When Tyranny of Style hits my inbox I always take the time to read the whole thing, because Joe Kucharski knows that my main interest is tech. So, I was a bit confused to see costumes from Outlander. That’s not to say that I don’t love period fashions, and I fully admit to hacking an 1800’s silk gown to create my version of a Titanic dress for my wedding. The point is, when I glanced at the photos from this show, I was having problems finding the tech, which is exactly what makes this work so divine. I also discovered the amazing story of how costume designer Terry Dresbach made it all happen with nothing. So, here’s the short version.
Imagine moving to another country and finding out that the airlines lost your luggage and the ship carrying your household possessions just sank. This didn’t really happen to Terry, but the idea of starting from scratch is quite accurate. She arrived in Scotland and had to build her own costume department out of an empty factory. To make matters worse, tax credits had encouraged other filming and there was a shortage on fabrics that would have been suitable for this show’s style. Now let’s add the bonus that there will be tons of extras that will also need flawless costumes. Some would have turned away with these odds, but Terry was driven and scouted out her own solutions.
One of our team was a hobby embroiderer. We set her up with a machine, and she created some great pieces, but one home sewing machine was not going to provide what we needed. So we created an entire embroidery team of recent film school graduates, who had the technological expertise that could be applied to big commercial embroidery machines. We now have five machines, and our team digitizes 18th century designs and patterns that are then programmed into the machines so we can create anything we want. It saves us a fortune and allows us limitless possibility.
Embroidery wasn’t the only challenge. Trying to duplicate the gorgeous hand painted silks from the time was also tricky, but again, Terry was up for the challenge.
Our ageing and dyeing department printed, and stenciled thousands of yards of fabrics to use in the construction of costumes for over 1000 costumes. That allowed us to use very inexpensive fabrics, yet give the illusion of expense and intricate design.
Notice how the prints play with shadow. Understanding how fabrics react to camera and lighting is a huge part of this process.
I really think I would wear any piece from this show whether it was designed for a man or woman! It’s amazing how rich these fabrics look, especially once they are combined with solids, trim and buttons. It makes me want to get the proper equipment so I can do multi color screen-printed fabrics of my own. The important thing to realize is that the digital process never replaces the artistry here; it is merely another tool. Sure an embroidery machine can save time and perhaps be more exact, but that only allows more time for the artist to create the design, or in the case of a fast paced film set, the ability to create more costumes by deadline. I’ve read about fascinating cases where 3D printers were used to create historical buttons that would have been impossible to find, and perhaps not even ethical to make when talking about bone or shell. So, in some ways the digital process is allowing us to reclaim the past and save it to share with the future. It’s really exciting stuff. As always, a shout-out to Joe for providing so much detail in his interviews. Also, I hope you will visit Terry Dresbach’s blog which has the most gorgeous photos of 18th century clothing around. Finally, if you are a costume fan, you should also check out our book 1000 Incredible Costume & Cosplay Ideas. You would be surprised how much of cosplay pulls from fashion from the past. Wipe the dust off that sewing machine and get stitching!
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