Terry Dresbach

Outlander Costume Designer

What we do.

58

 

What We Do_edited-1

Let’s see, what are we currently doing?

Well, we have found the 24,000 buttons, give or take a few thousand. It seems I underestimated how many we needed.

We have dyed and decorated about three – four thousand shoes. We’ve made about a thousand costumes in the last six months. That means frock coats, waistcoats, breeches, shirts, cuffs, stocks, coats, gowns, skirts, stomachers, caraco jackets, capes, petticoats, chemises, corsets, fichus, cuffs, shawls, reticules. We have accumulated gloves and jewelry, made and decorated hats, dyed and printed thousands of meters/yards of fabric.

Last weekend Ron and I did our first appearance together at a fan convention organized by UK Outlander fans. It was an amazing experience. I had the opportunity to give a talk about what I do, what we do in the costume department, and it inspired me to reach out to the broader audience and share a bit more of the process of costume design.

It is the same basic process that all Costume Designers and Costume Departments work to, with variations on the theme depending on if you are working on a Space Odyssey or a Western. But there are always particulars to any creative project.

As I have referenced before, no two snowflakes are alike.

I wasn’t so sure I wanted to do Outlander three years ago. Yes, it was a book series I loved and read many, many times since they were first released, but I knew how huge it was, and one of the reasons I got out of the business over a decade ago, was the dwindling amount of time given to prep these massive shows. Prep, as we call it, is the period of time before a show begins where each department pulls everything together needed to do a show. The Art Department builds the sets, Costume Department makes the costumes, Props make all the props, Writers write, and so on. You live and die over the course of a season depending on how much prep time you get. That amount of time decreases every year in our business, so you rarely get the time needed. I knew there wasn’t going to be enough time to do a massive show like Outlander, without it being completely crazy. But Ron wore me down, and I finally agreed.

So this process begins with reading the scripts. That’s when you get a feeling for the tone and direction of a piece, where you begin to get to know the characters and the story. But at this point there were no scripts yet, but there was a book and I figured that would be a tremendous help as I knew the story and characters so well. Sometimes scripts are really bad, but sometimes you get an opportunity to work with a gifted writer like Ron Moore, and that makes everything better, on every level.

So, that was a plus.

The second plus, was that I was married to the Executive Producer of Outlander, and figured that would put me ahead in the information department. Information in the film and television business is like some sort of secret buried treasure.Those of us who make the costumes and build the sets, spend weeks trying to glean any information we can. What are we doing? When are we doing it? Where will it be, and WHO is doing it?? All of those answers are locked in some secret vault, and we are safecrackers doing everything we can to get in. Usually we end up just hurling our crowbars at the damned thing after all else has failed. Living with the vault keeper seemed like it might help.

So based on those two “pluses”, I threw my brain and every bit of sense I possessed, out of the window, and signed on. In retrospect, I cannot help but laugh, that cynical me, who knows exactly what this is like, was so still idealistic and optimistic, still believing that this one would be different than all the others. This is a woman who once went temporarily blind in one eye on a show, due to stress. believe me, I am no lightweight, I am a tough broad, but the closest thing I can think of to being in the film business would probably be the military, albeit with no REAL weaponry.

We needed about 20 weeks minimum to prep a show of this size. When all was said and done, we had eight.

Eight weeks out, we had a raw space, no tables, no sewing machines, no phones, no racks, no crew, no cast, no costumes. We had also discovered that we were not going to be able to rent any costumes except the barest minimum. Every TV show and movie in Hollywood was shooting in the UK, and the vast majority of costumes were not available.

To top it all off, I had personal challenges. My family was unprepared for me to get back in the business, we had two teenagers still in school, and had just moved into a new house. I had been out of the business for ten years and all of my crew had scattered, not that I could take any of them any ay. I knew NO ONE in the UK in the costume game. No contacts, no one who knew anyone, no one at any of the rental houses, no dyers, no equipment hires, no suppliers, not even fabric stores. Like any business, you spend years building contacts you can call on when you need them, and I had nothing. But yeah, let’s walk away from life as we know it, kids pets, unpacked boxes, and do this!!

So, back to prep. The first thing you need to do is to find is a really good Costume Supervisor.

A Costume Supervisor is your right hand on all things of a practical matter. They are the Project Manager. While you deal with everything creative, and even though you are responsible for the budget and oversee the running of the department, you need someone who will deal with all the nuts and bolts. So the supervisor, hires the crew, and has ALL the contacts and connections for everything else. In this case, as I had none, this position was the key to happiness and fulfillment. Will any crew member be good or bad? In our business, we try to get a crew together that we can keep for years and years, so starting from scratch is scary As I had none, I hired a costume supervisor recommended by our UK producer. It is a leap of faith. The wrong choice can be disastrous.

Once the supervisor was in place, we could get started. But it wasn’t quite so easy. Just as there were no costumes available, there was almost no crew available either. Every studio is currently filming in the UK right noes, taking advantage of tax breaks, like Canada in the 90’s. Almost everyone is employed. Crew is at an absolute premium, so finding anyone to work in such circumstances was problematic at best. The few people who were available, were highly sought after in a highly competitive market.

Another challenge.

So we searched for crew, and while we were climbing that little mountain, we turned our attention to building a costume house.When you do a show you need access to resources, supplies, and vendors. Very few of those exist in Scotland. If you want to rent a costume, it has to come from a costume house inLondon. If you’re in the States, it comes from a costume house in Los Angeles. But that means that someone has to fly to London to find that costume, that fabric, the buttons, everything, every time we need something. We didn’t have time for that. So we had to build our own Costume House, filled with everything we need.

Our Costume Supervisor had found an Assistant Designer, and the beginnings of a crew of 12. We needed sewing machines and the tables to put them on, lighting, phones, desks, shelving, office supplies, hangers, irons, steamers,racks, dyeing vats and dyes, aging supplies, sewing supplies, hooks, tapes, linings interfacing an endless list of items. And understand that it is not a home sewing kit, it is an industrial sewing kit. Hundreds and hundreds of spools of thread, a couple of thousand hangers, thousands of yards of fabric. It is big, really big.

Where do you hang all the clothes, and store all the shoes, and accessories? Racks and shelves, enough to hold hundreds and hundreds of costumes. You have to install a racking system that goes from floor to ceiling in the warehouse. Floor to ceiling shelving systems also have to be built, and hundreds of boxes purchased to store everything in. The aging and dyeing department has to be set up. They are seriously an industrial endeavor. They need to dye and age hundreds and hundreds of items. Chemicals, machinery, these women actually blow torch costumes to age them.

Setting all that up takes months that we didn’t have. But you have no choice but to go forward and hope for divine intervention.

The Assistant Designer is absolutely essential. They have to live in your head. The Assistant Designer is the one that you download everything to. They are the one who see it through, taking your sketch to the cutters, who make the patterns and cut the fabric. They makes sure the fabric is dyed exactly that right shade you want, and make sure it all happens on schedule. They gather all the bits and pieces, help with research and sourcing materials, schedule the fittings, and interface with our set crew.

While the Assistant Designer is buying bolts and bolts of woolens and linens in London, the equipment begins to arrive, and the fabric is shipped in from London, The cutters and makers are starting to show up. But we still have no actors, so we start them making extras clothing, while we wait.

When I am not figuring out how much rack space we need, I am designing, thankfully for characters I know so well. In the beginning of a show, everyone wants to see sketches, the studio, the network, directors and producers. The first part of my job is to put what is in my head onto paper. So, you do a million sketches. It is harder than one would anticipate. Not only do you have to a lot of them, because you need to convey a real overview of the entire season and all the characters, but those drawing need to be good. So you draw, and redraw, then redraw again. A lot of designers hire illustrators, but I can’t do that. Drawing is what I do, and it is where the design is formed. I wouldn’t be able to do it any other way.

On Outlander it became very clear not long after arrival, that everything I thought the costumes would be, was completely irrelevant, due to the climate. I had to throw out everything I had designed before coming to Scotland. If the characters of Outlander had pranced around in the fine silks associated with the 18th century, they would have all died. Scotland is so very cold and damp, and it was clear that people would have had to wear fabrics much heavier and warmer.  I had to figure out how to redo the 18th century silhouette in heavy woolens. Something a lot easier to do with paper and pencil than actual fabric. But eventually it began to take a shape of some sort, though it felt very vague and theoretical.Nothing to really grasp a firm hold onto. No solid research, paintings that can be anything the painter or subject wants them to be. Surrounded by chaos and stress, you just have to hold on and have faith in your own experience and talent. It was a shaky hold after being out of the business for ten years.

Sam Heughan was cast first as Jamie Fraser. He was the easiest actually, because I never saw him as having more than a couple of costumes, and because I had such a clear image of him in my mind. Plus he is a delightful and lovely human being. we have been very blessed with our cast. All lovely and accommodating people. We took care of Jamie Fraser and waited for the rest of the cast.

I am not sure how to describe how absolutely mad things are at this point in production. Building the studio, writing scripts, a million meetings, building sets, finding crew, all at once, everything down to the wire. Waiting for cast, waiting for Claire. All in one breathless, gasping rush. It’s a pretty stressful place.

Finally Caitriona Balfe was cast as Claire, two weeks before we began shooting. Then the rush really began! I wish I could tell you how we pulled it off, but I can’t really remember.  It was pretty tough going, there were a lot of tears, people falling apart, and sleepless nights. Maybe it is a good thing that we really can’t remember how we did it,  otherwise we might have all run screaming, as we approached Season Two. I think it was just cobbled together out oa f mad combination of faith, panic and experience. Things come back to you from years and years ago, like riding that proverbial bicycle, just as everything is about to burst into flames.

But It seems to have all worked out. The response from the fans and the press to the costumes has been wonderful and extremely gratifying for the entire Costume Department.

We are now a department of fifty, instead of fourteen. My Costume Supervisor stuck with me, I have two wonderful Assistant Designers. We’ve added an embroidery department with four embroiderers and five super embroidery machines. My Alchemy lab (aging and dyeing) are still in their room grinding up frogs and bats blood, or whatever the hell they do in there. An amazing textile artist has joined our staff, as we continue to discover that we may as well just make everything, since it is what we do. The walls are all in place, the machines hum, the crew is solid, and there are fewer and fewer tears. Things still get really crazy sometimes, but a rhythm and flow is beginning to take place, and a system is taking hold, that keeps us afloat when the going gets rough.

And here we are just beginning Season Two, sewing on about 30,000 buttons.

I often rage against the machine. The pace, the stress, the lack of humanity. My “justice issues”, as Ron calls them, run rampant. I am the child of union organizers, after all, and this business needs all the “justice issues” one can possibly throw at it. But Ron gave me a lecture the other night about who I am and what I do. That I need to accept it and make peace with it. I am considering the possibility.

Maybe, just maybe, this is what I do. But don’t quote me on that!

 

 

 

58 thoughts on “What we do.

  1. MzLiz61MzLiz61

    Hello Terry,
    I always thought to myself that all this prodigious work you have give your #soul effort to should be educating future designers. I would love to see the exhibit at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts and a must at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries.. Your artistic mind is compelling xo

    1. Avatarannalapping

      What a wonderful blog post, Terry. I knew there were lots of costumes and lots of actors to be outfitted, but good grief, woman! The amount of work and the quality of work you and your team produced is nothing short of astounding. You really gave a good idea of the scope and problems you encountered and continue to overcome. Brava!

    2. AvatarOtterB1

      Terry I am in awe of your vision and talent. I am so glad that you decided to take on this challenge. You have the passion for this project that no one else would ever have had.
      As an embroiderer I find that the work and the detail are amazing. On the last episode I was totally fascinated with how the sleeves of Jenny and Clair are put together. I am almost positive that this is historically correct and how wonderful to have everything so coordinated. Thank you thank you thank you….I also like your cooking blogs and pictures of your everyday life like your dog, shopping for dumplings, etc. Thanks for sharing and much success.

    1. AvatarEmmaLee

      I’ve been running local phone banks for the past couple of elections, and I actually thought “well, that sounds a little bit like running a state-wide political campaign.” Terri for Senate, you guys! Of course, we’d have to lure her back to the US first, I guess.

  2. AvatarCyanMoonStars

    It’s your calling, Terry. Thrilled that you hear that from Ron! We never seem to actually believe in our hearts that we are wallowing in the best mud puddle in the world, the creative arts, do we? Probably because we are sleep deprived, exhausted, and overwhelmed at every turn…and living every second of it! Much love and respect to you and your amazing team!

  3. Avatarawlehmann

    Hallo Terry,

    I cannot express my gratitude and joy of reading your insights of your special “behind the scenes” experiences. Your speech at the UK Gath was so delightful and so were all explanations given by your team. What a pleasure to be able seeing and touching some of these wonderful fabrics. You take me with you in the whole process of costume making with your most expressive speech. So, thank you very much for everything.
    Summing up, thanks to you I live the Outlander tv series as a richer experience than I every any other tv series or film.

  4. AvatarCatullus_1000

    Terry, we all greatly appreciate the artistic talent, innovation and hours upon hours of hard work that you and your team put into creating this incredible production. Hearing some of the backstory makes us appreciate you and your team all the more. I especially enjoy when you post detailed photos of a particular costume and explain the creative process behind it. Very grateful that Ron talked you into rejoining this crazines. Can’t wait to see that infamous red dress next season!

  5. Avatarannikin60

    Hi Terry,
    I truly don’t know how you do it, how do you sleep?!
    So glad Ron talked you into it though as your work is absolutely amazing, it really is!
    I’ve often wondered what it must be like behind the scenes but I was far from imagining that it was this hectic !
    Double bravo to you and your team for what you manage to achieve and thank you for finding time to let us come behind the scenes and enjoy even more detail on how the fabulous costumes come to life. Thank you x

  6. call_me_sassenachcall_me_sassenach

    Wow- such an insightful post. Thank you for sharing. I totally understand all the specifics of the challenges you faced in season one now. I have such respect for you and your work and how you are able to accomplish so much in the face of those challenges. Everyone who works with you is lucky to have you at the helm.

  7. elizlkelizlk

    Thanks for doing some of your processing “out loud” with us. Maybe for S3 you’ll be able to combine more of your social justice work into the role. Regardless, you and your team do a fabulous job, and I am looking forward to more.
    I can’t imagine that anyone who doesn’t love the books as you do would have done as much to bring our beloved characters to the screen.

  8. Avatartanyac

    Thanks again for another great insightful post.
    Can’t waitbto see the results of all your current efforts. We are lucky to have you behind the scenes -literally!

    Tanya

  9. Avatarrondaletts

    Terry, I’ve not commented before, but I just had to today. You are simply amazing, gifted, inspired, and brilliant! We knew that before, but the more you share the behind the scenes work you do, the more you astound us! I’m part of the Outlander Knitters group on Ravelry, and we all wait with baited breath (and needles at the ready) for every episode to ooh and aaah over your costume designs and the beautiful knits the cast wear. Please know that you and your stellar staff are appreciated!!! We are behind you 1,000%!!!

  10. peggyvanslppeggyvanslp

    Terry,
    Thank you for another post packed full of insights, colourful descriptions, and details. How you managed to juggle family, work, and self is amazing. Thanks for being frank about the emotional side of the job and the challenges you faced. Whatever it was that kept you going, i.e. a vision to fulfill, a desire to accomplish, you have demonstrated a faithfulness to that, which is inspiring. You are fortunate to have found dedicated compatriots in your profession…not always the case for most. Your work is greatly appreciated!!

  11. Avatarmttk28

    I saw your S1 costume exhibit in Los Angeles yesterday. Love how it was displayed! Seeing the costumes, even through glass, was breathtaking. Having read your description of the creation of the wedding dress, I still wasn’t prepared for how the mica would glow through the skirt. Stunning. The color palette of the highlanders’ outfits was like they rose from the land itself. Your Alchemy department did its magic! I could have spent all day looking at the details of all the costumes, but then I most likely would have been taken away babbling in awe! Thank you.

  12. Avatar2ndmrsdewinter

    Thanks for telling us more about your work- it’s fascinating! If Scotland is its own character on the show, then certainly the costumes are a character too.

    Can’t wait to see the Paris costumes!

  13. Avatargolfnlady

    Thank you Terry, for this insight into just a small part of what goes into making our beloved Outlander. I will never complain again about having to wait so long for the next season to begin. And a huge Thank You for all the hard, hard work you and your staff do. I find I watch each episode over and over for different things…first the story, then the costumes, then the sets. I wish I had a job that could put as much love into as you, and everyone else involved, have done on my favorite series.

  14. kgardnerkgardner

    What I love the most about your work on this show is the use of color, or as some might say, the lack thereof. The camouflage effect in the Highland costumes isn’t bland at all…the muted colors add another layer of dimension to the scenery. The lavender in the tartan is perfect (heath and heather), and how you color Claire’s wardrobe is unbelievable. The crisp white, peacock/midnight blue, and deep browns stand out as details that someone could have easily glossed over. It almost makes me want to forgive my seamstress mother for some of the paisley-ruffle-corduroy choices she made for me as a kid. Almost.

  15. AvatarMoz

    Wow, just wow. It would seem that all the work involved is obvious, but not really…it really, really is a lot of work, and I appreciate it. Truly, I do. Thankee, Terry and crew.

  16. ChrisChris

    Hi Terry!

    A candid and insightful post! A native of Burbank CA., I am find myself meeting people who come to “Hollywood” to make it or those who think that it just takes one “break” and they are in. I have friends who are “behind the scenes” and it’s a tough business. (I became an elementary teacher so I could share my love and appreciation of art history with my students and hopefully instill it in them.) This is what yo do for “us” readers. You are doing s fantastic job of sharing just what it takes to make this series.

    What I am trying to say is thank you for giving us incite into the challenges – personal, real, and raw; just how much blood sweat and tears do into the costuming; and the beautiful products. It makes me think of Mozart – your readers are Salieri! Your costume podcasts and the ones you’ve done with your husband are wonderful. You need to mention them again.

    Yesterday, I ventured down to The Grove to have a look at the costumes. It was during the day and the glare on the glass encasements made it hard to see unless one shaded and plastered their face to the glass, which was pretty funny to see so many people doing. I imagine when they are lit at night, it is spectacular display. BTW – I did locate the bone.

    You and your team are inspiring and amazing! Thank you!

  17. Avatarellenchristine

    Magnamimous. What you do, and what the entire team has done and will do is simply that. By expressing some of the insanity behind , the how and why of every little button placement is perhaps the best way to show the world of Outlander fans some of the magic that they/we can see on the screen. For those of us who have experienced those sleepless nights, and the brain-wracking that happens as part of the deal, we appreciate your presence, and the process. For those who don’t deal with the world of costume or fashion, hear ye, hear ye. As magnanimous as it is, your obvious intelligent approach is aided and abetted in no small part by the entire cast and crew of this wondeous endeavor. Thank you for expressing, for your continued posts, for your tweets, and for including us all in the journey. And thank you, Mr. Ron, for being there for you, and for us.

  18. Avatargigiarr10

    Absolutely amazing! Thank you so much for taking the time to share the “nuts and bolts” of creating the visual story. I so enjoy reading your posts! And watching your work help these actors turn into the characters I’ve loved for so many years. Thank you again, Terry!

  19. Avatarrtrgirl417

    I want you to be healthy and happy. However, I’m incredibly selfish, so I mostly want you to work on outlander to the very end! You are amazing. When you are absolutely exhausted, just know that you are a big part of why this story works! You brought those characters to life. It’s incredible!

  20. Purl99Purl99

    My intent is not to give this any less credit than it deserves…BUT…WHEW! I am exhausted just reading this…
    Terry keep up the fantastic work and I look forward to your posts! Thanks!

  21. Avatarlarrouxgirl

    The reading of it, the mere thought of it is enough make my head reel. But I’ve heard/read that actors say getting into costume is the thing that pushes them over the edge and squarely into character. Certainly the words, the director’s vision, others in the cast and their interactions are key, but the part where you begin to LOOK like the character works magic. You, Terry, and your gifted crew, are magicians. No other way to look at it. Which isn’t to squash your creativity and skills. T What we do. | Terry Dresbach

    Terry Dresbach

    Outlander Costume Designer

    What we do.

    58

     

    What We Do_edited-1

    Let’s see, what are we currently doing?

    Well, we have found the 24,000 buttons, give or take a few thousand. It seems I underestimated how many we needed.

    We have dyed and decorated about three – four thousand shoes. We’ve made about a thousand costumes in the last six months. That means frock coats, waistcoats, breeches, shirts, cuffs, stocks, coats, gowns, skirts, stomachers, caraco jackets, capes, petticoats, chemises, corsets, fichus, cuffs, shawls, reticules. We have accumulated gloves and jewelry, made and decorated hats, dyed and printed thousands of meters/yards of fabric.

    Last weekend Ron and I did our first appearance together at a fan convention organized by UK Outlander fans. It was an amazing experience. I had the opportunity to give a talk about what I do, what we do in the costume department, and it inspired me to reach out to the broader audience and share a bit more of the process of costume design.

    It is the same basic process that all Costume Designers and Costume Departments work to, with variations on the theme depending on if you are working on a Space Odyssey or a Western. But there are always particulars to any creative project.

    As I have referenced before, no two snowflakes are alike.

    I wasn’t so sure I wanted to do Outlander three years ago. Yes, it was a book series I loved and read many, many times since they were first released, but I knew how huge it was, and one of the reasons I got out of the business over a decade ago, was the dwindling amount of time given to prep these massive shows. Prep, as we call it, is the period of time before a show begins where each department pulls everything together needed to do a show. The Art Department builds the sets, Costume Department makes the costumes, Props make all the props, Writers write, and so on. You live and die over the course of a season depending on how much prep time you get. That amount of time decreases every year in our business, so you rarely get the time needed. I knew there wasn’t going to be enough time to do a massive show like Outlander, without it being completely crazy. But Ron wore me down, and I finally agreed.

    So this process begins with reading the scripts. That’s when you get a feeling for the tone and direction of a piece, where you begin to get to know the characters and the story. But at this point there were no scripts yet, but there was a book and I figured that would be a tremendous help as I knew the story and characters so well. Sometimes scripts are really bad, but sometimes you get an opportunity to work with a gifted writer like Ron Moore, and that makes everything better, on every level.

    So, that was a plus.

    The second plus, was that I was married to the Executive Producer of Outlander, and figured that would put me ahead in the information department. Information in the film and television business is like some sort of secret buried treasure.Those of us who make the costumes and build the sets, spend weeks trying to glean any information we can. What are we doing? When are we doing it? Where will it be, and WHO is doing it?? All of those answers are locked in some secret vault, and we are safecrackers doing everything we can to get in. Usually we end up just hurling our crowbars at the damned thing after all else has failed. Living with the vault keeper seemed like it might help.

    So based on those two “pluses”, I threw my brain and every bit of sense I possessed, out of the window, and signed on. In retrospect, I cannot help but laugh, that cynical me, who knows exactly what this is like, was so still idealistic and optimistic, still believing that this one would be different than all the others. This is a woman who once went temporarily blind in one eye on a show, due to stress. believe me, I am no lightweight, I am a tough broad, but the closest thing I can think of to being in the film business would probably be the military, albeit with no REAL weaponry.

    We needed about 20 weeks minimum to prep a show of this size. When all was said and done, we had eight.

    Eight weeks out, we had a raw space, no tables, no sewing machines, no phones, no racks, no crew, no cast, no costumes. We had also discovered that we were not going to be able to rent any costumes except the barest minimum. Every TV show and movie in Hollywood was shooting in the UK, and the vast majority of costumes were not available.

    To top it all off, I had personal challenges. My family was unprepared for me to get back in the business, we had two teenagers still in school, and had just moved into a new house. I had been out of the business for ten years and all of my crew had scattered, not that I could take any of them any ay. I knew NO ONE in the UK in the costume game. No contacts, no one who knew anyone, no one at any of the rental houses, no dyers, no equipment hires, no suppliers, not even fabric stores. Like any business, you spend years building contacts you can call on when you need them, and I had nothing. But yeah, let’s walk away from life as we know it, kids pets, unpacked boxes, and do this!!

    So, back to prep. The first thing you need to do is to find is a really good Costume Supervisor.

    A Costume Supervisor is your right hand on all things of a practical matter. They are the Project Manager. While you deal with everything creative, and even though you are responsible for the budget and oversee the running of the department, you need someone who will deal with all the nuts and bolts. So the supervisor, hires the crew, and has ALL the contacts and connections for everything else. In this case, as I had none, this position was the key to happiness and fulfillment. Will any crew member be good or bad? In our business, we try to get a crew together that we can keep for years and years, so starting from scratch is scary As I had none, I hired a costume supervisor recommended by our UK producer. It is a leap of faith. The wrong choice can be disastrous.

    Once the supervisor was in place, we could get started. But it wasn’t quite so easy. Just as there were no costumes available, there was almost no crew available either. Every studio is currently filming in the UK right noes, taking advantage of tax breaks, like Canada in the 90’s. Almost everyone is employed. Crew is at an absolute premium, so finding anyone to work in such circumstances was problematic at best. The few people who were available, were highly sought after in a highly competitive market.

    Another challenge.

    So we searched for crew, and while we were climbing that little mountain, we turned our attention to building a costume house.When you do a show you need access to resources, supplies, and vendors. Very few of those exist in Scotland. If you want to rent a costume, it has to come from a costume house inLondon. If you’re in the States, it comes from a costume house in Los Angeles. But that means that someone has to fly to London to find that costume, that fabric, the buttons, everything, every time we need something. We didn’t have time for that. So we had to build our own Costume House, filled with everything we need.

    Our Costume Supervisor had found an Assistant Designer, and the beginnings of a crew of 12. We needed sewing machines and the tables to put them on, lighting, phones, desks, shelving, office supplies, hangers, irons, steamers,racks, dyeing vats and dyes, aging supplies, sewing supplies, hooks, tapes, linings interfacing an endless list of items. And understand that it is not a home sewing kit, it is an industrial sewing kit. Hundreds and hundreds of spools of thread, a couple of thousand hangers, thousands of yards of fabric. It is big, really big.

    Where do you hang all the clothes, and store all the shoes, and accessories? Racks and shelves, enough to hold hundreds and hundreds of costumes. You have to install a racking system that goes from floor to ceiling in the warehouse. Floor to ceiling shelving systems also have to be built, and hundreds of boxes purchased to store everything in. The aging and dyeing department has to be set up. They are seriously an industrial endeavor. They need to dye and age hundreds and hundreds of items. Chemicals, machinery, these women actually blow torch costumes to age them.

    Setting all that up takes months that we didn’t have. But you have no choice but to go forward and hope for divine intervention.

    The Assistant Designer is absolutely essential. They have to live in your head. The Assistant Designer is the one that you download everything to. They are the one who see it through, taking your sketch to the cutters, who make the patterns and cut the fabric. They makes sure the fabric is dyed exactly that right shade you want, and make sure it all happens on schedule. They gather all the bits and pieces, help with research and sourcing materials, schedule the fittings, and interface with our set crew.

    While the Assistant Designer is buying bolts and bolts of woolens and linens in London, the equipment begins to arrive, and the fabric is shipped in from London, The cutters and makers are starting to show up. But we still have no actors, so we start them making extras clothing, while we wait.

    When I am not figuring out how much rack space we need, I am designing, thankfully for characters I know so well. In the beginning of a show, everyone wants to see sketches, the studio, the network, directors and producers. The first part of my job is to put what is in my head onto paper. So, you do a million sketches. It is harder than one would anticipate. Not only do you have to a lot of them, because you need to convey a real overview of the entire season and all the characters, but those drawing need to be good. So you draw, and redraw, then redraw again. A lot of designers hire illustrators, but I can’t do that. Drawing is what I do, and it is where the design is formed. I wouldn’t be able to do it any other way.

    On Outlander it became very clear not long after arrival, that everything I thought the costumes would be, was completely irrelevant, due to the climate. I had to throw out everything I had designed before coming to Scotland. If the characters of Outlander had pranced around in the fine silks associated with the 18th century, they would have all died. Scotland is so very cold and damp, and it was clear that people would have had to wear fabrics much heavier and warmer.  I had to figure out how to redo the 18th century silhouette in heavy woolens. Something a lot easier to do with paper and pencil than actual fabric. But eventually it began to take a shape of some sort, though it felt very vague and theoretical.Nothing to really grasp a firm hold onto. No solid research, paintings that can be anything the painter or subject wants them to be. Surrounded by chaos and stress, you just have to hold on and have faith in your own experience and talent. It was a shaky hold after being out of the business for ten years.

    Sam Heughan was cast first as Jamie Fraser. He was the easiest actually, because I never saw him as having more than a couple of costumes, and because I had such a clear image of him in my mind. Plus he is a delightful and lovely human being. we have been very blessed with our cast. All lovely and accommodating people. We took care of Jamie Fraser and waited for the rest of the cast.

    I am not sure how to describe how absolutely mad things are at this point in production. Building the studio, writing scripts, a million meetings, building sets, finding crew, all at once, everything down to the wire. Waiting for cast, waiting for Claire. All in one breathless, gasping rush. It’s a pretty stressful place.

    Finally Caitriona Balfe was cast as Claire, two weeks before we began shooting. Then the rush really began! I wish I could tell you how we pulled it off, but I can’t really remember.  It was pretty tough going, there were a lot of tears, people falling apart, and sleepless nights. Maybe it is a good thing that we really can’t remember how we did it,  otherwise we might have all run screaming, as we approached Season Two. I think it was just cobbled together out oa f mad combination of faith, panic and experience. Things come back to you from years and years ago, like riding that proverbial bicycle, just as everything is about to burst into flames.

    But It seems to have all worked out. The response from the fans and the press to the costumes has been wonderful and extremely gratifying for the entire Costume Department.

    We are now a department of fifty, instead of fourteen. My Costume Supervisor stuck with me, I have two wonderful Assistant Designers. We’ve added an embroidery department with four embroiderers and five super embroidery machines. My Alchemy lab (aging and dyeing) are still in their room grinding up frogs and bats blood, or whatever the hell they do in there. An amazing textile artist has joined our staff, as we continue to discover that we may as well just make everything, since it is what we do. The walls are all in place, the machines hum, the crew is solid, and there are fewer and fewer tears. Things still get really crazy sometimes, but a rhythm and flow is beginning to take place, and a system is taking hold, that keeps us afloat when the going gets rough.

    And here we are just beginning Season Two, sewing on about 30,000 buttons.

    I often rage against the machine. The pace, the stress, the lack of humanity. My “justice issues”, as Ron calls them, run rampant. I am the child of union organizers, after all, and this business needs all the “justice issues” one can possibly throw at it. But Ron gave me a lecture the other night about who I am and what I do. That I need to accept it and make peace with it. I am considering the possibility.

    Maybe, just maybe, this is what I do. But don’t quote me on that!

     

     

     

    58 thoughts on “What we do.

    1. MzLiz61MzLiz61

      Hello Terry,
      I always thought to myself that all this prodigious work you have give your #soul effort to should be educating future designers. I would love to see the exhibit at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts and a must at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries.. Your artistic mind is compelling xo

      1. Avatarannalapping

        What a wonderful blog post, Terry. I knew there were lots of costumes and lots of actors to be outfitted, but good grief, woman! The amount of work and the quality of work you and your team produced is nothing short of astounding. You really gave a good idea of the scope and problems you encountered and continue to overcome. Brava!

      2. AvatarOtterB1

        Terry I am in awe of your vision and talent. I am so glad that you decided to take on this challenge. You have the passion for this project that no one else would ever have had.
        As an embroiderer I find that the work and the detail are amazing. On the last episode I was totally fascinated with how the sleeves of Jenny and Clair are put together. I am almost positive that this is historically correct and how wonderful to have everything so coordinated. Thank you thank you thank you….I also like your cooking blogs and pictures of your everyday life like your dog, shopping for dumplings, etc. Thanks for sharing and much success.

      1. AvatarEmmaLee

        I’ve been running local phone banks for the past couple of elections, and I actually thought “well, that sounds a little bit like running a state-wide political campaign.” Terri for Senate, you guys! Of course, we’d have to lure her back to the US first, I guess.

    2. AvatarCyanMoonStars

      It’s your calling, Terry. Thrilled that you hear that from Ron! We never seem to actually believe in our hearts that we are wallowing in the best mud puddle in the world, the creative arts, do we? Probably because we are sleep deprived, exhausted, and overwhelmed at every turn…and living every second of it! Much love and respect to you and your amazing team!

    3. Avatarawlehmann

      Hallo Terry,

      I cannot express my gratitude and joy of reading your insights of your special “behind the scenes” experiences. Your speech at the UK Gath was so delightful and so were all explanations given by your team. What a pleasure to be able seeing and touching some of these wonderful fabrics. You take me with you in the whole process of costume making with your most expressive speech. So, thank you very much for everything.
      Summing up, thanks to you I live the Outlander tv series as a richer experience than I every any other tv series or film.

    4. AvatarCatullus_1000

      Terry, we all greatly appreciate the artistic talent, innovation and hours upon hours of hard work that you and your team put into creating this incredible production. Hearing some of the backstory makes us appreciate you and your team all the more. I especially enjoy when you post detailed photos of a particular costume and explain the creative process behind it. Very grateful that Ron talked you into rejoining this crazines. Can’t wait to see that infamous red dress next season!

    5. Avatarannikin60

      Hi Terry,
      I truly don’t know how you do it, how do you sleep?!
      So glad Ron talked you into it though as your work is absolutely amazing, it really is!
      I’ve often wondered what it must be like behind the scenes but I was far from imagining that it was this hectic !
      Double bravo to you and your team for what you manage to achieve and thank you for finding time to let us come behind the scenes and enjoy even more detail on how the fabulous costumes come to life. Thank you x

    6. call_me_sassenachcall_me_sassenach

      Wow- such an insightful post. Thank you for sharing. I totally understand all the specifics of the challenges you faced in season one now. I have such respect for you and your work and how you are able to accomplish so much in the face of those challenges. Everyone who works with you is lucky to have you at the helm.

    7. elizlkelizlk

      Thanks for doing some of your processing “out loud” with us. Maybe for S3 you’ll be able to combine more of your social justice work into the role. Regardless, you and your team do a fabulous job, and I am looking forward to more.
      I can’t imagine that anyone who doesn’t love the books as you do would have done as much to bring our beloved characters to the screen.

    8. Avatartanyac

      Thanks again for another great insightful post.
      Can’t waitbto see the results of all your current efforts. We are lucky to have you behind the scenes -literally!

      Tanya

    9. Avatarrondaletts

      Terry, I’ve not commented before, but I just had to today. You are simply amazing, gifted, inspired, and brilliant! We knew that before, but the more you share the behind the scenes work you do, the more you astound us! I’m part of the Outlander Knitters group on Ravelry, and we all wait with baited breath (and needles at the ready) for every episode to ooh and aaah over your costume designs and the beautiful knits the cast wear. Please know that you and your stellar staff are appreciated!!! We are behind you 1,000%!!!

    10. peggyvanslppeggyvanslp

      Terry,
      Thank you for another post packed full of insights, colourful descriptions, and details. How you managed to juggle family, work, and self is amazing. Thanks for being frank about the emotional side of the job and the challenges you faced. Whatever it was that kept you going, i.e. a vision to fulfill, a desire to accomplish, you have demonstrated a faithfulness to that, which is inspiring. You are fortunate to have found dedicated compatriots in your profession…not always the case for most. Your work is greatly appreciated!!

    11. Avatarmttk28

      I saw your S1 costume exhibit in Los Angeles yesterday. Love how it was displayed! Seeing the costumes, even through glass, was breathtaking. Having read your description of the creation of the wedding dress, I still wasn’t prepared for how the mica would glow through the skirt. Stunning. The color palette of the highlanders’ outfits was like they rose from the land itself. Your Alchemy department did its magic! I could have spent all day looking at the details of all the costumes, but then I most likely would have been taken away babbling in awe! Thank you.

    12. Avatar2ndmrsdewinter

      Thanks for telling us more about your work- it’s fascinating! If Scotland is its own character on the show, then certainly the costumes are a character too.

      Can’t wait to see the Paris costumes!

    13. Avatargolfnlady

      Thank you Terry, for this insight into just a small part of what goes into making our beloved Outlander. I will never complain again about having to wait so long for the next season to begin. And a huge Thank You for all the hard, hard work you and your staff do. I find I watch each episode over and over for different things…first the story, then the costumes, then the sets. I wish I had a job that could put as much love into as you, and everyone else involved, have done on my favorite series.

    14. kgardnerkgardner

      What I love the most about your work on this show is the use of color, or as some might say, the lack thereof. The camouflage effect in the Highland costumes isn’t bland at all…the muted colors add another layer of dimension to the scenery. The lavender in the tartan is perfect (heath and heather), and how you color Claire’s wardrobe is unbelievable. The crisp white, peacock/midnight blue, and deep browns stand out as details that someone could have easily glossed over. It almost makes me want to forgive my seamstress mother for some of the paisley-ruffle-corduroy choices she made for me as a kid. Almost.

    15. AvatarMoz

      Wow, just wow. It would seem that all the work involved is obvious, but not really…it really, really is a lot of work, and I appreciate it. Truly, I do. Thankee, Terry and crew.

    16. ChrisChris

      Hi Terry!

      A candid and insightful post! A native of Burbank CA., I am find myself meeting people who come to “Hollywood” to make it or those who think that it just takes one “break” and they are in. I have friends who are “behind the scenes” and it’s a tough business. (I became an elementary teacher so I could share my love and appreciation of art history with my students and hopefully instill it in them.) This is what yo do for “us” readers. You are doing s fantastic job of sharing just what it takes to make this series.

      What I am trying to say is thank you for giving us incite into the challenges – personal, real, and raw; just how much blood sweat and tears do into the costuming; and the beautiful products. It makes me think of Mozart – your readers are Salieri! Your costume podcasts and the ones you’ve done with your husband are wonderful. You need to mention them again.

      Yesterday, I ventured down to The Grove to have a look at the costumes. It was during the day and the glare on the glass encasements made it hard to see unless one shaded and plastered their face to the glass, which was pretty funny to see so many people doing. I imagine when they are lit at night, it is spectacular display. BTW – I did locate the bone.

      You and your team are inspiring and amazing! Thank you!

    17. Avatarellenchristine

      Magnamimous. What you do, and what the entire team has done and will do is simply that. By expressing some of the insanity behind , the how and why of every little button placement is perhaps the best way to show the world of Outlander fans some of the magic that they/we can see on the screen. For those of us who have experienced those sleepless nights, and the brain-wracking that happens as part of the deal, we appreciate your presence, and the process. For those who don’t deal with the world of costume or fashion, hear ye, hear ye. As magnanimous as it is, your obvious intelligent approach is aided and abetted in no small part by the entire cast and crew of this wondeous endeavor. Thank you for expressing, for your continued posts, for your tweets, and for including us all in the journey. And thank you, Mr. Ron, for being there for you, and for us.

    18. Avatargigiarr10

      Absolutely amazing! Thank you so much for taking the time to share the “nuts and bolts” of creating the visual story. I so enjoy reading your posts! And watching your work help these actors turn into the characters I’ve loved for so many years. Thank you again, Terry!

    19. Avatarrtrgirl417

      I want you to be healthy and happy. However, I’m incredibly selfish, so I mostly want you to work on outlander to the very end! You are amazing. When you are absolutely exhausted, just know that you are a big part of why this story works! You brought those characters to life. It’s incredible!

    20. Purl99Purl99

      My intent is not to give this any less credit than it deserves…BUT…WHEW! I am exhausted just reading this…
      Terry keep up the fantastic work and I look forward to your posts! Thanks!

    21. Avatarlarrouxgirl

      The reading of it, the mere thought of it is enough make my head reel. But I’ve heard/read that actors say getting into costume is the thing that pushes them over the edge and squarely into character. Certainly the words, the director’s vision, others in the cast and their interactions are key, but the part where you begin to LOOK like the character works magic. You, Terry, and your gifted crew, are magicians. No other way to look at it. Which isn’t t 200 OK

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