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Caring For Your Tutu

Dancer/Model: Laura Gilbreath, Pacific Northwest Ballet. © Angela Sterling, Photographer

Dancer/Model:

Your professional ballet tutu is a major investment. Properly caring for that investment will help ensure many years of enjoyment and use! Here are the answers to your most commonly asked tutu care questions...

How do I clean my tutu?

Whether/how you can wash a tutu is dependent upon many variables and whether or not you can detach the bodice from the skirt.  Here are some points to consider:

The fabrics that are used (and their color)

Ask yourself, what fabrics are used?  Are they washable?  How much will each fabric shrink?  What will happen to the color?  Will laundering change how my fabric looks and feels?  This includes the top, lining, panty and ruffle/skirt fabric (all are most likely different).  Can I detach the bodice from the skirt?

If all fabrics are washable, have been pre-shrunk, are color-fast and the changes to the fabric look and feel are not a concern, then laundering would be a great and cost-effective choice.  If care instructions differ between the bodice and the skirt of the tutu, hopefully the bodice can be easily detached.

Uneven shrinkage would be a very common concern for underlined bodices and basques.  The ideal fabric for lining is 100% cotton (the “gold standard” for comfort & durability).  Cotton shrinks.  If cotton is paired with a fabric with little or no shrinkage, for example, polyester satin, laundering the completed bodice may result in the cotton shrinking more than the satin.  The result would be a very puckered or “rumpled” looking bodice.  Consider a cold water wash with line dry or dry clean.

Another fabric consideration is color. Will the color fade or bleed with washing?  If you are washing a cherry red bodice that is attached to a white skirt you may be in trouble.  A tip I have heard (but not tried) for maintaining color is to wash with shampoo for colored hair.  Dry cleaning solvents do not penetrate fabric fibers and colors do not tend to fade, so dry cleaning may be a wiser choice (but see below for precautions).

Some fabrics will change with laundering.  For example, washable brocade will loose its sheen and become more “drapey.”  Those changes may be a good thing or may be undesirable.

Generally, if laundering, hand washing and line drying would be the least harsh method.  I have thrown my fully boned bodices into the washer (on delicate) and they come our fine—but I know what they are made of, that I have pre-washed them, and how they are constructed.

I have also had great luck with romantic skirts in the washer—again, on the “delicate” cycle and in a mesh laundry bag.

Style of tutu (classical vs. romantic)

Generally speaking, you want to maintain a classical tutu's “pancake” or “powderpuff” shape and keep it relatively flat for cleaning.  Some options:  Hand wash in a kiddy pool (it is the right shape!) or a bathtub.

Construction of the tutu (boning, hooping, tacking)

If a classical tutu is hooped, the hooping must be removed before washing if it is metal.  It WILL rust.  If the tutu is tacked, either remove the tacking or launder/dry-clean flat. 

Embellishment (materials and how they are attached)

You must know both what your embellishment consists of as well as how it/they are attached.  If beading is sewn on with one continuous thread, and if the thread breaks, there go all of the beads!  If crystals are glued on, the glue may soften.  I have found that washing well-attached sequins, beads and rhinestones brings back their wonderful sparkle.

Should I consider dry-cleaning my tutu?

For some tutu bodices and basques, dry-cleaning would be the recommended method, but recommendations are dependent upon the materials used and how embellishment is attached. 

Dry cleaning can cause the net and tulle in both classical and romantic tutus to become soft.  Depending upon the tutu, this may or may not be a problem.  Most tutus are made with 100% nylon net or tulle which is very washable and does not bleed or fade.

Sequins may melt with exposure to dry-cleaning solvents—or the thin coating of color on some beads and sequins may come off.  If anything is glued onto the costume, the glue may soften.

How should my care/storage differ for a romantic tutu versus a traditional tutu?

It is advisable to store a classical tutu either flat or hanging upside down.  A romantic tutu can be hung upside down or as you would any garment.  For any costume that is hung, it is best to use hang loops to protect the tutu from hanger or clip marks.

To protect your tutu from dust, a breathable storage container is your best bet.  Look for a garment or tutu storage bag made of a breathable fabric like cotton canvas or cover with a cotton sheet.  I store my classical tutus in a bass drum case that has no lining.  It is sturdy and not air-tight.  Check your local music store.  And last but not least, never store your costume when it is damp!

Other tips:

  1. Contact your tutu-maker or retailer if there are no care tags in your tutu.  It is essential to know what your fabrics, trims and hardware (hoops, bones, hook & eyes) are made of in order to determine the best approach to cleaning.
  2. If you don’t have access to a steamer, putting a tulle skirt into a dryer on very low or no heat with a damp towel for just a short time and hanging can remove those pesky wrinkles.
  3. It is a good idea to inspect your tutu before every performance.  Pay close attention to common “trouble spots” like straps and hook and eyes.  These areas are subject to much stress and are all that holds your costume in its place.  We have all heard the stories!
  4. Have needle and thread, safety pins (be careful!), hook and eyes, and elastic (strap and leg) as your costume warrants.  My favorite emergency tool is a tagging gun.  A tagging gun is what retailers use to attach tags to items—those very thin plastic tabs.  They are great for light-duty emergency repairs like trim coming loose or quick tacking a classical tutu.  Use as a safer version of a safety pin.  Remember, emergency repairs are just that.  If you have time to repair, do it the right way, the first time.
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