Terry Dresbach

Outlander Costume Designer

Women’s Work.


Many readers of this blog have asked that I write about aspects of my life outside of the show. During shooting there are not so many of those, and one can only post so many pictures of the puppy, no matter how adorable he is.


But here I am, in between seasons, back at our home in Southern California, and trying to straddle two completely different worlds, different realities on two different continents. Seemed like a good time to write about something other than the show, but still related to it, because there is no aspect of my life it doesn’t touch.
I am still working, after all. I am just trying to do it from another continent. It sounded like a good idea.
I would set everything up before I left, so it could function without me. The process of making close to a thousand extras, would be all figured out before I left, and then the actually construction process would be managed by my very capable team.
I would come home and design the principal costumes, pick the fabrics, and then those would get made upon my return to Scotland in January.
It IS a great plan. Without it, we would be dead. It will save us, and probably save the show, allowing them to actually shoot. I keep saying that if I do this right, no one will ever know how bad it would have been without this plan. But convincing people that a disaster is coming that they cannot see, have no knowledge of. and don’t necessarily believe you know what you are talking about is tricky. Chicken Little and The Little Red Hen come to mind.

If you avert potential disaster that no one recognizes is there, then no one will ever know what could have been.
I know. Been there done that. (Carnivale) It gets really ugly when the disaster you have been warning about, actually happens. It doesn’t matter if you warned everyone, and they didn’t listen, it will still be your fault. Better to fix it behind the scenes, and hope the people who are forced to do what you say, don’t mutiny and throw you overboard, because they have to prepare for a disaster they can’t see either.
Anyway, I digress. See? All roads lead back to Rome.( and of course it has been a constant series of fires to put out every day. Best laid plans, and all that)
I come home and enter the reality of a home left in the hands of my wonderful husband and our 13 year old daughter, for a year. There are many wonderful things to be said about how the two of them have not only managed not to kill themselves or burn the house down, in my absence, but have forged a wonderful and magical father/daughter world. It is a lovely, lovely thing. But for the purposes of this essay, I will be discussing what has not been happening. I am not sure how many old lunches I have found in Little Moore’s room, or that some of last years Christmas decorations were waiting my return to be put away. Coming home was like some sort of surreal Twilight Zone episode. EVERYTHING was exactly where it was when I left. And I am not talking about furniture, I am talking about mail.
You get the picture.

So I have been digging out. Once I got things righted, I have been killing myself to rehab this place into a home, and system that is set up to support a home without a wife and mother in it.There can be nothing in this house that they do not use. They are not going to be baking cakes or making bread. They don’t need a candy thermometer or any rye flour. Closets must be organized, bill and mail systems set up, the garage MUST be cleared out, the home has to become minimalist enough to run without me here maintaining things.

Why? They are both relatively competent people. But this is not their area of expertise. Ron writes amazing television, but he just does not know what to do with mail. Little Moore is 13, and like most 13 year olds, finds picking her clothes up off the floor, an arduous task. Ron will never notice the piles of crap everywhere. I often find the two of them operating in the dark, literally. They have some sort of aversion to turning on lights, so if I am not up first in the morning I find them toiling away at breakfast and school prep, in the dark. What is that??? We have light, why don’t they use them?
They both always say, “it is so much cozier and homier when you are here.” I say, “well you can start by turning on some lights!” But it does not penetrate.

Once again, I will defend them against my own writing. Ron makes fresh waffles for LM’s breakfast during the week, and fresh breakfast burritos. I actually got a call from him in Scotland on a Tuesday afternoon (morning in California), asking me how to keep hollandaise sauce from breaking. I was deep in whatever that days crisis was at work, and asked what the hell he was asking about hollandaise sauce for. He explained that he had been trying to make Eggs Benedict that morning, but the sauce broke. ON A TUESDAY????? Seriously?
But how sweet is that? Insane, but incredibly sweet.
So my time here has been interesting. Hence my earlier post about being a little tired.
Like so many women, working outside the home, has not decreased the work inside the home. I am not sure how this all works. Being in Scotland is much easier, because there I essentially go back to being a single woman working in the film business. Cuilean and I stop at Marks and Spencer on the way home, pick up a stir-fry, or a thing of lentil soup. We both eat dinner in about 20 minutes, climb into bed, and start doing the rest of the day’s work. It is a fairly simple life, work aside.
Not so much here. People expect meat sauce and roast chicken, they need to be picked up from school, and a household needs to be managed. There is no Mary Poppins here (I need one).
But I sill have to design that goddamned red dress and about 99 other costumes. Fabrics have to be chosen and purchased, so the machine can keep moving on that other continent. And I like so many other women, have to figure out how to juggle it all.

Trying to push down that surge of panic, always just below surface. Which thing shall I ponder at 5am. how to help LM study for her SSAT’s so she can go to the high school she has her heart set on, or how the hell am I going to deal with the shoe issue looming in Scotland.
Can I get the bricks off of the patio so the 200 year old oak tree does not die? Can I get the shelving up in garage so that an actual car can in there, after all the moving boxes have been emptied and their contents dispersed.
Do I have a Thanksgiving turkey ordered 6 days before the day? No I do not, and I have no idea what anyone would like for Christmas. But given the amount of useless stuff I have moved out of this house in the last month, no one may be getting anything anyway. (Just need to figure out how to pull that one off.)
Why do I do this? For my family and their well being? Yes, of course. I know my absence leave a hole. LM says, “I hate to admit it, but we do need your nagging.” I want their lives to feel complete, and for them to feel my love and care even if I am not here. I also want to come home next year, and maybe not have my time here be spent in exhausting rehab. We will see if my system works.
So I muddle forward, or perhaps charge is a better word. I know I will leave here with things in much better shape than when I left last January.

As I travel further into this blog, and writing, I realize that what I sit down to write is rarely what I end up with. It is a catharsis, a “stream of consciousness”.

What comes out of this post for me? Working women. The lives of working women. Let me be frank. I have it pretty good. I come from and live in a pretty privileged world. College educated (more or less), affluent, I do not face what most women in this country, in this world face, every day. I am not minimizing my life, it is damned hard. I live on a different continent from my loved ones, and I work at a grueling job that requires almost a 24/7 commitment. But at least I am paid well in return. That said,  I’m not working two jobs to make ends meet, while my husband does the same, or having my entire salary going to childcare costs. And my husband is staring down how to make hollandaise sauce instead of the drive through line for dinner after picking the kids up from day care at 6:00 at night.

There is no point in making comparisons. I am not sure which segment of women has it easy, and even if they exist, I am not sure how appealing that life might be. A life made up of trips to the manicure shop and endless yoga classes, just  seems like a different kind of hard.

So, hats off and a pat on the back to all of us. (And to Claire, a woman who continues to inspire)

Let’s all take our shoes off at the end of this day, and have a communal sigh of relief, along with a cocktail, that another day of women’s work is done.




32 thoughts on “Women’s Work.

  1. Avatarbwismer5

    You said it all, Terry! Love love love your work and your writing! And you’re correct – it’s worth getting some perspective by looking at others lives, but it does all come down to: aren’t we ALL just great!!! Here’s to us all!

  2. AvatarChristinePincince

    I love seeing who you are really. If I lived near you we would be good friends. thank you for your integrity in all things. I do wonder how impossible having your family with you would be. A home schooling tutor for your babe and a European experience like no other . I am sure you have considered that and decided it wouldn’t work but it does hurt my heart to hear of your girl missing her mom at this crucial time. I worked extra hard hours and weekends while my girl was her age and her dad was a huge help and they did stuff together and she is a fine and wonderful 37 year old success story. I am not a person who regrets as a rule but when i do, it is the weekends, the times i missed of her growing up that i will never have. i have reflected on the many hours of work i did instead (I was a film commissioner that maybe could have often been compromised or condensed to fit my family in as i monday morning quarter back, but i didn’t and i am sorry. so your open heart sharing touched me on a deep level. how generous of you and how i look forward to your blogs and all your adventures and watching your endless talent. thank you for all you do for us your fans.

    1. AvatarTerry Dresbach Post author

      I was terrified to leave her. But I am so impressed at what has blossomed in my absence that I am glad I did it. Not for me, but for her. I ache with missing her, but she is thriving and getting from her Dad what I cannot give her. In her teen years she is learning how to pick great men, not from me telling her, but from daily interaction with one. When we moved into this house three years ago, she asked for her own little house. So we built her a small one room, shed. She has lived in her own little house since she was 10. Every night, no matter the weather, she says good night and leaves the house. Now she is working hard to get into a boarding school set on a farm.Our son went off to a film boarding school at 14. His choice. We have worked very hard to create independent birds, who could easily leave the nest.
      Not so easy for those of us left behind, but damn, I feel proud of how independent they are and how competent they feel. She and I have talked about me quitting, Ron even supported it if that was what we all decided. But everyone unanimously said that we should keep going, and that we would all be fine, even though sometimes it will be hard.
      It is going to be the hardest when I get on that plane at the end of December.

      1. AvatarLoupy

        You are an amazing role model for your LM. She will be a strong resilient woman who can tackle anything that comes her way, because of you. Inspirational. Thanks so much for sharing. x

  3. Avatargr82work4u

    So well written and it gives us some insight your fascinating world. I laughed at your Project Management skills and “Risk Aversion”. Having managed $30M projects, raised a son as a single Mom, and lived around the world, you brought it all home for me. You are so NEEDED and so great at what you do! Your family won’t say it but we appreciate all that you do for them and for us. Thank you so much Terry!

  4. Avatargardener2007

    Wish I could give you a pat on the back. I have been the mom working 80 hour weeks, cooking like mad at 11:00 at night, throwing wash in at 5:00 am, and praying for a Mary Poppins, and I’ve been a Mary Poppins to globe trotting couple that never had time for everything. Get yourself a Mary Poppins. It will save your sanity.

  5. Avatarjbeezley

    It is somewhat vindicating to see another working mom struggling with my same issues. I, too, travel for work (although on a much smaller scale) Before each trip I write out daily schedules for drop-off and pick up at various activities and write out the lunch calendar (take or buy). I do my best to keep things running my way, even while gone. I will not even pretend to have any of your organizational will power.

    I must also say, I am immensely pleased the GD red dress needs to be designed. Indeed, it does.

  6. AvatarPogonip

    Bless your heart, Terry. You’re not Superwoman. You can’t carry it all on your shoulders. At the very least, you need a PA, someone you can delegate things to regardless if they are job-related or family-related, or purely personal. Someone to help carry the load. Some people have an old and trusted friend who may be widowed or divorced without young children, and who may not have been so blessed financially, that is a good fit. I can tell you that life is too short (and sweet) to run yourself into the ground trying to do it all. There are so many things that only you can do, but a trusted assistant can lighten your load.

    Sometimes I think we are a nation of superwomen. Actually, it goes beyond national borders. We take on too much and set high standards for ourselves. We really do work wonders, but too often wear ourselves out, and nobody really appreciates the sacrifices we make. They’d really rather have us enjoy ourselves more. That and they want clean socks and underwear.

  7. Avatarkmareeclaire

    First of all, I love your blog! I imagine you don’t sleep or you’d never have time to do it. Have you been noticing your designs filtering into other designer’s work. ie.Carolina Herrera? I wish I could send the photo I saw. It was beautiful and so blatantly influenced by you! Also, I was wondering what you were going to do about the red dress!! (And how about the King’s mistress with nipple piercing diamond jewelry!) Diana Gabaldon is so wonderful and more than a little deliciously twistedl! I read probably four of the books twenty years ago and read them all again this summer in anticipation of this series. I have a background in all kinds of design so this is juicy stuff for me. I love your work and can’t wait to see the rest of it and hear about it on this blog. The series is just gorgeous. P.S. Just use a browning bag and a Butterball turkey for Thanksgiving! It’s fool-proof and easy!!!

  8. Blackbird MarshBlackbird Marsh

    That was a wonderful post..
    I wonder at your organizational skills. It takes next to nothing to drag me off into another direction. I was supposed to paint the dining room today and ended up making butter.
    We’re all lucky that you are who you are..

  9. JoelleJoelle

    Thanks sharing your insightful commentary. As a former US Marine and a single mother, I always would get asked “Was it hard to leave your daughter when you had to deploy?” I always just want to scream “What a stupid question!” but I understand most people don’t understand my choice to serve in the military for 17+ years. And I was always conflicted with what answer to give…do I say “yes it was hard”…then the inevitable “why do you keep doing it then?” (because I love it, that’s why)…or do I say “no, I had a job to do” (and I was good at it too!) …and I get the sidelong look of being a bad parent. The truth is always somewhere in the middle. “Yes it was hard, but I had a job to do.” I think more often than not that modern women try to do too much. Having bullets fly past your head certainly brings into focus what is important, and what I figured out is that I didn’t need to be superwoman to be a good human being and a good mom. You have validated that belief with your awesome post and you made me laugh. Hope to read more in the near future. Semper Fi!

  10. AvatarLadyLally

    Excellent post Terry! The grass always seems greener in that other yard. But everything is relative. All women have tough jobs, but it almost seems like we were built for it, no matter where we are in the socioeconomic stratus. Thanks for the inside “keek” at your life!

  11. tiggerostiggeros

    So glad you wrote this down, even if the relief is infinitesimal in weight, the burden of “working -mom-stress” always seems a little lighter when it’s shared! Your post has resonated with me as I have been thinking of writing a similar post (although completely different set of parameters) on my own blog – just don’t have the time to do it at the moment!!( As Alanis would say, isn’t it ironic?) The theme of it is “I wish I was;..” and most of the titles are along the lines of ” a better mum”, “Hermione Granger with a time turner” ‘better at using my time”or “able to add an extra few hours to my day”. I think it is truly a feeling that most working mothers encounter, as we try and spread ourselves out to cover everything, and in the end, we sometimes feel like we are being spread too thin. Spreading oneself across the Atlantic is just *meuh*, so just wanted to remind you of that, that your awesomeness is made even more awesome by the challenges you’re facing, and that we get it. You do an amazing job in a professional capacity, and are enormously generous of your time and knowledge with the fans. And tbh, it sounds like you’re a pretty amazing mum too – well-rounded teenagers who know what they want to do, and are willing to work hard to get it? Yup. A-MA-ZING! And as to all that is stress/panic/overload/work/twocontinentscolliding: If in doubt, write a list, and have a cup of tea; that generally makes the immediate better, and then plan your way out of the chaos – you’ve certainly already proved you can! Oh and did I mention tea??? xx

  12. Avatarcolleen67718

    Terry, I loved reading this post. I have three kids, husband works, and I own my own stationery and gift boutique in our town. There’s no balance to work and home. Our family moves happily and crazily from day to day. It’s all we know.
    Your talent is amazing, and I cannot wait to see the costumes in the next Outlander episodes starting in April!!

  13. Avatar

    Did not realize Ron was in US so much. I thought he was with you in Scotland more. Rough. But good too after a number of years. My husband worked in another state for awhile. After 20 + years it was good. Brought us closer together. Made me more reliant on myself than I even was. Good for everyone. Of course trust is a very big issue here and we totally had that as I am sure you and Ron do. Without trust this would not work at all! How is Cuilean? And how do you pronounce it? I am afraid to say any Scottish word after Laoghaire turning out to be pronounced “Leery”! Never would have guessed that! I just moved so, I, too have been throwing away, and sorting out stuff. I have left to go somewhere and returned months later to find things in the same place! My husband noticed everything. His problem…thought I should fix it all. My answer…if it bothered him he could take care of it. Was not bothering me. I did not have time. You should have seen his face the first time I told him that! Priceless! If only my sister would do that! Going to take a nap now, you made me tired! I moved last week. Drove to LA yesterday. Gotta say Palm Springs has turned to sand. CA looks awful. AZ is greener. That is truly saying something. P.S. Kenny misses you & Ron!

  14. AvatarLoupy

    Oh Terry! I have tears at the end of your post. Tears of solidarity with my sisters all over the world who are doing it tough!
    I, like you am a fortunate person. But as you say everyone’s life has it’s own challenges. Last year after seeing her through a long illness, I lost my mum. My husband and I had also separated. We have since got back together and moved house twice with our 2 boys, aged 10 & 13 (incidentally, they’re named Fraser & Mackenzie as I was reading Diana’s books when pregnant!) While all that upheaval was going on I was working in a high pressured profession and trying to complete a thesis for my Masters as well. I stupidly let myself get ‘dobbed’ in to be Parents & Friends president at my kids’ school at the same time too! (What do they say… if you want something done, ask a busy person…)
    Somehow I managed to get through the seemingly never ending grief of losing my mum (also my colleague and best friend) as well as complete the thesis and keep hubby and boys afloat. I feel I’ve come out the other side. I think that only happened because I have some amazingly in-tune girlfriends and colleagues. I also coped because I had a wonderful escape from what was happening everyday in “Outlander”. Diving into the world you’ve created, calmed and soothed me at a time I needed it most.
    We women are strong. We can face and achieve anything and be the rock that others need at the same time. Just like Claire.


  15. Avatarmonarsmith

    Very well said. Although I am designing no costumes, many parts of our lives are achingly familiar. I am planning on coming to Scotland in the spring for a trip, by myself to do as I wish….As I was explaining this to my 18 year old, she asked me how she and her Daddy would get along without me. Who would do what I do? When I told her she would, she looked at me as if I were speaking a language she didn’t understand. She said, but Mom you do everything….enough said.
    I love hearing about all the fantastically creative things you do but also all the day to day tasks you perform. Thank you for sharing.

  16. AvatarMartina

    This week sucked. My favorite aunt died, my uncle (her and my mother’s brother) is a demented weirdo who made us all sing in a restaurant, I’m working to set up an important clinical trial with two miserable, arrogant doctors, and I locked my keys in the car. That said, my life is generally great, I have rewarding work and great friends. I’d love to have a man to love, but maybe that’ll happen someday. I think we all have our challenges, but if we can be happy about one accomplishment at the end of every day, I think we ‘ll be OK. My accomplishment for today was a great tuna casserole. Total comfort food from my childhood, and it did the trick!

  17. Katiscotch22Katiscotch22

    What a great essay. I’m now retired but I remember doing everything you experienced. My Husband and daughter are very capable people but when I was working if left to their own devises they were a disaster waiting to happen. Every working Mom deserves a lot more respect than she gets. Now my daughter finally understands what it’s all about. She has 3 children, works full time outside the home and in it as well – her hubby believes anything to do with running the home and kids is in her realm of responsibility. Women do what they need to do to ensure our families are looked after – that’s what we do!

  18. AvatarDebbie Dake

    Dear Terry ~

    You have many blessings, and good for you. But your hardships are still hard even though they may not be as hard as the next woman’s. You’ll keep working, doing the best you can and making others happy within your household and outside of it. (I’m one of those people outside of your household who really enjoys the fruits of your labor.)

    My parents had 7 children (my mother had us all within 9 years of each other before she turned 30) and we were very poor, even though both of them worked. There were not always options available to them in hard times. I live in a 2-income household with one child, an 18-year daughter, now attending a great university and totally enjoying her close-to-independence. My husband works 15 hours a day as a truck driver and I’ve been working in a very rewarding job for the past 30+ years (retirement, here I come…). Sometimes it’s a struggle but there are always, always options available to us to get us out of a bind. I don’t think I’m working any harder than my parents did but my life is very different than theirs was. Who knows why?

    Being a woman is a hard job but I think maybe it’s the best one. I don’t think I’d want to be anyone else than who I am. And I love having women like you around, starting conversations like this one.

    Really looking forward to your solo podcast. Enjoy the rest of your time at home with your family.

    ~ Debbie

  19. AvatarConnie Sandlin

    Lists. Love ’em. Love making them, love scratching things off them when they’re done. When I’ve got a lot to do, they help me get it all done, and I feel a sense of accomplishment when I scratch things off. Breaking things down into manageable components helps my sanity, too.

    I wish you had room in your life for a personal assistant, or a “wife”, to help you get through all that must be gotten through, but you probably don’t have enough free time to interview and hire one, it seems.

    Much love and peace to you, and thank you for letting those who admire you get a glimpse into your busy world and your AMAZING family. Kudos on your parenting.

  20. Avatarpraver

    Terry, you are an amazing woman, wife, and mother. No wonder Ron fell in love with you. I am a semi-retired single woman and still have problems getting everything done. How you have enough energy to do what you do is a mystery. Thank you for this glimpse into your life. It inspires me.

  21. Avatartraceymfs

    Dear Terry,
    You inspire me every day to rise above my current situation and do more. I have suffered depression on and off for many years. Those years of bringing up children virtually on my own while my husband was working 20 hour days. I too was working, teaching, had 3 kids, 1 with learning difficulties and the others at the opposite end of the learning spectrum. This presents other problems, that seem minuscule by comparison. They are now all grown, healthy, happy, and except for the youngest who sadly also suffers bouts of depression on the road to further careers in their chosen fields.
    Now my husband and are are taking the plunge and leaving them all their own devices while we explore the UK fro at least 12 months, part holiday, part work, reconnecting with each other after 26 years of child rearing and such. Our house looks much like yours only at this stage much less well organised. Boxes everywhere of the detritus of 30 years of marriage, 3 kids and many lifetimes of stuff. it is a real challenge to clear it out to the bare bones. And i am finding it extremely difficult. However we are committed to this. The youngest is not so sure, but her siblings will look after her of that i am sure. it is a big step and I am full of trepidation for the future. But they need it as do we.
    You have given your children everything you could and they know it. You go above and beyond your duty for us your fans and we know and appreciate it.
    For this I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  22. Avatarmageee

    Blessings on you, Terry, Being a single mom of 6 for many years wasn’t easy, but not anywhere near your responsibilities, with so many depending on you. As so many have said, a PA would help, should you find the time to interview/hire! That’s the hard part today.

    Thanks again, for sharing a bit of your life with us, and cathartic as it is, it becomes the same for us in some way. We are all anxiously awaiting the next installment of your blog…


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