By Victoria Stone
And now for something completely different! While Patricia spends her time piecing amazing quilts, I decided to replicate a garment from a Disney cartoon for my friend’s daughter. Like most little girls, Ara is obsessed with the Frozen movies—and Frozen 2 has Queen Elsa in a glorious new coat.
To create this garment, I broke it down into five different pieces: the bodice, the skirt, the belt, the overlaid capelet, and the sheer wings.
For the main shell of the coat, the body and the skirt, I heavily altered a discontinued children’s coat pattern, Butterick 5946.
I extended the skirt of the pattern by about 12 inches to get started. With the altered pattern, I made a handful of muslin mock-ups of the bodice to work out the back cutouts, high collar, pointed sleeves, and front opening.
Below: an early mock-up with a back sparkle overlay that eventually became the separate sheer capelet.
Once I had a rough idea of what the pattern should look like, it was time to get the coat fabric. In the movie, the fabric is a soft blue—with a dark-blue ombre on the skirt—interwoven with sparkles. From Mood Fabrics in NYC, I bought a cream-colored lightweight suiting cotton with woven metallic threads.
With fabric was in hand, it was time to dye. To find the perfect shade of blue, I made a series of test swatches using fiber-reactive dyes from Dharma Trading Company. With fiber-reactive dyes, only the natural fibers of the fabric take on the color, leaving the metallic threads sparkling.
I dyed all seven yards of suiting in a bucket in my kitchen, hoping for the best.
Below: test swatches, testing containers, my highly scientific bucket and stick technique, the final color choice—#26 Sky Blue—with a lighter soaking time, and a bodice mock-up in the freshly dyed sparkling fabric.
After dyeing the the fabric, I assembled the skirt and braced myself for the ombre. The movie showed the skirt being somewhat purple at the bottom so I made the choice to dip the skirt in #112 Periwinkle. I dyed the entire skirt to keep the ombre even all around.
Because the skirt was so long, my measly dye bucket was not deep enough for a proper dip. A small trash bin came to my aid. The skirt was dipped, then laid out in a plastic bag sandwich to cure overnight before excess dye was washed out.
Below: purple ombre tests and double trash bin set-up—one with the original blue dye and one with the periwinkle. The second image shows the skirt curing, and the final dyed and rinsed ombre skirt.
All along I’d also been working on two other parts of the garment—the wings and the skirt trim.
The wings are long and sheer, with a silver shimmer on the fabric that is denser at the top and fades out towards the bottom, and a sparkly snowflake detail on the base.
Fortunately I found a sheer organza with a silver foil ombre effect that worked perfectly. After a few mock-ups and tests, a rolled and serged hem became the obvious best choice.
The snowflake detail had to be ethereal, delicate and sparkly. I cut the snowflake pattern out of freezer paper, carefully ironed it onto the organza, and then applied layers of Mod Podge and white glitter, peeling the freezer paper off before it fully dried to get a crisp line.
Below: I tested beading the wings but the beads looked too clunky beside the delicate glitter snowflakes.
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Trimming the skirt was a new adventure for me. Queen Elsa’s coat has a hem beaded with pale purple pendants. I wanted plastic beads because there would be so many and they’d be knocking around the shins of a child. I hunted for the perfect beads for four months before I got very lucky and found some deadstock lilac teardrops on Etsy.
It took me nearly two months of odd evenings to hand bead eight feet of cotton twill tape with one string every half inch—individually knotting each string of three white capiz shell seed beads and one lilac teardrop. I secured each strand individually so if Ara ripped out one bead while playing, the whole line of beads wouldn’t be released.
Halfway through the beading, I realized that I hadn't dyed the twill tape! So the tape and beads got a quick dunk when I was dying the belt fabric.
Approaching the one-year mark of working on this garment, I was faced with my most difficult challenge yet—Queen Elsa’s coat is covered in embroidery! As I researched embroidery techniques and tried my hand at tambour and hand embroidery, I wondered if embroidering the coat was a fool’s errand.
In a stroke of luck (after searching for a few weeks) I found an embroidery machine on Craigslist. The machine, a Brother Pacesetter, and the accompanying design software are over 12 years old.
The outdated machine required each design to be loaded onto a memory cartridge that was inserted into the machine. I fought my way through a series of IT problems and got started on the 21 flake designs along the skirt hem.
To properly position the flakes, I cut out freezer paper shapes and ironed them into position as guides for the placement of my machine embroidery hoop. I embroidered every other flake and then filled in the remaining ones so the overlapping arms would have a consistent over-under pattern.
The next step was probably the most convoluted of all. Queen Elsa’s coat has a sheer overlay along the collar, wrapping the shoulders, collar and upper back just above the cutout, heavy with embroidery and embellishments.
The shoulder shape is almost like an epaulet and gives the coat a more structured appearance. To create the shoulder shape, without it feeling too much like a suit on a child, a friend recommended I pad stitch horsehair canvas for a soft but structural curved insert.
Below: a comparison of a blue cotton mock-up and a reference image, as well as a muslin of the bodice (I was still working on the collar) with one pad stitched shoulder.
Using the coat bodice and sleeve pattern, I created my own pattern to fit over the coat. The nature of the embroidery—a large snowflake that caps the shoulder—combined with the fact that I wanted Ara to be able to move around in the coat meant that there had to be a shoulder seam.
I carefully mapped the pattern onto the same sheer organza as the wings. I continued by embroidering the bodice piece and the two upper arm caps.
Below: the final capelet bodice pattern, and an embroidered and seamed shoulder.
The back of the coat has a large snowflake that spans the upper back— half on the sheer capelet and half on the back cutout. For the cutout to support this, it needed a mesh insert.
I first cut the back piece of the bodice, and fused double-sided interfacing to it. To keep the project from being fused to my ironing board, I laid down a layer of freezer paper first and, once pressed, simply peeled the bodice piece off.
I fused a sheer glittery organza onto the interfacing. Once all was in place, I embroidered the bottom half of the snowflake directly onto the back of the bodice.
Below: early trials had the back snowflake made of the cotton suiting.
Next it was time to attach the wings and capelet. I chose to attach the wings at the bottom edge of the capelet, instead of at the shoulder seams. This avoided the serged hemline of the wings from showing under the capelet. Also, if Ara ripped one wing while playing, it wouldn’t ruin the capelet as well.
With the wings in place, it was Capelet Time. I gave the pieced capelet a minuscule folded hem. Then I tailor basted the capelet into position, making sure that the shoulder seams, back edge, and front overlays all lined up.
Once in position I carefully stitched through the embroidery and hem with white thread to secure it. I then stitched on some metallic silver thread embroidery details to further keep the capelet in place, and add some sparkle.
At last it was time to sew the skirt to the bodice. To prevent issues when I ombre dyed the skirt, I skipped adding pockets during that early stage of production. Now I ripped out the strategically placed basting stitches in the skirt’s side seams and inserted nice deep pockets—perfect for a girl on the go.
Below: adding pockets, and the sleeves—dyed to be darker at the wrist and re-patterned to give them a point.
Now it was time for the last piece of the garment—the belt! This involved several challenges.
First, it needed to be patterned. After careful comparisons and a decent amount of math, I had a good match to the movie version’s shape.
Second, the belt embroidery needed to splay out around a large blue gemstone. I found the perfect vintage rhinestone on Etsy, and then designed the embroidery to exactly surround it.
With the embroidery in place I stumbled over my next challenge. In the movie Elsa takes the coat off by undoing the belt in the back, with no visual latching system.
I didn't want to ruin the lines of the back of the coat with an adjustable tie. But simply adding slide closures or something similar would cause the front of the belt to sag under the weight of the embroidery and embellishments.
At last I realized, magnets!
I placed two magnets at the front of the dress, and their corresponding friends into the belt. I also made the belt adjustable, with more magnets, for when Ara gets older.
Finally I embellished the belt with rhinestones and silver embroidery.
Below: magnets on the back of the belt embroidery and one of the hidden magnets in the dress.
It was time to attach the beaded hem trim. As I pinned the strip of dangling pendants into place, I realized the trim was about 3 inches short. I couldn't add more of the same beads as the Etsy seller was completely sold out. I managed to find similarly colored beads and then replaced every tenth string in the hem. With the new beads blending in, the trim was long enough.
The weight of the beads however pulled on the lines of the coat. I stabilized the hem with horsehair braid, invisibly stitched into place, to give the lower edge some lift and shape.
I had left the front bodice panels untrimmed to give myself enough room for the machine embroidery hoop. One of the finishing touches was some minor embroidery along the front edge of the bodice, partially over the capelet.
I lined the coat with orchid purple Chinese silk. I created a fairly traditional lining—assembling the bodice and skirt to hand set into the coat, bag lining the arms, and hand setting the shoulder seams.
To fit the lining to the back cutouts, I carefully traced the back bodice cutouts onto the silk, cut them out, and hemmed the edges. I basted the back bodice into position, and hand-stitched the bodice and lining edges together.
The lining was also secured by hand at the waist seams and along the hem.
Then it was onto the fun stuff—absolutely covering this garment in sparkles. I originally tried hotfix gemstones but they didn’t stay on particularly well. Also, finding the correct shapes to match the Frozen 2 coat was very difficult.
After chatting with a friend who makes circus costumes, I decided to use E600 fabrifuse glue, and got started. I primarily used Swarovski AB crystal gems as they were so sparkly. (When I tried to mix the Swarovski gemstones with other rhinestones, it just didn’t look quite right.)
Below: two sets of rhinestones—the larger diamonds on the left are vintage rhinestones I found on Etsy, while the sharper kite rhinestones on the right are Swarovski.
This garment is practically encrusted with sparkles. The wings have large kite gems and small rhinestones; the hem embroidery is accented with more kite gems and soft blue-gray half pearls; and the sleeves have a line of diamonds down them.
However, the real star is the capelet. There are mini kites, mini diamonds, and the smallest round rhinestones I could find (intended for manicures!). Plus, the entire edge of the capelet is bordered in more half pearls.
I finished the edges of the coat with bias tape I made from the leftover darker dyed belt fabric and a hidden front closure. At last, Queen Elsa’s coat was done.
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In the movie, Queen Elsa makes all her clothing with ice enchantments so recreating a magical animated garment in real life was a huge and exciting undertaking.
In making Queen Elsa’s adventure coat, I tried out sewing techniques I’d never even heard of before, took my first stab at beading, learned how to machine embroider, and more. The greatest pleasure of this project was the act of creating something for the pure joy of it.
Although originally planned as a gift for her fourth birthday, Ara is now six years old. I up-sized the coat and it is fortunately still a bit big on her.
After nearly two years of work, on and off, I was able to deliver the coat in early Fall. I know Ara plays dress up in it. And I have great hopes she will do what any child does with a good dress-up outfit and wear it into well-loved pieces.