Karinska Tutu Design-What Is It?

In one of my earlier posts, I mention a style of tutu known as the “Karinska” powder puff  tutu that was created for one of George Balanchine’s ballets. Today, I am researching a little more information on Karinska herself.

Who Was Karinska?

Most of the information available about Karinska has her birth year stated as 1886, 1887, or 1888. She was born in Russia with her real name as Varvara Jmoudsky. Somehow she came to be known as Barbara Karinska.

Growing up, Karinska became skilled with Russian embroidery technique which emphasizes using textures of rough and fine materials layered to make a “collage” of sorts. It wasn’t until Karinska was in her 40’s that she began looking for work using her sewing skills. She made her first costume when she was 40 years old, which I find fascinating. The rest is history. The biggest part of her career was spent in the costume department of the New York City Ballet. According to historical documents, Karinska died in 1983 in her late 90’s.

What Is The Karinska Decorating Method?

Karinska used multiple layers of not only fabric, but many other types of embellishments that were  built up upon one another to create color and dimensional texture.  The typical Karinska tutu decorating design would have many layers:

  • The Base Layer would be satin or some other soft, flowing fabric
  • After the base layer might come a layer of gold or silver tulle or netting
  • After the netting layer, decorative braiding would be added to the netting
  • Jewels were then added to the braiding
  • On top of the decorative braiding and jewels, other embellishments were sometimes added like bows and ribbons
  • The last layer would consist of a sheer over skirt.

George Balanchine Ballet And The  Jewels Ballet

Hand-sewing 20, 000 Of These? Amazing!

In 1996, George Balanchine created a ballet called Jewels. This ballet was to be a tribute to women and to the jewels they wear. The ballet has variations that focus on Emeralds, Diamonds, and Rubies. For this ballet, George Balanchine requested a Karinska reproduction.

The costume designer had to create this costume with 20,000 hand-sewn stones. Can you imagine the amount of work and time involved hand-sewing 20, 000 little stones onto a ballet costume? Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a photo of this costume, but I will keep searching.

This is the incredible part of costume designing; being able to fill the most important need in the ballet world using creativity, patience, and most of all, fingers that never seem to get tired.

Madame Karinska- Ballet Costume Designer
Madame Karinska At The New York City Ballet Circa 1946

What Would This World Be Like Without Those Who Are Skilled With Needle And Thread?



  1. This is a lovely article. Such artists are such an inspiration to costumiers like myself. Karinska and Balanchine had a massive influence on American Ballet. Thank you this is so interesting, particularly about the detailing of her work.

  2. Thank you so much… I saw Jewels at the FNO… but I did not know most of the above… only that the Siemens family bought a lot of rights of Balanchine… but no I understand all that MUCH better… VERY INFORMATIVE

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