Dresses for little girls to wear while competing in pageants can be very expensive, sometimes costing over a thousand dollars. A shell dress is very common for little girls to wear in pageants. Also called a cupcake dress, the pageant shell can be created from a leotard and organza fabric. You can then embellish it with items you purchase from a craft store.
Cut a large circle out of each of the seven yards of organza fabric. The circles will have different diameters. The staggered diameters will give the tutu skirt a full bodied appearance. Cut two circles with a 24-inch diameter, two with a 26-inch diameter, and two with a 28-inch diameter. Cut the seventh circle with a 30-inch diameter.
Cut circles from the inside of each organza circle, giving you seven circles with a hole in the middle. The center circle should vary in diameter from 10 to 12 inches, depending on your daughter's waist size. For a toddler with a waist measuring 16 to 18 inches, cut the center circle with a 10-inch diameter. If your daughter is older with a larger waist, cut the center circle with a 12-inch diameter.
Fold the lengths of satin ribbon down their middle and pin the lengths of ribbon to the outermost edge of each of the organza circles. Attach the ribbon with a gap created inside the fold (you will feed the fishing wire into each hem), so you match up the open ends of the long fold with the outermost edge of the circle. Do not sew off the short ends of the ribbon until after you have fed the fishing wire through each ribbon hem. Repeat for each of the seven circles.
Stack the organza circles on top of each other in the following order: 24 inches, 26 inches, 28 inches, 30 inches, 28 inches, 26 inches, 24 inches. This order of the layers will make the skirt fluffy and full-bodied.
Carefully pin the stacked circles all together, matched up at their inside circle. Pin in place through all seven layers. Measure and cut the piece of elastic around the child's waist so that it is tightly fitted but comfortable. Sew the two ends of the elastic circle together. Lay the elastic circle on top of the seven layers of organza, and roll the organza to create a simple half inch fold over the elastic. Sew the organza down with the elastic inside.
Hand stitch the elastic waist band of the tutu to the natural waist line of the leotard. Be sure to have the child try it on first, and carefully pin the skirt in the place where you want it to be before sewing.
Carefully bend and shape each of the ruffles. The fishing wire will allow you to create a full shape in the skirt. An up and down pattern of waves, with each of the seven layers independent of each other, looks festive and pageant-ready.
Hand sew embellishments to the top portion of the neckline. Use crystals, rhinestones, beads, lace, appliques and anything else that will make the shell unique and beautiful.
Do not try to get a few years out of the shell by purchasing a leotard for your daughter to "grow into". The leotard should be tight and well-fitting on top, not loose or baggy. Tulle fabric can be substituted for organza, but with tulle you will not get the body and stiffness that makes the ruffles stand up.