There is a thread currently running in the Historic-Knitting Yahoo group, prompted when someone asked, "So, the 'Outlander' series -- is the knitting accurate?" and the numerous replies came back with a resounding "No!"
The first photo (above) is a lovely look, with all of the soft greys, and the gown is pretty accurate, historically speaking, except that it probably should have a separate stomacher (instead of what is apparently all one piece), as well as at least a lace or linen "tuck" peeking out from the neckline. But knitted shawls didn't appear until the early 1800s (Shetland shawls in the 1830s) -- even though it seems not a far leap to us now, knitted garments remained pretty firmly in the region of caps, stockings, undershirts, and gloves until some decades into the 19th century.
Part of the problem here seems to be that the designer of the "Outlander" costumes, Terry Dresbach, quickly became self-defensive (and sarcastic) when others started questioning the historical accuracy of the knitted garments, and seemed to want to have it both ways when she said that her work is extensively researched and plausible if not authentic (e.g. the gowns are not hand-sewn, certain French fashions are apparently not documented in Scotland at the time but could have been there because of the close Franco-Scottish relationship, etc.), and that leeway was taken due to budget and time constrictions. Those who are sticklers for historical accuracy -- which admittedly isn't always possible with costumes for either theatre or movies, for different reasons -- feel that Dresbach can't have it both ways. It seems to me that with the sewn garments Dresbach has done a wonderful job in synthesizing the requirements of film and the historical record, but, surprisingly, then dropped the ball as to the knitwear.
The gist of the rebuttals on the Historic-Knitting list seems to be that the knitted garments are in styles that are not appropriate to the period, and far too coarse, when most knitting of the period was done on fine needles with fine wool, or by machine, except for a few items such as sailors' caps and seaboot stockings.
This garment, for example, is a fairly logical jump from "worn-out cloak cut down to a shoulder-warmer" to "knitted version of that", but I don't think there is any documentation that anything like this was ever knitted, in Scotland or anywhere, in the 18th century. Claire is, however, obviously wearing appropriate stays, so kudos for that.
This looks very good on the face of it, especially because she is wearing a kerchief over her neck and bosom, and there is a lot of evidence for fingerless mitts of this kind -- just none of them knitted. Again, it seems a short jump to us, especially when you know that knitted stockings were common, but at this period fingerless gloves were sewn out of fabric.
No, no, no. The gown is very good, and is an excellent choice of colors, fabrics, and patterns (though I think the stomacher is too long), but the chunky knitted cowl practically shouts "late 20th-century!"
This cowl puzzles me, as I suspect that it is knitted, since fur wouldn't drape quite so beautifully (but then, I don't wear much fur, perhaps someone else could offer an opinion?). This simplest kind of tubular knitted wrist-warmer did not make its first appearance until the beginning of the 19th century, and then was knitted with fine wool on small needles, not chunky stuff like this. (We tend to think that Aran knitting, for example, has been around for centuries, but Aran jumpers were in fact invented around 1900.) Again, the gown is very good -- and closes with pins, or perhaps hooks-and-eyes -- but not the knitting.
This is so obviously a modern shrug that I don't need to say anything. Again, this gown is good, but she needs a kerchief over her bosom.
I'm a little perplexed by the fichu -- which to my eye looks exactly like a worn-out high-necked smock cut off and used as a fichu, an excellent and frugal use of worn-out garments. Did it happen? Maybe -- probably. Is it accurate? I don't know. But the muffatees -- no. The earliest known reference to knitted muffatees that I can find is 1813, when an officer in Wellington's Foot Guard wrote home asking for some; they were obviously being home-knitted by then, but again, that's at least fifty years after the "Outlander" series is set, and they would have been worked with finer wool on smaller needles than these, comfy and warm though these doubtless are.
Too chunky, and it's apparently not a flat piece of knitting, but shaped?
This looks so much like the shawl worn by Mrs. Forrester in "Cranford" that it's hard to believe it isn't the same one reused, but either way, "Cranford" was set in the 1840s when knitted shawls were starting to become more widely made at home. The mitts almost work for this period.
Now if I were a cook wearing thick knitted wristwarmers, I would certainly do what Mrs. Fitz has done here, and turn them up out of the way, or they would look like the dog's breakfast after only a few minutes' of work, but if I really was a cook in the 1740s I would far more likely be wearing sewn woollen wristwarmers.
This is the only knitted garment I've seen that works in its historical period -- Claire in the 1940s wears a knitted slipover. Lots of documentation for this, and any number of patterns still available.
I think, actually, that the problem resides not in Dresbach's choices as a costume designer, but in her insistence that the costumes -- that is, the costumes as a whole -- are historically accurate. If she had said, which as far as I can tell she has not, that the "leeway" is specifically with the knitwear, then it would not be so jarring to those who never saw a Moebius cowl before Elizabeth Zimmermann's in 1983.