The Ridiculous Amount Of Thought That Goes Into Game Of Thrones' Costumes

It goes without saying that Game of Thrones is one of the most visually stunning shows on TV. From the halls of King's Landing to the vast expanses surrounding the Wall, each new land has its own rituals and way of dressing. We've seen all manner of lords and ladies follow their fortunes (and fates) in a bid for power and standing, and each of them was impeccably attired.

The woman behind some of the most elaborate detailing in the Seven Kingdoms is costume embroiderer Michele Carragher, who has been with the show since the beginning. Under the direction of costume designer Michele Clapton (who has been nominated for an Emmy for all four seasons, with wins in 2012 and 2014), Carragher has crafted everything from the cascading roses on Margaery Tyrell's Purple Wedding dress to the roaring lion heads on Cersei’s gowns. 

"Michele Clapton is a great advocate of arts-and-crafts artisans," Carragher says, "and her approach is that she loves to have her main cast's costumes all hand-finished, from fabric that is woven, printed, embroidered and then carefully aged or distressed, so my skills as a hand embroiderer fit in with her ethos."

Carragher spends roughly four months — working 10- to 12-hour days — preparing embellishments for the show, starting with her initial meetings with Clapton. "She will have illustrations, mood boards, colors, and fabric swatches for the costume I will be creating a design for," Carragher says of the process. "Then, I will go and research. This usually involves visiting museums or looking through historical costume reference books. I get my inspiration from anywhere — I love sculpture, architectural decoration, vintage textiles, jewelry, haute couture embroidery, and nature."

Ahead, Carragher discusses some of her most memorable designs, the process behind creating each piece, and her thoughts on who should really be ruling Westeros. 
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Photo: Courtesy of Macall B. Polay/HBO
When Carragher works to create a new piece for a character, she says she takes into account their personality, status, and surroundings. "In Game of Thrones, each noble house is signified by their sigil — a sort of coat of arms," she says. "The sigil's entities are very important for me, as they can play a major part in my designs for the embroidery. I like to incorporate hidden meanings and metaphor within my designs for a character's costume."

One character she's been doing that for all along has been Cersei. "She belongs to the House of Lannister, which is one of the most powerful and richest noble houses of the realm," Carragher explains. "Their sigil is that of a rampant lion. Cersei was an obvious candidate for some decoration, and I felt that her embroidery could be quite rich and decorative given her status."
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Photo: Courtesy of Courtesy of Michele Carragher.
"In regards to showing her personality within her embroidery designs, one of the first costumes that I embroidered for Cersei was her Blue Bird dress," Carragher says. "The embroidery reflected her position at the time when we were introduced to her in Season 1; she is a beautiful woman with a hidden desire for power and a wish to be regarded as an equal in the male-dominated world she inhabits. At that stage, she lives in the shadow of her husband, King Robert Baratheon, who holds power over her and the kingdom. Having this imagery of a bright, colorful bird on her costume helps to belie Cersei's intention of power, under a soft, unthreatening, feminine look, and references the twittering and scheming she is involved with behind the scenes."
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Photo: Courtesy of Courtesy of Michele Carragher.
When the political dynamics among Cersei's family underwent changes, so, too, did the matriarch's look. "After Robert's death, Cersei and her family take power when her son, Joffrey, becomes the King," Carragher says. "At that point, Cersei grows in position and strength, and starts to reflect this new authority and loyalty to her family by wearing the Lannister sigil of the lion more predominantly."

The lion becomes more noticeable on her daily-wear gowns as well as her special-occasion ones — such as her mother-of-the-groom gown for Joffrey's wedding. "She presents a stronger, more powerful look that has a regal structure and adornment," Carragher says, "so the embroidery on her costumes was a useful symbolism to express her personal narrative as she evolves into a woman with more power and influence."
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Photo: Courtesy of Helen Sloan/HBO
Eagle-eyed viewers might have noticed that Daenerys Targaryen’s blue cloaks became more and more detailed as her power — and her dragons — grew during Season 3. This was no coincidence. "With Daenerys' dragonscale dresses, Michele [Clapton] wanted me to create three different versions of the dress," Carragher says. "The first was less embellished and the final was more developed, but they all had a dragonscale-like texture starting quite subtly on the shoulder area and then growing gradually down the costume, becoming more pronounced as she and her dragons grow in strength."
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Photo: Courtesy of Courtesy of Michele Carragher.
"I experimented with various techniques, threads, and beads," Carragher explained of the process of creating Dany's scaled look. "Michele [Clapton] really liked the North American smocking, with some stitching in between with metallic thread in a lock stitch, which also had a scale-like feel. The different versions of this dress took between three and seven days for each, depending on how much of the dress was covered with the various textured smocking and stitching."
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Photo: Courtesy of Helen Sloan/HBO.
In the realm as in real life, major social events — such as royal weddings — require major outfits, and Sansa Stark's forced marriage to Tyrion Lannister was no exception. Carragher notes that the band that criss-crosses Sansa's gown had a very specific purpose.

"For this, Michele Clapton really wanted to have the story of [Sansa's] life, such that it was to that point, embroidered on the band that wraps around the bodice of the dress. This band is given to Sansa by the Lannisters for the wedding, so I imagined that Cersei had commissioned it, and therefore it would have a similar style to that on her own gowns, and she would direct the nature of the story stitched into it."
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Photo: Courtesy of Courtesy of Michele Carragher.
"At the back waist, I started with Sansa's parentage, so there are Tully fish wrapped around Stark direwolves. As you move 'round to the side waist, the direwolf is tangling with the Lannister lion and at the center front, the Lannister lion is ascending, wearing a Baratheon crown — a nod to Joffrey's supposed parentage," Carragher explains. "At the back neck, there is a lion head stamped onto it, showing the Lannisters claiming ownership of Sansa. The embroidery is mainly in golden hues, but woven throughout the design are some pomegranates, introducing some Lannister red but also representing Sansa as a ripe fruit ready to be plucked. This piece took me 14 days to complete."
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Photo: Courtesy of Macall B. Polay/HBO
For Margaery's wedding to King Joffrey — the biggest, most high-profile wedding the show had yet seen — Clapton and Carragher sought to portray the new queen's cunning through the design of her gown, showing her to be both alluring and devious.

"Michele wanted quite a simple, bias-cut shape; soft and fluid," Carragher says. "And, the decoration, using the Tyrell's rose motif, needed to be beautiful but not delicate. It had to have a strong, hard edge akin to the character's personality."
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Photo: Courtesy of Courtesy of Michele Carragher.
"For the decoration of this dress, it was important to get the right flow of the rose stems from the front bodice around the side waist and then trailing down into a cascade of roses," Carragher says. "The silver Czech-glass spikes create quite strong, hard-looking thorns. The main task for me for this decoration was making the many roses for the train at the back of the dress — not difficult, but time-consuming. I think it took me 15 days to complete the whole design."
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Photo: Courtesy of Helen Sloan/HBO
As for costumes for this current season, Carragher created the funeral cloak for Tywin Lannister, which featured an expansive family tree motif across his chest. She remained vague on the other upcoming outfits so as to avoid spoilers, but there's one thing she definitely doesn't know: Who is going to end up on the Iron Throne.

"I wouldn't like to guess, as anyone has the chance of being killed off!" she points out. "Personally, I would like to see a great revolution — the people of the realm rising up and getting rid of the Iron Throne and this one-ruler regime." In the more likely event that that doesn't happen, "the next best thing would be just pure anarchy ruling over the realm. Everyone likes a bit of anarchy, don't they?"

Sure, but what does one wear to an anarchist uprising? She probably has a few ideas.