Tulles of the Trade


Well, here it is....the first tutorial of 2018. I thought we should get the year started off on a festive note by delivering what I promised...a mega-tutorial on working with tulle! And it is huge! I've divided this project into two with this post featuring cotillion style ballgowns. These are great big, swash buckling, cake-top dresses one generally sees at sweet-16 coming of age parties, debutante balls and summer weddings!

There are two types of tulle commonly found in stores: crafting tulle which is cheap, course and quite stiff and dressmaking nylon tulle which is finer, not quite as stiff but still has body. Avoid the crafting tulle and spend an extra dollar (or Euro) or two on the fine variety (on the right). Still, the nature of this material is such that there is still quite a bit of body and it will jut away from the doll's body.
Crafting tool (left); dressmaking nylon tulle (right)
There is another variety: silk tulle. It is soft, drape more smoothly over the body but is expensive. It is used primarily for wedding dresses and high quality couture gown. Unless you are near a store catering to the wedding dress trade, you'll only find it online for as much as $50 a yard (or meter). For my tulle dresses, I am using an average priced nylon dressmaking tulle which costs about 3 US dollars a yard and is quite wide (45-54"). There are also fantasy tulle. This includes tulle speckled with glitter, felt polka dots or hearts and maybe even sequins, beads or lace. 

You can soften nylon tulle a little by dunking it in a bowl of boiling water for about 15 minutes then blotting it dry with a towel. Surprisingly, tulle can also be dyed! When sewing, it's best to use cotton covered polyester thread. For brights and dark toned garments, chose a color slightly darker than that of the tulle. There is also something called, "invisible" thread. This is a fine plastic thread I use for hand stitching light colored garments. It is not that easy to work with in that it is slippery and stretches. If you work with it, remember to work with a double thread, knotted at the end. And when you have finished your stitches, knot before cutting off the excess.
A basic foundation over which to build the dress.



Unfortunately we cannot make a dress or skirt with umpteen layers of tulle because of bulkiness. So each silhouette here has a underlying foundation (#1,2, or 3, for example) on which we "build" the dress.  Whenever possible, I like to use a sheer fabric for this because it maintains the lightness of the silhouette, disappears under the tulle while giving the illusion of many more layers of tulle.


I've started with something pretty simple. This is a dress designed by Jason Wu which appeared on the red carpet of the Oscars, last fall. For this look, I made a foundation made from a strapless bodice and an evening length circle skirt joined at the waist. (The technique of creating a dress from a bodice and skirt is explained HERE.) I've cut two layers of a sheer nylon fabric (like the kind used for old fashioned nightgowns) and two layers of sparkle tulle. Each part is sewn separately then joined at the waist. To see how I sewed the bodice, see the next dress just below. After put together the dress. I took scraps, bunched them together and tacked them to the dress bodice the same way we applied the embellishment on the corset at the end of the tutorial HERE. You could stop here or.....
You can make a separate tutu using the no-sew method (click HERE for the tutorial) to use as an overskirt.
Or....Take that same tutu and drape it around the doll's shoulders for use as an elegant (and extravagant) evening wrap!

Instead of a one piece dress, you can also make it in two parts: a corset with a separate skirt. This makes for a most versatile option which can later be mixed and matched with other elements in your doll's wardrobe.
1. Here is my one piece corset. Instead of cutting a separate lining, I have taken a piece of tulle, twice the length of the corset and folded it in half, vertically so that the folded edge falls at the top of the pattern piece. Add extra seam allowance at the center back.
2.  Note: You won't be able to trace the darts onto the tulle. But you can mark the apex and end points with hand stitches. Sew as you normally would. Trim the back seams down to 1/4" fold them inwards and sew shut. Take a strip of tulle and drape over the bust.
3. Tack this in between the bust at the center front point of the bodice. Turn the edges at the back under itself and tack in place
4. The skirt is a four-layered circle skirt topped with a 10x50" length of tulle all gathered into a piece of ribbon.
A dolly version of a vintage Christian Dior dress
But let's not forget that tulle dresses will be all the rage for Spring/Summer 2018 fashion trends So let's be inspired!
Giambattista Valli Spring/Summer '18 Haute Couture
Let's take this to the next level with a look inspired by the Spring/Summer 2018 collection of high fashion designer, Giambattista Valli. 

1. The foundation is a basic dress consisting of our #1 silhouette (strapless fitted bodice with attached circle skirt). I did not have a sheer fabric so I used a cotton for my foundation.
2. Next, I make a gathered skirt from 4 layers of tulle. For my 12" Barbie, I cut a length of 12" by 48" wide which is gathered into a waistband measuring approximately 1x10". The gathers only stretch over the doll's waist. The rest of the ribbon (on both ends) is left free.
3. Lay the tulle strip or ribbon, over the right side of gathered skirt and top stitch it flat. The part of the waistband not attached to the skirt will be tied into a bow in the back of the dress. At this point you have, essentially, an apron.
4. When you have finished sewing it, attach to the dress.

5. Take a length of tulle. Make a running stitch and gather down the middle.
6. Pull the gathers so that it fits the bodice of the dress. Baste in place.
7. Using the gathering stitch as a guide, sew this ruffle onto the bodice.
8. Since the top part of the ruffle is likely to fall forward away from the body, I tacked on a sheer ribbon waistband. (Optional)
 9. Separate the layers so that the upper ruffles fall towards the bodice while the lower ones dance over the waist.
10. Lift one layer of the tulle skirt in the center of the dress, midway between the hem and the waist.
11. Tack it to the waist to create a center ruffle with a cascading effect on the sides.
I'll be honest. When I finished, I did not like seeing the (cotton) dress underneath. So to mask it a bit, I tacked squares of tulle onto the underdress (underneath the tulle layers)!

The skirt part of the burgundy tulle gown has a distinct round shape. We can create a more triangular shape which remains voluminous but removes much of the bulk away from the waistline. I did this by by using the #1 foundation to which I attached folded squares of tulle to get this cascade of handkerchief points.
Dress by Maticevski, Spring Summer 18, Paris ready-to-wear collection
My inspiration came from this dress, by Polish born, Maticevski. I like the asymmetrical aspect of the skirt and the "vintage" spirit of the entire look. To start, I gave my tulle a boiled water bath and rung it out to introduce a bit of softness and texture.
1. I created foundation #1 using a soft, sheer nylon fabric. You could also use a chiffon, organza or cotton voile. The bodice is made using a strapless corset pattern attached to a full circle skirt.
2. I made a 4.5" (7cm) long ruffle and attached it to the bottom of the skirt.
3. Next, cut a series of tulle squares. Cut 8 squares: 12x12" (30x30cm) and 6 squares: 9x9" (22x22cm) One by one, fold into quarters and, hold it by the midpoint so that it is hanging in triangular shape. 
4. On the skirt, (in line with the bust point of the bodice) pin two squares about 5" (13cm) from the hemline. Pin two more, 2" (55mm) above those. Pin the last two at the waist. 
5. Pin the larger squares at the waist all around the rest of the skirt part of the dress. 
6. With everything in place, go back and stitch the squares onto the foundation.
7. At this point your dress will look like this.

8. You can go back and trim the shorter layers so that there is a more obvious difference in length from the longer ones.
9. Add a waistband. This can be sheer ribbon or a length of the tulle. It should be the measurement of the doll's natural waist plus enough to tie a soft bow in the back. Again, the waistband should be sewn flat against the layers underneath.
10. Close the back of the dress at the waist with a snap or hook&eye. Tie the waistband into a bow at the back.
11. You can clip the longer layers to make them more uniform near the hemline (or leave them as is).
It's now time to finish the bodice of the dress.
12. Cut a strip of tulle about 2x10" (5x26cm). Twist it twice at the midpoint then pin to the midpoint of the bodice. Pin also just at the underarm point of the bodice.
13. Pin just at the underarm point on the opposite side.
14. On each side, wrap around the doll's arm and pin at the underarm at the back.
15. It should look like this.
16. At the back near the center back seam, cut the excess away to about 1/4" (7mm). Tuck the tulle under itself and tack down.
17. You should do this while the back of the dress is open so as not to sew the doll into the garment! Close with hook and eyes.
This is a very sweet dress! If you're doll is a bit more sophisticated, there is another dress for her. It's based on this dress from Oscar de la Renta's Spring/Summer 2018 collection.
Dress by Oscar de la Renta Spring Summer '18, NY ready to wear.
 I did not have the exact colors. But what attracted me to this dress is the two-toned look and the diagonal swirl over the body. So for this dress, I used a baby blue and navy tulle.
This time the foundation is strapless knee length tulle dress.
1. I made this foundation directly on the doll's body using a double layer of light blue tulle. I cut a piece of tulle 8" long by 5" wide (enough to wrap around the body and then some). Fold the tulle in half to make a piece that is 4x5". Wrap it so that it fits just around the body.
2. Fold the left side over the right to create a center back seam. Pin in place. (Don't worry about the excess. We'll trim this away later.
3. Using a back stitch. Stitch up the back to about 1" or so (enough so that the doll can get out of the dress.)
4. On each side of the opening, fold under and stitch the edges down.
5. Be sure you knot your thread before you begin to sew and when you have arrived at the end point.
6. Fold the edges over the right side of the opening and stitch that edge down.
7. Remove the foundation. Turn inside out then carefully cut away the excess to within 1/8".
8. In the front it will look like this. Don't worry yet about the bulges at the waist. We'll fix those later.
9. Our skirt will be made up of only squares folded in quarters and attached to the foundation at the midpoints. I've used a navy blue tulle for the skirt. Begin in the center and add each midpoint close to the one before.
10. Continue until you have a full skirt. Stitch everything down.
11. Now, come back and pinch out a dart on either side of the foundation garment. It doesn't matter if this is not perfect. This will be covered and thus hidden from sight.
12. It's time to do the top. Take strips of tulle roughly 2.5x7" (62x180mm). To help you get started, gather one edge.
13 Pin to the bodice so that is draped diagonally across the body from one shoulder to the opposite hip. Pin in place. I tack this to the foundation, using "invisible thread." Stop when you get to the hips
14. Drape the next piece diagonally from the underarm to the hips, leaving extra fabric at the top (under the arm). Pin in place then tack to the foundation.
15. Continue until you have covered the foundation. This means part of the drape may start in the front and end at the hip in the back.
16. Just because to avoid the back seam where the dress needs to close.
17. Work the draped strips around this so that the dress closes as normal.
18. When you have finished, you will have these strips draped over the skirt part of the dress. You could decide you like them and let them be. Or you could decide to dip them beneath the top layers of the tulle squares of the skirt. Since they may not all fit will, I cut them vertically to split each strip in half.
19. Spread the tulle of the skirt open so that you see the foundation and pin down the lighter strips.
20. Adjust. When you are happy with the way it looks, stitch those to the foundation.
21. For the moment, this is what my dress looks like from the front...
22. And from the back. We need to trim the top of the dress.
 
23. Cut away so that the ruffles are more or less even. And voila!

In another version...
The principal is the same, except, in this case, the strips wrap around the midriff and drape freely over the foundation. Extra fullness is created by inserting triangles of tulle in between the strips.
My foundation is slightly different. I used a hip length foundation with a gathered skirt using a double layer of apricot tulle. I cut strips long enough to wrap around the bodice and fall to nearly the hemline (about 1-1/2" by 10" wide (Because my skirt was a bit too sheer for dolly's taste, I added in triangles of tulle in between the strips of tulle. You could, instead, make a sheer underskirt from nylon or chiffon.) At the top of the bodice, I sewed a small ruffle cut from cream white tulle. 
We're not quite finished here. Just because we're working in tulle, doesn't mean it has to be a ballgown. We have a few more ideas on modern look. Coming up next: part two...more sophisticated (not to mention modern) tulle dresses!



With the exception of the runway photos (courtesy of voguerunway.com), all photos and text property of Fashion Doll Stylist 2018. Please do not reproduce without prior permission. Thank You.

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