'Game of Thrones' Costume Designers Reveal the Secrets Stitched Into the Actresses' Gowns

Game of Thrones Wardrobe Main Image - H 2014
Perry Ogden

Game of Thrones Wardrobe Main Image - H 2014

Pay careful attention: Clues abound in the gorgeous dresses of the HBO hit, courtesy of its Emmy-nominated costume designer and a full-time embroiderer.

This story first appeared in the May 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Game of Thrones fans seeking deeper insight into the personalities and predicaments of their favorite characters would do well to pay closer attention to their clothing.

In each episode, subtle clues to a character's evolution are hidden in plain sight within magnificently encrusted embroidery, all of which is drawn freehand then painstakingly stitched by the show's own master embroiderer, Michele Carragher, who has her own London-based atelier.

"The embroidery is a subliminal way to tell someone's story," says Michele Clapton, the show's Emmy-winning designer who brought in Carragher, a longtime friend and collaborator, for the show that is in the midst of its fourth season.

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A prime example of storytelling via embroidery is the beading on Princess Sansa Stark's (Sophie Turner) dress at her wedding to Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) in season three. It symbolically traces the poor girl's path, showing the emblems of her own family and her new husband's. "You can see the influence of her mother, Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), in the House of Tully fish that swim around her body, then the emergence of the Stark Direwolf and eventually the heavy stamp of the Lannister lion on the back of her neck," says Clapton. Carragher spent 14 days stitching it.

Queen Regent Cersei Lannister's (Lena Headey) current footing amid the show's power plays is telegraphed via the increasingly elaborate beading of her costumes. "In the beginning, she was secure, so her gowns were lightly embroidered or printed. But the more precarious her position and the more paranoid she gets, the more Lannister emblems she wears to show her power," explains Clapton, who oversees creation of 120 principal costumes a season. Her team ranges from 70 to 100 people and includes leather workers, cutters and jewelers.

After 15 years of film and TV work, Carragher has an immense personal treasure trove of beads, shells, metal rings, pearls, exotic stones, Swarovski crystals, feathers and leather. She does the majority of her hand embroidery on a piece of silk crepe or sheer organza that later is transferred onto the costume. "Lots of people can do stitches, but it's really about the blend of her artistic skills and creativeness," raves Clapton. "And she is so quick and fluid."

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Because of the time involved, dresses rarely are duplicated. Good luck if someone spills a goblet of wine on it. On rare occasions when a main character suddenly has an action scene or needs a stunt double -- such as warrior queen Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) -- Carragher must quickly create additional embroidery for another costume.

When asked whether people might miss Carragher's intensely detailed creations amid all the spectacle and fight scenes, Clapton begs to differ: "People watch TV on screens the size of a movie screen now. And devoted fans watch episodes over and over. After three or four viewings, you start to see these details. And that's why we do it. That's what makes Game of Thrones special."