The once formal dining room in the Pruden family home in Blacksburg has been completely transformed, except for the chandelier and antique wood table, into Howling Dragon Studios. The only thing showing on the antique table is thick, elaborate, oak wood legs. The table top is completely covered for working space with scissors and sewing supplies and a sewing machine. A peg board holding thread spools hangs on one wall with an adjacent wall holding several drawings taped on it. These are Elly Pruden’s reference sheets, and this is her creative studio space.
“Elly always loved stuffed animals and pretended, even as a toddler, to be different creatures,” states her mom, Tiffany [Boone] Pruden. “We made elaborate Halloween costumes which she helped design, like a monarch butterfly, hermit crab, blue jay and a wild thing from ‘Where the Wild Things Are.’” Elly was working with clay and hand sewing at a young age, and her mom taught her how to operate the sewing machine before she was 10.
Elly, now 13 and a rising 8th grader, is a bonafide artist, costume designer and entrepreneur. She has 7,000 followers on Instagram [since March].
Her costume heads retail for $800 to $1,000, and she sells parts like teeth, tongues and tails, which can be switched out on the heads and fur suits. “People can change the look of any face by switching to a different color, shape and length of tongue,” Elly explains. “Tails are the fun part of fur suits, and changing texture, color and length can alter the look.”
Tiffany, a Blacksburg native, and her husband, Daniel, from Smithfield, Va., met at Virginia Commonwealth University where both were majoring in art. “We knew by the time Elly was 6 that she was incredibly imaginative, creative and talented,” Daniel relates. Her younger brother Wylder is now 6, so it’s only a matter of time to see what artistic talent emerges from the family gene pool. No pressure, Wylder!
“It started with wanting to make her own stuffed animals,” Tiffany explains. “Then she made animal ears to put on headbands, then came masks, tails and wings. Heads and full fur suits kind of naturally followed. She is inspired by dogs, wolves, reptiles and dragons.”
All the design process, of course, starts in Elly’s head. She draws both by hand and on the computer, generating the design from every angle to view the finished product before she begins. She then takes a foam base for a head and sculpts and chisels it to the desired shape. There’s a lot of taping for a fur suit pattern, sometimes over her own body, which is peeled off, laid flat on newspaper and cut out. From here, Elly chooses fabric from the cubbies along one wall or the large pile of faux fur in a corner.
She cuts out the pieces and sews them together, incorporating different fabrics into a fur suit. She makes eyes from mesh, LEDs and other materials. Since the faux fur is long, Elly often shaves it in different places to add depth to a fur suit or interest to a tail or head or ears. There is a dress form in another corner for seeing the fit on a body. Her colorful paws and feet have pads and toenails. Stiff material is sewn on the bottom of feet, making them suitable for walking. “My mom taught me a lot about sewing, and I have watched youtube videos,” Elly says. “And there’s always trial and error along the way.”
About a year ago, Elly opened her Etsy shop where she sells things and has taken some custom orders. “She is making great progress saving for college, likely art school,” her dad says proudly. She shops often at JOANN (fabric store) and patronizes a few online shops like Big Z Fabric in California.
Tiffany’s grandparents, James and Martha Boone, built this house in 1966. Everyone is convinced they would be very proud of their great-granddaughter, Elly, and wouldn’t care a hoot about the dining room renovation.
Text by Joanne M. Anderson
Photos by Kristie Lea Photography