Sunday, October 20, 2013

How to Maximize Lord of the Rings Authenticity (awesomeness) on a Shoestring Budget

(shall be updated with pictures, examples, and links)

First off, I am talking a real budget here. Not "under $100" kind of "budget". We are talking, a highschooler whose minimum-wage-job-money goes mostly to non-recreational things kind of budget, or a unemployed with $2000 in the bank kind of budget, or a living off a grad-school stipend with 3 kids kind of budget...  basically a real budget. It's exciting :)

1. See it as a challenge, an adventure!   Don't just drool over beautiful re-creations that cost $300-$800 for materials alone (or this one...) and resign yourself to tackiness. I wish I could go to the fabric store and buy silk, but I'll go to the store and buy poly satin on sale instead...
That does not have to be the case. Because in some ways, you are being more authentic. When you have to hunt down scraps of leather at a thrift store (in the shape of coats, weird pants, etc) and then painstakingly piece the pieces, you are being more like the real Medievals (and hence, Middle-Earthites) to whom all fabric was handwoven (and thus, precious), all leather had to be skinned and tanned, metal things had to be hand-hammered and hand-crafted. Beauty cost effort.They had to work to make things.
Medievals used fabric saving techniques (gore insertion, leaves virtually no waste. Eowyn's Refugee coat cut the modern [fabric wasting] way can use up to 8 yds, while cut the medieval way can get the same look for 4 yds).
Example: When I was making my husband's Faramir Hauberk,we were on a very tight (nonexistent) budget. I needed largish metal rings for the side lacing. The best I could find was on the internet for $9, which my unemployed husband said no. So I sulked for a day. And then, inspiration. Together we took old metal hangers, bent them in a spiral around a fat marker (use a dowel, the marker shattered), and clipped them apart with tinsnips. My husband then, using pliers, got the ends lined up with eachother. We had forged our own metal rings, perhaps the way Faramir's Hauberk makers had. It was extremely satisfying.

2. Just because its going to be technically cheap doesn't mean it has to look cheap. Cheap looking costumes often look like they were slapped together, without real effort.
But you are putting effort and ingenuity into it, so it's not going to look cheap.  (note: avoid poly satin. Thrifted sheets/curtains can actually look pretty awesome, and cost less than poly satin) I have seen techinically expensive costumes (using real wool, real silk, etc) that looked cheap and costumey due to poor construction or design. You need to keep your eyes open for these pitfalls, which brings us to no. 3

3. Learn from other re-creators outfits, especially the silly looking ones.RESEARCH. When you want to make something, google "sewed Eowyn white wool dress" etc for fan made pictures (you can find the correct fan name for each dress on
Look at as many pictures as you can. Don't just study what the successful ones did. Study what the (in your mind) unsuccessful (tacky, silly, cheap looking) ones did. You are learning from their mistakes, so you won't do what they did.
Examples here (sorry about the lack of photo-credit. I saved them from the internet for private study ages ago. But as I am holding them up as what not to do, I don't know if I should link even if I could...)
Arwen's Blood Red Dress (sleeves too short. Sleeves that look ridiculous bc they are movie she always has arms positioned just so)
Faramir's Hauberk (too pointy and long, etc)
Note for women: Not all of us are built the same. Some designs need to be altered to flatter different figure types. You often will see this problem in fan made costumes that stick to original construction, at the cost of being less flattering. e.g. The actress for Eowyn has a very slender, athletic build with a long waist (like my sisters) which looks really good with the dropped visual waistline of the Shieldmaiden dress. On my more curvy short-waisted figure, it looks silly. I loved the Shieldmaided dress though, so I simply raised the visual waistline (the trim at the bottom of the corset) by a couple inches. 
Also, Eowyn's slender build works very well for her 2-piece bodice with shaping only in the side seams, that makes up most of her dresses. When curvier women try to wear a 2 piece bodice with shaping only in the side seams, a very unflattering wrinkle develops across the chest. We simply need more room there. I need to modify it with severe levels of darts, or simply use a (shoulder) princess-seamed pattern instead.

4. Learn from other re-creators outfits, which elements are most important to you. The outfits that look "That's awesome" break it down why. Compare to the original, and break it down element by element. They almost always are not exactly the same as the movie's. But they preserve certain elements that you hadn't put a finger on before, but that really 'made' the outfit for you. Write down those elements.
Example: For me, Arwen's Blood Red dress. Boatneck. Red and Gold emphasized (not silvery gold). Blue hints in the blue-backness. Sleeves just a tad shorter than the movie

5. Prioritize (in a list) what's most important to you vs what's less so. After all that research, make a sketch of what you want, what you want to do with it. Differentiate which elements are most important to you, and which things you would just like to have. That way, you can maximize your efforts. One thing that helps with this process, is deciding what you are going to do with it.
Example: for my husband's Faramir outfit, I decided having something that was more practical (e.g. that he could run through the woods and camp in, something Faramir really would have used) mattered more to me than having it look exactly like the movie prop. Thus if I had the choice between some plain short leather boots, and crafting together some very convincing knee-high boots with lacing using hot-glue, deerskin, and sneakers, I would opt for the short boots. Someone going to a convention, who wanted to look like they stepped off the set might opt for the latter. Infact, someone filming a medieval movie would probably opt for the latter. As long as it looks convincing on screen, that is what matters. 
However (until I make that medieval movie...) I'd rather have something he can actually slosh through mud like Faramir in.
It's all about figuring out what's important to you.

6. Make a mock-up if you can. I hate making mock-ups, because it wastes fabric. "Use old sheets*" people say. . Well, I was going to use that sheet for my dress!
But I have found, mockups are worth it. They do end up saving money. And I, who hate 'wasting' any kind of fabric, and who is always looking for a shortcut, finally admit its true. So do it.
*(2-5 bucks for flat sheets at thrift stores, a Queen size flat sheet is equivalent to at least 4 yds of 45" muslin. Don't buy the fitted sheets, they are usually more worn out as people actually sleep on that part. And if you are creeped out by using people's old bedding, you can always pray over it :) I do...)
Tips for speeding up mockups: you don't really have to do the skirt, usually all the fitting issues are on the bodice. Find some hideous poly-cotton 70s sheet and you can get a ton of bodice mockups out if it, and not feel guilty hacking it up.
Alternative to mockups: If you really don't want to waste materials on a mockup (like with Faramir's Hauberk) do a version 1.0 version. That will be your best effort with really cheap/free materials first. It will stand in its own right, perhaps be altered at the end to be, say, one of Faramir's Ranger's and not Faramir's. Or perhaps you will gift it to a little sibling later. But don't think of it as a waste, its a 1.0 version. This is what I did with Josh's Hauberk. I used a (free) shiny reddish brown leather (hideous) 70's jacket with very thin leather. (it actually turned out better than I thought). I found out how to hand-sew leather, what works, what doesn't (insert link). I found the thinnest leather can be reinforced with layers of canvas to hang better. I learned a lot. (insert link).

Now that I've made all my mistakes on it, I know what to do when i actually buy thick leather to make version 2.0
Tip: For guys's Hauberks, even pinning the canvas you are going to use (inside out) onto the guy, and drawing the dark inset on it with marker will tell you how the lines will look. Then, not to waste your canvas, you can flip it around, and sew the 2nd layer of canvas to it, and no one will see the inky lines. (tip: don't use permanent marker, it bleeds alot. And don't use dollar store 'skrples' from China. They smell very very strange...)

7. Embroidery.
It's cheap ($0.30 a skein at Walmart), it can be quite fun, and it lends an aura of authenticity and beauty that the most expensive trims can't match.
It even made this cut-from-an-old-T-shirt tunic on my baby look awesome...

8. Save up for those things that are really important to you (that you really can't make).
For me: a decent sword.
Someday I hope to build a forge in my backyard, others have done it for under $100, if you do it right. But first I need a backyard.... :)
Note: Making your own bow and arrows from (sticks, string, metal cans, tins snips, pliers and a pocket knife) that shoot through pizza boxes, aim to 100 ft, and look awesome, are totally doable. You can also get really nice knives (good for cutting wood, meat, etc) from Walmart for under $20. Good Christmas present idea....

9. Have fun :) Making things is about creating something.
Where would the fun be, in having an unlimited budget to simply order the best materials without batting an eyelash, and hire a seamstress to sew an exact replica which you would then wear for a photo-shoot, then send to the dry-cleaners, and hang it in your bulging wardrobe with 50 gowns?
Challenge makes it fun. Creating beautiful things takes effort. See it as learning a craft :)

My dress (actually a mock up) $6; Kid's outfits $1 worth of embroidery floss on old T shirts. Josh's Hauberk: $4 not counting paint (I have an almost full bottle) (alas, I didnt lace it tight enough, so the thinness of the leather is on display...) Josh's Cloak: $6.  Total Cost of everyone's outfits: $17

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