Under the Mallorn Tree with Elbren - The Magic of Middle Earth Amateur Costuming

When I was growing up, my mother made many of my clothes on her beloved sewing machine; so, before I begin, let me state that I do have some experience with (at least) being the recipient of handmade clothing. Beyond that, I can vividly recall the hours that Mother sat at the sewing machine and at the table cutting out patterns so that we would have these really cool threads, (okay, not ALL of them were really cool....but come Halloween, you can bet that we had some of the BEST costumes!)

If nothing else, my experience as a kid gives me the respect for costumers that keeps me from saying stupid things and/or asking them to make something for me without bowing, groveling, and/or offering to (at least) pay them and buy the materials!

I think that most Middle Earth costumers are flattered by the first hundred or so demands...umm...requests from greedy and non-sewing Tolkien fans (such as myself); but, after one hundred, they have some secret code that then allows them to say no...or worse.

Advice: Use polite conversation, genuine interest, and show awe when they begin to speak that undecipherable language of the sewing world....do NOT ask them to make you one until you are SURE that they, in fact, make costumes for folks other than themselves and/or their Elite few.

Orcses at DragonCon!!!Orcses at DragonCon!!!

The recent announcement about the Threads of Middle Earth Costume Contest here at TORC has only elevated my amazement at the talent of Tolkien fans. I've seen some truly glorious costumes at DragonCon over the years; and, it has been nothing but awestruck pleasure to see the recent DragonCons now have many Middle Earth inspired costumers and costume-wearers. In fact, at just this last DragonCon I was asked by TORn, (TheOneRing.net), to be a judge for their Evening in Bree LOTR Costume Contest. The year before had also seen an Evening in Bree party with costume contest, (I was on the DragonCon Tolkien Track staff and was the organiser of said event), and again, the costumes were incredible. Despite the fact that I readily confessed to Corvar and Jincey that I had been a patron of the bar on several occasions that evening, they insisted that I take up the challenge as a representative of Tolkien Online. I am so glad that I did! Seeing the costumes up close, studying the techniques, and being absolutely stunned by the craftmanship, was truly a pleasure! ( I was also fortunate enough to have Julia McGee, a VERY talented LOTR costume maker, and Amy Pace of West of the Moon.net as co-judges!) The decisions that we made were amazingly tough. All of the costumes were SO wonderful!

And now I'm a judge and coordinator of Tolkien Online's Threads of Middle Earth Costume Contest. Again, I cannot truly relate, with words on this internet page, how wonderful the entries are! I find myself opening each emailed graphic with a little gasp or exclamation of wonder! (My dog thinks that I've lost my mind due to this recent new behaviour, by the way.) One of the costumes took the maker 650 hours to make! SIX HUNDRED AND FIFTY HOURS!

So, I began to feel quite confident that there are Tolkien fans out there that are, quite frankly, crazier than I am. I use that word "crazy" with much love and as homage to my mother, who thinks that I am indeed a little nutty for all of the money and time that I spend on Tolkien related...err....things. So, costumers, don't be insulted: We're all in good company.

But, I was curious. What drives these costumers to be SO detailed and so devoted? How did it all begin? So, my latest journey in Middle Earth began: The Search to Find the Source of the Costumers' Secret Fire!

"As I watched the movie, and fell in love with the entire universe and the diversity of races and personalities Tolkien created, it wasn't until the Mirror scene that it really clicked with me. When Galadriel admitted she wanted the ring, but knowing what would happen, refused it, I realized that this was a character that I not only could possibly pass for (being a six foot blond), but she unlike any other character I'd ever seen... so strong, yet delicate, beautiful yet frightening... and I had to make that costume," says Julia McGee, Middle Earth costumer and fan.

That's Cate Blanchett as Galadriel on the left and Julie McGee as Galadriel on the right...errr....I mean Julia on the left.....hmmmm....hard to tell, eh?That's Cate Blanchett as Galadriel on the left and Julie McGee as Galadriel on the right...errr....I mean Julia on the left.....hmmmm....hard to tell, eh?

Ah, so it IS the passion for Middle Earth and its characters that sparks the flame! Passion, that, it seems, can provoke some interesting reactions, even from the costumers themselves!

"I have been known to grab people at conventions and demand detailed information," says Donna Maloney, another Middle Earth seamstress, and when asked just how many Middle Earth costumers there may be out there, "Currently there are 2,053 members of the LOTR costuming site Alleycatscratch.com. And that is just one costuming site. Costuming is a very popular pasttime. Taking a walk around any of the Sci Fi/Fantasy Conventions will show the number, diversity and talent of a large population of costumers out there. It is an addiction. It is a whole lot of fun."

Addiction. Interesting word to use and often times it can be applicable to Tolkien and Middle Earth fans in general. In the most positive and loving manner, of course.

And then we get into the word, "obsessed". (Yet, another word often applied to Tolkien fans!) When I asked, "Do you ever become....oh say....obsessed with a project?", I got some very interesting, and funny, responses from these wonderfully talented Middle Earth costumers:

"YES!!!! I'll spend hours and hours working on it, and "forget" to sleep."

"Every project is an obsession. An addiction."

"You mean like turning my kitchen and den into a craft and sewing rooms for 9 months and spending all my clothing budget money on a costume I'll only were 3 times maybe?"

Passion. Addiction. Obsession. These are the elements, mellyn, of the Source of the Costumers' Secret Fire!

But, what about the poor folks who simply don't know how or lack the skills and talent to make these wonderful costumes? We wants them, too, preciousssss!

Well, if you want to enlist the talents of one of these Middle Earth costumers, you have to know a few things, first:

That's Donna Maloney in her Arwen Mourning Dress on the far left!  Next is TORC's Katarina, then me, (TORC's Elbren), TORC's Carnimiriel, and our friend, Dan'a, who is wearing her own Luthien Tinuviel costumeThat's Donna Maloney in her Arwen Mourning Dress on the far left!  Next is TORC's Katarina, then me, (TORC's Elbren), TORC's Carnimiriel, and our friend, Dan'a, who is wearing her own Luthien Tinuviel costume


The time and planning, meticulous planning, that go into each of these labours of love is, quite frankly, much overlooked by the non-costuming population.

"I'm not sure that those who don't make costumes understand the research we do before making it. The only reason I say that is from observing people just getting started, and my own experience getting into it. It's not just about going out and buying a pattern and material, we often have to study pictures and clips and dolls for hours and hours trying to find just the right angle to figure out how the costume is put together so we can make our own pattern and templates," explains Julia McGee.

Donna Maloney agrees, "To make a good, realistic copy of a costume frequently costs a lot of money and an incredible amount of time. Not just sewing, but creating the pattern, and finding the fabrics."

Yet another costumer describes this as, "...the amount of love and care that go into them. I put so much blood and sweat into this skirt I made.... and everyone assumes it was simple. They are always asking me to make them one... I tell them that if they want one, they pay me fifty bucks plus cost of materials. They usually don't ask anymore after that!"

Okay, so if we learn to appreciate all of the hard work and offer to pay the price quoted, THEN how do we proceed?

Julia McGee has an absolutely gorgeous Haldir armour costume, and when asked if she makes this for others, she explains, "I do get asked quite a bit about the Haldir armor, and I simply decline. It's been so hard on my family for me to just make one set that to charge what it would be worth to do another would be out of anyone's budget. It's not like I have the facility to just do a mold and cast.... I'm a stay-at-home mom without a workshop. It would all have to be hand-crafted. So I just suggest they make their own, or hire another 'artisan' to do it for them."

Julie McGee in her Haldir Helm's Deep armour (third from left).  That's her husband as Boromir and Jose Salcedo as Elrond.  Julia made the Boromir costume as well!Julie McGee in her Haldir Helm's Deep armour (third from left).  That's her husband as Boromir and Jose Salcedo as Elrond.  Julia made the Boromir costume as well!

Do not despair! There are costumers who will, time allowing, gladly take commissions from non-sewing fans! For instance, Donna Maloney has made several costumes for her friends and family, even though she admits, "I have however cringed on occasion..." when asked to take commissions.


Of course, even the costumers themselves are known to get a case of what we shall call "Costuming Envy"!

"...if it wasn't for my hearing that someone else was going to make the Helm's Deep armor, I don't know if I would have even tried. I wanted the armor, but I didn't think I could do it...rather than put myself through all the jealousy over someone elses costume, I decided to at least TRY a process I used for my sons Jango Fett armor," says McGee.

Donna Maloney goes so far as to say that, "I have been known to grab people at conventions and demand detailed information!"

McGee concurs, "If I see a costume I love of a character I adore, I can gush like Niagra... Seeing pictures on line, this will happen sometimes, but at DragonCon, when I saw some of the characters walking around... Leah in her Padme purple gown, Jose in Elrond, Toby in his Sauron, Micheal in Legolas and of course... I had absolutely no shame when it came to Wade in his Jack Sparrow costume. There were many others, but those are the ones that stood out..."

So, there's another clue! Perhaps if we commission something that the costumer will themselves drool over......*makes a note*


To see some of these amazing costumes and share in the knowledge of how they are fashioned, McGee has a very useful website with great visuals: http://www.thedentedhelmet.com/guri/

If you would like to have a go at making her Haldir Helm's Deep armour, detailed instructions can be found here: http://www.thedentedhelmet.com/guri/elvenwarriors/elvenwarriors.htm

An enormous website that will truly give you a jaw-dropping view of this world of Middle Earth costuming can be found here: http://www.alleycatscratch.com/lotr You WILL be amazed at what you find here! Hopefully, it will give you the appreciation that these costumers deserve!

(And then you can grovel and pay homage accordingly and stand a MUCH better chance of having a costumer accept your commission!)


And for those of you who might want to get a lesson or two on costuming itself: Both Donna Maloney and Julie McGee will be hosting panels at The Gathering of the Fellowship, www.tolkiengathering.com, on Middle Earth Costuming:

Tolkien Costuming for the Amateur will be Donna's workshop where she and friends will present a session on how they make their gorgeous costumes, and how YOU, too, can become a Middle-earth costumer!

Armor Apprentice Workshop - Hands On will be Julia and friends workshop. In this hands on armor building workshop, experienced costumers will coordinate groups of 8-12 participants in the creation of a full set of armor from a LOTR costume. They will have three hours and use only simple materials such as posterboard, duct tape and markers. At the end of the session, one of the participants from each group will model the armor for any who would like to see the results. Besides fun, the goal of the workshop is to teach the basics of template making using dolls and photographs as reference.

Now, Donna and Julia, have I earned any brownie..err..Elfie points here? About that Helm's Deep armour...and the Galadrim tunic....


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