Terry Dresbach

Outlander Costume Designer

Q & A



Do you have to make dresses for every extra from scratch? Or you can rent them?

We rent SOME. But there is not a lot available. It is a very busy time in the UK, and you just kind of freak out a bit to discover the racks of costumes on hold by other productions, THAT YOU NEED!!! Plus, it is expensive, very expensive. To rent an entire costume costs about £500. When you need seven or eight hundred costumes it adds up. Making it in house is much cheaper, and you own it forever. But there are always time and crew issues. It takes about a week to make a costume, and in Season One, we had about 8 weeks to make an entire show. We had to make 12 of Claire’s 1940s white dress. 4 – 6 copies of most of her 18th century costumes, at least 6 of everything Jamie and the Highlanders wear, all the day players, and then the extras.

It is pretty crazy. This next season, we are trying to make 1000 extras costumes. Still crazy.
How many people do you have working for you?

Anywhere from 30 – 100, depending on what is going on. We always have a basic team of 30. But depending on what we are shooting, we add crew. So for a scene like the Gathering, you need so many people. You have to organize hundreds of costumes, fit hundreds of people a week or so before shooting, then dress a few hundred people the day of shooting, and then maintain their costumes during the shoot. After you are done shooting, all the costumes have to be taken apart, cleaned then put back into stock, ready for the next round.

If we need to make an extra hundred costumes here or there, once you make them, they have to be aged and broken down so they don’t look all spanky new, so you have to add people to the breakdown department.

It take a lot of people, it’s a massive operation.
How much sewing do you do? Or are you at this point a supervisor? (I don’t know how to say what I’m asking sorry)

I cannot sew. I don’t know how.

After 25 years doing this, I understand construction, I have to. I have to be able to speak the language spoken by the amazing people who make the clothes. But I am miserable with a needle and thread. I have no patience for it, and there is just too much math.

I draw, I design. I create the look that you see on your screen. The actual costumes, and the colors, the palette, the tone and feel of the show. I work closely with the production designer so that everything in front of the camera works together and sets the right mood and feel. In Season One, I wanted to take inspiration from Scotland itself as it is such a powerful visual entity, so you will see the colors, textures and feel of the surrounding landscape reflected in the costumes.

I run the costume department. But not alone. I have a brilliant team. I have two amazing assistant designers,  who help design and manage day players and extras. Our costume supervisor manages the workings of the department, the budget and staffing. We have three wonderful cutters who take my crazy sketches, make the patterns, and get the costumes made with a team of 20 makers. We have our embroidery team, who are about to have their work cut out for them in S2. Our breakdown department dyes, ages and does all sorts of wizardry to make brand new costumes look and feel real and believable. We have added an amazing textile artist to our team, so that we can make our own printed/painted fabrics. And finally, our amazing set team, who dresses our cast every day, and keeps them in continuity in front of camera, warm and fairly dry, while standing outside in frigid wet, muddy condition for 14 hours a day (or night). It’s a brutal job.


On another note: I will happily read comments here, but if you have a question that you want answered, you are going to need to go inside to the blog and post your question there. It is too much work to try and answer questions in two places. Thanks everyone!!

8 thoughts on “Q & A

  1. Caleidh

    No reply required – Just want you to know that I think you’re even MORE brilliant now that I know you don’t know how to sew! Wow. I imagined you as someone who crafted costumes from scratch for your Barbie dolls as a kid 🙂

  2. I still want to work for you LOL. I doubt that anyone who hasn’t worked on a series or film set really knows the sheeer magnitude of work that goes on behind the scenes. My hat goes off to every one of you.

  3. Purl99

    I cannot imagine the work that is involved in a project like this. My daughter is a “one woman sew-shop” as she calls herself and I am her “assistant”. We plug along with her projects and orders and somehow get it done on time.
    I would also believe that work must happen 24 hrs. a day at times. Do you ever have to sew or tape people into costumes?

  4. Appalachia Gal

    My mother was very talented in sewing.She made clothes for many siblings undergarments to chuch dress plus spinning wool. I still have a list of plants needed to create dye colors. However, I did not inherit her talents. Your blog and the books have been such rich lessons of this garment/costume world. Enjoying your blog,comments. Thanks

  5. CathyWC

    I believe all of your designs are works of art and I have loved each one. (The indigo/red for 204 is my favorite now). I do have a question. Claire is obviously pregnant in her shift but she doesn’t look pregnant in the beautiful dresses. I may have missed a post about this but I was curious as to why or how it seems that way? I may not be looking at Claire the right way, so I thought I would ask the designer.
    Thanks so much for all you do!

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