Tutus to Ballet—The art of making tutus


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Sharon Hicks, KP News

The art of making tutus for the Evergreen City Ballet organization is a very precise and tedious side job for Lynn Hallowell of Longbranch, but, she says, it is personally rewarding.  Her main job is teaching math at Pierce College in Puyallup. The number of days and hours she dedicates to the costumes depends on the production.

Lynn Hallowell of Longbranch is a tutu builder for Evergreen City Ballet. Much of the intricate work is done by hand, and the tutus can take many hours to assemble. Photo by Mindi Larose

Lynn received her degree in fiber arts at the University of Washington where she met a lady from the Pacific Northwest Ballet. She piqued her interest in sewing costumes. For three years she did hand sewing on romantic skirts for productions such as Cinderella and Giselle.

For the past seven years Hallowell has been sewing tutus for major productions with the Evergreen City Ballet. Much of the work is done by hand but occasionally a machine is used. Once the cutting is finished she works with two others in hand sewing the panties from a girdle fabric then attaching crinoline and tulle or a combination of both. A skirt can consist of up to 10 layers of fabric with as many as four additional rows of a crinoline and tulle per layer, depending on the shape and stiffness desired for the part being danced.

A classical tutu with a thin, stiff skirt uses more crinoline, she said, whereas a belle tutu would have more tulle for softness with only three to five layers of crinoline. The effect or intensity of a color is achieved by layering different colors together.  Lynn and her two assistants do the dying, using a warm water acid dye.

A 10-piece bodice and skirt will take 25 hours to assemble, and sometimes up to 100 hours or more. Seven years ago Hallowell spent six weeks on the 90 costumes for “Swan Lake.” This required the three to work many hours into the night.

The average age of the ballet dancer is 14 to 20 and the bodices are adjustable for size. Hallowell’s daughter Lysne says “looks don’t matter, even if your feet or knees aren’t the perfect quality, you can still be a beautiful dancer.” Lysne performed while in her teens and now helps backstage with her mother who is the stage manager during production and producer as well.

Tulle and crinoline, along with many hours of hand sewing produce beautiful results for the tutus Lynn Hallowell and her team creates for Evergreen City Ballet productions. Photo by Mindi Larose

A favorite production was Sleeping Beauty, three to four years ago but topping that was Cinderella, which she is happy to be doing again in April. The Evergreen City Ballet does three to four productions a year in Renton at the IKEA Performing Arts Center and will do one performance of “The Nutcracker” this year in Auburn and three in Renton. Hallowell says the performances with ECB are “family friendly with audience participation in that the dancers will, at times, dance through the audience.” The snow scene is felt to be the most spectacular.

This year Hallowell will be making two new costumes for “The Nutcracker” as they introduce a doll for the party scene and a dewdrop for the sugarplum in the final scene.

Hallowell has been sewing all her life, but that is not the only exciting work she has done. From 1978 to 1984 she worked with glass under the direction of Dale Chihully. When she got married Chihully attended and filled the courtyard at Pilchuck with glass pieces and blew a memento for each guest.

For information on upcoming ballets at Evergreen City Ballet, call (425) 228-6899 or visit the website at www.evergreencityballet.org