Meet Michele Carragher, Head Embroiderer on 'Game of Thrones'
Game of Thrones is one of the most talked about television series running and has millions across the world enraptured. Known for its large-scale, epic production, the show is a cinematic masterpiece. From the characters to the plot to the special effects, the show takes viewers on a visual journey- which is why we love it so much!
The show has some undeniably stunning costumes, which feature impressive pieces of embroidery.We were lucky enough to get to chat with Michele, the London based Principal Costume Embroiderer on set who hand embroiders some of the main cast's costumes all by herself! Michele has been working in textiles since graduating from The London College of Fashion, assisting in costume design and eventually starting work as the Principal Costume Embroiderer for a number of productions. Read on for more about Michele, and to see some of her amazing work!
How she got started
I got involved in making short films with a group of friends by designing and making costumes for their films.
Before working in film and TV, in my spare time (when I worked in Textile Conservation, repairing and restoring historical textiles) I got involved in making short films with a group of friends by designing and making costumes for their films. I later started working as a trainee Costume Assistant on a low budget feature film, which was unpaid of course, where I met Mike O’Neill, an experienced designer. He gave me my first major role as Principal Costume Embroiderer, on the TV series Elizabeth 1. The work that I created for Elizabeth 1 got me noticed by the Costume Designer Michele Clapton, who I then worked with as Principal Costume Embroiderer on the show.
Her favorite pieces
This is a difficult question. I like the collars I created for Catelyn Stark and those for Lysa Arryn with their concentrated areas of rich embellishment using different beads, gemstones and fish scale sequins. Another favorite is Cersei’s rust red kimono with the lion heads on each arm that have a 3 dimensional quality. And I also loved creating the Qarth beetles (below), moths and grasshoppers - rather than being just the stitches it was really about finding the right materials to create the creatures.
On being a Thrones fan
(Watching the show) gives me an opportunity to assess the work I have done.
I had not read the books, so the first time I was aware of Game of Thrones was when I worked on the Pilot. I do watch it and I am a fan, it also gives me a chance to see how my embroidery designs on the costumes translate onto the screen. Since I don’t work on set, it gives me an opportunity to assess the work I have done on the costumes and can help me to make future adjustments to the depth, colour tone, boldness and placement of the embroidery accordingly.
The creative process
I get my inspiration from anywhere and in everything.
It starts by me meeting with Michele (Clapton) who will have illustrations, moodboards, colours and fabric swatches of the costume that I will be creating a design for. We will discuss a character’s back-story, their traits, their personal narrative within the script and this will all go towards influencing my design. I will then go away and research the piece, which usually involves me looking for imagery to inspire me, either by visiting museums, looking through historical costume reference books or just looking on the internet. I get my inspiration from anywhere and in everything, I love sculpture, architectural decoration, vintage textiles, jewellery, Haute couture embroidery, and nature - I will draw on elements from many sources to develop an idea. I will then start with some design sketches, followed by creating samples of the design to show Michele, in order to get her input and then the design will develop and evolve from there. I have found working with Michele very rewarding, she has a great spirit and enthusiasm in her approach to realize her vision for the show.
Her personal style and dealing with time restraints
I’d describe my style as sculptural, fluid, organic, intense and intricately expressive. By nature embroidery is time-consuming. Working on Game of Thrones has helped me to highlight the work that I am capable of creating, knowing that people appreciate the work that I do on the show does inspire and spur me on to work harder at improving and developing my craft. When working on a production like Game of Thrones, I usually work for about 4 months, either a 5 or a 7 day week, with each day being around 10/12 hours. For example, Sansa’s wedding dress took 14 days to complete.
Her greatest accomplishments outside Game of Thrones
The Elizabeth 1st because it was my breakthrough. I really enjoyed working on this project helping to create the costumes. I was involved in buying fabrics and trimmings at the start and then worked on the embroidery and embellishments. I think this was where I started to feel comfortable in a creative field and was able to start to develop my skills further.
And her advice for aspiring embroiderers and embroidery enthusiasts…
Try not to rush, take your time, keep your thread lightly waxed, concentrate on entry and exit point of your needle and remember there is no right or wrong way to do things as such.
Find examples of embroidery you like and start by copying these to practise the stitches before embarking on your own design from scratch. Try not to rush, take your time, keep your thread lightly waxed, concentrate on entry and exit point of your needle and remember there is no right or wrong way to do things as such. Each stitch was created by someone at some point in history, maybe for decoration, status, protection and so just experiment and find what suits you naturally, some will prefer to be neat and others more abstract and organic.
When I work on a design it tends to evolve naturally as I work on it, I don't pre-plan to the last stitch or bead. I will sketch out ideas and then start to work these in threads, building up layers until what I had in mind starts to emerge, this approach may not suit everyone. It is good to have one basic embroidery stitch book to refer to and I like to buy books that have close up details of textiles and embroideries from around the world rather than specific technique books. I like using silk threads and there are some lovely hand dyed ones, but I will also mix 2/3 machine threads together for some pieces and metallics can be tricky, so wax and patience is key. But basically just have a go, try out different styles, experiment and you will gradually improve the more that you do and start to find your own style as you progress
Michele Carragher is a London-based embroiderer. To visit her website click here. She can be contacted via email and FaceBook. For more images of Michele's work on 'Game of Thrones', click here.
All images are © copyright protected. Property of Michele Carragher.