December 11, 2016



A Lady’s18th-century embroidery kit


Viewers adore the lush costumes in each episode of the Outlander_Starz series that enrich Diana Gabladon’s epic story. And many wish they could work in the rooms where Terry Dresbach’s costuming vision comes to life. Well, one artist does just that, from planting “Easter Eggs” within the costumes, to researching dread diseases of the 18th century, the talented Liz Boulton imbues Outlander/Starz costuming with a magic and infectious humor all her own. Wizard-like though she may be, for this modest maker, the work is about ingenuity, computer skills and crazy team hustle. How on earth do Liz Boulton and all the talented folks in the Outlander costuming department make this monumental effort work? For Boulton, another transplanted “sassenach,” it is creative thinking combined with an abundance of Scots-tinged humor.

Liz Boulton, wearing her own costume

A costume designer in her own right pre-Outlander, Liz Boulton got her start helping out in the amateur theatre societies of Oxford and Strathclyde universities, the latter being where she became the volunteer “costume department.” It was a job she took on after winning a costume design competition based on “plasterworks,” of all things–a theme chosen to honor the late Scottish architect Robert Adam. More recently Liz worked with other talented embroiderers to recreate historically accurate pieces for Stirling Castle, including reproduction Cloths of Estate (see below): “The embroidery has been carried out, where practical, using traditional materials and skills and the designs were each approved by the Lord Lyon King of Arms, guardian of heraldry in Scotland,” according to Instirling.


James IV, Stirling Palace Cloths of Estate

One wonders what Boulton can’t do.  While she’s clearly a master at her craft, she claims to also be a good darner, excellent at “fixing vintage pieces that moths have had at,” and is able to embroider pretty much anything she’s handed, including stitching hidden gems into the costumes (and perhaps into a certain King’s headboard!) prominently featured in Season 2 of Outlander.

Liz Boulton, embroiderer & costume maker


Two of the most glorious Claire gowns in Season 2 of Outlander bear sweet treats, unmistakable signatures of Boulton’s handiwork. My personal favorite is what Costume Designer Terry Dresbach refers to as her Blueberry gown. But for Boulton, this costume is also about the “Fraser Strawberry”* she tucked within the scarlet embroidery on the hooded coat topping the luminous outfit. (Look very closely. Can you can find it on Terry Dresbachs blog photo?)


Claire’s gorgeous hooded jacket/dress with scarlet stitching overlaying Britex Fabrics woven fabric/Courtesy Terry Dresbach


A nod to Jamie Fraser is the textured strawberry: embroidered next to the piping line, among leaves on our right, just below the waist. Courtesy Terry Dresbach

(*”It is generally believed that the name Fraser traces back to origins in the French Provinces of Anjou and Normandy. The name is said to derive from the French word for Strawberry (‘Fraises’) and the Fraser arms are silver strawberry flowers on a field of blue.” For more, read here.)


Liz is surrounded by “maker” talent, be it in the costume workrooms at the Outlander/Starz production home in Cumbernauld, Scotland, or with other artists at her Scottish Region Embroidery Guild/Glasgow & District Branch. The Guild put together a show that traveled the country in 2016, and I was privileged to see the Wandering Threads show in Glasgow September 2016. Viewers commented on her technological skill and use of color, particularly in her piece showcasing nine theatrical faces of the late David Bowie in a piece she called Bowie – Changes, one version of which she sold while it was displayed.


From Bowie – Changes: Liz Boulton, 2016. Delicate hand stitches are taken to highlight the face of David Bowie.


David Bowie, Wandering Threads Exhibition, Liz Boulton 2016; Bowie – Changes


Although she may make suggestions, designing the costumes is “above my paygrade” Boulton says. Still, she is very happy to be on the Outlander costume team for many reasons: “Ron Moore is such a nice guy.” Moore has given Terry Dresbach both the budget and the chance to follow her own vision so that “it all stylistically flows.” Boulton says, “Once Terry decided this was the way we were going, it was a clear path we were on … and it has been so great to have a big stable department to carry out her vision.” Because Dresbach knows the books so well, as do many of the design/maker team, “we start way before filming or even scripts. We know what types of situations are coming and that gives us a head start.”

And the quality of costuming shows at every turn, even to other experienced eyes. “Outlander has spoiled me in terms of costumes,” says Carole Braun, a New York City costume designer. “Whether it’s the dyes, fabrics or fasteners, I try to use as much as I can in my work to make things look appropriate (for historical feel). But Terry Dresbach takes it to a new level.” Braun’s favorite S2 costume is the brown and gold piece below, known as the Dressage Dress.

Claire Fraser’s “Dressage Dress” displayed at The Artistry of Outlander at the Paley Center’s Los Angeles showing of Terry Dresbach’s Outlander Season 2 costumes. Courtesy Amanda Braun.



Boulton, already a cat lover with her own two, Felix and and Percy, added a special gift to the show-stopping costume for Outlander‘s female lead, Caitriona Balfe. Look closely at the pattern darned (embroidered one-half size to match stitches of the pattern of the existing flowers) pink flower with yellow center on the bodice. The yellow stamens are actually an upside-down cat’s paw embroidered there to honor Balfe’s own cat, Eddie.


Cat paw (upside down) center of pink pattern-darned flower, to resemble yellow stamens. To honor Caitriona Balfe and her cat, Eddie.



“Yes, my favorite piece of Season 2 is Master Raymond’s coat,” says Liz. “I got to show how I could finally use this (computer embroidery) software. As the coat pieces changed sizes and orientation a few times, I was quite glad I could go into my software and select areas to move and resize without restitching it all.” It would seem her Oxford degree in Human Sciences served her well here, as she and Terry Dresbach researched the dread diseases of the 18th century. They came up with five or six images for Dresbach to look at, then decide which to use. “They had to be diseases that you could embroider and that 18th-century apothecaries had some cure for, ineffective or not,” Liz says with a wry chuckle. “Malaria was out because you can’t embroider shivering. And cholera was definitely out because, weel, I wasn’t going to embroider that!” (Cholera kills via extreme diarrhea and vomiting.) Terry added in the Tree of Life and the Hand of Mysteries, and the front of the amazing piece was decided.


Master Raymond. Yellow Fever and Gout; Hand of Mysteries and Tree of Life. Courtesy, Amanda Braun.

First Liz embroidered “Yellow Fever” shown by a strange creature with horns on its back — derived from the ancient art of “cupping” — which is poking a human eye to yellow it with jaundice. Secondly, she stitched “Gout” on the coat’s lower left, with a nasty black beastie biting a discolored foot, symptomatic of red or purple swelling and extreme pain from this form of arthritis, said to be cured by the stitched “goutwort.” Although a bit frightening to some, Master Raymond’s coat of many diseases quickly became a fan favorite, with much discussion on social media as to what each bit and piece meant and how the “cures,” such as the camphor behind the Yellow Fever beast and the orrery (mechnical solar system) were used in the 18th century healing arts.

Detail, Yellow Fever turning the human eye yellow from elevated bilirubin in blood. Courtesy Terry Dresbach.


Detail, Gout-critter biting foot and causing swelling. Courtesy Terry Dresbach




































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