NATASHA CREEK-BABY BUNHEADS
Natasha and I met earlier this year- I wanted to collaborate with photographer Karolina Webb and Baby Bunheads to create some ballet portraits of my daughter before she was all grown up. Here we get a glimpse into the world of the TUTU MAKER.....
What attracted you to making costumes and tutus?
Believe it or not, it was a very natural progression for me. Making tutus came as much out of the blue as it was completely predictable. Being a ballet teacher with a sewing machine puts you, very quickly, in the position of emergency costume maker and all round helping hand when it comes to making, altering, adjusting or mending stage wear.
A few years ago, my nana taught me to stitch ballet shoes bags on a machine and, from there, chiffon wrap skirts, leotards and, finally, tutus emerged.
With regard to being attracted to making them, I’m a magpie for anything that’s beautiful and sparkles!
Making tutus looks very complicated, how did you learn the art of tutu making?
For a very long time, I believed that tutu making was something so totally unapproachable that it remained at the back of a long queue of ideas that I wanted to try my hand at. Before making tutus, I was illustrating books which was a lovely living to have and something which has sadly died out since tutuing came along.
I then found the marvellous ‘Tutus that Dance’ website with patterns by Suzanne Dieckmann which also offers Dani Legge’s patterns and instructions. It took me almost a year to create one I was happy with as a relatively novice seamstress but they were a fantastic starting point for understanding the basic construct of a tutu. From there I have developed my own ways of getting tutus to be exactly how I like them but I cannot give these ladies enough credit!
I understand that you are also a dancer and a teacher, how do you find the time to make stunning tutus as well?
This, for the moment, is like finishing a jigsaw which fits perfectly together and also like balancing on a somewhat strained but enjoyable tightrope. Owning a ballet studio with around 100 students taking classes each week is a complete dream and keeps me on my toes!
Teaching through the evenings leaves my days free for tutu making whilst my students are in school.
For now, it is perfect.
What has been your most challenging tutu to create?
What a great question! I think the every tutu which has required a new skill to learn has presented its own challenge. The time I introduced an airbrush into the studio and started ombréing my first frill created a new technique to conquer and a mess which has never been the same since - I’m not sure you’ll find a wooden floor with as many colours on it as mine!
How many layers of tulle go into a tutu?
Ah, this very much depends on the age and measurements of the dancer. We want to create a frill which is as full as possible for each ballerina that we costume. However, this also means keeping them as lightweight and as manageable as we can at the same time. Tutus are like magnifying glasses for poor technique so an amiable frill is so much more important than how many layers are underneath.
Having said that, on average we are pleating around 100m of net in length per frill.
What is a pancake tutu?
My favourite kind of tutu! Pancake tutus are quite literal in that they are as flat as possible.
There are various styles of tutu including bell, classical, romantic and pancake. I particularly like the latter because it is so neat. We make so many tutus for competitions, festivals, exams and photoshoots and, for all of the above, I believe the tutu should be an additional cherry on the top of beautiful dancing rather than a hinderance or distraction. A lovely, flat pancake frill will achieve this whilst still being dramatic and beautiful.
What is the most popular colour tutu that you make?
It changes like fashion is the answer here. It varies regularly and goes in phases, I find.
We’ve quite recently gone through the minty green phase, the ivory, peach and gold era, and white with a hint of pastel colour is currently looking popular.
I completely understand it; seeing a style/colour which you particularly like is an excellent starting point but I do absolutely adore the unusual ones. It’s so exciting to make a tutu which is really different and out there!
Do you have a favourite tutu of all time?
I wish that I did! It would be great to pinpoint one tutu which was my all-time favourite but it’s like there’s a new one every time which which I love more and more. The fortunate thing about tutu making is that, despite the base pattern being relatively standard, every single one is different, original and new. It keeps the job exciting and fresh every day.
Do you also make Romantic style tutus?
I do also make Romantic tutus. Admittedly, there is much less demand for them in the UK and often they go abroad if I ever get chance to make them. In fact, I think we have a Romantic going to Malaysia next month which will be exciting!
They’re a joy to make and give us so much scope for unusual embellishments and new designs.
How long is your waitlist for tutus at the moment?
Our ever growing waiting list is currently booked up until next November! It’s a continual problem for us that, although we are taking on around 15-17 tutus/costumes per month which is more than one every 2 days without time off, we are still unable to make tutus for everyone and regularly have to turn dancers away! We’re working on it.
At the time of writing this, we have just raced through the Christmas orders for 2018 with a lot of spaces for December 2019 already booked. The books are going as far ahead as 2021 which is hugely exciting - all I can say is thank you to everyone who continues to have us make their 1st or 21st costume!
What is the youngest age you have made a tutu for?
Recently, we had the absolutely pleasure of making a tutu for one tiny ballerina-to-be who had measurements similar those of a 1 year old. It is, by far, the smallest tutu we’ve ever made at Baby Bunheads. Regularly we are working with 3 year-olds through to pre-professional dancers and adults. We absolutely love the opportunity to make anything a little different though and this was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen!
What are your future plans for Baby Bunheads?
All exciting things, I hope!
You may have seen that my very first apprentice, the lovely Miss Isla, has been working with me for the last 4 months now. She is an absolute superstar and has brought so much more than increased productivity to the table. In the future I’d be delighted to take on more apprentices like Isla to become a part of the Baby Bunheads team who come to chat about dancing, drink tea, eat cake and make beautiful things all day long.
Also a sneaky exclusive - we will very shortly be launching our own range of tiaras which can be bought or ordered to match your tutu - they’re the most gloriously sparkly and intricate things you’ve ever seen and we can’t wait for you to see them! For more information please see https://en-gb.facebook.com/BabyBunheads/
Photographer Karolina Webb London