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Trace is Michele Carragher's first book with Search Press. Exquisitely detailed Michele's embroidered art is breathtaking to behold. With a background in fashion design and textile conservation she combines predominantly raised embroidery with more contemporary techniques to create artwork that is both original and refreshing. Michele has worked on a number of prestigious productions, including the 2005 costume award-winning production of Elizabeth I and more recently The Crown and HBO’s multi costume award-winning television series Game of Thrones, working on all eight seasons.

We caught up with Michele to find out a bit more about her new book, her inspiration, her work in TV and film, and her Search Press journey!

Hi Michele, how are you?

Hi, I am doing well and have been extremely busy recently on various film projects.

We’re very excited for the launch of your book Trace, can you tell us a little about the book and how it came about?

When I was approached by Search Press to create a book, I saw it as a great opportunity to showcase some of my own artwork, highlighting the embroidered medium, as well as sharing a little of my thought processes when working on an idea. The book starts with an immersive gallery tour of the three artworks created for it, inspired by many visits to museums for researching which in turn led me to the evaluation of the displayed space which provokes a dialogue of ideas and narrative.

The second section of the book is the artist’s insight, providing my thought process behind the work and detailed descriptions of how I created the various elements for each one. As part of my process, to provide inspiration for each piece, I chose to make my own embroidered artefact and created a tableau setting for these, which became my sketch books for and evolution into the final artworks.

The colour palettes, titles and accompanying quotes all provide a pathway to the themes behind the work.

The third and final section of the book includes a small selection of some of my work creating embroidered details on costumes for film and TV, along with a short biography of my path into this field of work, which has, through the projects and designers I have been fortunate to work with, provided me with a platform to learn, experiment, and develop my skills and techniques along the way.

          


What is your favourite section of the book and why?

I would have to say the whole thing, because from the start I wanted to treat the book as an artwork, from cover to cover. So, the mood, colour and image had to be right for the cover encompassing everything contained within, the colour of the endpapers in contrast to this, then the images as you travel through the book to flow together. Each gallery tour has its own specific colour palette, and even in the insight section I wanted every image to be viewed as an individual artwork as well as conveying information.

What would you say is your favourite piece of costuming you’ve worked on so far?

Now that is a very difficult question to answer, as each piece is very different and you are continually learning as you move from one to the next, and initially you are never satisfied with a completed design as you can always see how to improve it with hindsight if starting over again.

     

On Game of Thrones, there is quite a lot to choose from as it was an eight-year project and Michele Clapton the designer always had many ideas for me to work on, with the opportunity to utilise different techniques. I enjoyed working on many pieces for the character Cersei through various seasons, my favourite was probably her embroidered armour pieces. For another character, Daenerys I was asked to create many different more textural dragon scale embroideries, using smocking, beading and various stitches. The female Dornish characters had costumes emblazoned with embroidered floral details, so that season was a riot of colour for me.

        

Another more recent project with Michele Clapton was the film of The Secret Garden and that had many wonderful costumes to work on for the children. Various pieces had been hand-printed and I then embroidered and embellished these further adding flowers and some stumpwork butterflies. For the character Mary there was also a lovely coat that was embroidered with moss and leaves as she tumbles into the garden and becomes part of that world. For the character Dickon I really enjoyed working on a particular embroidered jacket which is patched and darned with bird shadow patterns, just in tones of the jacket initially, but as the children and garden flourish some colour is shaded into the starlings, robin and kingfisher that are swirling around him.

I also enjoyed creating some more traditional couture style embroidery details for many different costumes designed by Michele Clapton on the films Ali and Nino and Queen of the Desert as well as the embroidery on the bodice and cuffs of Elizabeth’s wedding dress on the first series of The Crown.

So, I could go on but will stop there and just say I have been most fortunate to work on a variety on wonderfully creative projects with different designers.

What advice would you offer to embroiderer’s looking to utilize their skills in costume design?

Just to take every opportunity that comes your way, each designer may require something different from you, possibly re-creating an existing design, or using old pieces of textile and incorporating your work into these, creating textures or maybe a more traditional embroidery, so just have fun trying different techniques out and utilizing unusual materials for them. You should also bear in mind you are a small part of a large team working towards the designer’s vision and will need to liaise with the cutters, makers, and breakdown textile artists, who need time to work on the costume too. So, it is helpful to have some knowledge of costume making and ideally some on set work too, so you have more understanding of how the whole department operates and how things translate to screen. As well as the designer, there may be input from the actor, director or producers too depending on the project, so as well as being creative, it is a balancing act, taking on board potentially opposing ideas and amalgamating all the information to get to a point everyone is happy with.

Being adaptable is important as things can change very quickly so you must come up with solutions that facilitate a design in the time allocated before the costume is required for filming and this can mean something you thought you had weeks to work on is suddenly pulled forward and you may only have a few days. So, it is essential to have a good knowledge of a variety of techniques and materials that enable you to execute a design swiftly but without losing your creative vision for it.

It is also a good idea to have a stock of threads and beads for you to sample with as it can be slow going getting materials to work with, most workrooms are not equipped with anything suitable for embroidery and unfortunately more and more bead and threads shops are shutting down; very recently the wonderful family who ran The London Bead Company, my local go to thread and bead supplier, finally shut their doors for good, I will very much miss that fantastic place.

What would you say is your favourite part of the process of creating a beautiful piece of embroidered art?

I enjoy researching and sketching out my ideas, but these do change as I start to work on a piece in thread and bead, sometime progress is slow, but the point I enjoy the most is when it is just starting to take shape, I have found the right materials to use and then know I am on the right track and the vision I had in mind will be accomplished.

What are some of your favourite themes to explore in your work?

I think that really develops as I am working on a piece, I may start with a theme or idea in mind, but something may take me down another route, so I don’t want to blinker myself creatively. But I guess like most people I am influenced by those around me, life experiences and the state of the world in general. But those will just be a starting point and once I start exploring, I like to see what unfolds naturally.

You’ve mentioned that you often use stumpwork embroidery in your work. What do you like about this technique?

I have always been drawn to sculpture and enjoy trying to push my embroidery into three dimensions, as if the work is growing out from the fabric coming to life and taking flight.

     

Are there any other techniques you use in your work? Are there any techniques you wish you could use more?

I will use any technique I feel works for the piece I’m working on and will mix stitches together, not necessarily sticking to traditional materials for a specific technique. I will sketch out in simple shading stitches, possibly build up shape and form with knot stitches and thicker thread to create the sculptural elements, incorporating different materials, feathers and beads and generally feel my way through the design.

I have always wanted to incorporate some Or Nué (a Goldwork technique that combines coloured and gold coloured couching with gold thread) into a costume piece, but know it isn’t the quickest technique, hopefully I will find some future project for it.

Do you have any upcoming projects we can look forward to?

I am busy on a few filming projects, all of which are top secret at the moment so can’t really share anything currently I’m afraid. Quite often the costume projects I work on don’t air until a year or two later. The most recent projects that I created some embroidered details for were The Secret Garden a 2020 film and the first season of HBO’s The Nevers, a science fiction series set in the Victorian era, where a group of young women have special powers, working on both productions with the costume designer Michele Clapton.

Take a sneek peak inside Trace with this flick through video!



Trace is available from Search Press, RRP £30.00.

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