You Should Be Reading: Frida Kahlo and Mexican Fashion

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1. Bradley, Laura. ‘The Secret Possessions of Frida Kahlo.’ AnOther. 5 May 2015.

In 2011, Ishiuchi Miyako was given a unique opportunity to photograph Frida Kahlo’s wardobe and personal objects, at Kahlo’s Blue House in Mexico City. It would be the first time her subject matter had not derived from Japan. She travelled to Mexico City, a frenetic, bustling contrast to her ordered homeland, and began to photograph over 300 of the well-preserved objects at the Blue House, the place where Kahlo was born, worked and died. The wardrobe was only discovered in 2004, having been hidden in a tiny, spare bathroom under the instruction of her husband Diego Rivera. – Article excerpt

Fridaan exhibition of Miyako’s photographs, is on at the Michael Hoppen Gallery in London from May 14-July 12, 2015.

2. Aragon, Alba F. ‘Uninhabited Dresses: Frida Kahlo, from Icon of Mexico to Fashion Muse.’ Fashion Theory 18(5), November 2014. 517-549.

This article examines the shifting meanings of Frida Kahlo’s figure and the Tehuana ethnic dress known as her trademark look. It analyzes Appearances Can Deceiving: The Dresses of Frida Kahlo, the first exhibit of the artist’s recently recovered wardrobe on view at the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City from 2012‐14. Engaging the exhibit’s suggestion that the artist casts a “spectral” image over contemporary fashion, this article inquires about the ways history inscribes itself on fashion despite its pretensions of constant innovation. The exhibit is examined in dialogue with Frida Kahlo’s My Dress Hangs There (1933), an image that reflects on modernity and national identity through the tension between competing visions of femininity and fashion represented by Mae West and a disembodied Tehuana dress. – Full article abstract

3. Rosensweig, Denise and Magdalena Rosensweig. Self Portrait in a Velvet Dress: The Fashion of Frida Kahlo. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2008.

Frida Kahlo remains one of the most popular artists of our timesales of Frida books number into the hundreds ofthousandsand yet no volume has ever focused on one of the most memorable aspects of her persona and creativeoeuvre: her wardrobe. Now, for the first time, 95 original and beautifully staged photographs of Kahlo’s newly restored clothing are paired with historic photos of the artist wearing them and her paintings in which the garments appear. Frida’s life and style were an integral part of her art, and she is long overdue for recognition as a fashion icon. – Publisher’s summary

Click here to read past contributor Heather’s review of Self Portrait in a Velvet Dress in 2008.

Click here to read UK contributor Emma’s review of last year’s exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum, Made in Mexico: The Rebozo in Art, Culture and Fashion.

Image credit: Frida by Ishiuchi, #34, via AnOther

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You Should Be Watching: Fashion, Craftsmanship and Luxury

In addition to the much-anticipated arrival of the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition this spring, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London is also displaying an exhibition called What is Luxury?, in collaboration with the Crafts Council from April 25-September 27, 2015. The exhibition seeks to ‘interrogate how luxury is made and understood’ by displaying exceptional objects and exploring current attitudes towards, as well as the future of, luxury.

The Business of Fashion recently uploaded three videos to accompany their feature ‘How can traditional craftsmanship survive in the modern world?’, one of ’7 Issues Facing Fashion Now’ named in a special print edition of the online publication. Paraffection, a subsidiary of Chanel, has acquired eleven traditional French maisons de métier since 1985, including embroiderers, milliners, shoemakers, pleaters and jewellers. An effort to preserve the knowledge and expert craftsmanship required to assemble an haute couture collection, Chanel however has no intention of monopolizing its acquisitions and hopes to see each company rebuild itself as a sustainable, independent business. Do you think there is a profitable future for traditional luxury craftsmanship in the fashion industry outside of haute couture, or has the fast-fashion model forever changed how people value fashion?

1. Inside Lognon, Pleater est. 1945

2. Inside Massaro, Shoemaker est. 1894

3. Inside Lesage, Embroiderer est. 1924

Further reading from The Business of Fashion:

Chanel, the Saviour of Savoir-Faire

Can Neuroscience Unlock the Luxury Mind?

And finally, a few extra videos of behind-the-scenes luxury craftsmanship that I could not resist including:

The Making of a Dior Couture Dress (Refinery 29 – featuring Lognon Pleaters)

Making of the Chanel Spring/Summer 2015 Haute Couture Collection (Chanel)

Hermès Bonstreet (British Vogue)

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You Should Be Reading: Chinese Costume

This Thursday marks the opening of China: Through the Looking Glass,  a Costume Institute exhibition at the Met touted as “two and a half times larger than any previous” produced by the Institute. Tonight’s Met Gala red carpet will receive extensive coverage from fashion media, and many outlets have expressed concern that celebrity guests will be unable to dress for the theme without giving offense. In preparation for live streaming this potentially controversial event, or just to further contextualize the range of Chinese aesthetics-influenced objects that will be on display, below are three recent academic articles on historic costumes of China. In an attempt to address broader subjects of costume studies, I chose a conservation study and analyses of patterns and color. If you’re a member of the Met and will attend the exhibition’s preview that begins tomorrow, we’d love to hear what you thought of it in the comments.

1. Chen, Wang. (2014). Conservation Study of Ming Dynasty Silk Costumes Excavated in Jiangsu Region, China. Studies in Conservation, 59 (Supplement), S177-S180.

The article discusses the study into the conservation of damaged silk costumes from the Ming Dynasty from the Jiangsu region in China. Topics include details on the history of the silk production industry in Jiangnan, China, details on the effect of research of the texture of costume fabrics and artifacts on conserving materials scientifically, details on Suzhou Silk Museum of China’s work in conserving Ming dynasty silk costumes, and details on the correlation between the forms and patterns of the costumes and the social class of the people. – Full Article Abstract

2. Yu, Zhang. (2014). The Application of Xinjiang Traditional Atles Silk Patterns in Modern Costume Design. Advanced Materials Research, 1048, 245-249.

The Atles Silk, popular in Xinjiang, China, is a traditional batiked silk rewoven after warp-knot dyeing process, with its pattern as one of distinctive national features. Through arrangement and analysis of its constitution and nature, the author holds that the Atles silk pattern provides abundant elements for designing in terms of modeling, decoration, etc so the research and application of the pattern is significant in modern costume design.  – Full Article Abstract

3. Qu, Xiaomeng. (2012). Study on the Prohibition of the Purple Costumes in Ancient China. Asian Social Science, 8 (8), 134-138.

In ancient China, the color of the costumes was closely related to the social position of its wearer. It was such an intuitive and effective way to maintain the ruling order by distinguishing hierarchy according to the color of the costumes. As one of the important types of costume color in ancient China, the symbolic meaning of the color purple had went through the changes from the humble secondary color to a color representing honorable position. The prohibition on purple costumes had become an important part of the prohibitions in costumes in ancient China. This paper aims to probe into the transmission and changes about the prohibitions on purple costumes in ancient China by listing the regulations on wearing prohibition for its social members in different dynasties.  – Full Article Abstract

Image Credit: metmuseum.org

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On Teaching: Teaching a Fashion Millennial

As the beginning of a new quarter approaches, I find myself preparing for my classes conflicted. A part of me still feels close to my students in age and personality traits.  I remember being in college and how I thought and felt.   Another part of me feels removed.  The conversations and motivations of my students seem very different than how I acted in college.  As this inner conflict arose while preparing for this quarter, I began asking myself new questions; how do I engage these Millennial students? And beyond engagement, how do I actually teach them?

FC Tech Group

Photo courtesy of FC Tech Group.

First we must endeavor to understand a Millennial. According to Michael Wilson and Leslie Gerber (2008), Millennials are sheltered, confident, optimistic, team-oriented and are not internally driven. “Millennials respond best to external motivators… (Wilson & Gerber, 2008, pp.31).” Despite their sheltered upbringing, millennials are international consumers and show concern regarding global issues (Pasricha & Kadolph, 2009). In addition, students who choose to study fashion are “more creative and interested in the arts than students in other majors (Hodges & Karpova, Majoring in fashion, 2010, pp. 69).” The most significant motivating factor for students is the perceived professional image and a personally satisfying career (Hodges & Karpova, Majoring in fashion, 2010). Students want to “…take their love of fashion beyond an interest and turn it into a career (Hodges & Karpova, Majoring in fashion, 2010, pp. 71).” Many understand they will not graduate into their desired position but they expect to grow into it instead; others express the desire to be their own boss (Poshadlo, 2010; Hodges & Karpova, Making a major decision, 2009).

Tru Access Blog

Photo Courtesy of Tru Access Blog.

With the beginning of understanding comes the beginning of teaching theories. Some educators are responding by shortening lecture times, reshaping assignments and incorporating more technology (Wilson & Gerber, 2008). Others are simply not assigning work they know the students are not “good” at. But, just as my own conflict sways me to one side, another sound argument is presented; at what point does this “reshaping” destroy higher education (Barnes, Marateo & Ferris, 2007)? At what point do we stop the “razzle dazzle,” as one of my colleagues puts it, and we teach?

Forbes

Photo courtesy of Forbes.

The benefit of my position as the coordinator for fashion design and management programs is that I can look at the whole picture and see how new ideas can be applied to a larger construct. For these fashion millennial students, how can we tap into their motivators and provide quality education throughout their program to develop them into a successful fashion professional? Through analyzing our total curriculum, a colleague helped define an approach I believe can address this challenge. Through curriculum analysis, this hypothesis can start students at a “discovery” phase to explore and gain a foundational knowledge then lead them to critical thinking. After they critically evaluate the material, students and faculty can create a “collaborative learning environment,” which applies the course concepts, enhancing the student’s skills (Pidgeon, N., personal communication, 2014 April 2). To ensure these fashion millennials find value in this collaborative environment, applying a social concern in a service-learning activity could actively engage them (Videtic, 2009). Karen Videtic from Virginia Commonwealth University (2009) explores this concept in greater detail for fashion education and presented strong arguments supported by research completed by Anupama Pasricha and Sara J. Kadoph (2009).

I have constructed my own course content with this new progression;

  • Scavenger Hunt: The first homework assignment students will be given is a scavenger hunt. This hunt will require them to find examples of various topics, which will later be covered in the quarter. This is a discovery project and sets them up for the competencies of the course.
  • Article Analysis: Next, I lead them into a critical thinking phase. The student’s read articles related to the topic of the week. After they read the articles they must develop their original opinion on the content and create a presentation to deliver to the class the following week.
  • Socially Responsible Project: A project that involves a socially responsible component is an active engagement exercise. The students must work as a team to develop a project centered on a class-selected charity. The project is a total competency assignment summarizing the information taught throughout the quarter. Just as the scavenger hunt was a homework assignment to “discover” the content of the class, this final project is an “application” of what they have learned.

These new approaches should allow these millennial students the opportunity to embrace their learning and walk away from my courses with a deeper understanding of the content. Thanks to the insight provided by the many notable scholars on millennials, these assignments, activities and project will guide students through the learning phases in my courses.  By changing my methods to engage and teach the millenial students, my conflict remains but has lessened in importance.

I will be trying this out this quarter and will let you know how it goes! Wish me luck!

Eyedea

Photo courtesy of Eyedea.

References:

Barnes, K., R. Marateo, and S. Ferris. (2007). Teaching and learning with the net generation. Innovate, 3 (4). http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=382 (accessed April 24, 2008).

Hodges, N. & Karpova, E. (2010 March 24). Majoring in fashion: a theoretical framework for understanding the decision-making process. International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, 3(2), 67-76. http://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/external?sid=ee4d9ae7-d4e9-4510-939f-e468c27039df%40sessionmgr115&vid=3&hid=122 (accessed March 24, 2015).

Hodges, N. & Karpova, E. (2009 July 13). Making a major decision: an exploration of why students enrol in fashion programmes. International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, 2(2-3), 47-57.

Pasricha, A. & Kadolph, S.J. (2009 October 6). Millennial generation and fashion education: a discussion on agents of change. International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, 2(2-3), 119-126.

Poshadlo, G. (2010 September 20-26). Fashion students don’t want to be part of the brain drain. Indianapolis Business Journal, pp 38.

Videtic, K. (2009 November 7). Service Learning: opportunities for deep learning in fashion design and merchandising education. The International Journal of Learning, 16, 397-403.

Wilson, M. & Gerber, L.E. (2008 Fall). How generational theory can improve teaching: strategies for working with the “Millennials”. Currents in Teaching and Learning, 1 (1), 29-44.

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Guest Post: Review of the 14th Annual Richard Martin Visual Culture Symposium

Today Worn Through would like to present a guest post from Hannah Schiff, a current Master’s candidate in New York University’s Costume Studies program. Her research primarily focuses on the strange and unusual, centering on curiosities and outliers throughout history.

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In addition to my passion for antique and vintage dress and textiles, I was drawn to Costume Studies in large part due to its interdisciplinary nature. A quintessentially human phenomenon, dress is linked to virtually all aspects of life, from fine art to politics, anthropology to economics. Fashion may often be marginalized or trivialized, but one may argue that this is done, in many instances, as a response to the overwhelming power clothing and textiles have over us.

In attending The Fourteenth Annual Richard Martin Visual Culture Symposium, an event hosted by the Costume Studies program at New York University, I was pleased to see the interdisciplinary nature of this field on full display. The four M.A. candidates and guest speaker, Dr. Alison Matthews David, made it clear through their dynamic and varied presentations that the boundaries of this discipline are limitless.

The evening began with the presentation of Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present, by Dr. Alison Matthews David of the Ryerson School of Fashion. A rich and visually stimulating talk, Matthews David took the audience on a forensic journey through some of history’s darker moments in the conception of aesthetics. Her strong language (including references to “satanic mills” and “homicidal luxury”) acted as vibrant punctuation for a series of fascinating topics discussed, namely the intersection of disease and dress, toxic processes and dyes used, and fashion accidents.

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Matthews David referenced this charmingly grim turn of the century poster representing the transformation of rabbits into hats (the source, as she explained, for the perennial favorite magic trick), in her discussion on the use of mercury in constructing hats.

Specific examples explored included the use of mercury in millinery, the 1778 development of an emerald green pigment created with arsenic, and the tragic death of a prima ballerina in 1862 after her tutu caught flame. Matthews David’s use of quotes from primary sources, and her deep exploration into the scientific, psychological, and sociological causes behind these varied fashion traumas made for an engaging talk. Her forthcoming book on the subject promises to be just as inspired as her presentation, and while waiting for its release I would encourage all who are able to see her work on display at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto.

The first M.A. candidate to present was Felicity Pitt with her talk entitled Bare-Cheeked Bicycling: Trick Cyclists and the Eroticism of Female Bicycle Riders, 1885-1900. This cheeky presentation chronicled the impressive feats, both on wheels and in society, of female daredevils at the turn of the century. Pitt’s research primarily focuses on 25 cigarette cards advertising these female performers, which reside in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Female trick cyclists of the nineteenth century wore scandalous (for the day) garments, Pitt argues, both out of necessity for movement and as an attraction.

The talk, centering on voyeurism, objectification of the female body, adoption of masculine influences in female dress, and displays of curiosity and taboos, demonstrated how these performers also engaged in impressive social feats in order to balance out their subversive behavior. “The mere sight of a woman riding at this time is a trick,” states Pitt, underscoring the fact that the athletic skill of these revolutionary women was perhaps only a piece of the equation which brought them notoriety.

Following Pitt, Anna Burckhardt presented a strikingly original topic entitled Walking Weavers: Ethnicity, Gender, and Tradition in Contemporary Indigenous Columbia. As the title suggests, this research has a strong anthropological component, and is a refreshing contribution to a field dominated by the study of Western dress throughout history. Burckhardt spoke passionately about the gendering of weaving and themes of reviving tradition in spite of geographic and cultural displacement.

 

Mama Rosa, a member of the community at La Maria in Piendamó, Columbia, weaves a chumbe, a band of cloth essential to female cultural expression.

Mama Rosa, a member of the community at La Maria in Piendamó, Columbia, weaves a chumbe, a band of cloth essential to female cultural expression.

Specifically looking at the chumbe, a woven band of cloth, usually in bright colors, Burckhardt illustrated how this woman-woven textile is an umbilical chord which connects the woman’s hand to the land of her people. Burckhardt’s personal experiences conducting research in the reservations of Silvia and La Maria in Columbia lent further support to her discussion, and her visual aids, many of which were pictures she took during her time there, offered undoubtable proof of the agency and support system weaving provides for these indigenous women.

Continuing on the thread of autonomous women, Bruckhardt was followed by Stephanie Kramer presenting You Look Good in My Dress: Courtney Love, Grunge and the Role of Gender in Postmodern Subcultural Style. Of the topics presented, Kramer’s was perhaps most accessible to the audience, for while grunge may have emerged as a subculture, it rapidly gained media attention and made household names of musicians such as Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain. However, while much existing scholarship (and press) have traditionally focused on the male contributions to the grunge sound and aesthetic, Kramer shows the strong influence wielded by Love by placing her within the framework of theorist Simone de Beauvoir.

Kramer illustrates the significance of Courtney Love’s role in the grunge movement by placing her life within the theoretical framework established by Simone de Beauvoir.

Kramer illustrates the significance of Courtney Love’s role in the grunge movement by placing her life within the theoretical framework established by Simone de Beauvoir.

Tracing Love’s journey through the three phases of womanhood de Beauvoir outlined, Kramer provided compelling support for her assertion that Love subverted each of them. Above all, Kramer’s use of quotes from Love, such as “I am a woman. I depend on artifice as I have been taught,”  vastly legitimized the agency of a woman commonly ridiculed by the media rather than seen as an originator of a trend and a figure consciously in control of her image.

Rounding out the evening, Eric Zhang brought levity to the symposium with his presentation Just Landed Like Fresh Tilapia: Race, Gender, and Ambivalence in Asian American Drag Performance. Zhang, like Burckhardt, provided a much needed discussion about a minority rarely represented in fashion or academia. Tracing the construction of identity of several drag queens featured on various seasons of the television series, RuPaul’s Drag Race, as well as queens who have not participated in the show, Zhang looks critically at the ambivalence of gender and race in Asian American drag culture.

In both visual and rhetorical terms, many Asian American drag queens express the complexity of their cultural identities.

In both visual and rhetorical terms, many Asian American drag queens express the complexity of their cultural identities.

Assessing the “rhetoric and aesthetic of race,” Zhang locates these performers as falling “somewhere in between being Asian and American,” calling the audience’s attention to the tensions present between race, gender, and the presentation of the two. Although video clips from Drag Race elicited laughter from the audience, they also provided solid evidence supporting Zhang’s interpretation of the complex relationship between gender, race, and the development of a performer’s persona and personal ideologies.

As the vastly divergent presentations of The Fourteenth Annual Richard Martin Visual Culture Symposium illustrate, Costume Studies is a discipline with endless possibilities for research. Trauma induced by fashion, female trick cyclists at the end of the nineteenth century, the links between tradition, textiles, and cultural identity in Columbia, the subversion of gender norms and theory by a female grunge music and style pioneer, and the search for identity among Asian American drag performers may all be seemingly disparate subjects. At their heart, however, they are tied together with intersecting themes of gender, race, identity, and the impact of dress and textiles, and have been masterfully woven together by the five scholars to show the numerous impacts fashion has on human experience.

Opening Image Caption: Open until June 2016, The Bata Shoe museum in Toronto plays host to Fashion Victims: The Pleasures & Perils of Dress in the 19th Century.

Did you attend the symposium? What did you think? Have you attended other symposia with student speakers that you would like to share with Worn Through readers? Please feel free to share your thoughts and impressions in the comments below.

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Interview: Michele Carragher, Costume Embroiderer for Game of Thrones

Recently the incredibly talented and lovely Michele Carragher took the time to answer some questions for Worn Through. Carragher is a costume embroiderer and illustrator for film and television, her most recent work for HBO’s 2005 miniseries, Elizabeth I, and the historical/fantasy adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire,” Game of Thrones, now in its fifth season. She trained in design and illustration at London College of Fashion and in saddlery at Cordwainers College. Prior to her career in film and television, Carragher worked as textile conservator in museums and private collections, specializing in hand embroidery. Below, she shares the path she took to her specialized field, her research process, and advice for aspiring embroiderers. You can find her on Facebook and see more of her work on her website.


Image courtesty of Michele Carragher

You studied design at London College of Fashion. What made you decide to go into fashion? Was your goal to go into costume design?

I think when I left school I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, all I knew is that I wanted to work in a creative field where I could utilise the various mediums I had a passion for, such as illustration, painting, sculpture and the creation of costumes. So when it came to a choice of study it was between art or fashion, I can’t really remember how I came to make the choice, but fashion won in the end.

At the London College of Fashion I really enjoyed the craft aspects of the course, millinery, knitting and embroidery, but I became aware that the work I produced on the course wasn’t mainstream fashion, more avant-garde, maybe if at that stage I had been aware of Haute Couture I may have gravitated towards that.

Later on through my time at college I made friends who were on the Theatre Design course and was fascinated with their work. I did think of swapping courses but at that stage it was too late to change direction.

After college because of my hand embroidery skills I had the opportunity to work in textile conservation and it is here that I honed my hand sewing and embroidery skills. At the same time I started to be involved in low budget filmmaking with a group of friends designing and making the costumes for their films, through this I progressed onto professional filming jobs.

So I didn’t have an intended goal as such to get into costume, my work path evolved gradually over many years.


Game of Thrones character Sansa Stark wore this dress for the Tourney of the Hand in the first season. Image credit: michelecarragherembroidery.com

You studied many areas of fashion design in college, but your specialty now is embroidery. Did you focus on embroidery in your program? Was that something you had practiced prior to your course at London College of Fashion?

I did some basic embroidery at school and was always involved in making costumes and painting sets for any plays or productions that were put on. At home my Mother and Grandmother made clothes, knitted and embroidered so I was encouraged creatively by them both.

The first major manifestation of using embroidery creatively was while I studied fashion design at college. Many of the designs that I was conceiving there, I wanted them to have a sculptural presence, so in order to get the desired look I invested much time into learning skills to aid me, skills like embroidery and knitting. For my final collection I created handmade knitwear pieces which had 3 dimensional sculptured heads of the fantasy figure of Pan surrounded with crocheted oak leaves and acorns on each arm.    .

What are some of your favourite pieces you worked on as a textile conservator? What elements of this work did you find challenging?

One of the first textiles I worked on was a lovely 18th century English quilt cover that only had one quarter embroidered and needed the rest filling in to complete it. It was similar to crewel work as regards to the mixture of stitches used but was finer and executed with silk threads rather than the traditional wool used in crewel work. That was quite a task to take on but I learnt a lot whilst doing it, how the design was put together, the different combination of stitches to create the stylised flowers and leaves. I think it took me a couple of months to complete, probably twice as long as I thought it would, so by working on this large piece it has helped me become more aware of and understand how to estimate timings for future work.

Some other interesting pieces I had to do a little conservation work on were a couple of costumes worn by Marilyn Monroe, the famous little black beaded number worn in “Some Like it Hot” and the sexy show stopping red sequined dress from “Gentlemen Prefer Blonds” that she and her co-star Jane Russell wore. These were displayed in an exhibition at The Imperial War Museum in London, they were lovely to see and were so tiny.

One of the most enjoyable pieces that I had to conserve was a pair of 16th Century gloves. The leather of the gloves was in good condition but the gauntlet section needed to come off so that I could patch any holes in the silk and sew down any loose embroidery and gold threads. The silk godets on the gauntlet in between the embroidered sections needed patching and in some cases replacing where the original fabric was too rotten. Once I had conserved the gauntlets I then joined these sections back on to the gloves. It was quite satisfying working on these beautiful period gems and it inspires me to want to make my own version of an embroidery encrusted gauntlet glove.



Game of Thrones character Daenerys Targaryen’s costumes for season three were embellished with textured “dragonscale” embroidery. Click the image for more information about Carragher’s technique. Image credit: michelecarragherembroidery.com

When you worked as a Costume Assistant/Maker, what were some of the sources you utilized for research? Along the same lines, what sources do you look at when developing a new concept for embroidery/surface decoration? As you were inspired by historic textiles–does that include motifs, stitches, etc?

My basic approach process is similar for each project. I start by meeting with the costume designer who will already have researched what they want and will have moodboards, design sketches, fabric swatches and possibly toiles of the costume.

I then go off and do my own research, If it is a historical piece then I will look at the type and style of decoration suitable for the period in question. I will look at historical costume and textile reference books, also on the Net and in museums too, as it is always good to see the real thing with the naked eye if possible. I will then gather together suitable fabrics, trimmings, beads, threads etc to help me recreate something based on my research and understanding of the period and then I start sampling some ideas.

The textiles that I see in my conservation work are a constant inspiration and I always document motifs and patterns or techniques that are useful to be able to use in my costume embroidery work.

You sometimes work directly on a garment and sometimes on crepeline first. For what reasons do you choose one vs. the other?

Time is always an issue when producing work for film and TV. On a big budget film there will be more preparation and research time and the actors may be cast earlier.

So if the costume designer has a specific piece in mind to do then a toile of the costume can be made and fitted and from this you could plan your embroidery. The costume cutter would then tack out the pattern pieces on the actual fabric and you could stretch the fabric in a frame and embroider onto it, then the costume could be made up. But you may not have time to finish the embroidery before the Maker needs to put the costume together for a fitting with the actor, this all depends on planning and scheduling.

On TV you get far less preparation time and so it is easier if the costume is made up and can be fitted as that is most important and I can then work on the garment in between fittings. I have found during my time working on Game of Thrones that the best solution is for me to start the embroidery separately to the costume, creating a kind of motif that I can then apply to the costume and work on it further if needs be.

The reason for me using silk crepeline is that it is very sheer and can be dyed to match the costume, so that when I stitch the embroidered motif onto the garment the base fabric of the silk crepeline becomes almost invisible.

There is not a right or wrong way to decorate or embroider you just have to find the best solution to each particular situation and for me by creating the initial stages of my embroidery on organza/silk crepeline it means I can be more ambitious with the work that I want to create and have less pressure on myself as I am not holding up the costume maker’s process.


Carragher’s eye embroidery on a costume for HBO’s Elizabeth I miniseries. This motif can be seen in the “Rainbow Portrait” of Elizabeth I by Isaac Oliver, c. 1600. Image credit: michelecarragherembroidery.com

Game of Thrones combines history with fantasy. In designing embroidery and decoration for these costumes, do you attempt to combine these elements? Are you given direction from Michele Clapton or others? How is working on Game of Thrones different from a period drama, like Elizabeth 1?

When Game of Thrones was first being put together the producers wanted to create something that although it is a fantasy, it should be a believable world and so it was approached as if it was a real period drama, something a kin to a Medieval one, but the designers were free to draw on elements from anywhere to suit each tribe or character as long as it fits their situation, status, or narrative story. So the script is the first port of call and I take my guidance from the costume designer, who will have had many meetings with other heads of department regarding the look, style and tone of the production.

For a historical drama there are usually documented references for you to draw on, in books, on the Net and in museums, and you use all these to influence your designs but you don’t have to recreate pin point accurate embroideries, as there wouldn’t be time to do this. You are trying to create an impression of the style of work that is believable to the audience as belonging to the period you are portraying on screen and is suitable for the particular character’s status or narrative story. With a fantasy like Game of Thrones you have more freedom to create designs as you are not restricted to a specific period in time.

Whatever genre of film you are working towards conveying a visual narrative to the audience to create a believable and understandable world, be it contemporary, fictional, factual or fantasy.

It’s fascinating to see images of your embroidery up close, since many of us watch movies and TV on small computer screens and can miss these details. What’s a standout costume or costumes viewers should look for in the upcoming Game of Thrones season (if you’re allowed to tell us)?

For season 5 of Game of Thrones I enjoyed working on many designs for a variety of characters, but as I don’t get to see the filming process, the first time I see the costumes is when the programme airs, so I am not sure what will be seen.

At the moment I can not reveal too much detail about the costumes that I have worked on, as I am sworn to secrecy, but I wouldn’t be giving out too much of a spoiler to your question as HBO have already released sneak peek images of one of the main characters that I created embroidery for in Season 5, and that is Myrcella, Cersei’s daughter who was sent away to, and now lives in Dorne. I would say the costumes that I worked on for her would be my personal recommendation to look out for, they have a delicate seductive romanticism to them. I really enjoyed working on them, being able to use new materials and techniques within the designs.

Can you share any tidbits about the 18th century pilot you’re working on? Is this requiring you to delve into new research?

Sorry I can’t give any details as when you work on film and TV you have to be very secretive until the programme has been aired to the wider public. But obviously the 18th century has some fantastic embroidery and there’s nothing I love more than trawling the Net for interesting and unique examples of particular embroidery. It’s amazing how much variety there is and you realise that you can do anything you like really, as in each era there were embroiderers who created immaculate pieces, some more simple and some avant-garde or stranger pieces too, as with any art form it is all in the mind of the creator.

A timelapse of 42 hours of embroidery by Carragher.

For our readers wishing to learn embroidery, do you recommend any specific programs or methods? What is your advice for embroiderers who want to enter the film/TV field?

Simply learn by doing, start with something easy, try out different stitches, some are easier and quicker to do. You may find it easier to copy some existing embroidery you like and then progress towards designing your own, you will find your own style naturally. Some people will be neat and precise, others may be naturally looser and more organic. Although there are different styles and techniques there is no right or wrong thing to do, someone somewhere initially invented each stitch to suit what they had in mind and the materials to hand, so just have a go. Some threads are easier to use than others so experiment, metallics can be tricky and need more patience, you just need to practise as with anything and a lot of the accuracy of technique is in the control of the entry and exit points of the needle, you will gradually use most of your fingers on both hands to feel the needle and thread as you work.

There are too many books to list on embroidery but if you have one good basic one that shows you all the stitches this can always be referred to and then if you find a particular style of work you like, then look to specific books on that technique, and there are also lots of online video tutorials out there that can be helpful if you need to see a stitch or technique in practise.

I was lucky in my conservation work to be paid to learn and practise my embroidery on various textiles and if there was a stitch I hadn’t done before I would look it up and practise it on some scrap fabric before embroidering on the actual textile. Obviously for that work I would also need to source threads that would be a suitable match to the original. So finding a good local shop that has a variety of threads is a bonus, as although you can buy much on the Net, if you need a specific colour palette the accuracy of the thread colours on the websites is not so good and you can waste a lot of money on the wrong thing. In London there is a fantastic thread and bead shop, The London Bead Company & Delicate Stitches that I would find hard to manage without.

As regards to working in film and TV, within most costume teams you find the same people work together again and again. As in life you build relationships with friends that you get along with, understand one another’s tastes and styles, so it becomes easier the longer you work together and you have a mutual trust. The costume designer is under a lot of pressure and needs a team around them who they know can pull their vision together. So you need to get a foot in the door and meet people who can get to know your abilities and skills that they can put to use. It is hard work and the days are long, a workroom day is usually a 10/12 hour day. But if something needs finishing you may have to stay up all night, so you need to have focus and stamina and be willing, able and adaptable as things tend to change as the project progresses and you have to be receptive to this.

Even if you want to do embroidery, it is still good to get experience as a runner or assistant, so that you get to see what everyone in the costume team contributes to each production and understand how things translate from the workroom to the screen. So it isn’t always easy and can be tiring, but it is fantastic to be able to work in a creative field and if you are lucky enough to work on a show such as Game of Thrones, you are being paid to experiment, sample, create and develop ideas with endless possibilities.

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You Should Be Reading: Textile (Over)consumption

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A series of photos published by The Guardian and entitled ‘Overpopulation, Overconsumption: In Pictures’ garnered a lot of attention this past week. Compiled into a book by the Global Population Speak Out campaign, the staggering images are stark reminders of humanity’s effect on the planet. Although none of the images feature the fashion industry or textile production in particular, I could not help but think of the burgeoning fast-fashion brands that dominate our high streets, and our increasingly disposable attitudes towards clothing. In honour of Fashion Revolution Day on April 24th, here are three articles that discuss the life cycles of fashion and textiles, and their effects on people and the environment.

1. Palmsköld, Anneli. ‘Reusing Textiles: On Material and Cultural Wear and Tear.’ Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research 7(1): 31-43.

This article discusses contemporary practices in a Swedish context, connected to clothes and home textiles that are no longer in use, comparing them to reusing practices from the middle of the nineteenth century and onwards. The focus is on how the textiles are objects for different sorting processes in private homes as well as on a flea market, and people’s ethical concerns connected to these processes. Until the early 1970s the skills of mending, altering and patching was common knowledge, to women at least. The reusing processes were about wear and tear considerations from a material point of view. Today there are many more clothing and home textiles items in circulation, which have to be taken care of. To handle and sort textiles seems, among other things, to be about coping with different feelings connected with guilt and bad conscience. To avoid these feelings people are seeking ways of letting the textiles circulate in order to be reused by others. – Full article abstract

2. Choi, Tsan-Ming, et. al. ‘Effects of Used Garment Collection Programs in Fast-Fashion Brands.’ Sustainable Fashion Supply Chain Management, Springer Series in Supply Chain Management 1(1): 183-197. 

This research aims to investigate the fast-fashion brands’ recently implemented used garment collection (UGC) scheme. It examines the effects brought by the UGC programs on brand awareness and image building of fast-fashion companies. A convenience sampling based consumer survey is conducted for this study. The statistical results reveal that the UGC scheme offered by fast-fashion companies is correlated to brand awareness and brand image. The findings imply that fast-fashion retailers can employ the used apparel collection program as a marketing scheme to help establish their own green brand image. This measure also enhances the fast-fashion retailers’ brand positioning and their competitiveness in the market. – Full article abstract

3. Gilvin, Amanda. ‘Games of Seduction and Games of History: Alioum Moussa’s Fashion Victims in Niamey, Niger.’ African Studies Review 58(1): 55-89.

In his November 2011 solo art exhibition, Fashion Victims, held in Niamey, Niger, the Cameroonian artist Alioum Moussa launched a critique of global participation in the industrial fashion system by employing secondhand garments as his primary medium. The show had special resonance in a city attempting to cultivate both industrial and artisanal production of dress and fashion for global markets. Moussa demanded that viewers reckon with their own consumerist dress practices and potential fashion victimization in what he described as “global games of seduction,” and he offered tributes to the different “fashion victims” by inviting others to play in shared games of history. – Full article abstract

Image Credit: The True Cost, a documentary film about the impact of fashion on people and the planet, to be released May 29th.

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You Should Be Watching: Dior and I

Dior and I is a new documentary film that takes the viewer behind the scenes of a couture collection at the house of Dior. After the dismissal of John Galliano as creative director in 2011, the house named Raf Simons as his replacement. Simons and his team are given the monumental task of putting together a couture collection in just eight weeks.

Director, writer and producer Frédéric Tcheng was there to film the entire process, capturing Simons and his team of seamstresses in both their most impressive and their most vulnerable moments. The result is a fashion documentary that is being hailed as one of the most realistic and honest ever created.

Dior and I: Official Trailer

Dior and I: Clips

Dior and I: Interview: Frédéric Tcheng

Lou Stoppard of SHOWstudio interviews Frédéric Tcheng, who previously worked on fashion documentaries Valentino: The Last Emperor and Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel. Stoppard and Tcheng discuss earning the trust of Simons and his team to capture the creative process, his immersion into the world of Dior, becoming emotionally attached to the Autumn/Winter 2012 collection and being pigeonholed as a fashion film director.

The film is now playing in theatres across the United States, Canada and United Kingdom, with dates in Europe and Asia to follow. Visit the film’s official website to find the showing nearest you, or to purchase and download the documentary through various online streaming services.

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You Should Be Reading: Mad Men Style

As the final season of Mad Men resumed on Sunday and the Museum of the Moving Image opened their exhibition of sets, props and costumes from the show, this week I’ll present readings that analyze the fashion of Mad Men. In addition to the articles linked below, Tom Fitzgerald and Lorenzo Marquez’s blog series Mad Style is an incredibly detailed and insightful examination of character’s costumes, hair, makeup and surroundings. For those who can’t make it to MMI, “T Magazine” published images of costumes and moodboards from the exhibition captioned with quotes from the show’s costume designer, Janie Bryant. Bryant also recently spoke with Bloomberg about what she wears to work and how it’s influenced by the 1960s style of the show.

1. Gantz, Katherine. (2011). Mad Men’s Color Schemes: A Changing Palette of Working Women. Studies in Popular Culture, 33 (2), 43-58.

The author presents an examination of color in the television program “Mad Men,” focusing on how the theme of color serves to reflect the complex experience of women in the working world and how it allows them to reveal their secrets. She begins by discussing masculinity and male discourse and goes on to examine clothing colors, particularly as worn by the character of Joan, and how these relate to the social status of women in the workplace. – Full Article Abstract

2. Hamilton, Caroline. (2012). Seeing the World Second Hand: Mad Men and the Vintage Consumer. Cultural Studies Review, 18 (2), 223-241.

An essay is presented on the notion of vintage in the contemporary consumption of audiences of the American Movie Classics Co.’s (AMC) television series “Mad Men.” It examines the notion of vintage consumerism as an aesthetic as well as a category of contemporary consumption reflected in the appreciation and unexpected excitement of audiences. It also cites that ability of “Mad Men” to generate consumer heat through using historical artefacts to reinforce an ephemeral present. – Full Article Abstract

3. Goodlad, Lauren, Lilya Kaganovsky and Robert A. Rushing, eds. (2013). Mad Men, Mad World: Sex, Politics, Style, and the 1960s. Durham: Duke University Press.

Since the show’s debut in 2007, Mad Men has invited viewers to immerse themselves in the lush period settings, ruthless Madison Avenue advertising culture, and arresting characters at the center of its 1960s fictional world. Mad Men, Mad World is a comprehensive analysis of this groundbreaking TV series. Scholars from across the humanities consider the AMC drama from a fascinating array of perspectives, including fashion, history, architecture, civil rights, feminism, consumerism, art, cinema, and the serial format, as well as through theoretical frames such as critical race theory, gender, queer theory, global studies, and psychoanalysis. – Excerpt from Publisher

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You Should Be Reading: Fashion Blogging and Vlogging

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1. Titton, Monica. ‘Fashionable Personae: Self-Identity and Enactments of Fashion Narratives in Fashion Blogs.’ Fashion Theory 19(2), 201-220.

This article scrutinizes the practices and strategies mobilized by fashion bloggers in the construction of a subject position which is embedded in established fashion narratives and based on references to the self and self-representation. Fashion blogs are discussed as cultural artifacts which revolve around reflexive identity politics in contention with embodied techniques of self-fashioning and dress practices. Fashion bloggers produce fashion media partly based on the enactment of their own self-identity in relation to dress practices and on their incorporation of knowledge of fashion media and pop culture imagery. Because of this oscillation between individual dress practices and collective fashion narratives, fashion blogs raise issues about the way in which fashion media relate to self-identity. Based on empirical research with qualitative methods using a grounded theory approach, this article discusses a construct of subjectivity labeled as “fashionable persona.” The “fashionable persona” is understood as a situated, narrative, and performative character developed by bloggers specifically for their blogs that is anchored simultaneously in the blogger’s self-identity and in the enactment of collective cultural narratives. Three dimensions in the enactment and construction of “fashionable personae” are discussed: the discursive construction, the bodily enactment, and the self-actualization of fashion bloggers as economic subjects. – Full Article Abstract

2. Findlay, Rosie. ‘The Short, Passionate, and Close-Knit History of Personal Style Blogging.’ Fashion Theory 19(2), 157-178.

Most media histories of style blogging commence their narrative in 2009, at the moment when a select few fashion and personal style bloggers were invited to sit front row at a number of shows on the Spring/Summer Ready-to-Wear “Fashion Month” schedule. Yet that moment, symbolic of the “arrival” of fashion bloggers in the industry (albeit a partial and contested one), was precipitated by years of fashion blogging. This developmental period has not yet been mapped. This article, then, presents a historical narrative tracing the development of personal style blogging through the archive. It engages with the earliest independent fashion blogs (which predated distinct subgenres of fashion blogging) to map how they, along with early digital and print media, influenced and led to the emergence of personal style blogging as a distinct subgenre of the wider fashion blogosphere. I draw on oral history from bloggers as well as the archives of their (and other) blogs, as well as the digital archive of early fashion websites, online articles, and blogposts from current style blogs. I also draw on prior studies of personal style blogging by Rocamora and Luvaas, among others, as well as work by Lévi-Strauss and Butler, to contextualize this discussion. – Full Article Abstract

3. Christofer, Pihl. ‘Brands, Community and Style: Exploring Linking Value in Fashion Blogging.’ Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management 18(1), 3-19.

By using the concept of style, the purpose of this paper is to elaborate on the notion of brand community. More specifically, it seeks to explore how style can function as a linking value in forms of communities centred on brands that emerge within the empirical context of fashion and social media. A netnography of the content produced by 18 fashion bloggers in Sweden was conducted. Content analysis of this material was used to map how consumption objects, in terms of fashion brands, were integrated in activities taking place on blogs, and through these processes, acted as a linking value for community members. This paper demonstrates how fashion bloggers, together with their readers, constitute a form of community centred on style. It also shows how fashion bloggers, by combining and assembling fashion brands and products, articulate and express different style sets, and how they, together with their followers, engage in activities connected to these style ideals. As this study has been empirically limited to a Swedish setting, future research would benefit from findings of international expressions of communities of style. Based on this study, strategies for managing communities of style is suggested to represent a potential source of competitive advantage for fashion firms. In the context of the conceptual discussion about what brings members of communities together, this study provides evidence of how style can function as a linking value in the setting of consumer communities that emerge within the boundaries of fashion and social media. – Full Article Abstract

See also: i-D Magazine’s recent series How the Internet Changed Fashion featuring interviews with some of today’s most popular fashion vloggers, as well as longer think pieces exploring the influence of vlogging and social media on fashion.

Image Credit: GirlTalkHQ

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