Technical Costuming

Anastasia

Member
Hello there,

I have been listening to The Tolkien Professor podcast for several years now, but have been nervous about joining in more actively. When I first read the news about the Silmarillion Film Project, I decided that this would be a fun opportunity for me to participate.

I am a costume maker for Theatre and Film. I graduated from a costume studies program in university and have been working as a wardrobe technician for the past five years.

As you may know, the purpose of costuming is to portray character. Costumes do this first by placing the character in a particular time and place - physically, culturally, economically, and mentally - and second by manifesting the character's development through changes in dress.

What is most interesting to me, however, is how the garments are made. To me, thinking about how each culture approaches the making of clothing, and where they are in terms of technical prowess is fascinating.

Although technical discussions should probably come later in the design process, I believe that they play an key role in creating a culturally rich world. In my mind, what the design process will look like is:

1) Overarching aesthetic of the Silmarillion
2) References to clothing throughout all of Tolkien's works that pertain to Arda (I think a reference list of these would make a really great thread in and of itself)
3) Overarching aesthetics for each race (Vala/Maia, Elves, Men, Dwarves, Hobbits, Orcs)
4) Aesthetics of different subgroups (Examples: Noldor vs Sindar, Goldolin vs Nargothrond, Gondor vs Arnor, Dwarves of the blue mountains vs Dwarves of the lonely mountain, Hobbiton Vs Bree, Rich vs Poor)
5) Costume silhouette, colour, texture and construction
6) Character-specific costume design.

As you can see, the first 4 points on that list are world-building points. The reason character-specific costume design is so low on the list is because the characters must fit within the framework of the world. Even if the character is non-conformist, they must still have something to not conform to.

I think (and I'm assuming a little bit here) that there will be many opportunities to discuss these overarching aesthetic and world-building points through the podcast and in other forums.

What I would like to do is to create a space where people can specifically discuss how the costumes are going to be made. I believe it will be beneficial to think of this through the perspective of both "how would the people within the story have made this garment?" And "How are we as costume makers going to achieve that effect?"

The things I think such a thread could focus on are:

-Weaving
-Dyeing
-Surface design (includes: painting, embroidery, beadwork)
-Lace making
-Pattern making and fit
-Under structures
-Sewing techniques
-Knitting/Crochet/other yarn work
-Notions/closures

My expertise is in main body garments, so I can really only speak to their construction, but if anyone has expertise in the following:

-Armour
-Shoe making
-Accessories
-Hair styling techniques
-Makeup

I think that those are also important and will add additional depth to the discussion.

A sample of some of the discussions we could have are:
-What kinds of tools or machinery (sewing machine, looms, printing presses) were used to make garments?
-Did zippers exist?
-What was used to dye fabric and how colorfast was it?
-How can we reveal the skill of the elves through the cut of their clothes or the complexity of their weaving?
-How will historical dress on earth inform our ideas about the clothing of Arda?

I know it's a bit early to be thinking about this, but I want to get a feel for how many folks are interested in this topic. I would also like to know whether you think this would work as a general discussion, or whether you think these technical questions would be better served by integrating them into the discussions of each individual culture (for example, when we discuss Gondolin, we could talk about their - presumably - advanced weaving techniques).

Please let me know your thoughts regarding this topic, I would love to hear them!
 
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Kimberly

New Member
Hi Anastasia,
Great opening post for the costuming thread. I have also been involved with the Tolkien Professor/Mythgard for several years now and am really excited about the new project. I am interested in the costuming topic and am glad you've started the conversation.

I do have experience in the armour and accessories fields, so hopefully I can contribute something useful there. I started making chainmaille as a hobby about 7 years ago, all self taught via tutorials and discussion boards on the internet. I have made some small armour pieces and some jewelry/sculpture items. About three years ago I became interested in leather work and I have since taught myself some basic techniques. I have made belts, bags, a quiver, journals, and soft form armour from heavy duty leather. I'm actually currently working on a Renaissance Faire costume based on Legolas' Lord of the Rings outfit, with a bit of Ranger thrown in too.

I think it is a good idea to get the costume ideas started early on since each culture is shaped and formed by what they wear. It might be useful to lay out a basic framework of accepted technology levels within a historical framework and then there could be culture specific discussions once an overarching framework has been established. Can't wait to see where discussions lead us.
 

Bre

Active Member
Hey Anastasia,
These are all really cool discussion topics, and I look forward to seeing what people come up with concerning the technical side of costume creation; I draw concept art and thus dabble in costume design, but my knowledge of how things are made is in not way expert.

Anyways, you mentioned that you'd like to collect all references of clothing and costumes as found in the text in a single document. I've actually been working on a very lengthy document for the last year or so that does just this and a bit more; it's actually become the size of a book at this point despite being far from done. Basically I set about finding every visual description in the text and then finding commonalities between certain culture and characters groups. However, the actual text hunting is fairly tedious and I only have gone gone through The Silmarillion, HoME#1, and part of HoME#2.
 

Anastasia

Member
Hello Kimberly and Bre,

I am so glad that you are both interested in this topic. I am excited to get the discussion going.

Kimberly, I agree with your suggestion to lay out a basic framework of accepted technology levels. There are several ideas I have been thinking about regarding this, and I've broken them down as follows:

Fading:
What is interesting about this is that the highest skill and technology will exist earlier on in the story, and skills will be lost as the story progresses. I think this fading will be easy enough to conceptualize, since we have examples of this kind of loss of knowledge in our own history (the middle ages being the first example that comes to my mind, although, I think historians are debating this, since the knowledge wasn't lost, it was simply hard to access). What will be fun to discuss will be how advanced the technology was at its height. Once this baseline is established we can move forward through the story subtracting technologies and skills as we go, and adjusting for the different regions, peoples, and cultures.

Magic and Technology:
The best way for me to explain my thoughts on this are to use the example of the elven cloaks from The Lord of the Rings. It is clear that these cloaks were made with great skill of craft, but there is also clearly magic to them (I know the term magic is not the correct one to be using, but it is the best term I have at this time). This, to me, raises a question about how this "magic" can enhance the construction of clothing beyond what is possible at the apparent technology level. I will use a historical example to illustrate my point. Synthetic dyes were not invented until 1856. Prior to this only natural dyes were available, these dyes tend to yield more subdued colours, tend not to be very colourfast, and require extensive dye processes to fix the colour to the cloth (there are exceptions to these points, cochineal, for example). Synthetic dyes produce much more vibrant colours, are more colourfast, and require much simpler dye processes (again, there are exceptions to these points, some of the earlier synthetic dyes were not very colourfast at all). If we place the story in a pre-synthetic dye era, we could argue that through the use of "magic" more vibrant colours could be achieved than what natural dyes can be expected to produce. This mix of "magic" and technology could be an interesting point of discussion, and will certainly add to the complexity of the world.

How to determine levels of technology:
This ties in with the question I posted about how our own history will influence our conception of dress and technology in Arda. Based on the kinds of weaponry available, we are in a world pre-gunpowder. On Earth that puts us somewhere around the 1300's. I would argue, however, that other arts and crafts would be at a more advanced stage, since the Noldor did not take thought for weaponry until Morgoth started corrupting them after his release from the halls of Mandos. Additionally, in Tolkien's letter to Milton Waldman (1951) he states that smithcraft reached its greatest height during the second age in Eregion because of the friendship between the elves there and the dwarves of Moria. We must also take into account the general aversion to machines which is a theme in middle earth. Will we consider mechanical looms, or stick with hand looms and assume that the elves were incredibly patient and highly skilled (this article on jacquard weaving gives a good impression of what I mean https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacquard_weaving)? This will also tie in with my previous point about magic and technology.

Bre, I am in awe of your patience and careful reading with regards to that document. Would you be willing to share your findings in another costuming general discussion thread? You would not need to transpose everything, only that which pertains specifically to dress. I think it would be incredibly useful to have such references all in one place for everyone to see and refer to when making decisions about costumes.
 

Bre

Active Member
Bre, I am in awe of your patience and careful reading with regards to that document. Would you be willing to share your findings in another costuming general discussion thread? You would not need to transpose everything, only that which pertains specifically to dress. I think it would be incredibly useful to have such references all in one place for everyone to see and refer to when making decisions about costumes.
I'm not really sure how to share it in it's current state... I've written it up in Scrivener, so it's not even a single document but a bunch of documents combine in one file. Right now I have a doc for each book that deals with the First Age (The Silmarillion, HoME Vol.1, HoME Vol. 2, etc.) that include raw text dumps of any passage I could find that included a visual description or a useful tidbit that would help inform visual design (i.e. weapon types, or references to used materials, etc.). Then I have one major document divided into chapters where I analysis that raw data and point out patterns between family, cultural, and species groups. There are also quick reference lists of traits associated with each character. I believe I had most of the Eldar sections drafted, but only some of the chapters of Men begun; I hadn't begun on dwarves, Morgoth's servants, geographical locations, or cities/places.

So I'd have to finish writing the analysis, which still would only be a first draft, and also finish doing keyword searches for description passages in several more source books, and I've only really gone through two so far. The latter task could possibly sped up if I were to recruit people interested in assisting, but it is a tedious and thankless task.
 

Anastasia

Member
I'm not really sure how to share it in it's current state... I've written it up in Scrivener, so it's not even a single document but a bunch of documents combine in one file. Right now I have a doc for each book that deals with the First Age (The Silmarillion, HoME Vol.1, HoME Vol. 2, etc.) that include raw text dumps of any passage I could find that included a visual description or a useful tidbit that would help inform visual design (i.e. weapon types, or references to used materials, etc.). Then I have one major document divided into chapters where I analysis that raw data and point out patterns between family, cultural, and species groups. There are also quick reference lists of traits associated with each character. I believe I had most of the Eldar sections drafted, but only some of the chapters of Men begun; I hadn't begun on dwarves, Morgoth's servants, geographical locations, or cities/places.

So I'd have to finish writing the analysis, which still would only be a first draft, and also finish doing keyword searches for description passages in several more source books, and I've only really gone through two so far. The latter task could possibly sped up if I were to recruit people interested in assisting, but it is a tedious and thankless task.
I was thinking of something like a list of quotes from the books divided by age, race, and location with page numbers so that all of the raw data could be in one place for everyone to see and refer to. I see now that there might be simply too much data to place in an online forum. I just can't let go of the idea, though. I think it is so important for everyone to be able to refer to the actual text when making design decisions. I wonder if there is a way that it can be done more simply, perhaps like an index.
 

Bre

Active Member
I was thinking of something like a list of quotes from the books divided by age, race, and location with page numbers so that all of the raw data could be in one place for everyone to see and refer to. I see now that there might be simply too much data to place in an online forum. I just can't let go of the idea, though. I think it is so important for everyone to be able to refer to the actual text when making design decisions. I wonder if there is a way that it can be done more simply, perhaps like an index.
That is basically what I have, so we are on the same page. I'm going move that raw reference data and organize it on Google Docs for all to see, and for volunteers to edit. I'll probably have to make a thread calling for volunteers.

UPDATE: Finished adding to Google Docs.
 
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Cheryl Cardoza

New Member
Hi Everyone,
I'd like to be involved in costuming too. I do renaissance/medieval costuming for re-enactment and fun. I also costume for theater and film. I'm currently costumer on an indie short film called Dinner with God. If you were at the last Mythmoot, you might have seen my interpretation of Galadriel's mirror dress. I will post pictures of my work soon.

Looking forward to this part as it is a hobby/passion of mine going way back.
Cheryl
 

MattDBA

New Member
That is basically what I have, so we are on the same page. I'm going move that raw reference data and organize it on Google Docs for all to see, and for volunteers to edit. I'll probably have to make a thread calling for volunteers.

UPDATE: Finished adding to Google Docs.
Is this something that could be automated? I can write text scanning programs or find program libraries to help.
 

Bre

Active Member
Is this something that could be automated? I can write text scanning programs or find program libraries to help.
I'm not sure if it can be automated since the way we are selecting the passages is somewhat suggestive and the pdfs we are using are exactly properly formated. If you have any suggestions as to how that could be done let me know.
 

Anastasia

Member
Hello Cheryl and MattDBA, welcome to the technical costuming forum!
I am currently working long days, so I won't be able to post in-depth ideas for the next little while, but I'm glad to see so many folks interested in this discussion!
 

Halstein

Active Member
Hi Anastasia.
Saw your answer to my "Some thoughts on technology" post. I do not consider my self an expert on costuming, but I think what you have written sounds good. I think that in Tolkien's world, the Ainur teaches the elves skills. This means, that they quickly should be on a fairly decent technological level. In weaving terms they should be able to produce fabrics on warp-weighted looms, or simple floor-looms. Personally, I think clothing on the technological level of Antiquity and the Middle Ages. This can be quite advanced, and is not the sack-cloth beloved of Hollywood.
 

Karita Alexander

Administrator
Something I've spent a little time thinking about is how color in costumes can be such a striking way of depicting the tone/flavor of individual characters and cultures as a whole. The variety (or lack of variety) in a palette can communicate something that would sound goofy if put into dialog, like "Everyone is wearing light and airy colors because this is a time of peace and innocence." or "We are all garbed in bright and deeply saturated tones because this is a time and place of great wealth, with diverse and thriving trade connections."
Anyhow. I enjoy learning about costuming, but my enthusiasm so far exceeds my experience that I will probably remain a mostly quiet but friendly lurker around these topics. I am looking forward to seeing all of the marvelous artwork and design ideas.
 

Anastasia

Member
Hello Everyone,
I just wanted to apologize for being absent for the last several months. I have been working too much any playing too little. I've just managed to catch up on the podcast, and have a few ideas I would like to contribute over the next few weeks (they involve drawing, which I am not very quick at). I will also soon be purchasing two half-scale dressforms, one male and one female, which I hope to use to drape some of the costumes we conceptualize.
Anyways, apologies for the absence, I hope to be more active in the coming weeks.
 

Anastasia

Member
Hi Anastasia.
Saw your answer to my "Some thoughts on technology" post. I do not consider my self an expert on costuming, but I think what you have written sounds good. I think that in Tolkien's world, the Ainur teaches the elves skills. This means, that they quickly should be on a fairly decent technological level. In weaving terms they should be able to produce fabrics on warp-weighted looms, or simple floor-looms. Personally, I think clothing on the technological level of Antiquity and the Middle Ages. This can be quite advanced, and is not the sack-cloth beloved of Hollywood.
Halstein, thank you for your response. I Agree with your assessment of the technological level of weaving, but I would take it one step further and say that at the height of their skill, Elves and Men should be able to produce complex brocades, damasks and other figured cloths, so the draw loom should exist at some point. From what I understand, the draw loom is in essence a more complex hand loom, so I don't think this is too much of a technological stretch.
I have been thinking about this topic a lot, and I have come to the conclusion that I have been thinking about the word technology too much, and the word skill too little. Technology generally implies things that are developed to make certain proceedings more efficient. Skill implies a learned proficiency developed through training and practice. So, where I had been thinking about the technology that should exist to produce certain garments, I should have also been thinking about the incredible skill that could be used to produce the same garments. For example, one of the former employees at my place of work was a traditional Italian tailor, the kind that started learning when he was a small child. Where my co-workers and I now use measurements and dressforms to set the sleeves in our jackets, he used to use one hand to hold the jacket, and the other hand to set the sleeve. In other words, he had an understanding of the fabric and the required shape of the shoulder, and he could achieve that shape using only his hands. This is what I would consider great skill.
An example of how this concept could be applied in Arda is that at the height of a civilization's skill the garments produced could be very fine indeed, using complex weaving, dyeing, printing, embroidery, beading, lacework, etc. As the fall happens, these skills would be lost, resulting in less complex designs, and thicker and rougher embellishment. The technology used needn't change (but certainly could if the situation required it), just the skill of the artist. One modern example of this is the current state of embroidery. Where embroidery samplers from previous centuries showcase incredibly fine work being the norm, in modern times one must seek out specialty materials before even beginning to attempt such fine work. I have been trying to find examples of what I mean online, but images of the samplers simply do not do them justice. You have to see the size of the thread and stitches in real life to appreciate the finery.

Something I've spent a little time thinking about is how color in costumes can be such a striking way of depicting the tone/flavor of individual characters and cultures as a whole. The variety (or lack of variety) in a palette can communicate something that would sound goofy if put into dialog, like "Everyone is wearing light and airy colors because this is a time of peace and innocence." or "We are all garbed in bright and deeply saturated tones because this is a time and place of great wealth, with diverse and thriving trade connections."
Anyhow. I enjoy learning about costuming, but my enthusiasm so far exceeds my experience that I will probably remain a mostly quiet but friendly lurker around these topics. I am looking forward to seeing all of the marvelous artwork and design ideas.
Karita, I agree entirely. Colour is such a useful tool to use to convey ideas. A costume must immediately tell the audience who someone is, and colour is really important when trying to make that immediate impression.
I know I am quite late, but welcome to the technical costuming forum!
 

ruth barratt

Active Member
I have just found this lovely lady on youtube. She talks all about the costumes in different shows and films (manly GoT).
She goes into a detail on the outfits and the decoration on them (embroidery, metal work, cut, fabric and so on).
Now some of you wont need it as you have way more knowledge then me (I sew but still need Mum to help with the fancy bit:)) so feel free to not watch but if you want some help or just fancy something new to watch head to:Costume Cinematografico on YouTube.
Let me know what you think.
 

Faelivrin

Well-Known Member
If you want an example of amazing pre-industrial weaving work, look not to medieval Europe but to the Inca Empire. At their height, the Quechua did things with thread that nobody understands today.

For specific styles, Tolkien didn't say much, except in a letter where he says, basically, that "medieval" European styles could more-or-less work OK. He didn't seem strongly committed to that, although for the general aesthetic of being "mythical ancient European prehistory" a mostly European look is a good idea.

Also, Elves in general are artists at heart and the Noldor especially are peerless craftsmen, so what they produce should be artistic and beautiful, even if made quickly under duress.
 
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