Behind the Scenes: Dan Lawson on Crochet in CBS's Elsbeth

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

by Britt Schmiesing

Photo courtesy of Dan Lawson

Recently CGOA president Lindsey was able to chat with Dan Lawson. He is an Emmy nominated costume designer who's worked on shows like The Good Wife, The Good Fight, Instinct, and Brain Dead and now he's working on the new hit CBS tv show Elsbeth. 

See the interview and read the transcript on

Many times, costumes are meant to just be part of the story. You may or may not pay close attention to what the actors are wearing but that was the goal in those instances. In other instances, like Sex and the City, the clothes are part of the show. They are meant to be noticed. They are helping to tell the story. In Elsbeth, they purposefully designed her wardrobe to stand out and be colorful against the “chic, elegant, sort of cool-toned New York” environment. Her colorful outfits become her trademark and part of her character. You will notice them and know who she is and what she is doing as soon as you see her outfits, kind of like Columbo and his trademark khaki raincoat. Elsbeths’ wacky combinations of clothes that integrate different elements are meant to make her stand out. Dan states the goal was to “go ‘gosh here she is again’ and we’re putting an exclamation mark under that with the colors and silhouettes.”

Photo: Elizabeth Fisher/CBS

As a costume designer Dan, in simple terms, does the clothes for the show. But he says costume designers do even more than that. They “are storytellers, we move the story along, we support the actors and their choices, we interpret the script, we help the director get what he or she is looking for in the story, we really are supporters of the storytelling.”

As crocheters many of us watch movies and tv shows and really pay close attention when something crochet pops onto the screen. In the promos for Elsbeth, Carrie Preston is wearing a giant granny square scarf. Dan, as the costume designer goes out reconnaissance shopping and came across that scarf by a brand called Aqua at Bloomingdale’s. He just “knew it was going to be in the show.” It just screamed Elsbeth. The colors were interesting, and he knew he could get multiples of it. Multiples were needed because sometimes scenes have to be filmed more than once from several angles and if water is involved that means switching them out. Dan gravitated towards using it in the pilot and the actress, Carrie Preston, felt the same. Another bonus with the scarf was that it just looked like something the character created herself.

In Dan’s mind, Elsbeth is very tactile. She tries crafts, like decoupage, glass blowing and, yes, crochet but she’s not necessarily good at them. So the crochet scarf just plays into her character’s backstory. Dan sees adding these type of touches to her outfits as part of her character as well. For instance, she wears a suit jacket but Dan changes out the buttons for new buttons that perhaps she might have seen somewhere and bought just to change up her jacket’s look.

And for those of us who crochet and worry about what to charge for our work, Dan shared the scarf’s cost. It was $125, which is a lesson to all of us about not undervaluing our work and our craft. Dan also found a fun granny square bucket hat online and was so excited about them that he purchased a whole series of them. Also spotted in the pilot were a couple of crocheted bags that came from Saks and Bloomingdale’s. While we are on the topic of pricing, there is a teal crocheted bag with ruffles in the episode which was somewhere in the realm of $300-350 as well as a small granny square bag with two big orange balls at the top by Max Mara that retails around $450. Yet another example of what crochet is worth.

As a costume designer he understands what goes into creating a piece: time, materials, and skill. These all need considered and he feels a crafter shouldn’t feel embarrassed to place a price on the work that reflects all of that. Lindsey even taught Dan a new term “crochet-worthy”. Dan says “Oh, that is fascinating. I never even thought of something like that. That is so clever. I think that is really smart. Because you have put some of yourself into it, I mean, you really have.” 

Now all this makes it sound like Dan only shops at big name stores when he’s looking for costume features. He states, “we shop high, we shop low”. It all depends on the character and what they are looking for to express that character’s story. In this discussion of crochet pieces in the show, there were even hints dropped of possibly using custom pieces provided by the Crochet Guild of America in the future. 

Dan grew up in Indiana and shared that he was very crafty when he was younger. Crochet was one of his skills. With CGOA opening up membership to 16–18-year-olds, we would like to think that young crocheting Daniel would have joined the guild. He also shared a crochet story. When he was a teenager, his grandmother had a stroke that left her paralyzed. He crocheted her a gigantic blanket. He remembers starting off with a small hook but then worried he would never finish and so switched to a hook “the size of a Buick”. He gave her the blanket that she had with her in the nursing home and then when she returned home. She was wrapped in his creation and love. When she passed, the family gave the blanket back to him, and he still has it. We very much crochet ourselves and our family members’ lives and spirits into the things we crochet. 

Photo: Elizabeth Fisher/CBS

Color plays a significant role in costume design along with cuts, silhouettes, and texture but color is the first thing everyone notices. “It’s what meets you at the door if you will.” With Elsbeth they wanted her to stand out, to pop or to be a “fish out of water”. Another thought in the whole process of developing her wardrobe was having her be like a “kid in a candy store”, drawing on child like colors that really pop…pinks, reds, corals, and brighter tones. When Elsbeth appeared in the Good Wife and the Good Fight, it was easy to make her stand out in those settings without going extreme. For this new show and all of its many uncontrollable locations, like people passing on the street, these bold, strong colors really allow her to stand out and be easy to follow in a particular shot or scene. 

When asked to share his expertise in design to help with achieving certain looks in crochet, he was more than happy to supply some thoughts. For chic, elegant, and sleek looks, go for tone-on-tone color. Very subtle shades of the same tone or subtle variations within the piece gives a sleek line or appearance. Also, keep the stitches simple. Don’t go for a lot of shifting in textures. The smooth look will lend to a sleek, chic appearance. Yarn choice will influence the affect as well. A nice smooth yarn will convey the feeling perfectly. When dressing people, you want a column of color because it will make the person look taller and sleeker. Think about using a column of a tonal color with your crochet work as well for a similar effect. 

If you really want to play up the whole handmade nature of crochet and go the other direction with the look, then you really want to embellish and put together colors that are very contrasting or even complementary colors from the color wheel. Let’s say you are using purple, the opposite color on the wheel would be yellow. Play with those opposite colors together for a real show stopping look. 

Dan states crochet will be making more appearances in the show so keep watching to check out how he works it into the episodes. Folks there was almost an entire runway segment of crochet pieces. It didn’t make the cut, but it was a strong option, according to Dan. He found it was hard to find enough larger pieces, like jackets, that looked like they all came from the same designer to pull off that perfect runway feel. Perhaps CGOA can help solve that dilemma if Dan and his team want to give it a go in a future season. 

They are hanging on to the crochet pieces used in this season in the hope that they will be able to use them in, fingers crossed, season 2. But what Dan would really like to do is create an Elsbeth line of scarves from “sleek and chic, too colorful, to … they can have flowers on them, I mean there's so many different routes to go with the Elsbeth line of scarves”. 

We thank you Dan Lawson for placing crocheted pieces front and center in such a fun way. Elsbeth’s style and usage of crochet in the show helps to promote what the art of crochet can look like and how much fun you can have with it. We also thank Dan for taking the time to chat and share some insight about what he does and how it comes to life on the screen.

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