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Outlander: Terry Discusses Keeping Track of All Those Pieces!

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By: Erin Conrad July 17, 2016

On Twitter this morning, Terry Dresbach showed fans a bit of what it takes to wrangle the tens of thousands of costume pieces Outlander has used in the past two seasons. All of the information and photos in this post are from Twitter. With a system that has been used by large costume rental houses, museums, and other facilities that house extensive collections, she put an RFID scan system in place to identify and track the pieces and their details, who has used them, and where they’re stored.

She said that as they start Season 3, about 30,000 pieces have had a bar code attached and been entered into the system, taking about 6 months. Going forward, all pieces will be entered into the system as they’re made (for Season 3, so far, though, only about 10 costumes have been created). The system was set up retroactively, however, because when the show started, the costume department only had a small space and a staff of about 8. Her staff now numbers about 70 people.

Terry says that she believes Outlander is the only show using a bar code system – she says there may be others, but she doesn’t know of any. But the huge number of individual pieces, many of which will likely be reused, made an organization system a necessity. The costume department now takes up about 20,000 square feet, including offices, workroom, storage, ageing and dyeing, fitting, fabric storage, drying (costumes get wet from filming outdoors) and more. Terry says the only comparison she can make is “to running the military. Dressing, feeding, transporting…” She said “it takes a year, and a village. This is not the local theater group.”

Costumes for extras are fit weeks before those people work, so that if shooting is done out of the Cumbernauld studios, everything is already organized before travel. Terry estimates that they have used hundreds of thousands of buttons, and have about 40,000 pieces (shoes, cuffs, jackets, etc), and outfit at least 5,000 extras per season. They make up to 6 copies of lead costumes!

The slideshow below gives you all of the basics, and some fantastic photos inside the costume storage area:

Would you like to have the chance to meet Terry – and Grant O’Rourke – in person?
Join us at Thru The Stones in December!

Follow me on Twitter: @OutlanderTIBS, @ErinConrad2 and @threeifbyspace
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It’s true.  I am still obsessed with the knitwear on Outlander.  Not just the main pieces either.  Yes, I love Claire’s cowls, caplets, and shawls, but even the supporting players and extras had beautiful pieces.  (click on an image to enlarge)

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I am sure it isn’t just me.  There are a lot of websites out there for patterns, both free and paid.  There are people selling premade replicas, and even LionBrand Yarn has gotten in on the act.

I was a little nervous about it, but the amount of love it has generated, the fact that there are women who are knitting all of these scarves and cowls based on our show is so touching and so lovely and speaks so much about our fans and who they are and the relationship they have to the material. It’s really quite lovely, and I don’t think twice about it anymore.  – Terry Dresbach

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Outlander Secrets, Part 10: The Big, Big Problem With Jamie’s Kilt
In the latest installment of Outlander Secrets, costume designer Terry Dresbach talks the most controversial element of the Scotland wardrobe.

JUN 10, 2016
Much has been written about the head-turning, high-wattage costumes from Outlander’s Paris scenes this season: the saturated colors, the meticulous embroidery, the jaw-dropping accessories (er, nipple jewelry). At this point in the Starz hit’s second season, Outlander protagonists Claire and Jamie have returned to Scotland, ditching Paris’ jewel-tone silks for Scotland’s utilitarian gray wools—but the chatter about the show’s costumes hasn’t slowed a bit. How could it, with Emmy-winning costume designer Terry Dresbach at the helm? Here, we chat with Dresbach about Outlander’s wardrobe now that we’ve returned to the Highlands, and the mind-boggling challenges the Scottish wardrobe presents.

The catch-22 with tartans:

“You know, it’s really interesting because the tartans are a very, very difficult issue. Because unless you have subtitles going across the bottom of the screen that explain history, you’re really having to deal with audience misconceptions that go back for decades. There’s a lot of scholarly debate about tartans, and I try to ride the line very, very carefully. I won’t say which group I believe, because then I’ll get 9 million angry letters, but…





There’s certainly a school of thought that says that tartans are actually something that was invented by the Victorians as sort of a romanticism of Scotland, that the clan tartans—and all those crazy colors—really isn’t accurate to the 18th century. But we do have a romantic association with, ‘Oh, I’m clan MacKenzie’ or ‘I’m clan Fraser.’ And certainly our book fans have that, but the research doesn’t support it. So my job is to figure out: How do I handle with care people’s love of a piece of the story and be accurate? Because either way I’m getting angry letters.

I still get letters from people going, ‘Why isn’t he wearing the Fraser tartan that I bought when I went to visit Edinburgh and went to that gift shop?'”

How she handled it:

“What I did was I tried to put myself in the head of somebody in the 18th century. So if I’m a weaver or a dyer or a fabric maker and I’m living in a little smoky hovel with three generations and maybe cow and pig in the corner, and it’s pouring rain outside all the time, how much time am I spending with that giant pot over the fireplace [dyeing fabric] getting the exact correct shade of lavender? Probably not a lot. But then enters Prince Charlie wearing his insane red plaid:

But that’s an actual reproduction of a painting that he had commissioned that he actually was out on the battlefield wearing that brilliant red plaid. It’s just something, isn’t it? [But that makes sense for the Prince to wear that because] dyes were incredibly, incredibly expensive!

But it just seemed to me like, historically, fabrics are created from the environment people live in. So what we did was research all the plant life in the area of our story and basically came up with: What colors would we be able to produce living where they lived? And then as we filmed we went, ‘Okay, the people in this village like this pattern, and the people in that village like this one.’ But they’re all in the same general geographic vicinity, which is why you see the colors being so similar but the patterns different. Claire will be wearing a different plaid than Jamie’s wearing and it’s different than what Dougal MacKenzie’s wearing, but gosh they look awfully similar.

…But unfortunately, you can’t send that letter out to every fan before they watch the show that this is what we’re doing.”

This interview had been edited and condensed for clarity.

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