Thursday, 12 June 2014

Ballet sewing and butterfly wings

Both the girls are going to be taking part in a ballet show in a couple of weeks and I've been doing some costume sewing.  The ballet school we go to has been running for a long, long time and they put on shows very regularly which means they have a huge back catalogue of costumes, so ballet sewing is never too onerous. It's usually a matter of altering something rather than creating it from scratch. This time around it was just costumes for Venetia's group that needed a bit of work. They're all mermaids, and the 'tails' were already fine, but the ballet teacher wanted floaty fabric draping around the leotards. We were able to remove floaty skirts from other previous costumes and just needed to slip stitch it on to the leotards. Here's Venetia enjoying her finished mermaid outfit.



I'm not mad on the end result, I think the floaty skirt bit is a little too long so you don't see enough of the tail, but it's what I was instructed to do, and hopefully it will look effective when they're all dancing.

But the point of this post is more that one of the perks of ballet sewing is I sometimes get to pinch ideas from costumes/accessories. A couple of years ago I used some butterfly/fairy wings from ballet as a starting point to create lots of wings for a Fairy Party. It was pre-blog so I don't have any photos but I needed a present for a little girl in the very near future and decided to make some wings for her today.

What follows is possibly slightly more of a lesson in how not to make them! I thought I remembered nice and clearly how to go about it and leapt straight in without giving it a lot of thought. But, unfortunately, my brain really wasn't up to leaping straight in!

1) I started out OK. I cut out 2 wing shapes:

2) Then I sewed some pretty, silver ric rac all around the edges. When I made them before, I used wide ribbon or lace for this part, and I think maybe that worked better, but I didn't have enough of anything suitable along those lines today.

3) Next I cut out 2 roundish oval shapes from an old, pink wool blanket.

You can tell from my photos, I don't much like ironing!

4) Pinned the wings in between these 2 oval layers and sewed around the oval several times.


I even decided to be fancy and put some wiggly 'quilting lines' on too:

Then I realised I'd completely forgotten about the elastic bits - which is how the wings are worn.

So really you should do this next bit before step 4! Get 2 pieces of elastic (I've used thin, round, pink elastic) and position them on another piece of fabric in the same oval shape. These are going to go over your fairy's shoulders to hold on the wings, so try them out for size and position before sewing - you might be surprised how small they'll need to be. If you're using quite thick wool for your outer ovals then you might want this oval piece to be something a little lighter. On the other hand if you're using quite thin felt then try and have a middle piece that gives it a bit extra sturdiness. And cut this oval very slightly smaller than the other 2 so that when it's sandwiched in the middle it doesn't show.

When you have the right size and position, stitch down your elastic to this third oval shape. It needs to be good and secure, I used a tight zigzag and went across it several times and along it too.

Once it's done you can go back to step 4, but put this oval in the middle of the other 2 as well as your wings. Be careful not to catch your wings or the elastic, which should be sticking out, as you sew around. And I would sew around a good few times, making sure you catch all the layers.

Because I'd done this out of order, my elasticy oval had to go on the inside rather than the middle, and I was left with my stitching for the elastic showing on the inside of the wings. Not a disaster, but easy to avoid.

My other slight problem with timing of steps, was that they also need elastic on the topmost ends of the wings, these slip over the hands so that the wings 'flap' as arms 'flap'. If I'd done this very near the start, before step 2 of sewing on the ricrac (or lace/ribbon) then I could have covered up my stitching a little with this step too. As it is, here's how mine looked when I did it at the end:

Again, not a disaster.

You might be wondering what fabric I used - it's from an old, silk sari. You can buy them on ebay quite easily, there's a huge choice of colours/patterns, and you generally get a really good amount of fabric for your money. I've made a few things in the past with them, and I've actually got something nearly finished right now from sari fabric, so I'm sure there'll be more on them soon when it's done (and if you don't want to cut into them they're also great for dressing up, dens, imaginative play and general swishing around!) Other fabric ideas could be a fine, floaty net or really anything soft and floaty - but if it doesn't fray too much that's great, then you don't have to faff around folding under a hem all the way around your wings.

Maria kindly volunteered to wear the wings for a quick photo shoot. I'm afraid this was completely rubbish because she was flying around so fast the whole time I didn't manage to get any good, clear shots!

See what I mean?
 These 2 were probably the best of a poor bunch, to give you a bit more idea how they work.

And going back to the mermaid at the start of this post (seems a long time ago now!), that mermaid tail is going to be my next ballet costume hack. Maria loves mermaids (I may have mentioned this before!) and a tail sounds like a great handmade birthday present to me. I'm wondering whether a patchwork rainbow tail would work? (and whether I'll find time to make it!) Do you think mermaids come in rainbow varieties? I am drawn to the idea, but would it be a bit too much or perhaps not look mermaidy enough? Or would it be beautiful? And I do have a lovely torquoisey, silk sari that I'm sure would work well, and be much quicker and easier too. Difficult decision. I know if I actually asked Maria, she would immediately say 'Both'!

Back tomorrow with a photo,



  1. LOVE those wings, going to steal that idea as madam also loves fairy wings. Mines not old enough to do the yearly ballet show from her class - heaven help her teacher trying to keep her under control on a stage!
    I think you can totally have a rainbow mermaid tail, It'd look amazing! you cold do a reversible one? Blue green on one side, rainbow patchwork on the other. Sorry totally opening a can of worms on that one!

    Teepee post
    As you've got bigger kids as well as little I'd increase the poles used to the tall runnerbean stake types 10-12ft (or 'thrift' some from a local wood?!)
    Theres a great tutorial over at Twig and Toadstool for a sturdier semi permanent one that she wrote up a few days ago too.
    Although with alternating weather one that's easy to put up and down might be better!

  2. I just LOVE the wings, great job...
    As soon as I read rainbow tale, I thought of the children's book The Rainbow you know it? Look it up... scales based on that book would be so fun!

  3. Love all of the movement with tulle and wings!

  4. Oh, that turquoise sari would make a beautiful mermaid tail!!!! A rainbow one would be lovely too...I think any memaid would be happy to have a colorful, rainbow tail. :) You have such an eye for combining fabrics, I think whatever you choose will be beautiful.

  5. The mermaid costume looks wonderful - very mermaidy but great for dancing in too! And I was always going to love the butterfly wings - wings of all sorts are great fun!


Please post a comment, I love to hear from you!