Michele Carragher "Origins"


Michele Carragher is an EmbroidererIllustrator and Artist, this page explores how she developed  her individual and distinctive style, from her childhood influences to her attendance at the London College of Fashion and her first experience of working within film and television, that has highlighted and defined her work, which will now see her creating her first collection of embroidery based artwork that will be set to exhibition in 2016/17.

Michele was born in Maidstone Kent, but her formative years were spent on the Isle of Wight where her family moved to when she was six. The Isle of Wight is seen as a jewel of British beauty in miniature with many diverse landscapes, from rolling countryside to its varied coastline.









Michele aged six with her father John and sister Sue on the Isle of Wight.

As a child Michele developed a love of nature that has featured and inspired her creative work. This love of nature was not in the scale of a panoramic view, she was more drawn to the majesty of the microscopic detail of nature, that of insects, birds and flora, from the translucent colours of dragonflies' wings, woodland carpets of bluebells, delicate poppies dotting cornfields and the velvety texture of moss. 





Stone carvings from All Saints church, Isle of Wight. 

Although having a fascination with the array of surface decorations that nature provides, with their fantastic shapes, colours and textures, she was also influenced by the decoration created by man. One significant influence was seated only a couple of hundred yards from her childhood home in Ryde. It was in the form of the stone carved characters, maidens, knights and gargoyles that adorned the walls of the Parish Church of All Saints which is a magnificent landmark church sometimes referred to as the "Cathedral of the Island" built to a decorated Gothic design by the English architect Sir George Gilbert Scott in the 1870s.










All Saints church and Sir George Gilbert Scott. 

Sir George Gilbert Scott was one of the most prolific architects of the 19th century design movement of Gothic Revival. This movement was influenced by the art and architecture of Medieval Europe. Scott was the designer of the recently restored Midland Grand Hotel, now known as St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, he also designed the Albert Memorial, a popular landmark that stands in Hyde Park in London.

This inspiration of historical architecture has led Michele to embark on many research trips within the UK and Europe, searching out other architecture that captured the same spirit and reaction that was given to her by the decorative designs of All Saints church.

Apart from exploring and documenting decorations on historical buildings, Michele also takes the time to visit museums for inspiration, sourcing out collections of natural history and historical costumes and textiles, such as those at the Palazzo Mocenigo Costume Museum in Venice Italy.



Within this study of historical costumes and textiles Michele appreciates all periods of costume across both genders throughout history from all quarters of the world, but she is drawn towards costumes that have a dramatic presence and are beautifully decorated, either by embellishment or embroidery which can be seen in costumes throughout every era. 

Another architect Michele became inspired by while on a research trip to Barcelona in Northern Spain, whose work was influenced by Gothic Revival architecture, is the leading figure in the Catalina Modernista movement, the Spanish 19th and 20th century architect  Antonio Gaudi, whose work has an organic style inspired by nature.










A collection of Antonio Gaudi's work.

It is in how Gaudi's work abandons the dull world of realism, creating a magical world with a Fairy tale like quality with his shapes and textures, using stained glass, metalwork and ceramics that all evoke a sense of the techniques of jewellery and embroidery which embellish his creations, that has captured Michele's imagination.

Another inspirational craft based artist Michele is captivated by, whose work also captures a naturalistic approach, is the 19th and 20th century French glass designer Rene Jules Lalique, of particular interest is his Art Nouveau jewellery which depicts insects caught within graphical dramatic poses, and his use of surrealism and fantasy, as seen in his design of his metamorphic piece of a "Woman with Dragonflies Wings"







A collection of Rene Jules Lalique's jewellery work.

This interest in decorative architecture and jewellery that was created by Scott, Gaudi and Lalique has translated into Michele's embroidery work which has a sculptural form with many layers.

It's not solely within the three dimensional form of craft that has formed and influenced Michele, it is also within paintings, especially within the work of the British 19th and 20th century painter who was synonymous with the work of The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and much influenced by it, John William Waterhouse.

Waterhouse's paintings came to Michele's notice for their use of symbolism, rich colour, and compositions that capture the beauty of nature and the vivid details of textiles and costumes, such as in his 1888 painting "The lady of Shallot" with the beautiful detail of the embroidered textile that drapes from the boat into the dark waters below, and the beautiful detail of the dress with its embroidered sleeves with jewelled embellishment worn by Ophelia, a fictional character from William Shakespeare's play "Hamlet", which features in Waterhouse's 1894 painting of "Ophelia".












"The Lady of Shallot" and "Ophelia" by John William Waterhouse.

Other painters who have influenced Michele and have similar qualities to Waterhouse are the 19th and 20th century Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt and the Czech Art Nouveau painter and decorative artist Alphonse Mucha.













A collection of work by Gustav Klimt and Alphonsa Mucha.

Michele's first manifestations into creating craft and art were at an early age encouraged by her Mother and Grandmother. Michele's Mother Anne taught Michele the basic techniques of sewing and knitting. Michele's Grandmother Winifred a talented amateur painter of landscapes nurtured her Granddaughter to pursue her creativity, showing her the way to infuse her love of nature and transfer it to the page, by teaching her to draw and paint.

When Michele attended her secondary school Ryde High School, she developed her interest in art further. Her art teachers who had an advanced approach to educating art recognised her natural artistic ability and encouraged her to learn a variety of new techniques, from life drawing, photography and most importantly the skill of print making, which saw Michele developing in a new medium that combined her craft in illustration and embroidery.

One early piece using this new technique of print making saw Michele create illustrative drawings of moths and bees and then developing them into a decorative textile design with added embroidery.

In her mid-teens along with these developments within her art practice, Michele developed an interest in costume making, when as a member of the Girl Guides she found herself in a leading role creating costumes for their amateur theatre productions.

This ability to create costumes moved into her producing her own personal clothing, creating pieces that reflected and were influenced by the alternative sub-cultures of the time. By designing and creating her own clothing Michele developed an interest in becoming a fashion designer.

When it came to choosing a career path after school Michele was torn between either pursuing further education in art or fashion, the factors that influenced her final decision, was the positive experience related and shared by her older sister Sue, who at the time had moved to London to study fashion at North East London Polytechnic, and most importantly the factor that Michele saw the benefits of studying a medium that captured all the aspects of the crafts she enjoyed doing, so she felt fashion was the right medium to study. Michele applied and was accepted on the Fashion Design course at the London College of Fashion.

At the London College of Fashion Michele enjoyed the creative and craft aspects of the course, which were millinery, knitting, embroidery, fashion illustration and life drawing. But she soon realised that becoming a fashion designer was not the right path for her, as it was apparent that her work was not really for the mainstream fashion market as it had more of a theatrical bias. Michele tried to change from her course to the Theatre Costume Design but was discouraged by her tutors, stating they were unwilling for her to leave their course as they liked her work, which they described as a creative and quirky approach to fashion. 











A collection of designs by Michele and Michele while at the London College of Fashion,.

After four years at the London College of Fashion Michele completed her course producing a final collection, that was inspired by Myth and Fairy tale, with knitwear that had 3D sculptural decoration of the mythical forest character Pucka silk chiffon shirt that she had hand painted with Sir John Tenniel's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" illustrations, and a jacket that had a stumpwork embroidered collar also featuring Puck. Even in this early development of her work you can see a technical style that is still present today.












Michele's final collection at the London College of Fashion.

After leaving college Michele sold reproduced pieces that had featured in her final collection, the most popular being her Puck cardigans, selling them to a boutique in Covent Garden in London called Blakes. One purchaser of the cardigans from Blakes was a writer from Elle Magazine who did a feature on Michele naming her as a designer to watch out for in the future.

Although having some success with selling her work, being gifted as a creative doesn't always transfer to being gifted within creating a business, not having financial support and feeling unprepared Michele felt unable to pursue starting her own business within fashion.

The London College of Fashion was good at teaching her skills in the creation of costumes, but the course never equipped Michele and her fellow students in the skills to setup a business, and at the time it was a more difficult period to self promote or get contacts within the fashion industry, unlike today where people have a more entrepreneurial approach with the benefits of the use of the internet, which was not available then. Undeterred by these factors Michele did her best to highlight her work.

One avenue that she used to highlight her work was to enter high profile fashion design competitions like the BBC's "The Clothes Show" annual Costume Designers Competition. Michele was a finalist in the category of Knitwear two years in row. One of her knitwear designs featured on the show "The Lily Cardigan", which was coloured in block colours of blue and white and had 3D woollen Lily flowers flowing up one side was exhibited at a group show at the Design Museum in London, it was shown as a part of the museum's annual exhibition of "Art in the Home".

Apart from working on her own projects Michele after an introduction by a friend started to work for Kitty Morris a textile conservator. Working in textile conservation were she repaired and restored historical textiles, Michele learnt new skills and took inspiration from the many textiles that she worked on, from 9th century Persian weavings, Ottoman fabrics and 16th to 19th century European and Islamic embroideries.



This invaluable access to historical textiles, apart from providing inspiration gave her an insight into a variation of approaches and techniques used within their construction. All this newly gained knowledge helped Michele develop her own work within embroidery and textile manipulation that she created in her later career working in film and television.  

The first development that saw her working within the medium of film was when she met and started to collaborate with the award winning filmmaker Scott JG Flockhart, working in the role of costume designer on all his short films, and music promos for indie bands like the Irish band Wilt, British band My Vitriol and the American industrial rock band Vast.

Their first endeavours in creating work together were on short narratives and visual art pieces shot on 16mm film. Even working on a low budget they wanted to create ambitious work which had a distinctive style and look. Michele's approach to doing this was by developing an affordable style with her costumes, which used second hand crossed period clothing, a mixture of mid 20th century costumes fused with contemporary, and centre piece costumes that were either decorated, manipulated or completely created by her.

Michele and Scott's short narrative films which are a combination of the genres of Kitchen Sink Drama mixed with Horror and Comedy, always display atmosphere that captures the mood of the worlds they present, using beauty and decay, metaphor and surrealism to create their individual voice as filmmakers.








Stills and illustrations from "X-Mass" a short film by Scott JG Flockhart.

By working with Scott on his short films and music promos throughout the whole process, from developing the look from the initial idea, script breakdown, actors fittings, rehearsals, prep for each day of filming, continuity, running the floor and then seeing how her costumes translate onto the screen, Michele found it a useful learning process that helped to prepare her for her career working on more high profile professional productions within film and television.

Michele's first professional full-time position working within costume on a film production came when a friend informed her that they were looking for costume assistants to work for free on a low budget feature film called "Hardmen". Undeterred by the lack of payment as she saw it as an opportunity to get a foothold in an industry that she wanted to develop a career within, Michele went along to meet the costume designer Mike O'Neill for an interview, even though she had a lack of credited experience, Mike was impressed by her enthusiasm and collection of skills and offered her a job.

Mike and his partner Samantha Horn, who was his assistant designer, became mentors to Michele and nurtured her talent as she continued to work for them on a variety of productions, such as the BBC's adaption of Charles Dickens's "Our Mutual Friend", ITV's "Wokenwell", "David Copperfield" and "Mansfield Park".

On these productions that she worked on as a costume assistant and maker Michele soon gravitated towards the decoration, embellishment and illustrations of costumes, which led to Mike offering her the role as Principal Costume Embroiderer on Channel 4/ HBO's television mini-series "Elizabeth 1" which he designed in 2005. 









Michele Carragher, embroidery & illustration from "Elizabeth 1".

In between working with Mike, Michele started working at a small costume hire house run by another costume designer Mary Jane Reyner. Mary Jane was a great supporter of Michele's talent, helping her out on her productions with Scott JG Flockhart, by providing free hire of costumes, and by employing her to do illustrations, makes and embroidery for the productions she designed, such productions as the feature films "Jimmy Grimble" and "Gabriel and Me" and ITV's television crime series "Vera".   

After working on "Elizabeth 1" Michele met the costume designer Michele Clapton, Michele has collaborated with her on several productions before working together on HBO's television series "Game of Thrones".








A collection of Michele's embroidery work from "Game of Thrones".

2015 has seen Michele rekindle her desire to create art, she is now creating her first collection of embroidery based art .