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Lark Rise: I design the costumes and corsets

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Pam Downe Pam Downe | 09:00 UK time, Sunday, 9 January 2011

For a costume designer, Lark Rise To Candleford is an interesting project to work on. The research beforehand means I get to spend hours looking at photographs and paintings of the period. It's a part of the job I particularly enjoy.

For this fourth series of Lark Rise To Candleford I spent four weeks designing and preparing the costumes and three months filming.

Laura Timmins (Olivia Hallinan),Gabriel Cochrane (Richard Harrington), Dorcas Lane (Julia Sawalha) and Minnie (Ruby Bentall)

This spanned from July to October in 2009 and thankfully the majority of this happens in the Bath and Bristol area, which is handy as I live in Bath and the commute is a doddle.

I have designed programmes set in the 1890s before - one called Uncle Silas comes to mind as it had a similar rural subject matter.

The difference with Lark Rise To Candleford is that now it is in its fourth series the characters are well defined. The Pratt sisters, for instance, have very much evolved into the kind of WAGs of their day.

They pore over fashion plates from Paris (the fashion magazines of the time) and copy them but don't get them quite right - the fabrics are a bit too loud and their outfits verge on the tasteless.

This becomes more apparent when they stand alongside Dorcas, who tends to dress more elegantly and wears shapes that suit her, rather than what's the latest fashion.

For example, she has small proportions and the big leg of mutton sleeves that are fashionable would overwhelm her. The Pratts, on the other hand, don't give a damn - it's fashion, they will wear it.

Corsets are, of course, very much part of the female silhouette in this period and I love the way that the female actors shapes can radically change when they are in costume.

Julia Sawalha as Dorcas Lane

Julia Sawalha, who plays Dorcas, has a particularly malleable waist and I find it amazing how small a waist we managed to achieve with her.

Julia loved to wear her corset. Most of the cast found them uncomfortable and wanted to take them off at lunch time to have more freedom.

The only problem was that they then had to put them back on again and wear them for another five hours which they found even harder to take.

As much as I like designing around corsets, I also like to design more contemporary programmes.

I recently finished working on a 1940s project called The Night Watch for BBC Two, which involves doing as much research as for the 1890s and throws up different challenges such as the accuracy of Second World War uniforms.

This programme is based on a book by Sarah Waters and starts off post-war in 1947 and then moves backwards in time to 1944 and then 1941.

It is about the lives of four women and how they cope with the end of the war when suddenly they aren't needed in the work force anymore, and how their paths cross.

It was exciting to do, as there were blitz scenes and it was a nice change from Lark Rise To Candleford.

Luckily this was also shot in Bath and happened directly after Lark Rise To Candleford so it was relatively easy for my team and I to roll on to it (apart from being very tired).

My own style is pretty simple - I don't want to think about what I wear too much (I do enough of that for the actors).

The most important factor is comfort and, seeing as I spend 12 hours a day on my feet and am often dashing about picking up costumes that have been overlooked or added at the last minute, comfortable footwear is particularly important.

Also, much time is spent outside on exterior locations so warmth is an issue in winter especially. The Night Watch involved many night shoots in sub zero temperatures. I wear lots of layers and big padded jackets - oh, the glamour of it all!

Pam Downe is the costume designer for Lark Rise To Candleford.

Watch a clip of Pam and make up and hair designer, Lesley Faulkner talking about how they created Gabriel's look.

Series four of Lark Rise To Candleford begins on BBC One and BBC One HD at 8pm on Sunday, 9 January. Episode one is repeated on the BBC HD channel at 8pm on Monday, 10 January.

For further programme times, please see the upcoming episodes page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


  • Comment number 1.

    I was struck this year but the wearing of the cloth bonnets of the working class women - Excellent. its missed so often in other series that women would have had their heads covered.
    There is fascinating footage of 1900's workers leaving the factories with most women (but not all) shawled in a hijab sort of way - tightly wrapped about the heads and faces.

  • Comment number 2.

    for "but" read "by"
    sorry xx

  • Comment number 3.

    What year? is Larkrise supposed to be set. I have a photograph of my Great Grandmother taken when she was 21 in 1892, the hairstyle and fashion ...ie no huge
    'Mutton sleeves' yet that year! are quite different to 1899. I know accuracy and entertaing drama are always in conflict but how many dresses would a country Postmistress really have ...Dorcas seems to have a new one every episode, which is great TV but would it have been fact?

  • Comment number 4.

    Why is this series of Candleford being shortened to six episodes instead of the twelve it should have been when we have mindless programmes that go on for months. Dramas used to be BBC`s forte but they seem to be losing lately to ITV with Downton

  • Comment number 5.

    I enjoy designing and making historical costumes as a hobby - total escapism from my real work as an accountant - and it is absolutely fascinating. Getting the undergarments right is so important, particularly the right corset, to get just the right shape. Hard work but worth it if you are going to get the overall look spot on, then properly finished off with hat, gloves, etc. I've really enjoyed Candleford for the costumes - well done! Now back to my own sewing as it is less than 7 weeks to the Venice carnival...

  • Comment number 6.

    Well done Pam the customs are absolutely spot on and as for the series it's brilliant. More of the same please BBC

  • Comment number 7.

    it all looked rather to clean to me. Real victorians would never be fresh looking. Why is there nothing looking dirty? even the farmers look like they just come out of the shower. real victorians washed no more than once a week at most.

    theres one thing taking weeks to design a outfit but looks very fake worn on the fresh looking actor.

    feels more like a fantasy tale rather than a real victorian parish.

  • Comment number 8.

    I drive my family nuts, every time we watch Larkrise I do nothing but talk about the costumes. I am an avid seamstress and just love the sleeves on the sisters clothes. Very well done to you. Loving the progreamme.

  • Comment number 9.

    Goodness I envy you - you have my dream job! I am a keen amateur dressmaker, and I always thought if I could choose my perfect career it would be a theatrical costume designer/maker. If you ever need an volunteer assistant ..........
    The costumes are brilliant - but someone should have a word with the 'spinster sisters'- don't they know 'less is more'!

  • Comment number 10.

    I adore the costumes in the programme and often sit with pen and paper and sketch some of the designs. I'm involved in historical and drama groups here in Shrewsbury. Can anyone recommend a basic dress pattern which could be purchased, that would be similar to the ones worn by the Pratt sisters this evening?

  • Comment number 11.

    I love looking at the costumes all the details and colours, materials the structure. I am always amused at the Pratt sisters, immaculately dressed alike. I am very envious of your work. I studied dress and design in 1992 as part of my work I designed my wedding dress it had leg of mutton sleeves in fact very similar, nipped in waste and 26 buttons with loops at the back. Well done keep up the good work . I have been inspired again!

  • Comment number 12.

    I have recently discovered genealogy and of course my family history research occurs mainly in the 19th Century. So a series such as Larkrise I find fascinating as it gives me an insight as to the lives and times of my antecedents, albeit a little less "perfect" than a TV series. From the few letters and photos that have been discovered some of the problems in Larkrise echo thoughts of my ancestors. My only comment would be that, of necessity, the TV series is too clean and the ladies dresses too perfect and too well made for a modest country town but it is only a minor point. We sometimes forget that the 19th Century was an era of great social change and how the advance of 'technology' impinged on everyday life.

  • Comment number 13.

    I love the costumes-design and fabric choices. If I hadn't chosen a career in teaching I would love to have worked in costume design. Oh to have had access to such opulent fabrics. Back now to making my niece's wedding dress!

  • Comment number 14.

    I love the costumes, and I don't know if you have anything to do with props, but in tonight's episode, when the script mentioned 'Point Ground Lace', I thought it was a great shame that Maltese Lace was shown. There is plenty of genuine Point Ground Lace of the period available and easily obtainable.

  • Comment number 15.

    I think that the costumes are excellent - if I were younger I'd love to do that job. However, as a lacemaker I was disappointed that the lovely fine piece of Bedfordshire or Beds/Maltese lace in ecru (silk?) was referred to as "point ground" although the piece that Queenie showed Pearl on her pillow was a Bucks Point ground pattern - but the thread was far too white and the pattern too basic for some-one of Queenie's experience to be doing. The short scenes of Queenie teaching Pearl were superb - just the same as we teach today.

  • Comment number 16.

    Of course, I meant Ruby - not Pearl - silly me. But they will wear the same dresses!

  • Comment number 17.

    "The costumes are very good,Pam Downe,really is good,at what she does! I would agree with a previous comment made though,that the characters,even farm labourer's are much to clean looking,in reality they would look rather dirty!but otherwise this is a brilliant series,but sad only 6 eps.this time!bbc need to stay ahead of itv.for normally being ahead of itv in this area,untill Downton Abbey was screened,beebs new version of Upstairs Downstairs was quite enjoyable,please show much more drama and period drama and much,much less reality tv,much too much is shown on all channels these days,Yuk!

  • Comment number 18.

    Hi, I am currently designing a Victorian Bustle dress for textiles at AS. I have already started designing, and your costumes for lark rise to candleford have proved very helpful in helping me set the scene for that time. Particularly as I have been producing a page on costume dramas. Do you have any tips on how the bustle is best achieved?
    Thank you

  • Comment number 19.

    Kiriath 18

    The Pratt sisters wear "over the top" French designer influenced oufits to advertise their fashion business. They don't expect the ladies of Candelford to dress the same way, but to be aware of fashion and the need for new up to date clothes - in keeping with the changing times, as seen even in their business by the use of loom-lace.

    They are also very deft sales ladies, hence the new outfits Dorcas wears. The audience as well as Dorcas hopes that Mr Right will appear in any episode, and she has to maintain high standards of appearance as th Postmistress of Candleford.

    All of the characters look squeaky clean, as this is Weekend family viewing rather than serious Thomas Hardy territory, although even his novels are dramatised with a range of excellent costumes.

    We simply want to suspend our disbelief and enjoy the unfolding drama, as a portrayal of an age that seems golden to us, in contrast with contemporary
    and events in the world.

    Give me Larkrise and Candleford anytime!

  • Comment number 20.

    BBC please bring 12 episodes back rather then just 6, this is my fave program and i have to wait ages each time for the next series. its very dissapointing finding out there are such a few left to see. Does this mean that larkrise is on its way out?? i really do hope not!!!!!

  • Comment number 21.

    Hello and thank-you so much for many of your complimentary comments they mean a great deal to me.

    I thought it might be a good idea to respond to some of your queries. I found Wizzy's comments interesting regarding the cloth bonnets that many women wore during this period. Often directors and cameramen are not keen on this sort of headwear as it can obscure the actresses faces and this, understandably, can be a major concern. However Linda Bassett who plays Queenie and Claudie Blakely who plays Emma both insisted on wearing them when their characters were working outside in order to give the scenes authenticity and this I think really does comes across.

    Nevertheless, on the same note and in answer to several queries about how some of the characters look too clean. I think this is for the most part because the programme makers want the series to look good and this may sometimes take precedent over depicting exactly how the period was. If it was made to look totally authentic then most of our characters probably wouldn't have any teeth.
    I tend to break down (make to look old) the costumes for the Larkrise residents but keep the Candleford residents pretty much untouched in order to highlight the difference between the two. I hope this comes across.

    A quick reply to AndrewEastonLondon regarding the date of this series, it is set in the mid 1890's and this is why the Pratts have such big sleeves as this is the period in the 90's that fashionable sleeves where at their biggest. In 1892 they had a small puff and in 1899 they again became smaller (according to my research).

    Thank you all again for all your comments

  • Comment number 22.

    Re the remarks about everything looking too clean it is clear from photography of the period that Henry Ford was king! In other words, you could have any colour you liked so long as it was black! Good reasons for this! Washing was laborious and in general everywhere was thoroughly shabby.
    If the costumier attempted to completely replicate authenticity we would have very
    unattractive television. So you have to decide what you want on your screen!
    As for Dorcas's waist, oooooh! how marvellous!

  • Comment number 23.

    This is the best period drama on tv, so why BBC has you decided to make this your last series It has the best story line the best costume's and keeps you wanting for more, so why end it so soon. I will never understand when a period drama is created with all the hard work that people put in, that it can not be left on for longer. I hope someone seen sense.

  • Comment number 24.

    The BBC 1 Controller is quoted on wanting more "working class" drama/comedies, whatever that means. Obviously this show doesn't fit in with his view of political correctness, so it has to go.

  • Comment number 25.

    Why are there no horses or other draught animals to be seen in the backgound! Surely they would have been ever present in towns and villages of those days. Horses were the lifeline on which everything depended.
    Anyway it is now quite dull and has run its course.

  • Comment number 26.

    I have loved Lark Rise from the very first series, but scenes from last nights show are inconsistent with previous shows. We know from the very first series that Lark Rise is exactly 8 miles from Candleford Post Office, because it was chain measured by the blacksmith. Now, walking at 3 miles per hour it is going to take 2hrs 40mins there and the same back. So Minnie can't be at Lark Rise in the early morning and then say she has to get back to make breakfast, and other residents of Candleford cannot just turn up in Lark Rise or vice versa. A journey of 5 1/2 hours has to be planned. Come on BBC, this is sloppy.

  • Comment number 27.

    I enjoy Larkrise, and the costumes. My query is about the jewellery worn with the beautiful dresses. Who designs the gorgeous earrings worn by the Misses Pratt and Dorcas? Also, the exquisite necklaces which appeared on Morgana in the Merlin series. Please, could you do a piece on this subject?
    Oh, and Teksonic, Minnie had borrowed the Bicycle!

  • Comment number 28.

    Turing Miss Margaret into a man was truely side splitting ( not to mention corset snapping!) Those Ms Pratts seem to get more and more naughty as as the series continues! What will they do next? Please, more transvestism in the countryside!

  • Comment number 29.

    This series is frustrating ( so is the BBC not having a just 'general' blog for series and individual productions ) it had its very good points and has NOW built up a good sized regular viewership, who 'know' all the characters, like the best soap opera's try so hard to achieve. But it lets itself down, with drifting from fact and the wonderful Flora Thompson books. The scrubbed up cheery village 'peasants' going from stage right to stage left, are more redolent of pantomime. Than our real traditional 19thc country life. Also the terrible person drifting loudly into every scene with the 'mood music' piano playing, suddenly smaltzifying the acting...thats when I have to turn off

  • Comment number 30.

    Thankyou BBC for Larkrise to Candleford I have loved every series and It's a great shame it has to end. Really missed Robert Timmins pearls of wisdom this series and we will never know if Laura married Daniel and I feel the last episode was abit rushed to fit everything in but I will miss Thomas most of all. Brilliant Sunday evening light drama

  • Comment number 31.

    Congratulations to writer and producer. A joy to watch; both entertaining and educational as it reminds one of the true values of life. Well cast and beautifully acted.

  • Comment number 32.

    Please tell me about the knitted shawl that Emman Timmins and Queenie Turrel sometimes wear. Is is buttoned in the back or just tucked into their waistbands? Where can I get a pattern for that shawl? Thank you very much for bringing us a wonderful, intelligent show of life in 19th century rural England.

  • Comment number 33.

    Hi Pam, I am not sure if you can help me, but I belong to a fan group for Lark Rise on the knitting forum Ravelry. We are interested in the shawl that "Mrs. Patterson" (the policeman's wife) is wearing in Season 2 Episode 10. She is in the garden after rising from her sick bed. We are interested in the pattern or where the shawl came from so that we may attempt a re-creation of the shawl. Thanks for your help.

  • Comment number 34.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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