Magic in Real Life: Making Elsa’s Spirit Dress, Part 3

Welcome back to my 3-part series about the making of Elsa’s Spirit Dress, my main costume project of 2020! In case you missed the other two parts, you can check out Part 1 here and Part 2 here. Part 3 is all about the most fun and exciting part of the costume: all the decoration and embellishment! I’ll also include some pictures of the finished product.

As I did in the previous two posts, I would like to add a few disclaimers that 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.

I had just barely finished the base of the dress when I decided to get started on the embellishment, since that was the part I was most looking forward to. The very first thing was to cut out the spikes on the bodice- and this was quite intimidating! The fabric looked so pristine, like freshly fallen snow, that I really was nervous to cut into it.

I pinned the shape I wanted first, and then carefully cut around it. Then I hand stitched the spikes down to the base layer…. it took quite a while to do them all!

Once I had at least a few of those cut out I immediately jumped into the fun part: the sequin embroidery. This is a detail I added to the costume; it’s not in the original design. I wanted my dress to have a little more texture and a little more bling than the one in the movie (since a life sized costume has more capacity for detail than the animation, as impressive as Frozen 2’s animation is). Sequin embroidery is incredibly easy to learn. If you’re interested in trying it, here’s a great tutorial for it!

Doing that sequin embroidery was one of the most satisfying parts of embellishing the costume!

I was also cutting out those V shapes around that time. The V’s are cut of velvet and backed with interfacing to give them a bit more stability. I’m so proud of how you can barely see the stitches, even in close up pictures! However, if I had the chance to do them over again, I would make them bigger. Much bigger. I sort of underestimated their scale relative to the costume, and it made it a real pain to do my cutout work (the sheer cutouts of the Fire and Wind symbols) because they had to be cramped into such tiny spaces. If you compare it to the original, you can see how the cutouts are so much bigger than mine…ah well!

Yeah, I know, I’m doing the Artist Thing where I’m nitpicking at flaws that most people wouldn’t even notice but hey, I guess it’s okay to be real with you guys that nobody’s perfect!

So yeah, as much as I loved doing the sequin embroidery, and didn’t mind cutting and stitching the V’s, I HATED basically every second of that cutout work! It was just such a teeny space and very fiddly. Those wind element cutouts are smaller than my fingernail.

Just for some perspective on how long this took, the first picture of the blank, uncut bodice and the last one with the three element cutouts were taken five days apart. And since covid lockdowns were really intense at that time (this was May 2020) and I was done with school, I was doing pretty much nothing but hand sewing for those 5 days. It took 5 days to sequin 2 spikes, cut out 3 V’s, and do 3 element cutouts and 1 water element! This…. is why the costume took 4 months to create.

Things started to get really fun when I was ready to start applying some of the sequins to the mesh part of the neckline! This was when the “illusion” effect really started to come to life.

Possibly even more fun than the illusion sequins, though, was the part when it really started to look a lot like Elsa’s dress: the part when I added the colorful diamonds onto the bodice!

My initial plan was to dye some of the velvet into cool pastels- pale blue, pink and lavender and such. I thought it would work because my velvet is rayon, which is a natural fiber and supposedly works with Rit dye. But, when I tried it, the experiment was a major fail. I’m not sure if the velvet was already color treated to be that white or what, because no matter how much dye I used or how hot the water was, the velvet never got more saturated than a super, SUPER pale pastel. It was barely noticeable against the white. Meanwhile, my 22nd birthday was coming up and I wanted to wear at least a presentable version of the costume for my party, so I had to quickly came up with a Plan B.

And I’m so glad I did, because Plan B was a thousand times better!

I was shopping in Hobby Lobby, looking for ribbons that I could cut out into diamonds and applique onto the costume. AND LOOK WHAT I FOUND.

I had originally wanted paler pastels for these diamond shapes, but the Glitter Overlord called my name, and I couldn’t refuse!

I’m so glad I found those ribbons because look how gorgeous the vibrant color is against the pure white of the dress!

The centers of the diamond shapes are chunky rhinestones. Sadly, I didn’t have enough of them to use across the entire dress, so I only used them on the front. (On the back, I cut squares out of white sparkly ribbon and stitched sequins on top of them.)

Stitching through that ribbon was interesting because it didn’t feel very fabric-y. It was fairly rigid and felt sort of papery in texture.

I managed to get enough of those things stitched onto the front that it looked presentable enough to wear for my birthday party! (Sorry the pic is kind of blurry, it’s the only one I have at this stage of the process.)

But if you think the blingifying was done at this point…. you are Wrong! At this point in the process, I decided the dress needed More Sparkle, so, More Sparkle became a thing.

I decided to border the inner edges between the diamonds with sheer sequins (that’s another design feature that I added to my interpretation; they weren’t native to the original movie design). Also, say hello to the Earth elements which were made of velvet cutouts! You can barely even see them because they’re kind of tiny and white on white. But I really like the texture added with subtle white on white details. Aside from that, I really adore the tiny blue diamonds with sheer sequins in the middle of the V’s. (Both the Earth element cutouts and the tiny blue diamonds are a part of the original dress design.)

Just for fun, here’s a picture of the dress at that stage along with all the supplies! All the supplies just looked so beautiful together- so much bling and vibrant colors! I’m honestly glad that my dress is a bit more colorful than the one in the movie. I love dresses that appear to be one main color upon a first glance (white in this case), but actually have a lot more color going on upon closer inspection!

That sums up most of the bodice embellishment. It was a lot of work, and there was still way more to do.

Throughout my work on the bodice, I also began some work on the capes and skirt. If I got bored doing some of the bodice embroidery, I’d switch it up and work on something else, and so the costume slowly came together as a whole.

I was slowly plugging away at cutting the spiked design into the skirt. I described this a little in Part 2, but I’ll go into more detail here. Basically, it’s extremely difficult to do- so difficult, in fact, that most cosplayers who make this costume don’t even bother to replicate the movie design of the heavier velvet spikes stitched to a sheer chiffon layer. A lot of cosplayers change the design of the skirt completely so they don’t have to do it. I can understand that choice- mine definitely didn’t come out perfectly. The reason why it’s hard is because the velvet doesn’t want to line up perfectly with the chiffon, and both of the fabrics shift around a lot. But, I love that feature of the design so much that I decided to try it anyway.

Basically, what I did was I stitched the velvet to the chiffon in lines forming a spike pattern, and cut the velvet away.

While it didn’t come out perfectly- there were plenty of wrinkles and the spikes hung weirdly in some places- I’m pretty pleased with how it came out overall, given that it’s basically an impossible feat to do with non-magical fabric. Especially when laid flat, it looks extremely satisfying!

For the cape embellishment, I cut out a bunch of squares of ribbon and hand sewed them, along with some pretty snowflake sequins, onto the capes. (The snowflakes aren’t on the original dress, but I found them at JoAnn’s and really liked them so I incorporated them in!)

I was trying to imitate the original design of the capes and how they had these delicate lines of white streaking across them like veins.

Mine aren’t quite as thin as the ones on the original, and they’re a little squiggly, but I still really like the look of them!

The next thing to work on was the little Element symbols which were to go on the hem of the skirt and the cape. In the movie design, these were shiny and colorful and had a slightly 3D design detail.

For this, I chose not to go with the exact movie design. I made mine shiny, like how they are in the transformation scene, but they were all the same iridescent color. Also, it looks like the element symbols are on the movie design, but they’re hard to make out. So I meticulously painted each sequin with the element designs. There were over a hundred, and I painted them all freehand!

I can’t mention the painting of those sequins without mentioning that I was watching the TV show Merlin for the first time while I painted these sequins, so I have a strong association of sequin painting and watching Merlin!

To attach all these to the skirt, I hand stitched them on through the top hole, but I also used fabric glue for the bottom half. It looked extremely satisfying when finished!

Somewhere close to the end of the Elsa journey, I customized some leggings. These were originally white, but I dyed them blue and glued some rhinestones to the ankle area. Here’s a reference photo and the pictures of my work. This was actually really fun to do- it’s fun to add a bit of bling to leggings like this!

The last thing involved in the Elsa project is the sleeves. I’m pretty proud of how they came out. I made them essentially like long gloves, so they’re separate from the dress. They have little snaps on them so the capes can be easily attached or detached to them. What I’m particularly proud of is the illusion mesh and the Fifth Spirit symbol which I made out of glittery ribbon. When I’m wearing it, you can’t see the mesh at all!

I finished all these various decoration elements roughly around the same time in September 2020. Hopefully these past several posts will help you understand what an involved costume this was. It may look deceptively simple in its design, but it was tricky to construct and packed with detail I started working on it in April of 2020 and finished in September of 2020- and that was a time when I had basically nothing to do in general. No job, no school, and very little time I could spend with friends. In a way, this costume kept me sane (sort of) during those awful months so it has a special place in my heart for that!

All that being said, here are pictures of the completed cosplay!

I’m especially proud of that first picture because it took me a lot of time to edit that in Photoshop.

If you want to see more Elsa pictures, be sure to check out my Instagram!

And lastly, enjoy these Aesthetic Pictures featuring the intricate bodice detail.

I hope you enjoyed reading about the long, yet fun and exciting, process it took me to make Elsa! I know I haven’t used this blog in a while (it’s been over two years since I wrote Part 2, yikes!) So if you’re still following this blog and you enjoyed these posts, would you please comment and let me know? In 2021 and early 2022 my main project was Rooftop Christine, and I’d be happy to write a blog post series about that, but only if there’s actually people who would read it.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to leave a comment!


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