So I finally got around to watching the time travel adventure/romance Starz series Outlander. I'd been reluctant to watch it because I've read the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon (though only as far as a Breath of Snow and Ashes, as I found every book less compelling than the last and the whole "Jamie and Claire are both irresistibly attractive to every other character in the book and are having mind-blowing sex for the 3,348nd time on the nearest reasonably flat surface" thing was getting really old). I don't usually care for filmed versions of books I've read. I'd rather watch something new than a simplified rehash of something I've already read. But then I ended up deciding I should watch the series in order to write about it for this blog because I saw so many online references to the knitwear.
I must say I enjoyed the show on the whole. It's been a long time since I read the books so the discrepancies didn't bother me too much. (A friend of mine who is an obsessive fan of the books says she can't watch the series at all though she has tried numerous times.) The show is beautifully produced and quite well cast and well acted on the whole. And then there is oh-so-much knitwear, which was fun to see, if not period accurate. In the show, time travelling Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser, played by Catriona Balfe, sports a series of elegant dresses topped with knitted cowls, shrugs, shawls, and armwarmers, all in wools of natural hues and mostly knitted out of bulky weight yarn on large gauge needles. I know practically nothing of eighteenth century textiles and fashions but I had my suspicions about the authenticity of the costume design and especially of its knitted elements. I thought it quite astonishing that Castle Leoch should have a (for that time) very extensive and perfectly fitted wardrobe on hand for their unusually tall guest, and I thought it unlikely that big needle knit cowls and shrugs were a style seen at all at the time. I was correct in this, and there were many more inaccuracies that I hadn't the knowledge to pick up on.
There is much internet conversation on this topic (such as this Ravelry thread), in which fashion history buffs are getting their replica stays in a twist over all the anachronisms in the Outlander costumes. Eighteenth century knitting was usually done to a very fine gauge, unless it was an item that was to be felted. And not only are cowls and shrugs quite a recent style innovation, it's possible that even the knitted shawl, as we know it, did not exist at the time. Also, it seems not all yarn was undyed in the eighteenth century as natural dyes were commonly used to achieve such colours as glaring yellows, vivid reds, and denim-like blues, so not all of Claire's knitted accessories would have been dun-coloured. However, the costume designer for Outlander, Terry Dresbach, is not a fashion historian and, according to Buzzfeed writer Alanna Okun, she had about seven weeks to prepare all the costumes for the show. Given those limitations it's to her credit that she met her deadline with attractive costumes that are even as accurate as they are. I've heard it said that in the movie business (as in many arenas) when it comes to having things done fast, inexpensively, and well, you'll have to pick two attributes, as you cannot have all three.
At any rate, to get down to discussing possible Outlander-themed knitting that knitting watchers of the show can do, there are always two directions for a knitter to take when making items inspired by a TV show or movie: one can replicate the specific patterns worn by the onscreen characters, or one can draw inspiration from the show in a more abstract sense and design something completely new. I'm not seeing much of the latter kind of Outlander-inspired design, at least not yet, though I am in hopes that we'll get a magazine or book of Outlander-inspired patterns at some point. Meanwhile, it's entirely possible to knit oneself replicas of the knitwear worn in the series. The upside of dressing Claire Randall Fraser in twenty-first century knits is that her accessories are quite wearable for today. Despite the historical inaccuracies there has been a lot of online clamour about the Outlander knits, with knitters demanding patterns for the items Claire and the other Outlander characters wore. And since most of the knits worn in the shoes are simple, big gauge patterns, some knitters have obligingly providing unofficial replica patterns for those who want them.
You can make a simple striped garter shawl like the one Claire is wearing in the top photo with the When In Scotland pattern depicted below,
designed by Rilana Riley-Munson. It's a free pattern.
The Outlander Pattern for Claire's Cowl, written by Shelli Westcott, is a very close match to the one worn by Claire, and will actually look much better worn with contemporary clothing because it won't be jarringly anachronistic as it is onscreen. It's a free pattern.
I don't personally find the Outlander knits to be inspiring, as those dead easy chunky knits are very much not my preferred style of knitting, either to make or wear, but Geillis Duncan's cape, as seen above, came closest to arousing my interest. Unfortunately the show never gave us a better look at it than this.
If you fancy the little capelet Claire wears in the photo above, this Outlander inspired Rose Coloured Capelet, designed by Ravelry user Furlaine, is a very good replica of it. This pattern is available for C$4.00(CAD).
The cabled armwarmers Claire is wearing in the top photo are a close match to the Outlander Cabled Wristers, designed by Jenifer Spock-Rank. This pattern is available for $1.99(USD).
The cowl Claire is wearing is especially hilariously out of synch in terms of the kind of spun yarn that would have been available in 1743. At this distance, it looks almost like a fur neckpiece, but it is indeed knitted from yarn, which I've seen identified online as Louisa Harding's Luzia. But then perhaps Castle Leoch housekeeper Mrs. Fitzgibbons has a stash of Luzia put away in the garret. As Claire said herself, Mrs. Fitz is a wonder.
ETA: It appears this cowl was actually knitted out mink yarn. I'm trying to do a little research on this because it seems there weren't minks in Scotland in the eighteenth century. There was fur trade, but what I am trying to find out is how likely was it that anyone was spinning yarn from what would have been very expensive imported minks at that time? Wouldn't they have been used as skins? And again... cowls didn't exist back then.
I had to include this even though I don't like knitted dishcloths. This Outlander Je Suis Prest Thistle Cloth pattern, designed by Alli Barrett, and available for $2.00(USD), features the Fraser clan motto "Je Suis Prest" (in English, "I am ready"). As an aside, it's interesting how many Scottish clan mottos declare readiness or preparedness. My own surname, Rae, is Scottish, and the Rae family motto is "In Omnia Promptus", or "Ready for Everything". It's probably understandable given that these mottos were originally war cries. These days, for those of us fortunate enough to be living in area that isn't war-torn, they can be a way to motivate yourself to do the dishes.