Game of Threads

2nd August 2019

Whether the world-renowned TV program ‘Game of Thrones’ was your cup of tea or not, we can all agree the incredible work that went into the costume design for this visually rich series, and that of any fantasy/period project for that matter, is both a credit to the ateliers involved and an inspiration to us all.

After all, it’s a wonderful feeling to see the same skills and techniques we use in our own needlework, showcased on the world stage for all to see.

This week we’re bringing you some highlights from our interview with Game of Throne costume embroiderer and designer Michele Carragher as featured in Inspirations Magazine issues #85 and #86.

Michele Carragher in her London studio

With a background in art and fashion design, Michele draws inspiration from nature, architecture, jewellery and historical textiles. The first inkling of interest in costume design came in her teens when she took a lead role in making costumes for the amateur theatrical productions of her Girl Guide group. From there she began working on short film projects and television productions in which Michele gravitated toward the decoration, embellishment and illustration areas of costume design. Working as the Principal Costume Embroiderer for HBO’s Elizabeth I in 2005, most recently Michele has unleashed her creative talents in embroidery on Game of Thrones.

To what extent are the embroidery designs inspired by and interwoven with the back story of the characters?

‘Whether you are working on a contemporary, period or fantasy TV or film production a costume is always a fundamental device to present a character’s personality to an audience. Each costume with its cut, colour, style, and small details, is a very important narrative tool that can express much to a viewer. One of the smaller details of a costume can be that of embroidery. My work as an embroiderer entails visualising and capturing what the Costume Designer wants for a specific character’s costume.’

LEFT: Detail from Sansa’s wedding dress MIDDLE & RIGHT: Cersei Lannister’s blue bird dress

‘To give you an idea of how long I spend on some of the embroideries, Cersei’s lion emblems for Sansa’s wedding took me around 8 days, Cersei’s blue bird kimono around 14 days, Sansa’s wedding dress band around 10 days and Danaerys’s dragonscale costumes, depending on the amount of embellishment, between 3-10 days on each.’

Can you give us some idea of the stitch techniques that you use, plus the types and variety of threads and other embellishments? 

‘After many years employed in textile conservation, working on many different textiles from around the world and different periods in time, I have had to use different stitches, techniques and materials. This has been invaluable training for my work in costume embroidery, not only for inspiration, technique and execution but to build up speed in my stitching and I have gained the skill and knowledge estimating how long the work may take me to do. I will use many different threads and materials to suit each particular character. For the design on Catelyn Stark’s collars, Michele Clapton, the costume designer, had shown me a couple of old textile images from The V&A Museum. These were details from the Butler-Bowden cope c 1330-1350 which she liked the style of.’

‘I love poetry and relate to it, not by quoting lines in my work, but through the inspiration that is offered by the free spirit of poets.’

Dragonscale Dress

‘In Season 4, I developed the dragonscale embroidered texture for the character of Daenerys. I wanted to achieve a stronger, more regal feel to her costumes, so I added more jewels and beads to this cross over strap dress to enhance the scale effect which featured predominantly on the shoulder area.’

Daenerys Dragonscale Dress

‘I added various metal beads along with small Miyuki Delica and seed beads. Some sat in antique silver jump rings stitched around the jewelled smocked pieces. I also used feather stitch in places to blend the mesh wire sections into the blue silk, mixing a grey, a blue and a silver thread.’

‘At the shoulder edge, I stacked beads on a base of mesh wire to give an armour-like feel, echoed on the under layers of the shoulder pieces.’

Qarth beetles, moths and grasshoppers

Do you ever grow tired all the long hours and hard work meeting deadlines?

‘No, I don’t get tired of working on Game of Thrones as the style of the show has given me the freedom to push the boundaries within my own work. It is a great project to work on as because it’s a fantasy there are no restrictions regarding period, place, style, or materials.

To read Michele’s interview in full, you’ll find part one in Inspirations magazine issue #85 and part two in issue #86.

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