Tuesday, October 6, 2009

My version of Arwen's Dying Gown or Beach Blond Arwen

I have decided to use October to show you as many of my costumes as possible, as inspiration for potential Halloween parties. Since I showed you my Arwen Dying Gown on Saturday, I figured I should tell you more about it.

The main thing you should know about this dress is that it was my first serious recreation and it is the project that really got me hooked to making quality costumes, whether historical, fantasy or reproductions, on a regular basis. Before then, I had made a couple of good costumes, but nothing like this one.

The first time I saw
Arwen's Dying Gown (also known as Blood Red Dress) in picture, I knew I wanted to make it. It was so dramatic, it made a statement. It looked terribly complicated and extremely simple at the same time. Liv Tyler looked regal in it.

I made this dress for the Premiere of The Lord of the Rings: The return of the King (2003). As per my habit, I had been planning to make the dress to wear in December since about February, yet I started three days before the Premiere (and I finished about four hours before leaving for the theatre). Unfortunately, I have no pictures of me in the dress at the theatre because my mother wouldn't allow me to bring my camera (and she wasn't even coming with us!)

Gwenyver's Arwen Dying Gown, Costume Photo Shoot at Nancy-Raven's, August 2004

I am very proud of this dress. I did a ton of research*, looked at all the pictures and read all the comments to get it just right (though in the end, there was no way I was going to find the exact paisley fabric and antique trim, so I had to compromise).

*The best place for research about any LOTR costumes is Lord of the Rings Costume at Alley Cat Scratch.

"I can feel it in the trees", Costume Photo Shoot at Nancy-Raven's, August 2004

Although the cutting and sewing process only began a few days before the event, material gathering was well underway month before.

For the bodice and sleeves, I used very lovely and expensive Chinese satin brocade. It is red with small gold and black flowers and Chinese characters (I suppose). Now this kind of fabric frays a lot, so I lined the bodice with polyester lining (inexpensive, but very hot!).

The lower sleeves are made of a red stretch velvet that I found on sale in July (and never saw again afterward). As soon as I spotted it I just knew it was THE fabric I needed. The under dress' skirt is made of black satin (the most inexpensive one I could find).

I wanted for the under dress to possibly be worn alone, although I have never done so. The skirt also helps balance the weight of the sleeves (some costumers who have made this dress decided to save on fabric and only make bodice, but apparently, the huge hanging sleeves causes pulling problems).

For the over dress, I used black stretch velveteen. I know the original was a midnight blue silk velvet, but to tell the truth, I didn't think it would look that good with the red fabrics I had. The stretch velveteen has two advantages: I can pull the over dress over my head, so one less zipper, and it is much cheaper than real velvet (I kind of busted my budget on the Chinese brocade, but it was worth it).

The trims I choose were not screen accurate, but I thought they were perfect enough for my taste (besides, they are the best I could find at the time). For the upper sleeve hem, the under dress' neckline and the overdress' shoulder pieces, I used a two inches wide gold Christmas ribbon with tiny red diamonds (the great thing about Christmas ribbon is you can get a whole roll for a very decent price). For the upper sleeves, I also used some leftover gold lace trim from another costume. The over dress' neckline is trimmed with a Christmas ¾ inch brocade ribbon that is red with a gold vine like design.

Gwenyver's Arwen Dying Gown - Back view, Costume Photo Shoot at Nancy-Raven's, August 2004

To achieve the right look, I had to play mix and match and modify with a few patterns. (Simplicity had not yet marketed their version, Simplicity 4940.)

In order to use as little of the Chinese brocade as possible, I decided the under dress would be an empire waist. I used McCall’s 4213, view B as a basis for the bodice and upper sleeves. I then shortened the sleeves and I modified the neckline to suit my needs.

For the under dress' skirt, I used Butterick 5540. It is mid calf in length, because it had to be long enough to balance out the weight of the lower sleeves, yet I did not want it accidentally showing from under the over dress.

The lower sleeves are what defines this dress. After quite a lot of reflexion, I decided I wanted to make them full circles (on the original dress, they are half circles). In order for them to reach my ankles, they would need to be 150 cm in diameter. Unfortunately, the fabric I bought was only 115 cm wide. I did not want a seam in the sleeves, so I ended up making them elliptical in shape. The ellipse is 265 cm in length and 115 cm wide at its largest part. Believe me when I say those sleeves are heavy!

The over dress is made with Simplicity 9103, view B, which I lengthened to make it floor length. I also modified the neckline so it would resemble the original more.

Gwenyver's Arwen Dying Gown, Con*Cept 2004

One of the nicest compliment I ever got was while I was wearing this dress. It was as Montréal's La Grande Mascarade (back in 2005) and one of the guys from l'Alliance Impériale said to me: "Seriously, you weren't born in the right time period, because this style just looks too good on you". How sweet is that?


  1. Who said that ? lol That was nice indeed, I can think of a few but not sure of who it is :p

  2. Phil Parent. And it makes my top 5 nicest compliments ever.

  3. i love your blog!!!!!!!!!!!! im a costumeholic too, but from spain!


  4. Gracias! I'm always glad to hear of likeminded people.

    I understand a little Spanish, so I'll go check out your blogs.