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Thru The Stones ’23 – Costumes, Doubles, and a Farewell

Since it started in 2014, the Thru The Stones (TTS) event in Davenport, IA has been among my absolute favorite Outlander get-togethers. Focusing less on the celebrity guests than on the experience, TTS has introduced us to the skills, tastes and feel of the 18th century. Deb Ford, the creator of this outstanding bi-yearly production, has welcomed us with classes, themed banquets, costume parades, and so much more. And this year’s event, held last weekend, was the final one as Deb moves on to things that will probably not dominate her life the way TTS has for 10 years.

This year’s event was just as fun and exciting as the past four events. Despite guest names changing due to contracts and commitments, we had a terrific line-up of Outlander cast and creators – our cast guests were Iain Wilkie and Valerija Jemeljanenko, body doubles for Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe;  and Ron Moore, the show’s creator and executive producer. Iain also suggested that his friend Iain MacGillivray, Scotland’s youngest clan chief and noted bagpiper, come with him! Chris Donald, who played Philip Wylie in the show’s 5th season (with a short appearance in the 4th), was a guest at the 2021 TTS and had such a good time that he asked to come again and mingle with the attendees. Ron’s wife, Terry Dresbach, had been our guest in 2016 and 2018, when she brought Ron with her, and she said she would have loved to come again, but, as Ron told us, she was unable to find a dogsitter and couldn’t make the trip. While we missed Terry, we had a fantastic time with our guests, who mingled, signed autographs and took photos, and read questions for our trivia contest.

Classes

One thing that has distinguished TTS from other celebrity-focused Outlander events has been the inclusion of classes that focus on things that have a correlation to Outlander, the show’s time period, or Scotland. This year, we had some excellent classes and terrific teachers! Each attendee selected two to attend on Friday morning. A sellout every year has been the whisky tasting classes, and this year, the second alcohol class was a beer tasting (rum has been featured in the past). Emma Bailey, an LA makeup artist and attendee Alyson Bailey’s daughter, demonstrated creating wound prosthetics, leaving her mother and another attendee, Sam Kraupner, with horrific-looking “sword gashes” – prosthetic – on their arms all day. Expert seamstress Teri Biglands did a lovely class on embroidery, and provided each attendee with a kit to make a thistle ornament. Teri’s masterpiece quilted dress was on display all weekend!

 

Other classes included information about the recently-cancelled Midwest bison bridge; a Native American speaker talking about courting and married life the native way; broom-making; wearing corsets with a modern wardrobe; reducing food waste; and wildlife conservation.

Body Doubles

The weekend, held at the River Center, continued with an in-depth interview for attendees of body doubles Iain and Valerija, by local newscaster Pilar Pedraza. Iain and Valerija started with Outlander in Season 4. They are used for long shots, where you don’t see Sam or Caitriona’s faces, but also for hand closeups, and most often, for a lot of the title sequence scenes in each episode. One notable sequence, Valerija told us, was the episode A. Malcolm in Season 3, where Claire arrives in Edinburgh and sets off to find Jamie. In the title sequence, she eats the peanut butter sandwich she brings with her, and the saran wrap is caught by the wind. Valerija explained that this scene was shot over and over, with 50 sandwiches prepared and a vomit bucket just off stage. Fans were strategically placed to get the saran to fly off just the right way, and as they did take after take, she used those buckets! And for all of  that, the very first take was the one that was used. She was used extensively for Season 6, when Caitriona was pregnant and needed extra rest.

One of Iain’s notable scenes was a closeup of Jamie with Tom Christie, offering him a dram of whisky and reciting a Bible passage. The director made the decision to use a closeup of Jamie’s hands to emphasize how important both whisky and religion were to Jamie, and in this closeup, we actually see Iain’s hands! (If you watch the hands carefully in any closeup, you’ll be able to tell whose hands they are – Sam has pronounced fingernail lunulas – the half-moon in the nail bed – and Iain doesn’t.) He also has scars from the fiery cross scenes of Season 5, when Valerija had to wear a lot of hairspray, and he stepped forward to protect her from being set on fire by the heat of the burning cross.

This is really Iain and Val, and they were excited to be on a trading card!

Both Iain and Valerija have done other productions – Valerija was involved with Good Omens Season 2, and Fast & Furious. Iain (along with several other Outlander extras) appeared in Game of Thrones. From this experience, he realized that extras, stuntpeople, voice actors, and other non-main players often had poor representation, not getting the contracts and terms they deserved. So with a couple of his “mates,” they formed Beautiful Bearded Bastards, a UK talent agency specializing in these performers. Today, Iain says, they rep nearly 10,000 performers, including Valerija , who changed her representation to BBB after hearing how passionate Iain was about making sure their clients were taken care of.

Vendors

Quite a few terrific vendors set up tables at the River Center. Pewter pins and ornaments, period clothing, hand-sewn and embroidered items, and so much more were available during the weekend.

In addition, attendees brought books to swap, and socks and winter clothing to donate to a local charity. Bins and tables were overflowing! Outlander fans, I’ve found, are extremely generous and kind.

Trivia Contest

Friday evening kicked off with dinner at tables that were elaborately decorated by trivia team contestants. These trivia contests are better called “minutiae” contests, as the questions have always dug really deep into the books (no show questions, and this year’s was the first event that included Go Tell The Bees).  Questions were grouped into categories – notable ones have included “Balls,” “Saints Preserve Us,” audio or visual clues, “The Doctor is In,” and flora and fauna. Our team, which has had 5 consistent members and a couple of new ones every year, came in in the top third, as we’ve done in the past. Oh well! We had a great time. This year, since the event focused on The Fiery Cross with its wedding highlights, we called ourselves Fraser’s Ridge Wedding Planners. Some teams have kept their team name for every event; we changed each year based on the book theme (our most notable was 2018’s Mme de la Tourelle’s Nipples, after  the King’s mistress in Season 2. We thoroughly flustered Terry Dresbach with our gold swan pin-encrusted t-shirts).

Team names and table decorations were also judged! Some teams, including ours, had hugely elaborate table decorations. Our table had a 5-ft tall Fiery Cross, complete with orange lights. Team members frequently had matching t-shirts – our team did, every year – and members brought gifts for each other and added to the decorations! Our team partner Lisa Margulies made beautiful macrame chair hangers, and Alyson Bailey crocheted stunning bridal bouquets for each of us, with forget-me-nots.

The winning teams had an exciting prize – the first place winners, Plaiditude, sat with Ron Moore at Saturday night’s dinner! Second place, Hoosier Honeypots, had dinner with Iain. And the rest of us weren’t left out – names were pulled from all other attendees, and seven lucky people got to sit with Valerija. Some of the questions we were asked (and the answers, if we remember them):

  • The  name of the person whose dress Father Fogden gave her to wear (his late wife, Ermenegilda)
  • What procedure did Claire perform on three people (tonsillectomy, on the Beardsley twins and Henri-Christian)
  • A tie-breaker: What was the name of Claire’s parents?
  • What kind of berries were Claire and Brianna looking for when Steven Bonnet found them on  the beach?
  • Jamie taught Bree, and then Bree taught Fanny, the technique of packing these in mud and cooking them in ashes.
  • What did Jenny wash Jamie’s leg with after he was gravely wounded at Culloden? (boiling water)

Brianna’s Wedding Reception

Saturday was chock-full of fun and fabulous activities! We started with Brianna’s Wedding Reception brunch, with beautiful table settings, a 30′ macrame stage backdrop and 10′ tall fiery cross, and a talk by a local historian about wedding customs, amazing and appalling, throughout the world. A few mannequins around the stage wore wedding dresses from different periods and a bright yellow tuxedo jacket. Because the theme included the book’s weddings, Deb Ford arranged for 17 married couples to have a vow renewal ceremony on stage! Our new piper friend Iain MacGillivray led them into the room. Many of the  men came in kilts, and the couples pledged their continuing commitment to each other.

The afternoon concluded with another interview – Pilar Pedraza interviewed Ron Moore. I won’t give you highlights of that, because I had the chance to sit down with Ron privately myself on Friday, and I’ll bring you all of that, most of which Pilar also coincidentally covered, in a separate post early next week. Ron’s enthusiasm for Outlander hasn’t diminished over all of these years, I’m happy to say, and he was thrilled to join us all for every activity. Ron was a late addition to our event this year, after Mark Lewis Jones (Tom Christie) had to reluctantly withdraw due to a new filming commitment (and work always comes first!!). Ron and Terry have become personal friends of Deb Ford and her husband Dan, and answered the call when she needed another high-profile guest.

Other activities on Friday and Saturday included improv group Guys with Ties; a pipe and drum band; and a lovely folk group on Saturday night, as we ate several different delicious flavors of wedding cake.

Costume Parade

Since Terry’s first appearance at the second event in 2016, one of the highlights of TTS has been the costume parade. Attendees have gone all out – sewing costumes, finding the right pieces to buy and put together, or searching vintage shops. Guest Chris Donald was a true gentleman and helped the attendees down the stairs, when their large skirts made it treacherous. Here are most of the participants in this year’s parade!

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The Fiery Cross

Attendee Lisa Margulies went above and beyond – she turned herself into the Fiery Cross! Here, she discusses the process she used to make this astonishing costume.

While thinking about a costume for TTS 2023, I drew inspiration from the convention theme and book symbolism. Debbie Ford was focusing on the fifth book in the Outlander series, The Fiery Cross, and the weddings binding characters together. I decided to literally embody the fiery cross as a costume because, just like the Scottish tradition of calling families and clans together for important occasions, TTS attendees are called to gather together at Deb’s event for a variety of weekend festivities. I also enjoy a creative challenge, I.e. how to make myself into a believable inanimate object.
I began working on the design and investigating implementation ideas in August and September. My research consisted of Google searches, Pinterest boards, trips to Lowe’s and various craft stores, plus watching Season 5 and reading book 5 (again). I wanted a lightweight, fake stick to manipulate in a dress form and decided to distress foam insulation for this purpose. I cut pipe foam and backer rod and spray painted them to emulate different size branches. I made several trips to Lowe’s because it seemed I never had enough when I was doing the weaving! These sticks were hot glued onto two armatures sewn from fabric screen. The collar has wire ties for boning, and the dress utilizes a zipper and magnetic buttons to wear on my body. The process of placing all the sticks and LED lights on the armatures took several hours over a six week period. I made a shift-like dress and a tulle petticoat for “fire” to go underneath all of that. November was a very busy month for construction. I’m sure I spent more hours than I would want to admit on the making of this costume!
My wig and headpiece were made in collaboration with my hairstylist, Julie Wagner, a former TTS attendee and fellow Outlander fan! I also had some occasional pattern and foam cutting help from my cousin Patty Fisher, a 4 time TTS attendee!

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Farewell to TTS

Our huge thanks and love go to Deb, her sisters Sandy and Gin, her husband Dan, and the crew of friends and family that have helped her put these events together. Personally, I’ve had a great time – I interviewed Diana Gabaldon at the first TTS; wrote and gave a thank you speech for Terry Dresbach in 2018; interviewed Outlander’s stunt coordinator Dom Preece for the group in 2021. We’ve all made life-long friends, witnessed the huge amount of devotion and creativity from not only Deb, but all of our fellow attendees; had the chance to meet some of the actors that we may not have met otherwise; and had amazing amounts of fun (and tears, they’ve all been emotional) for a decade. There won’t be anything like this again – all events are fun, and I’ve been to many – but Thru The Stones will always hold a special place.

Photo thanks to:

Priscilla Blanchard, Brian Davis, Laura Munkel, Samantha Kraupner, Alyson Bailey, Jan Kurtz, Karen Magnifico.

Next week: My interview with Ron Moore, talking about AI, the writer and actor strikes; upcoming projects; and more!

If you, like me, are also a Disney fan, consider joining us for a special weekend – Outlander at Disney World! Come meet a verra large mouse named Michael! Information is in the special Facebook group I’ve set up for this. 

And if you are looking for a fun way to connect with other Outlander fans for news, contests, and activities,
try Outlandishly Three If By Space on Facebook!

Please leave a comment or an upvote – I always enjoy hearing from you. And check out our Collectibles store!

 

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