course I couldn’t stop at just one! So it being another friend’s birthday was all the excuse I needed to have another go. More rifling through the scrap basket, fusing, arranging and choosing of buttons produced a purple version.

Sew Small necklace - jewel colours

For this one I used two layers of felt. A darker one to act as a foil for the jewel like colours of the cotton prints, and then a brighter felt behind it emphasises the colours still further. The second layer of felt also helps to give a bit of body to the piece. The felt I was using was quite thin synthetic stuff, the blue felt Anna used looks like it was a thicker natural felt.  I never normally need an excuse for adding more fabric and colour, but the extra layer of the synthetic felt I used did help it to stop feeling a little bit floppy.

I thought it best to cease and desist at that point, although I would gladly have continued to make more of these until I completely ran out of felt….mind you, it is Christmas coming up…….

*NB I don’t want to do a disservice to my friend, she most definitely does not EVER stick pins in eyes, she is very professional and effective and MOST careful and particular about her needles.

Summertime Blues Jacket featured in Sew Hip #8

This is the original sketch I did for my latest published Sew Hip project.

The final version shows some slight variations in terms of fabric choice, and also how the patchwork was done, but it is still quite close.

The fabric is a jelly roll once again – can you detect a theme yet? – this time in glorious sea blues and greens, topstitched with orange.

It is a little extra work to use a jelly roll like this as you have to “create” the fabric first. This does have advantages though – it gives loads of scope for making your own version entierly unique, and also for recycling fabric or using up small bits that aren’t enough to make a garment with on their own. It made me appreciate that while I’m a big fan of recycling for lots of reasons, it isn’t always a low cost option in terms of time. I guess this will be a factor in why sometimes recycled goods can seem expensive, and why as a rule it is more sustainable to choose to reduce and reuse if possible before considering recycling.

Ok so here it is, still in batik but in a different colourway for my son.

The hood here isn’t pieced because I didn’t have enough of the right colour strips in my jelly roll, but it used up a little of my gingham stash and saved a little piecing time too.  

The lining is a stretch terry towelling. The ribbing started its life as a tshirt of mine. It does mean that there are seams in the sides of the ribbing, but  I was having trouble locating the right colour and that tshirt had seen better days. It is a much happier being an ex-tshirt.

PS many sandcastles were made this day on the beach

Wrap Road Test

Mobius Wrap on the beach

Mobius Wrap on Porthmeor Beach, St Ives

Well, more of a beach test I guess. Half term break saw a bunch of us camping in St Ives, Cornwall.  I don’t know how this happens but I’m generally last in the queue when it comes to sewing but I just managed to finish a Möbius wrap for myself before we left. In fact this is a lie, I finished the sewing bit before we left, but the fringe bit was clipped in Cornwall once we’d pitched the tent.

Mine is a bit longer than the pattern calls for – mostly because I just got carried away when I was cutting out the strips. I had to  cut them because I’d bought thin 1/4 yard pieces – a direct result of falling in love with a fabric collection that isn’t available as a jelly roll format. (The fabric is the Al Fresco collection by Michelle D’Amour, I bought it from  Patchwork Corner ).

I think I might remove some of the strips as it is a little too long for my preference, but it still came in very handy on the beach:-

  • for covering up bits that were in danger of burning
  • for protecting against the brisk ocean breeze that popped up every now and again
  • for covering my modesty when trying to get changed from my swimsuit into my dry clothes (used in conjuction with a towel!)
  • for protecting my Cornish pasty from the voracious herring gulls

And at the campsite:-

  • for warming my shoulders as the sun went down while sharing a glass of wine or two with friends
  • for those midnight trips to the shower block
  • for holding a ball of wool in while knitting (it sits in the folded bit in the front very nicely) – you don’t want sand and bits of grass in your lovely new ball of yarn

I’m a frustratingly slow knitter but something about Cornwall always inspires me to buy wool. It is a peculiar weakness of mine when in St Ives.  It does mean I get to spend quality time in nice craft and knitting shops though, meeting some very lovely people (hello Norma and Heidi  at Kuiama Crafts in Fore St, St Ives and to Kay Bartlett and her bears in the House of Bartlett gallery just on St Ives harbour ). 

frescoknittingThis time it was a very tempting little “Sock It To ‘Em” Starter kit containing everything you need make a pair of socks, including a ball of clever Opal 4 ply varigated yarn that makes patterns all on it’s own. I’ve not knitted socks before so I don’t know what possessed me really; I have started, honest, but I can’t promise to actually finish the socks any time before Christmas. Even though I’m a sock rookie I’m enjoying it, but a though occurs – any ideas how to get the patterns on the socks the same?  or shall I go “dangerous” and have intentionally odd looking ones?  

A batch of wraps has been popping up on the Sew Hip Flickr pool, I can’t tell you how much I love seeing what others have done with the design, and seeing the different ways of wearing it.

Almost makes up for being back behind the keyboard and not on the beach!

Adrienne’s Mobius Wrap


A friend of mine who has shared many sewing adventures and quilting epics over the years has made the Mobius wrap up in some beautiful batik fabrics.

The fabrics were from Hoffman’s  version of a Jelly Roll which they call a “Bali Pop”, this one is their “Mulberry” colourway. Adrienne opted for the ragged edge version, and I think she’s made a very fine job of it.

This is the first wrap I’ve seen completed by someone other than me, so it’s a bit special for me.

We don’t live very close so I don’t see her very often but Adrienne is a source of encouragement and inspiration to me. Just last weekend she completed the Playtex Moon Walk, not just a  stroll round a park, this was a 26 mile marathon walk and quite a challenge. Amazing. If Adrienne were here with me I’d give her a big hug, but the way she’s wearing the wrap it looks a bit like being hugged – it isn’t quite as good but it will have to do. 

Well done, and hope your feet recover soon. (At least sewing is a sitting down job!)