CRITTER CAPERS & OUTLANDER SHENANIGANS
For costume maker and embroidery whiz, Liz Boulton, her work on Outlander/Starz begins with Highlander–and puppy–kits and kilts, circles through 18th century wardrobes of France and returns to home turf in Scotland.
“Well, mind, we started with six people in the workroom for Season 1. Terry Dresbach (@OutlanderCostum) had said to Ron D. Moore (Outlander’s executive producer and Dresbach’s husband) that she’d come for four months, get the show up and running, then hand it off.” But that fantasy smashed straight into reality when it became clear there was very little in costume rental available for the show. “That time frame didn’t quite work out for Terry,” Liz says, with a chuckle.
Beyond costuming the humans in the show, way back in 2013, Dresbach asked for a special something for GingerJasper, the wee red Cocker Spaniel companion to another redhead, Marina Campbell, assistant to Ron Moore. Liz concocted a tiny doggie kilt and the adorable result–with cowl–was shared around the world via the Twitter account of Outlander‘s male lead, Sam Heughan, launching the red pup (and his “Mammy”) into internet stardom.
That sweet kilted caper was just the beginning, and a distinctly family– and pet-driven influence has continued through each season of Outlander. Next up was a winter coat for Terry’s own baby golden spaniel, Cuilean (pronounced “Q-lan”). A keen observer will note the puppy coat below was made from the same textured fabric as the Season 1 coat worn by Jamie Fraser’s uncle/guardian, Murtagh Fitzgibbons (Duncan Lacroix).
As wee Cuilean grew up before our eyes over two seasons of Outlander production, Liz’s costume wizardry continued to expand as well. What does a typical day in the Outlander costume department’s base in Cumbernauld, Scotland, look like? “There’s never a ‘typical’ day,” Liz says. “In the last week I did quilting, making stocks, was doing alterations, making repairs and some trims for ladies dresses … just anything that comes up.” Although she does mostly women’s costumes, Liz has been “sorting out costumes for 23 years now.”
WAS IT THE FEVER?
Liz’s talents (https://lizboultonblog.wordpress.com/) have taken some quirky turns on Outlander and she readily admits, “They laugh at me for putting in ‘Easter Eggs,’ but if you can’t have fun and make people laugh, weeel–” Indeed, Liz concocted one such hidden Easter Egg early on. Admittedly feverish at the time, she did some finish work on the making of a set of six “big bloody duplicate aprons” for Caitriona Balfe to wear during the gruesome hunt scenes at Castle Leoch, where Geordie (Bryan Larkin) meets a gory demise at the end of a boar’s tusk. “Another maker, Fiona–or ‘Pinky’ as we call her–said I was crazy for embroidering “CLAIRE’S APRON OF DEATH” inside the waists of the aprons that Claire wears for the gruesome hunt,” she says with a chuckle. “What can I say, I did have the flu after all!”
That same inventive spirit served Outlander well in the complex design/making of Liz’s favorite Season 1 garment: The Wedding Dress.
Terry Dresbach (@OutlanderCostum) found this (below) glowing example of exquisite goldwork much prized over centuries, combining metal thread and intricate three-dimensional hand done stump work. Then the pair, utilizing Liz’s knowledge of historical embroidery skills, teamed up to use these techniques for a wedding costume that would catch 18th-century candlelight like few other methods!
These techniques were combined in the silver leaves and acorns on the bodice and linen skirt. Looking for even more luminosity, they decided on another historic method: a layer of chipped mica flakes under the embroidered net to add even greater light reflection. (Mica is still used today to add heightened shimmer to items such as paints, countertops, nail polish, and the like.) Liz’s own father contributed mica samples, which she showed Terry, but they ended up using “about two fists worth” of a brighter, golden American mica. “Mica is amazing,” Liz says, because even when chipped into light thin flakes, as the embroidery specialists did for Claire’s gown, it does not break when sewn through.
A growing whiz at computerized embroidery machines, Liz was able to program patterns for the leaves and acorns that were next outlined individually via machine on fine net. They were then set in an embroidery frame for the embroiderers to fill by hand. Six Outlander artisans used silver metal thread in satin stitch, which is seen in the silver acorns and oak leaves that fall from the bodice to bottom of the skirt.
The addition of the goldwork dog bone resulted from an off-the-cuff comment by Terry Dresbach that Liz turned into the famous gem of an Easter Egg visible at the bottom of the gown’s net underskirt. The addition of historically used details made the gown one of the most talked about–and examined–costumes of not just of Outlander‘s inaugural run, but of the entire 2014-2015 television season.
MEANWHILE … FROM PUPPY TO TWEEN
ANOTHER COLLABORATION: THE GOLDEN BOY RETURNS
As Season 2 of Outlander moved from the homespun wools and muted palette of Scotland into the decadent and oh-so lush world Louis XV and his French court, the costumes took a leap forward as well, in both color and texture. Richly embroidered and handpainted fabrics adorned the male and female cast alike. And what could be more fitting for this explosion of French hedonism than an Easter Egg for Outlander wardrobe boss, Terry Dresbach. This “Egg” arrives in the guise of an embroidered version of her furry housemate, Cuilean–by this time a maturing cocker spaniel and well known “cele-pup” to the Outlander faithful. His golden face becomes the centerpiece of a beautiful muff and reticule carried by a very 18th century Louise de Rohan (Claire Sermonne), the elegant yet earthy best friend to Claire Randall Fraser.
A model-perfect headshot … or “gold”steel pose?
An Outlander pup immortalized in embroidery. Cuilean becomes an exemplar of costuming as art, seen not only on screens around the world, but in the window of Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City and Los Angeles and at the 2016 showing, The Artistry of Outlander at the Paley Center for Media, in Los Angeles, CA.
AND SO THE TAIL’S END … WITH A PHOTOGRAPHIC EXCLUSIVE
Knowing that costume designer Terry Dresbach prefers low-key, “un-birthdays,” Liz Boulton made a large embroidered picture of a now fully-grown Cuilean for her. In this exclusive pair of photos, we are treated to something seen previously only at Terry’s office at the Outlander production studios in Cumbernauld, Scotland. Luckily for fans of Outlander/Terry’s golden boy, perhaps the walking (barking?) appearance of Cuilean in Season 2 foreshadows more Cuilean “Easter Eggs” in the seasons to come!