There are many elements that help ballerinas transform into majestic princesses, delicate swans and international beauties. The dancer spends countless hours perfecting the technical and artistic details to fully embody each character. Much like the dancer, the costume and set designers spend hundreds of painstaking hours poring over each detail to capture the spirit of the characters and create the ambiance of the Ballet.
On average, it requires very skilled hands, 100+ hours of labor and depending on the crystals, applique and materials used, upwards of a thousand dollars to make a single tutu.
Designer/seamstress Kristi Medlin constructed the costume for the role of the fiery Kitri for the Ballet Don Quixote. Here are her thoughts on the process:
“For a bit of inspiration we looked to the lush and vibrant costumes of American Ballet Theater's production of Don Quixote. The role of Kitri was originally played by American Ballet icon Gelsey Kirkland who danced opposite of legendary Mikhail Baryshnikov for the company premier in 1978. The costumes for this production were designed by award winning Santo Loquasto. (Pictured above, ABT principal dancer Polina Semionova as Kitri.)”
There were several reasons why we pulled from this design for inspiration. The dancer, Madison Russo approached costume designer Kristi Medlin with several requests. It was important that the color be an orange or peach hue, the dancer wanted the more unique look as opposed to the typically red costume. The dancer also expressed interest in having the back of the costume dip down slightly to show off the back, she also requested a sweetheart shaped bodice to complete the look.”
After several discussions, measurements were taken and Kristi Medlin traveled back to her in-home shop to bring the role of Kitri come to life!
Bodice Photos 1 & 2
"I start with a basic pattern so I don't have to labor over beginning from scratch. After I have the proper pattern I cut it out in coutile to make a mockup for sizing. Coutile is a very dense material that is ideal for using on the back of decorative fabric to hold the shape. It is also 100% cotton to absorb the moisture from the dancer."
"I pinned the mockup to the dress form with the dancer's measurements. Then I used a pencil for the top line of the bodice. The dancer wanted a low back. The front will have an under bodice to cover the center of the sweetheart shape. The bottom edge will be determined when I have the skirt prepared to see exactly how they lay."
Bodice Photos 3 & 4
"I then use my mockup to cut the decorative fabric and serge the fabric together."
Bodice Photo 5
"I stitch all of the pieces together and make adjustments to be sure that the bodice has a snug fit on the form. A bodice is like a second skin but you do not want it so tight that it will affect the dancing! Because I am designing a costume that will be worn by other dancers, I will need to take into consideration different proportions of dancers that may be wearing this costume in the future. To help with fitting different sizes, I leave a bit of fabric near the back enclosure so that additional hooks an eyes may be added."
Bodice Photos 6, 7 & 8
"I adjusted the neckline again and now get to do a bit of fun decorating! Anything goes...just remember, usually less is more. It is important that the costume does not overpower the dancer, the costume should add to the performance, not distract from the performance."
Bodice Photo 9
"I used 1/4" silk ribbon and gathered a 3 & 1/4" section on the edge. I added a small decorative bead and a bit of green ribbon and presto! I now have delicate silk flowers to adorn the top of the bodice."
Bodice Photos 10 & 11
"I add boning casing to the seams of the front of the bodice. I usually add 5 to 6 casing per bodice. For this design, I did not need to add boning to the back because it dipped lower and due to all of the dancing that calls for an arched back."
Bodice Photo 12
"I add hooks on the back of the bodice and sew by machine to make the process faster!"
Bodice Photo 13
"This picture shows the finished edge and the inside of the bodice. After all the machine work is completed I sew the inside edges down so that the bodice lays flat."
Bodice Photos 14, 15 & 16
"I hand sewed beads down the center of the bodice and the flowers to the top to complete the look."
Bodice Photo 17
"I added elastic to the bodice but do not sew the back of the elastic down until the dancer has a fitting and the fit is comfortable while dancing."
Bodice Photo 18
"I hand sewed buttons to the bodice for the buttonhole elastic that will be attached to the skit to help hold the bodice and skirt together."
Skirt Photo 1
"I used my math skills to make the pattern for 4 tiers of flounces for the skit. I hope they still work!"
Skirt Photos 2 & 3
"I cut out all of the circles, surged the material together to make a full circle and then surged the edges where the material was cut. I don't do any hemming on this tutu as I want it to be as light as possible."
Skirt Photos 4 & 5
Here is a close up on the surger. The surger is a bit different than a normal sewing machine.
Skirt Photos 6, 7 & 8
"After I surge the edges and the material together to make complete circles I am ready to sew the 4 tiers to the bottom trim. These layers will be the top flounces of the skirt."
Skirt Photos 9, 10, 11 & 12
"I stitched the four skirt quarters together with a single layer of netting for strength. I put the netting on the outside so that it is not rough on the dancer's skin. This also helps with preserving the delicate tights that the dancer may wear. The complete circle will be attached to the basque. Each seam is stitched down on the skirt for stability. From there, I measure for length and stitch three rows for flounce placement."
"The forth flounce will be at the basque level. Starting at the bottom stitching placement, I pined the first flounce row."
Skirt Photo 13
"I cut on the bias tons and tons of 1 and 1/2" strips of organza. I will gather this material and use it for the trim of the four tiered skirt."
Skirt Photos 14 & 15
"I placed the strips of organza through a ruffler. This is a sewing machine attachment that has been around for over 75 years! "
Skirt Photos 16 & 17
Here are photos of the completed ruffles attached to the material that will make the top tiers of the skirt.
Skirt Photos 18 & 19
"Time to make the basque. The basque is located at the top of the skirt and lies against the dancer's waist and hips. I make one layer of decorative fabric and one layer of coutile for stability. I also add a top layer with 1" elastic. The bottom edges gets a bias binding and that is how the skit is attached!"
Skirt Photos 20 & 21
"I added the hooks by machine prior to adding the basque to the skirt because it is much easier to work with.
I sewed the buttonhole elastic the top elastic band of the basque. The buttonhole elastic will attached to the buttons sewn on the bodice to keep the costume held tightly in the proper place on the dancer."
Skirt Photos 22, 23 & 24
"I made a pantie like I would for a classical tutu that will be attached to the skirt to keep it in place. No need for pantie ruffles on this one due to it being a longer skirt rather than a classical or bell shaped tutu. I dyed the skirt the first time and the color was way off! I then added a bit more red to the dye and the color turned out perfectly. After the pantie dried I attached it to the skirt after I attached the last flounce row."
The process of the skirt