Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My Girl on Fire Dress from the Hunger Games

Jeanine wearing the girl on fire dress, inspired by Suzanne Collins' description of Katniss' interview dress in The Hunger Games
What you can't tell from this picture is that it's 40 degrees, raining about five feet away, and ultra windy (okay maybe you can tell it's windy). And poor Jeanine was freezing in this flimsy little chiffon confection. Photo from Orange Turtle.

As I mentioned yesterday, I got to play Cinna and do the styling for a recent Hunger Games-inspired photoshoot with Orange Turtle Photography. Although it was fun to decide on the looks for Reaping Day and the Arena, my real pièce de résistance was the Girl on Fire dress that our Katniss wore for The Capitol.

When I first read the books by Suzanne Collins, one thing that I immediately noticed was the importance of clothing/fashion in the world of Panem, especially in the Capitol. From Prim's ducktailed shirt to the historically awful District 12 chariot costumes, from Cinna's understated look compared to Effie Trinket's bright pink hair, and the fact that a tribute's stylists could make or break their whole look and even whether or not they got sponsored...everything about a character's appearance communicates something. [Note also that that this is the world presented in the book; these are NOT my views about the importance of fashion.] So when I got to the description of Katniss' interview dresses, of course the sewasaurus rex part of my brain started trying to imagine what it would look like in real life. Here's the original description:
The team works on me until late afternoon, turning my skin to glowing satin, stenciling patterns on my arms, painting flame designs on my twenty perfect nails. Then Venia goes to work on my hair, weaving strands of red into a pattern that begins at my left ear, wraps around my head, and then falls in one braid down my right shoulder. They erase my face with a layer of pale makeup and draw my features back out. Huge dark eyes, full red lips, lashes that throw off bits of light when I blink. Finally, they cover my entire body in a powder that makes me shimmer in gold dust.
The creature standing before me in the full-length mirror has come from another world. Where skin shimmers and eyes flash and apparently they make their clothes from jewels. Because my dress, oh, my dress is entirely covered in reflective precious gems, red and yellow and white with bits of blue that accent the tips of the flame design. The slightest movement gives the impression I am engulfed in tongues of fire. I am not pretty. I am not beautiful. I am as radiant as the sun. For a while, we all just stare at me. “Oh, Cinna,” I finally whisper. “Thank you.”  (The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins)
Now, obviously I didn't use precious gems all over my version, and I definitely didn't include the color blue, and Jeanine doesn't look to be in danger of burning up every time she moves. The aspects of this description that I chose to include were 1) flame colors, and 2) movement = fire.  And before anyone gets all up in arms about not staying true to the book, check out the hideous, stiff, cheap taffeta-looking spectacle that movie-Katniss is wearing:

Her expression = my thoughts exactly. She does not look radiant or twirly. She looks like she went to that cheap store at the mall right before prom and picked up the first dress she found. It's like they skimmed the description and thought, "Oh okay, just make it fire colored." 

Um. Don't people get paid lots of money to make fabulous clothing? And this is what they came up with? Anyway, I toyed with the idea of putting LEDs into the dress to get the glowing effect, but then decided that might be 1) a bit much, and 2) too complicated and expensive for my purposes. Although I would still like to do some combination of light+clothing sometime...

Anyway, keeping in mind my limited budget and the fact that I don't know anything about making evening gowns (hello, I usually work with somebody's old sheets that they didn't want anymore!), I decided that I needed to use chiffon cut on the bias to get the type of movement I wanted, and the more layers the better. But it also needed to be light enough that it would at least try to give the illusion of a flickering fire.

Close up of the fire part of the girl on fire dress
I ended up getting eight yards of black crinkly polyester chiffon (not my first choice; just what was available) at Michael Levine's discount store, The Loft (after my trip to the FIDM costume exhibit!). Since they sell fabric by the pound, and chiffon has an excellent weight:yardage ratio, my base fabric only cost about $4. And I still have two yards left. For the fiery fabric, I picked up a yard each of iridescent polyester chiffon at F&S in a darker orange and lighter orange ($9.98/yd). I *almost* just bought the $1.99/yd red costume chiffon at Joann's since it was so much cheaper, but at the time I was afraid it would 1) look cheap, because it was cheap, and 2) make it look like a flamenco dress, and while flamenco dresses are cool, that's not really the look I wanted. Anyway, the iridescent stuff turned out to be the right choice. The way it catches the light and changes definitely helps with the fire look. When the light hits it just right, it's lovely.

With my fabrics in hand, all I had to do was design and make the dress (ha!). Since I was making the dress here in The City of Culver City, and my Katniss was in San Diego, I knew it had to be somewhat adjustable. Also, I want to be able to wear it if I want to dress up like a girl (somewhat) on fire. I decided to stick with my Easy DIY Maxi Dress (is that the worst name for a dress or what?) pattern, since its fittedness is largely dependent on an awesome belt, and just modify the shape of the dress to flow better. Here's my design sketch (apologies, I haven't really drawn people since my manga-fan days in college; I had to go look at my pattern envelopes to get an idea of how fashion drawings are supposed to look).

My sketches and breakdown of parts for the girl on fire dress
If you look at my drawing carefully, you'll see that it's really the same idea as the maxi dress, but instead of two rectangles sewn together, it's two pie-shaped pieces (with the tips folded down for the strap, which was just a piece of narrow double-fold bias tape). Now you can make one too! And if you want a gold sequin belt to go with yours, check out this tutorial!

Close up of Jeanine wearing the girl on fire dress
Fiery wing-things! Photo from Orange Turtle.
Now, this looks like a nicely laid out plan, but here's the biggest secret that nobody knows (the root of the root and the sky of the sky and all): I drew this Saturday night, after the shoot. I had no plan going into the dress-making process; it was all "Uhhh...I guess I'll try cutting out a triangle here and replacing it with orange." For a while, it was super scary because it was NOT turning out like the picture I saw in my head. Also I hate working with chiffon. That stuff frays like mad and every time I tried to trim it I'd have to stop and vacuum up all the little bits. But then once I started adding the circular ruffles, it suddenly started coming together! Oh, the miracle of angles and draping! Anyway, once it started matching the dress in my head, things moved pretty quickly. I even used the scraps leftover from cutting out the ruffles for the little pieces of fire on the back shoulders. I won't talk about the hemming again, but it was definitely a mad rush and a late night trying to get it all done in time to drive down to SD. And let's not even talk about my last minute "oh crap, the arrows need a quiver, don't they!" moment in the middle of the night. Can we just say that those leather grandma pants never stop giving? They've already yielded a fake corset, a wand holster, flask wrappings, goggle straps, and now a quiver, and I still have several pieces left!

From here.
The perfect icing on the cake for this whole dress was our authentic mockingjay pin, which I got for free last summer at Comic-Con! I ended up giving the pin to Jeanine at the end of the day as a souvenir of the The Day She Was The Mockingjay. Also because I don't think I'll ever actually wear it and she seemed way more excited about it than I was. I mean really, my true fandom love is LOTR, not Hunger Games. Hmmm, I wonder if Orange Turtle will want to do a Middle Earth shoot before The Hobbit comes out in December...

Me wearing the girl on fire dress and spreading out the fire part
A better look at both the fullness of the skirt and all the chiffon ruffles. I really liked how hemming it make it extra ruffly.
Also, please excuse the bare feet.

Fabric: six yards of black, crinkly polyester chiffon (doubled up for the body of the dress, to prevent see-through-ness), 1 yard light orange/yellow iridescent poly chiffon, 0.5 yards dark orange/yellow poly-chiffon
Notions: 1 yard narrow black double-fold bias tape
Worn with: Mockingjay pin, that $2 thrifted gold belt
Techniques used: Roll-hemming chiffon with my rolled hem foot
Hours:  I'm going to say at least twenty, and that's not even counting all the design iterations going through my head at night
Netflix queue:  I tried watching a documentary about children during the Holocaust (it seemed kind of fitting while working on a dress for a teen sent to her death?), but it was too much mentally. I really needed my attention on the blasted chiffon, so I ended up listening to my most soothing albums on repeat: The Postal Service's Give Up, the Garden State soundtrack, and Mumford and Sons' Sigh No More.
Will you make this again? I highly doubt I will need more than one GoF dress, but despite my chiffon nightmares, I would like to work with it again. I love the way it flows and looks, especially when cut on the bias.
Total cost: Less than $30, which includes the fabric, thread, bias tape, and electricity for charging the hand-vac for all the little chiffon bits...but I still have about half a yard of the dark orange chiffon left. Can anyone think of a use for it?
Final thoughts: Sometimes I look at the pictures and can't believe I made this dress. It's so lovely and wispy and flowy and swirly and fiery, and even though I can't stand the color orange I love it. I love that Jeanine couldn't get enough of twirling in it and I love that Ryan loved it on her. I also love that it got me to finally break out my rolled-hem foot and overcome my fear of chiffon. I am so grateful to Orange Turtle Photography for giving me the chance to make something like this! Seriously, they are awesome. If you ever need awesome photographers for a wedding in the Bay Area or SoCal, think of them! Also, I am totally not biased just because they did our anniversary pictures...

And finally, here are some really bad pictures of me twirling in the dress (this was mid-hemming and without appropriate underthings, hence the neon pink bra straps...):

Me twirling in my girl on fire dress
Ooh look, I'm on fire!

More twirling in the girl on fire dress
So fiery!

Walnut investigates the girl on fire dress
I love that you can see Walnut coming over to investigate in this last picture.


  1. wow, great work, totally fearless, and what a fun result. no wonder you're tired! :-)

  2. You are BRILLIANT! I love this dress so much! What a great concept. Thanks for including your drawing too!

  3. This looks AWESOME (and way cooler than the movie dress, I agree). Tyo has been itching to read (or rather listen, as she prefers audiobooks) to these, since they are all the rage among her friends (Yes, overheard conversations include snippets like "this is what *I* would do in the Hunger Games...".

    So glad this turned out---what a wonderful way to wash away the trauma of all that chiffon hemming! :)

  4. Honestly? This is ALMOST exactly what I pictured in my head while reading (with a few key differences, but who needs to get into *my* brain) the book! I think the costume designers really missed the point here. Katniss Everdeen: Girl on Fire. It should be pretty clear what look you are going for here. Although I guess I should be grateful there wasn't a literal interpretation with flames! >_> Nice work!

  5. OH MY GOSH, this dress is so beautiful! You are so incredibly talented! Thank you for sharing!

  6. Bravo! I just finished reading all three books in two days to get ready for the movie, and the first post in my reader when I come back to reality is this one. Couldn't have been better timing. You did Cinna proud.

  7. Hey Cindy,
    I've never looked at your website before, but I love the detail that you put in and especially the side comments. Hilarious! Awesome work on the dress! I think you're ready to start your own business!

  8. definitely better than the movie dress! that dress is so disappointing. I love the movement on your dress in the photo shoot.

  9. I see no chiffon nightmares here! You did an amazing job!!!! When I saw the post from yesterday and admired the dress, I had no idea that you made it!!! I have to admit that I didn't read the post properly, I was too captivated by the photos! I only made the connection this morning when I remembered your "preview" post about "Chiffon Nightmares" I was like "OMG CINDY MADE THAT DRESS"!!!!!

    GReat effort!!!! It is gorgeous! Can't believe you DIY'd the pattern, you are truly talented!!!! Congrats on working with chiffon and bias cut!!

  10. I am very much in awe with a lot of the things you have done, but this one is perhaps the one that leaves me completely speechless. It is amazing, breathtakingly beautiful. Well done :-)

    It fills me with hope that in the years to come (or perhaps decades rather) I might be able to look at chiffon without shrinking away in fear.

  11. I. Love. Your. Dress. The sketches are amazing--I so don't have the skills to go from brain to paper to fabric!

    I saw the Katniss dress from the movie that you have above and I wondered if it was for the parade of champions OR if it was for the bit where she's chatting with the talk show host. That dress, if I remember correctly, was less spectacular and less "girl on fire" and more prom-ish than the chariot parade of champions. But it's been awhile so I could totally be mixing them up? And I kinda hope I'm not because costuming was SO important in the book! It's how the reader marks the major changes occurring in the characters' lives!

  12. Wow - I love Love LOVE your interpretation of the girl on fire dress. It drew my breath away, because it evokes the book - without being costume-y, and is simultaneously something I would love to wear. Fabulous work! Truly inspirational!

  13. I admire you so much! This dress is a dream and I think it awe inspiring, that you created it from scratch, using your own design. The result is stunning! Each post you write inspires me to strive to do something to live my rather recent interest in sewing instead of just thinking about how complicated and time-consuming it is. For you make it appear doable and in some cases even show how to do it (i am thinking your "fake"-tutorials, which are amazing by the way).
    So, thank you and keep going!
    Yours, E.

  14. Wow! I can see Every one is impressed and so am I. I want to invite you to come link up this Sunday to The Sunday Round Up @
    Also I'm following your wonderful blog.

  15. Totally amazing!!! Stunning! Awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. This is absolutely, without a doubt my favorite dress of yours. It is truly magnificent. You have raised the bar to a whole new level. I am so amazed at the work that you do. You are an inspiration. I am so thankful and honored to call you friend.

  17. Um your dress is way more beautiful and effective then the one from the move. Way to go!!

  18. Oh my good lord this is a stunner, and that photo shoot is gorgeous and so sexy! I felt like an intruder looking at some of the photos. I cannot believe you drafted this thing yourself and made it and it's amazing and flowy and just wow. Please tell me you are wearing this to see the movie. Of course Walnut came to investigate. You look amazing! That is a dress worthy of the victor of a hellish reality tv contest that pits underage people against each other in a battle for survival on an island. Take note, Jennifer Lawrence!

  19. this is absolutely stunning. you did such an amazing job (and really outdid the designers who made the dress for the movie.) LOVE your work. <3

  20. How fantastic! What a fun project! You did an AMAZING job!

    So when do we get to see the photoshoot pictures?

  21. The dress is amazing. I love the effect when twirling. Awesome chiffon wrestling!
    I am sorry to see that tacky dress in the movis, the books make such a huge point of the costuming.

  22. My friend, you are unbelievably talented. It was an honor to be clothed in something your imagination dreamed up and your hands created. I could've twirled in that dress all day-- it was so lovely. <3 Thank you again for the beautiful, legit mockingjay pin and thank you for turning me into 'the girl on fire,' if even for one day. :)

  23. So pretty! Reading the books now :) Can't wait to get off work to finish reading the 2nd one ;)

  24. This is just stunning! I'm not really into the hunger games (what? I know I am barely human) but this dress is just gorgeous! So well done and the pictures are stunning, even in the cold and rain. Awesome!

  25. Oh god. You just made a failed attempt.
    YOU CALL THIS A DRESS?!?? wow. your mature.


    1. That DRESS is absolutely beautiful and stunning!

  26. also, you'll either be thrilled or creeped out to hear that last night, at the movie, all i could think of as they rode in on the chariots was your dress and how well you had captured that moment in fabric...really, it was quite stuck in my head! although i think i also enjoyed seeing the red "girl on fire" dress in its context as well.

  27. STUNNING!!! OH WOW - you should be so incredibly proud because it is BREATHTAKING!

  28. Wow this dress is outstanding and I love all your drawings! The colours are gorgeous too XxxX

  29. All I can say is wow, just wow! You should have designed for the movie!!

  30. This dress is sooooo much better than the one in the movie. When I watched the ads I kept thinking that can't possibly be the scene where she's interviewed in the gorgeous dress that thing is awful, but sure enough... Great job on yours!

  31. Niice. You should check out syuzi's fashioning tech website. Adding tech to fashion since.. well since before tron! I have her book and adding LEDs to clothing is actually quite cheap (if you use velcro so that you can remove it before machine washing ;D). One day I'll have an industrial serger with a diamond tipped needle and make a real (Kevlar) tron suit. Of course by then I'll also have the bike to match.

  32. wow! great work, its always amazing when something comes together just how you wanted it too, especially if its a bit of a flook! I completely know the feeling of oh wow, did i make that? HOW DID I DO THAT?
    It fantastic and i hope it gets plenty of use@

  33. Are you taking orders for remakes?? This is beautiful!! I want it! :)



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