Tutu making class brings complex art to campus

Spring semester offers a class dedicated to classical and romantic tutu making. (courtesy of Donna Dickens)

Julie Tran

Beginning in the spring 2011 semester, Saddleback College will add a class dedicated to the creation of classical and romantic style tutus. The course will be part of the fashion program, led by instructor Donna Dickens.

The class will be a first for the campus since the course wasn’t taught in the south Orange County community colleges. According to Dickens, San Diego State University used to have a tutu-making program for the theater department, but that was last taught 12 years ago.

“The tutu-making class is a great way for students to create and design as well as helping them get their foot into the fashion or theater business,” said Dickens.

Dickens’ been creating tutus for the past 30 years, originally started out making costumes for her children. She attended Orange Coast College’s fashion program and tranferred to Cal State Long Beach’s theater program, receiving a degree in costume design.

The origins of the classical and romantic tutu were derived from the 1800s when ballet was introduced in Paris and Russia from Italy. The classical tutu was originally ankle length while the romantic tutu was the shorter and flatter-looking piece.

As time passed, the names for the tutus reversed, so today, the romantic tutu is the ankle length version while the classical is the tutu that looks similar to an inverted plate.

The process of creating tutus is an extremely laborious and long one with an average of 40 hours going into a basic tutu. Additional hours may be added into the creation of a tutu depending on what fabric is used, how many layers are featured, as well as any embellishments.

Some of the materials used in creating a tutu can range from polyester, knits, silks, or tulle. Steel boning and wire hoops are also used to create the structure necessary in the tutu and they serve as an integral part of a tutu’s appearance.

Dickens creates tutus for dance productions as well as private individuals who want to commission her work. Due to the lengthy task of creating one, many of them carry a high price tag.

“A basic tutu will cost about $1200 and it will go higher depending on what fabric, trims, and decorations are used,” Dickens said.

Among her works, Dickens uses her very own skill to create not only tutus, but also the various accessories and headpieces for ballet dancers. For tiaras, Dickens handcrafts wire and Swarovski crystals to create intricate designs. As for some of her arm pieces or bodices, Dickens stitches tiny beads, crystals, or fancy embroidery thread to create a look fitting for the person’s specifications.