Interview with Costume Embroiderer, Michele Carragher

Natasha Searls-Punter

Natasha Searls-Punter

In preparation for the Jewelled Beetle Class we spoke to the very distinguished costume embroiderer, Michele Carragher to find out a little bit more about her and how she works which we would like to share with you, so here is what she said…

LES: How did you get into embroidery?

MC: My skills in hand sewing were forged at an early age by being taught some basic stitching by my Mother but the first major manifestation of using embroidery creatively was while I studied Fashion Design at college, for many of the designs I was conceiving there, I wanted to have a sculptural presence to them, so in order to get the desired look I invested much time in to learning skills to aid me, skills like embroidery and knitting.

LES:What is it about embroidery that interest you?

MC: When I was young I never sat down and prepared a master plan in advance to reach a desired career, all I knew I wanted to work in a creative field where I could utilise the creative mediums I had a passion for, such as illustration, painting, sculpture and the creation of costumes, so I feel very lucky and fortunate that I have eventually fallen into a career that combines them all.

LES: What do you find inspiring?

MC: Anything and everything! I love sculpture, architectural decoration, elaborate ironwork, vintage textiles, Rene Lalique jewellery, Haute couture embroidery, I’m not really a less is more type of person so I am drawn to a lot of classical art but not exclusively, I won’t dismiss anything be it contemporary, modern or classical, I will draw elements from all.

LES: Who is your biggest inspiration?

MC: There is not one person that I could single out, there are too many, it’s not just Artists who work in various mediums and fields that I admire, there are many people that I have encountered in my personal life and people that I have shared working relationships with all of whom have inspired me.

LES:How long does it take you to make a piece of embroidery?

MC: It ranges from 5 to 14 days, the timescale will depend on the project, if it is a specific piece for a feature film there may be a few weeks of development, on a television production time is significantly less.

Ideally I will spend a day researching and planning the embroidery design, and possibly another day doing initial samples, depending on the design, if any adjustments are required and how much time is available I may do another day sampling before starting the actual embroidery.

The time embroidery takes all depends on the type of thread and stitches used, some are quicker than others. Some designs that look heavily embroidered can be quicker to do than something more simple where the stitches need to be immaculately executed.

LES:Can you take us through your process, when you start to work on a new project?

MC: The process for me starts by working with the Costume Designer who will already have had meetings with the Director, Producer, Writer and other heads of Departments discussing the tone and look of the project.

The Costume Designer will have illustrations, moodboards, colours and fabric swatches for me of the costume that I will be creating a design for. I will then go away and research in relation to the piece and then work on some samples to show the Designer and it will develop from there.

When I start my embroidery I will work on some sketches then draw my design ideas onto tracing paper and pin it to the costume or costume toile to work out the flow of the design.  When I begin to embroider the design I quite often start off on some organza that I will then apply to the finished garment, as the costume is usually still being made and there isn’t time to sample and plan the embroidery to fit to the pattern pieces before construction of the costume. I approach the embroidery as if drawing or painting using threads and beads instead of pencil and paint and the design will evolve organically as I work on it.

LES:How long will you work on a particular production for?

MC: It always varies, I may be asked to work on one specific costume, such as on the feature film “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”, where the Costume Designer had a textile fragment of cutwork appliqué that she wanted to recreate on a costume for the character Prince Dastan played by Jake Gyllenhaal. As there were some stunt scenes involving this costume I had to make several the same, each one taking 6-7 days to do. On Game of Thrones I have worked on all 4 seasons, usually working around 5 months on each season, varying from 5 to 7 days a week doing a 10 hour day.

LES: Where do you see embroidery for costume going?

MC: There is no crystal ball at hand to predict how the use of embroidery will be used in Costume in the future of Film and Television, it is all dependent on what productions are going to be made, there seems to be a resurgence of Period and Fantasy productions being made for Television and Films at the moment, so the future seems to be good.

LES: What else would you like to work on?

MC: Regarding Film and Television productions anything that will stretch and push my creativity within my craft. I also have desire to be able to create my own personal Artwork that I could exhibit in a gallery, ambitious work that can be viewed closely.

LES: Do you have any other hobbies?

MC: Yes I have passion for horses, I spent many summers working at my friends stables on the Isle of Wight, where she introduced me to Classical Riding many years ago. So when I get any spare time I will always go for a Dressage lesson, trying to achieve that elusive goal of perfect harmony between horse and rider.

LES: Do you ever get tempted to keep a piece for yourself or remake one?

MC: No, most of the costumes I have embroidered which are mainly for Actresses, who are generally small framed and very petite, so most of the costumes wouldn’t fit me, I have also worked mainly on productions that have been Period or Fantasy productions, so there would be no point remaking them to wear for myself, I might get a few funny stares walking into the supermarket dressed in a decorative Elizabethan costume to get my weekly shop.

LES: Can you tell us what you might be working on next?

MC: No sorry I can’t, I’m sworn to secrecy.

LES: Fair enough ! What advice would you give to people looking to pursuit a career in embroidery?

MC: As regards Costume generally, even if think you want to do embroidery it is still good to have some on set experience as a costume assistant, to see how all the departments come together to create each project and you will see how your work may translate to screen. So you have a more complete understanding of the whole process.


Many thanks to Michele for taking the time to share a little about herself with us and we are extremely excited about the Jewelled Beetle Class Michele will be hosting in August. Not long now!

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