Elwing the White

The Blood Red Dress was designed by Ngila Jackson for the elven princess Arwen to be worn in her "dying scene" in the film "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King". We were given first glimpse of this dress already years ago in one of the trailers of "The Fellowship of the Ring". No wonder, because it's truly one of the most spectacular dresses in the whole trilogy.

As I knew I wouldn't be able to find let alone afford the fabrics - red paisley silk with rich embroideries, and "dusky rose and midnight blue" silk velvets - used in the real thing, I never tried to achieve movie accuracy. On the other hand this gave me freedom to change the colours and thus the whole mood of the dress. And it began to tickle my fancy that also Elwing, mother of Elrond and grandmother of Arwen, could have worn this kind of dress with sleeves like "wings".

If you're not familiar with LOTR Costume-site yet, it's here:

LOTR Costume has lots of material on Arwen's Blood Red Dress (e.g. good instructions in making your own gown):

You may also want to check two others of Arwen's dresses using approximately the same pattern as the Blood Red Dress:

The overdress / jumper of my gown is made of dark blue cotton velvet. The fabric had originally a violetish tint, but I managed to get rid of it by machine-bleaching the velvet. For the pattern I used a simple bridal gown from a Burda Magazine removing the long darts at the front and the back, and adjusting the side seams accordingly.

The upper part of the jumper is cut in straight line up from the waist with the same amount of curve in the neck as the underdress has. The excess of the fabric has been gathered by slight folding. There's a long zipper and a seam in the mid back. The dress is less than 6 cm (ca. 2") overlong. The trail (ca. 50 cm / 20") is an "extension" of the back parts, cut long in the middle, and curving in the sides to meet the front parts.

The upper part of the underdress is made of same velvet as the jumper; the lower part is polyester lining material. Starting points for the pattern of the underdress were two different evening gowns from old Burda Magazines, the other one with princess seams, the other with long and deep darts in the body parts. I kept the darts in the upper part front and back, and adjusted them with the seams of the skirt, made of six panels.

The trims on the neck and upper sleeves are made of an old blue silken shirt, which cost me 2 euros in a second-hand shop. I lined the trims (2 parts for the neck cut in shape and seamed together; plus two rectangular pieces for the sleeves) with iron-on interfacing, and built the simple and quick-to-do "embroideries" on them using beads and silver coloured cords.

This far all went well, but then I gave up hope finding fabric for the upper sleeves matching the trims and the velvet. So I ended up using the second-hand silk for the sleeves, too, embroidering them with metal, glas and green beads. The patterns for the embroideries of the sleeves and the trims are gross simplifications of the ones used in Arwen's Requiem Dress.

Having now used nearly all of the silk I had to construct the trim of the jumper out of tiny leftovers. Luckily the seams don't show very far! Even though the embroidery is thin it makes the trim so stiff, that it was only just manageable to be fitted properly in the slight curve of the jumper's front.

The upper sleeves have polyester lining, and the trims are lined with the blue silk. The velvet parts of the dress have no lining; I only covered the turn-ins of the hem, the lower sleeves, and the open sides of the jumper with silk ribbon.

The lower sleeves were a bit of a problem, too. I did find lovely dove blue cotton velvet with almost the same stunning effect that Arwen's "deep rose" sleeves have, but it cost nearly 27 euros per meter though being only 115 cm wide (ca. 32 $ per 39"; 45" wide). The fabric was of very good quality, but still! Finally I mail-ordered some white velvet only to find out it wasn't as white as promised. After some hesitation I decided to try to make something out of it. The silver "embroidery" on the creme helped a bit, but I wasn't happy with the sleeves. So I packed the whole thing away for Christmas. That helped, because now the colour doesn't bother me anymore.

The whole thing cost me about 90 euros (ca.108 $). It's a lot! But the bulk of it was for the velvet (nearly 70 e), even though I was happy to get the dark blue one (112 cm/ ca. 44" wide) with only 7,49 e/m, real bargain around here.

The Moral:

1) For my first ever fantacy costume-project (including drafting of some parts of the pattern myself) Arwen's BR dress was a bit too ambitious. But I learned a lot! E.g. that I'm in desperate need of a good dress form.

2) My underdress has long slits on the sides, but this isn't enough: it's very diffcult to get the thing off even with a pair of helping hands. If I were to make the underdress again, I'd loose the darts and the slits, drop the upper part to the waist line, make the skirt simpler, and put a zipper at the back.

3) The lower sleeves aren't right. Instead of a half of a circle I think the pattern of Arwen's sleeves is a half of an oval. Her silk velvet falls much more nicely, but even given that, I think her sleeves are at least 1/4 shorter at the front than at the back Going to do something about those huge sleeves of mine, someday.

4) Costumizing seems to be a disease, an infectious one. After seeing the dress finished my husband spent an evening exploring LOTR Costume finally "ordering" Denethor's Outfit (Faramir's COF was yet to be seen). Just when my son reminded me of his long time wish: a knee-length chain maille (a joke, right!? - he's well over 190 cm/ 6'3")! And my daughter is dying for Eowyn's Green Gown. Well, I was getting bored with cross-stitching, anyway.