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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Movie Discussion: The Hobbit:
What colors of fabrics do you think were available to the exiled dwarves?

Tol Eressea

Aug 25 2014, 4:54am

Post #1 of 10 (756 views)
What colors of fabrics do you think were available to the exiled dwarves? Can't Post

If this is in the wrong forum, admins feel free to move Smile

I have been looking at screencaps of the dwarves as they interacted in both Dale and when they fled Erebor during the AUJ prologue, and what struck me was the brightness of the colors, especially in the dwarf ladies' dresses.

Now I know, based on how Tolkien wrote things, that all we are likely to get is a mere glimpse of dwarf women here and there, but the bright array of colors and obviously expensive fabrics of the clothing the dwarf women especially wore in the few glimpses we've seen of them are a far cry from the dwarves' ragged attire (seemingly mostly brown, but we do see some other colors amongst the company members later on) after Smaug drove them into exile.

I also began to think about the various bright colors the hobbits wore, as well as the soft, pale colors (and occasional bright) that the elves also wear, color varying from region to region (Mirkwood favors greens and browns, for example, while Rivendell bears rich colors and Lothlorien very pale and muted colors, for example).

So I'm wondering- what sorts of colors were the dwarves likely to be able to wear in exile? Maybe this strikes my fancy so much because I sew my family's clothes myself, so I tend to notice fabrics more (much like how my husband, who is footwear manager at a sporting goods store, will notice people's shoes).

We could start with the hobbits and the Shire's proximity to Ered Luin. Would it be possible that the dwarves could have purchased linen and fabric from the hobbits of the Shire (we already have a good guess, if not outright know, that the Shire supplied much of the food for Ered Luin via trade agreements)? If so, then could the dwarves still be dressed in a bright array of colors similar to how the hobbits dress?

Or would they be more similar to the colors found in Bree (of which we don't seem to have a lot of reference points in the movie, given that it's always rainy and dark in Bree apparently Crazy)? Of course, the Shire lies between Ered Luin and Bree, though it's entirely possible that dwarf merchants could have come to Bree on occasion (if not likely). And in the movie, we know that Kili at least has acted as an escort along with other dwarves near the pass over Dunland, so it's quite possible that Bree may have been a trade partner as well.

Elves live in Lindon and the Grey Havens, which are definitely closest to Thorin's Halls, however given the animosity I very seriously doubt there is ANY trade agreement there....

And I imagine fabric obtained from Gondor, given the distance, would likely have been very expensive. And Laketown is obviously out, since it's apparent that seeing dwarves causes a sensation within the town- having not traded with dwarves since Erebor fell.

There's also one other option- perhaps the dwarves make their own fabric? We know they are masters of metal and stone, and fine craftsmen, but it is possible I suppose that they also had craftsmen/women in fabric making/weaving as well.

So what are your thoughts? How did exile change the colors of dwarf clothing, if it did at all, and what colors do you think the exiles would now wear?

I LOVE costuming, and I am so impressed with the sheer amount of work and thought that has gone into each and every garment on set for these (and LOTR) movies Smile


Aug 25 2014, 5:03am

Post #2 of 10 (456 views)
you might find this interesting... albeit not that useful to your question [In reply to] Can't Post

The 7 Deadliest Fashion Trends Of All Time

It discusses how a few clothing dye colors were achieved historically in ways I never imagined.

LOTR soundtrack website ~ magpie avatar gallery
TORn History Mathom-house ~ Torn Image Posting Guide

Grey Havens

Aug 25 2014, 1:25pm

Post #3 of 10 (371 views)
I love the fabrics used in the dwarf costumes [In reply to] Can't Post

And by that I mean the dwarves of Thorin's company rather than the Erebor scenes in the prologue. The rougher textures and more muted color combinations are the ones that attract me, much more than the brocades and patterns of the Erebor dwarves, and the section of the AUJ EE appendices where they talk about the fabrics is one of my favorite places to hit 'pause' and just look at the fabric swatches.

I'm not a dyer, so I don't have the knowledge to figure out which vegetable matter or minerals would have been used in Middle Earth for the various colors, but judging from the exhibits of antique clothing that I've seen, and from paintings I've looked at and articles that I've read, a very, very wide range of colors is available in nature. The catch is that certain colors would have been very rare and expensive and also all the fabrics hand-woven, which is time consuming and requires looms and thread.

I've never heard of a society that didn't make fabric of some sort (cloth, grass, leather, etc.), so my guess is that dwarves do weave unless they're so rich that they don't have to. The problem for the Erebor refugees is that they would have lost all their looms and supplies and after they finally settled in the Blue Mountains they would have had to build new looms (probably not too hard for such great craftsmen) and then start scraping together enough money to buy wool, etc. and then start scouring the countryside for native plants and so on for dyes. It must have been years before they could afford to trade for cloth, and their first priority probably would have been blankets and warm clothing, so perhaps that's why we see so much knitting in their outfits. All you need is a couple of knitting needles and some wool and you can go from there (I have friends who clean, card, and spin their own yarn for fun - what a tedious process!). The shire seems like it would have been a perfect source for buying sheep and/or fleeces, but the books and movies don't really go into that.

By the time we see the dwarves at Bilbo's house their clothing is actually pretty nice and probably involved some trading, and I like to imagine the Durin boys returning from a trading trip and bringing home a packet of rare dye, or a bolt of lovely fabric for Dis the way British traders and soldiers used to bring exotic shawls and fabrics back to their ladies from India and China.

As for where the fabric would have originated, it could be almost anywhere if the trade routes in Middle Earth are like the ones in our world. The trading relay system has been around for thousands of years, so getting stuff is basically just a matter of being able to afford it. It's too bad Tolkien himself wasn't more interested in the actual crafts that he mentions, but he really skims over that aspect of life in Middle Earth, but of course, that allows the rest of us to speculate all we want, which is fun.


If this is to end in barrels, then we will all shampoo together.


Aug 25 2014, 6:12pm

Post #4 of 10 (325 views)
This makes sense [In reply to] Can't Post


By the time we see the dwarves at Bilbo's house their clothing is actually pretty nice and probably involved some trading, and I like to imagine the Durin boys returning from a trading trip and bringing home a packet of rare dye, or a bolt of lovely fabric for Dis the way British traders and soldiers used to bring exotic shawls and fabrics back to their ladies from India and China.

"And so they stood on the walls of the city of Gondor, and a great wind rose and blew, and their hair, raven and golden, streamed out mingling in the air."


Aug 25 2014, 6:49pm

Post #5 of 10 (332 views)
Well... [In reply to] Can't Post

Metallic dyes work very well on wool fabric. (Silk, too, if you can get it.) Dwarves mine metals. And, at least in the films, raise large sheep (and where else would all that "Meat ripe off the bone" come from if not mountain goats?) So I'd suppose colorful woolen fabrics would be common clothing.

One might assume the Eastern Dwarves (Stiffbeards, Ironfists, Blacklocks and Stonefoots) might trade in silks with their Western brethren, if they have any friendly contact at all.

Small enough to hug, big enough to ride:

Aragorn and Legolas went now with Éomer in the van.
-Helm’s Deep, Chapter 7, Book III, The Two Towers

"Rorth Rorlingas!!"

Sauron: "And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for those meddling hobbits!"

(Thanks to Brethil for image and battlecry.)

(This post was edited by Darkstone on Aug 25 2014, 7:00pm)


Aug 26 2014, 1:36am

Post #6 of 10 (294 views)
If you haven't, you so need to read Cloaks & Daggers [In reply to] Can't Post

Weta's latest Chronicle book. With its focus on costumes and props, it's written for folks like you! :D

Tol Eressea

Aug 26 2014, 5:15am

Post #7 of 10 (286 views)
Oh, I SO want to read it! [In reply to] Can't Post

But funds, as always, are tight Unsure

The WETA Chronicles are most definitely on my wish list, and will likely be the next books (sans homeschooling books) that I will purchase. But when you count pennies (like today- we went searching in the piggy bank-seriously a little ceramic pig coin holder on my husband's dresser- to see if we could go get three $0.25 ice cream cones at the grocery store this afternoon!) the $30-$40 for a WETA Chronicle book tends to take a back seat to real life expenses Evil

But they're definitely on the wish list! And hopefully (maybe at Christmas) I will finally have them in my possession Evil Or I may end up doing what I have the last three Christmases, and forego the books just one more year so I can see the movie several times in the theater instead Wink Kinda depends on how badly BO5A will make me cry though.... Frown


Aug 26 2014, 12:18pm

Post #8 of 10 (257 views)
Suggestion... [In reply to] Can't Post

In Reply To
But funds, as always, are tight Unsure

See if you can borrow it from your local library system. You can always buy it later.

'There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.' - Gandalf the Grey, The Fellowship of the Ring

Grey Havens

Aug 26 2014, 12:21pm

Post #9 of 10 (256 views)
It's my favorite of the ones that I've seen [In reply to] Can't Post

Have you looked at the public library? The library here has multiple copies of it so maybe you could find it in your town that way? And even if they don't they may have one of those inter-library arrangements that allows them to get it from another library (I'm not too clear on how these arrangements work but it never hurts to ask!)


If this is to end in barrels, then we will all shampoo together.


Aug 26 2014, 8:34pm

Post #10 of 10 (257 views)
Totally get the cost priorities thing [In reply to] Can't Post

I can relate to the challenges of figuring out where to put those few $. If you ever do buy a Chronicle book, I would suggest you start with Cloaks & Daggers (the green one with Tauriel on the cover). It's the best, in my opinion, and if you like costuming it has the most pages devoted to that subject with lots of photos and interviews - not just with cast and department heads either. They talk to the people making the jewellery, boots, the dyers, the machinists, breakdown specialists and heaps of others as well.

Library - great suggestion!


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