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  • Writer's pictureAjda Zorko

Embroidery in costume design

Embroidery in costume design is an integral part of movies. It enhances the story and makes it more interesting.

We like to -indirectly- enjoy costume design while watching our favorite series or movie. What we rarely notice are pieces of clothing or their details and workmanship, unless we pay special attention to them in particular. We may notice if the performer has/does not have certain clothing or if the clothing stands out because of it’s inappropriate use. When we enjoy watching a big-budget production placed in a historical period or fantasy, embroidery is often a strong element in creating the atmosphere (especially, ass in Game of Thrones)..

In Game of Thrones, embroidery was a bit more exposed, and also mentioned a few times in the actual events and interactions between the characters. Artist Michele Carragher is credited for the outstanding creations. Her own online presence is not particularly elaborate, but much has been written and published about her and her work elsewhere. In the role of embroidery expert, she also added her signature style to the production of: Peaky Blinders, The Crown, The Nevers and Assasin's Creed.

Many products in video productions are machine-embroidered, and the skill of the makers is also to present it as handwork. However, some pieces, due to the structure, the rich application of beads and special, effective threads or other accessories, cannot be machine made. The embroiderers who make these pieces are highly trained professionals. Many of them were students of the London institution Hand&Lock.

Embroidered costumes from The Games of thrones series in and exhibition in Oslo.
Game of Thrones costumes photo: B. Skinstad, CC3

Embroidery, like other materials and production techniques in costuming, can be very strictly consistent in following the "rules" of a specific era. In a more documentary depiction of a historical period, costumers are limited in terms of using materials, colors and production techniques typical of a particular time period. If it is a fantastic story, there are more possibilities for artistic freedom in creating an atmosphere, and the rules about historic accuracy are more relaxed. But a basic guide remains: if a particular element of the costume is very noticeable and is not directly the subject of action between characters, it is probably a mistake! Often, budget constraints force costume designers and their teams are to combine machine and handmade work, or to substitute expensive materials and accessories for cheaper items that merely mimic the look of expensive originals.

Audrey hepburn on a dancefloor together with Harcourt Williams
Audrey Hepburn in the movie Roman Holiday, photo: Pxhere, CC0

Just as the costume design itself stands somewhat overshadowed by events dictated in the script, so also do the people who actually make these richly decorated pieces of clothing stand hidden behind the names of the fashion designers who design the clothing image. Embroiderers are the ones whose work is admired on screens and sometimes even at costume shows. Which production costumes would you like to see live?

If you enjoyed this bit of reading, stop by my insta page (@ajda_brez_veze) where you’ll get an idea for a gift, learn how to make a stitch or find some other useful embroidery information!

Ajda Zorko is a guest blogger. Her opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Štikarca.

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