Magic in Real Life: Making Elsa’s Spirit Dress, Part 1

Hi everyone! It’s been a really long time since I’ve last documented on my blog anything about the making of a costume. I tend to not have the time or patience for it, especially while I was still in college. But Elsa, my major costume project of 2020, deserves a few blog posts of her own.

Before I begin I just want to add a few disclaimers. Firstly, these next couple of blog posts are not a tutorial on how to make Elsa’s dress. Writing tutorials on costumes isn’t really my interest because I’m self taught and have no real professional training, I’m not that good at explaining my (rather imprecise) sewing process, and there are so many great resources out there for aspiring costumers that I really don’t feel it’s my gift or calling to create tutorials.

Related to that, if I do happen to explain any of my actual sewing processes, do take them with a grain of salt! I often use techniques that work just fine for me and what I’m trying to make, but I’m not a professional and there may be better methods out there than the ones I use.

So, really, the point of these blog posts is mainly to expose the insane amount of work that I put into this dress and to provide a thorough analysis of the dress itself. I also want to share some of the lessons that I learned throughout this process.

Lastly, I just wanted to warn that there will be spoilers about Frozen 2. If you haven’t seen it yet, you really should!

This post, part 1 of 3, is mainly about the planning and analysis of the dress. Part 2 will be about the construction and Part 3 will be about the embroidery and embellishment.

~Love at First Sight~

My first real exposure to Elsa’s Spirit Dress was when I saw Frozen 2 with my sister in December of 2019. I saw it a few weeks after it came out, so I did accidentally see some spoiler pictures such as Elsa having her hair down at the end of the movie. (It took me some getting used to at first because I was so used to her classic braid!) I think I might have seen some pictures of her Spirit Dress, but I didn’t pay too close attention to them before watching the movie. Even though I was quite busy in college, I really wanted to see the movie for myself because I was reading about how amazing the animation is and how it pioneered some techniques for animating clothing in particular. (I think this is the exact article that got me excited about Frozen 2.)

So when I saw the movie, I liked the story and the characters as much as the next person, but it was really the gorgeous visuals- especially in the song “Show Yourself-” that blew me away. In particular, it was the movement of the Spirit Dress that just had me enchanted.

Prepare for some gif spam…


(I’m completely obsessed with this second gif!! This exact point in time where the cape sleeves are formed and she kind of gives them a little twirl!! AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH)


(I would be lying if I said I don’t try to practice this dramatic twirl when I’m alone.)

At this point, it was almost as if I had no choice but to start planning the costume. My brain said, “u have to make this now” and I said, “ok.” I briefly toyed around with the idea of the other costumes, such as her nightgown or her travel outfit, but none of them compared, really.

I quickly became aware that there’s a ton of people out there doing this dress, and it might even be more popular at this point than her classic blue dress in the first Frozen movie. But honestly, there are very few people out there who are both investing the time into making a very detailed version of it and doing it accurately to the movie. A lot of people either make a really intricate costume that is very different in design, or they’ll make a more accurate, but quicker and simpler, version. There’s nothing wrong with either of those options but it did leave me with an opportunity to stand out by making a version with both complexity and accuracy.

What I didn’t know was that this would turn into my Next Big Project and it would dominate over 6 months of my life!

~Obsessing Over Analyzing The Dress~

I’m definitely a planner, and I always spend significant time analyzing and studying before I make any sort of costume. It helps me figure out what materials I need to get and now I’m going to approach the dress.

I wasn’t able to do too much of this until some time after the movie came out and there were more reference pictures available.

Based on some of the reference pictures and the information in the Art of Frozen 2 book, this was an early analysis I did.

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The main thing I analyzed was the bodice. As shown in the below picture, it’s more complicated than it looks!

This picture is great because it shows that the bodice is not flat in texture, but instead has 3D shapes. The V’s across the neckline are raised, as are the layer below it (the main body of the dress which has spikes that extend slightly past the underbust). There is a flatter, smoother layer underneath those.

Additionally, there are some details such as sheer cutouts on the neckline, the water symbol at the top and the colorful diamonds on the bodice. The picture below shows a clearer picture of these cutouts and details.

Probably the thing that causes the most trouble for people who make this dress is dealing with the fact that, in the movie, the dress was constructed with magic and we, unfortunately, do not have dressmaking magic in real life. For example, the neckline has this magical illusion effect. It’s solid above the bust and then fades gradually upwards into nothingness! There is no hard edge where the top of the neckline ends. Obviously, in real life, fabric has gotta end somewhere, so a gradient into nothingness is not possible.

Also, in the front, the skirt slits open, yet there is no visible seam above it. In real life, you can’t just cut a skirt like that, especially when the bodice is so fitted. In most cases in real life, there would be a visible seam above the slit. Similarly, there are no seams that join the sleeves to the bodice.

In Frozen, Elsa can construct her dresses however the heck she wants because she creates most of her own dresses using magic. According to books I’ve read, they’re literally made of ice- I guess her powers keep it from melting, like Olaf’s permafrost. So when you’re able to create magic dresses out of ice, you can just magically cover yourself with ice and let it fade off in impossible ways and, of course, not deal with any seams.

But, I unfortunately am not a sorceress, so I cannot construct a dress that way.

So that’s the bodice, which is easily the most complicated part of the dress.

Next, let’s talk about the skirt. It’s basic enough in concept, but difficult to pull off in real life. It is a mix of opaque and sheer material, with these white spike patterns extending gown across the purple sheer. In real life, mixing two different materials in such a manner is difficult. You would either have to stitch the opaque material down on top of the sheer (which can pose a lot of technical problems) or find some way to like, paint the solid onto the sheer somehow.

The cape sleeves are pretty straightforward. Just attach giant pieces of sheer material to a small point on the sleeves and you’re golden!

Also, the four element symbols can be found on both the skirt and the cape sleeves, and the cape sleeves also have a bunch of thin rows of bling across their panels.

Lastly, there are some other small details in the leggings and the shoes. The leggings are light blue in color and are decorated with some subtle bling at the ankle, and the shoes are very delicate sandals with similarly subtle blue gems.

I just really appreciate the overall design of this dress! The movement of the cape sleeves is just so fun to watch, the open skirt with leggings is believable for action, and the neckline and bodice shape are flattering but not objectifying. I wear dresses with leggings almost every day in my casual wardrobe, so it feels very natural and comfortable to me to wear a dress designed like this. And overall it maintains a sense of elegance and femininity, and the intricate details are mind blowing.

At first, when I saw the dress in the movie I was attracted to the movement of the cape sleeves and not necessarily the geometric patterns on the bodice. In the past, I’ve tended to prefer softer shapes and floral patterns instead of sharp angles and geometric shapes. But over the course of working on this costume, I really came to appreciate the geometric diamonds and sharp angles that dominated the design.

~My Interpretation~

With all this data, I spent a lot of time in January, February and March planning out how I wanted to take this impossible, magical dress concept and create it in real life.

I made some detailed sketches of the different layers of the costume made in real fabrics and how they would all be put together. (I’m not sharing them because they represent a lot of hard work and I don’t want my exact methods copied.) But basically, I designed several different layers in the bodice comprised of a sturdy, boned cotton layer, net and some lightweight silk for handling that illusion neckline, and velvet for the main body of the dress and some of those 3D components. The boned foundation layer existed to ensure that the bodice would remain flat and without wrinkles even with movement.

Otherwise, I stayed pretty true to the original design of the dress, but I planned for some of my own extra embellishment here and there.

Here’s my final sketch of the dress after I had completed all my analysis and planning!

20200427_172305 (2)

Stay tuned for the next post which will explain a bit about how I actually constructed the dress and the materials used and such. I hope you enjoyed this analysis and thanks for reading!

Be sure to follow me on Instagram @ameliamarie.seamstress so you can see more pictures of my work, frequent progress updates and all kinds of other fun stuff!


2 thoughts on “Magic in Real Life: Making Elsa’s Spirit Dress, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Magic in Real Life: Making Elsa’s Spirit Dress, Part 2 | Amelia Marie

  2. Pingback: Magic in Real Life: Making Elsa’s Spirit Dress, Part 3 | Amelia Marie

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