Sunday, February 12, 2012

Arwen's Chase Dress

Character: Arwen
Costume: Chase Dress
From: Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Made: 2002
Awards: Judges' Choice (2004 ConDor Masquerade)

This was the first movie costume I ever tried to recreate, and it remains one of my favorites. It was (mostly) completed in time for Halloween 2002, and improved for the premiere of the Fellowship extended DVD in November 2002. All of Arwen's dresses are of course beautiful, but I think this one is the most functional, which makes it pretty easy to wear for long periods of time (except for those pesky sleeves!).

The dress is based on Simplicity 9891, everyone's favorite generic elf pattern. I literally could not have created this costume without the amazing tutorial from alleycatscratch and their associated mailing list.

Condor XI Masquerade, February 2004 (Winner, Judges' Choice)
GenCon Indy, July 2003
Fellowship of the Ring Extended Edition DVD Premiere in NYC, November 2002

Most of the information for the construction of this dress came directly from Alleycatscratch's great chase dress tutorial, which they've expanded greatly since I made my dress in 2002. More people have had a chance to see the dress in person since then, so their information is now more accurate, but I'm still quite happy with my version. My version, incidentally, is now two major overhauls removed from my first incarnation of the costume. Most of the dress has remained the same throughtout these alterations; aside from replacing the underskirt, the changes have been small.


The bodice is based on Simplicity 9891, with substantial alterations. I drafted the yoke onto the main bodice pieces, drafted a rolled collar as explained in the tutorial, and moved the princess seams so they ended at the shoulders. I went through three or four muslin mockups before I was satisfied with the fit of the bodice and the look of the rolled collar. Though it's not very visible in photos, I've also done a decorative "baseball stitch" down the front and back princess seams, to more closely imitate the real costume. (This picture shows what I mean.)

The bodice, sleeves, and outer skirt were constructed of charcoal grey faux suede ("mocrosuede") from I don't believe they currently carry this fabric, as their inventory is constantly changing. The bodice is completely flatlined with a very stiff interfacing to imitate the look of real suede. The interfacing is quite scratchy, so the bodice is fully lined with nice, soft, comfy muslin.

The bodice closes up the front a separating zipper. To get it to work, I had to insert the zipper upside down and backwards, so zipping myself into the dress is a rather interesting proposition! There is a hook and eye both at the top and bottom of the zipper, for neatness. For the most part, the lining keeps the dress pulled neatly in the front and prevents the zipper from showing, but I did have to do a bit of stitch-in-the-ditch along the princess seams at the curve of the bust, to keep the zipper hidden.

The collar detailing is done with charcoal grey puffy paint! I came up with the idea when I was brainstorming ways to get around couching yarn on the collar. I really didn't expect it to work, but I ended up loving the look of it, and it took me less than ten minutes to do it all. The Alleycatscratch tutorial now has an explanation of how to make machine embroidery lace that gives a much more accurate look, but I'm happy with my puffy paint.


I again used Simplicity 9891 for the upper sleeves, with no alterations. They are unlined and embroidered with an elven design. I got the template for the embroidery from the Alleycatscratch tutorial, enlarged it to be proportional to my sleeves, traced it onto the flat sleeve piece, and then embroidered it with grey thread the same color as the suede, using a sort of bastardized chain/backstitch. We've since learned that the design is painted, not stitched, on the real costume, but no way am I pulling out all that embroidery!

Both of the lower sleeves were drafted freehand. The suede outer sleeve is a big U-shape, overlapped at the inner elbow. The inner sleeve is just a tube of fabric, gathered at the elbow and finished with French seams. Originally it was made of white drapery fabric, but I've since replaced it with the accurate silver metallic crinkle. I don't have any pictures of that, though. The sleeves are really pretty, but boy do they make it hard to eat anything!


The outer skirt, which is in four separate pieces, is made from the same grey suede, unlined. The edges were pinked and turned under once. I freehanded the shapes of the skirt pieces; the back two pieces are essentially rectangular, widening toward the bottom, while the front two pieces have a petal shape where they meet at center front.

The inner skirt is two pieces, to allow Arwen to ride a horse. I'm now on my third version of the underskirt, and while I'm still not completely satisfied, I'm happy enough with it to not actively want to remake it. The skirt is made of a medium gray imitation silk that I found in our theater group's fabric stash. Overall, it's a petal shape, with a seam down the center of the piece because the fabric was not in big enough pieces to do it without a seam. There are two darts, each halfway between the center and the side, to take in extra fabric at the waist. I did a machine-rolled hem on these skirts (my first ever!) and it looks very clean and finished.

Riding Breeches and Boots

The "breeches" were a lucky find at a local discount clothing store; they're maroon spandex workout pants that happen to be seamed like riding breeches. They are maroon, not plum, but at $5 there was no way I was passing them up. The boots are my plain old black leather boots, bought for $15 at Burlington Coat Factory and used for every costume under the sun. I'm no bootmaker (yet), so I do without Arwen's nifty leaf-wrapped boots. 

Belt Buckle

I made my own belt buckle from Sculpey. I used the drawing from alleycatscratch, and their buckle tutorial was also helpful. I resized their drawing to 4.5" across, because that seemed proportional with my dress, printed it out, taped it to my kitchen table, and then taped a sheet of waxed paper over the drawing. I formed the buckle right over the drawing, so I could get the exact right shape. It took me about 2.5-3 hours to shape the buckle. After baking it, I painted it with three coats of silver acrylic paint, and then added three coats of clear acrylic spray gloss on top of that. Very shiny, and the silver doesn't come off on my costume!


These are the only part of the costume that I didn't come up with myself. They came from Aya, a fellow ACS listmember and chase dress maker. We met at the premiere of the extended FOTR DVD in New York City, where she gave me a pair of knit grey elbow-length gloves and her first version of Arwen's belt buckle, back before I'd made my own.

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