Magic in Real Life: Making Elsa’s Spirit Dress, Part 2

Welcome back to my 3-part series of posts dedicated to telling you all about the making of Elsa, my main sewing project of 2020! If you missed the last post, you might want to check it out here because it describes the analysis of Elsa’s Fifth Spirit dress from Frozen 2 and the planning I did to make it happen. This post is going to tell you about the actual construction of the costume. Stay tuned for Part 3, which will be published at a later time and tell you about the intense embellishing process.

Just a couple of quick reminders before we get started: These posts are not a tutorial on how to make Elsa’s dress, the sewing techniques I describe are not always the best or most professional thing to do, and these posts may contain Frozen 2 spoilers.

~The Foundation Bodice~

It was boring and frustrating to work on the innermost layer of the bodice, the boned strength layer, when I had already been itching to start Elsa for several months and I just wanted to get straight to The Pretty Stuff. Dyeing the chiffon, embroidering everything with sequins, working with the velvet and so on. So it was kind of maddening to do this step but I knew it was necessary for giving a good shape to the dress.

First, I guess I should explain a bit what the foundation bodice is. It’s the innermost layer of the bodice, hidden underneath the other layers of the actual dress, and it has some boning in it. The reason for its existence is that the bodice fits tightly around the torso, and it’s a basic fact about clothing that tight things wrinkle unless they’re reinforced with boning. So it’s almost like I made a built in corset in the dress, but not quite. (I don’t classify it as a corset because it has no busk or lacing and its boning is very light.)

Here is an example of one of my sewing hacks that I don’t really recommend anyone to do and I probably won’t do it again, but I was impatient: I actually didn’t cut any pattern pieces for this bodice. I just cut out a rectangle and put a bunch of darts in it. This probably resulted in grainline wonkiness and general asymmetry, but you know, it worked well enough for my purposes.

The foundation bodice, white muslin boned with plastic zip ties

It took me a solid two or three days of work just to do this step, which made it pretty frustrating. It particularly took forever to sew in all the boning channels. By the way, the bones are zip ties!

Notice how, even though the bodice isn’t all that pretty to look at and I did almost certainly screw up the grainline in some areas, there are no huge wrinkles anywhere. Yeah, there are some small wrinkles but nothing glaring, not even around the curvier side “seams.” It’s a tight, comfortable fit which was all I wanted.

In my original design sketches, I wanted the dress to have a silhouette with sharper waist definition. I was envisioning sort of a conical silhouette (meaning the line that goes from the waist up towards the ribs is straight, not curvy). It would have definitely looked cool with the geometric design of the costume to have a really sharp nip at the waist, but I ended up not doing that. I ended up pretty much just letting the bodice follow the natural curves (or lack thereof) on my torso and not do any waist reduction. Part of that was because I didn’t want the fabric to be under extra strain because it’s not a real corset, but I also figured I already have to change so much of my natural look to be Elsa– I have to use a blonde wig, possibly some blue eye contacts, white powder on my face to bring my skin a shade paler, and false eyelashes– so I figured I’d leave the silhouette more natural.

With the foundation bodice being done, I was able to attach the other fabric layers to it and add an invisible zipper to the back.

~The Dress Body~

From here, I was able to sort of drape the velvet onto the foundation layer and get the shape I was looking for. The bodice was pretty simple in shape so I didn’t have much trouble pinning it into the basic strapless bodice shape.

The skirt, though- that was a struggle, and it continued to be a struggle pretty much up until the exact time the skirt was finished. I’ll describe these struggles in more detail towards the end of the post (the “Velvet Will Have Its Way” section).

Basically, I used a very pretty chiffon maxi dress I own as a rough pattern for the skirt.


Unfortunately, my velvet wasn’t wide enough to make the skirt this wide, and I also sort of cheated by adding more of an outward curve/flare at the bottom to try to get as much skirt width as possible. That didn’t work out so well… the section at the bottom will provide more details on that!

So yeah, other than the skirt being fussy, it was fairly straightforward to just put the dress body together. I don’t have too much to say on this subject because this is the sort of thing I know how to do but can’t describe very well. So here’s a picture of how it looked when I was done with the dress body but hadn’t done any embellishing yet!

20200514_172710 (1)

Notice how the bodice is really nice and tight and flat and not very wrinkly. This is because of the structure provided by the foundation bodice!

Another thing that pleases me is that the velvet hides seams very well. Even though there is a seam directly above that slit in the skirt, you can’t really see it because the fuzzy pile of the velvet hides it pretty nicely!

~The Cape Sleeves~

Unlike the foundation bodice and even the dress, the capes were really fun to make and I used them as sort of a break once I started doing decorative hand sewing.

I constructed my capes kind of differently than most people who have made this dress. Instead of cutting each one individually, I made mine out of 5 panels each! Part of it was for practical reasons of being able to make them wider at the bottom (being that my silk chiffon was only like 45 inches wide), but I also just liked the look of having the capes have some narrow seam lines across them. It kind of reminded me of the veins in a flower or leaf.

I decided to go Super Accurate and cut the sleeves directly out of illustrations from the Art of Frozen 2 book!

I traced the shape of each panel onto separate paper and used good ole’ math to scale them up into life sized measurements. Now that the capes are done, I love rewatching the movie because Elsa’s cape sleeves really are the exact same shape as mine!


Here’s how the cape sleeves looked when they were underway, with 3 panels each so far. I finished the raw edges with French seams, and I actually made them “inside out” so that the part of the French seam that normally faces inside, faced outside. I just liked the look of it.

Once the capes were all stitched together, I ombre dyed them with purple Rit dye. Dyeing things ombre isn’t actually that hard! The key is to soak the entire piece with water first, dunk it into the dye, quickly pull the top out and then slowly let the bottom sit in the dye bath for a longer period of time.

I was really pleased with how the ombre dye came out!

Pairing them with the dress made it look really majestic.

In order to give the hem of the capes some body, I zigzag stitched some starched embroidery floss all the way around it. This, I think, helps prevent the capes from being a little too fluttery.

The last interesting thing to say about the cape sleeves is that I attached them to the actual velvet sleeves- the part tightly fitted around the arm- with snaps! You can see the sleeve with the snap, but without the cape snapped on, here.

I designed it this way because I wanted the flexibility of being able to remove the capes in crowded comic con situations and possibly replace them with other things. But there’s another benefit to having the capes detachable like this: it acts as a breakaway feature! I discovered this when I was dramatically prancing around the house with the capes and they snagged on things like railings. Instead of ripping, they were simply detached from the sleeve, so it acts as a safety feature to protect the cape in case it gets caught on something or stepped on. (Though if anyone steps on my capes while walking behind me, I Will Murder Them.)

~Slashing the skirt~

In concept, adding the spike pattern to the skirt was fairly simple. I just pinned the chiffon to it, outlined the spike shapes, stitched it down and cut it. If I were a little more professional, I probably would have fiddled with things like stabilizer or interfacing, but because I am cheap and sometimes a hack I didn’t do any of that.

It sure was scary to cut into that velvet, though, while trying not to cut the chiffon underneath!

Usually, after cutting the spikes out, I would find that they were uneven in some way so I would usually rip parts out and redo the placement.

Here’s what it looked like to sew the zigzags in place before cutting them out.

It really took forever to do this all the way around the skirt! There were about 25 spikes in total and each one took about 20 or 30 minutes to pin and cut out.

But it sure looked cool when it was done, especially in the back!

That’s all I have to say about the construction of the dress, so the final thing I want to talk about is the Moral of the Story of Elsa…

~Lesson Learned: Velvet Will Have Its Way~

Whenever I do a big project, I always try to come away having learned something new. This costume was my first time ever working with velvet, and I definitely learned a lot.

I did some research ahead of time because I had heard about issues you can encounter when working with velvet before, but it still doesn’t compare to actually trying it myself.

Before I go on, I want to define a couple of terms just so you can follow this discussion a little easier. First of all, the pile is the fuzzy little fibers that make a velvet fabric plush. The nap is the direction of the pile- you know how you can rub velvet one way and not the other? The nap is an important thing when working with velvet.

Before I cut out the pieces, I was mainly worried that I would get the nap messed up, but it’s actually easy. You just have to cut all your pattern pieces in the same direction. By this I mean that you can’t cut one piece right side up and the other upside down on the fabric, or the nap will go in different directions on the dress and it won’t look good. So it’s easy to do, but it did mean I had to sacrifice some skirt width. Other people are way better at explaining how to work with fabric with a nap than I am. Here’s the article I used to learn how to work with velvet.

The main thing I learned while making this dress, though, is that velvet is indeed fussy in more ways besides just getting the nap right. Velvet is a heavy, drapey fabric- even though mine is definitely a lighter type of velvet than average- and it really only wants to drape downwards. And as I learned the hard way, you really can’t fight it on that. Velvet will eventually have its way. I cut out Elsa’s skirt to have kind of a flare at the bottom, and the velvet said, NOPE, DON’T LIKE THAT. It didn’t flare outwards and instead just kind of hung awkwardly from the seams, creating awkward wrinkles at the point where I started the flare. I could have fixed it by making the skirt more narrow and rectangular, but I did not want to sacrifice the width, and managed to fiddle with the spikes until they kind of hid the problem anyway, and I let the chiffon do more of the flaring. The skirt still doesn’t look flared, it still looks like it’s just kind of hanging there, but that’s okay. I managed to keep the volume with only a few of those funny wrinkles.


Here’s the skirt after it was completely finished. You can see how it hangs straight down from the hips, just like what the velvet originally wanted- so the velvet won that battle! But I was able to move much of the volume to the chiffon so that if I twirl or otherwise spread the skirt out, it looks much fuller than what you see here.

Here’s some motion from the skirt and capes!

So, now I know that velvet doesn’t really like flared shapes and is pretty darn stubborn about it, so in the future, I’ll remember to cut velvet pieces in straighter shapes. If I want volume, it will have to be either gathered at the top or flares out on a straight line, like a circle skirt.

I hope you enjoyed this explanation on how I constructed Elsa! Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for Part 3!

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

  1. This looks great! Quick question– are there supposed to be more photos in your post? Because there are only six, but there are tons of sentences that seem to reference another picture that’s just not showing up. Would love to see them!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, sorry about that, I fixed it! I got lazy about halfway through the post and just started copying and pasting pictures from their cloud location instead of uploading them to WordPress and, well, apparently that doesn’t work. XD

      Liked by 1 person

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

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