Image: All That Glitters…, Cicada. ©MCE 2021. Courtesy of Michele Carragher.
BOOK: Trace: the embroidered art of Michele Carragher (Search Press, 2021)
REVIEW: Dr. Catherine Harper
Michele Carragher’s Trace (Search Press, 2021) is a book of both beauty and intelligence.
As expected from this esteemed costume embroiderer— whose work is included in Game of Thrones (HBO, 2011-19), The Crown (Netflix, 2016-22) and Peaky Blinders (BBC, 2013-22) —this is a richly illustrated, sumptuous production, with incredible images; details and whole pieces of Carragher’s work, luxuriously printed on seductively glossy paper. Indeed, as an object in its own right, the book is gorgeously decadent; with opulent crimson and gold the predominant colouration, and a material heaviness that demands position. For this alone, it is outstanding, precious, exquisite....
Image: Cover. Trace: the embroidered art of Michele Carragher (Search Press, 2021).
For the textile practitioner, however, Trace provides additional insights— into Carragher’s creative processes and methods, her inspirations and selections, and the techniques and materials she adopts in the preparation and production of her work. The structure of the book is considered: through evocatively themed photographs— ‘all that glitters’, ‘entropy’, ‘conscience’ —we are drawn into Carragher’s thinking, and then further towards three of her embroidered artifacts, each generously described, both in terms of their conceptual inception and their material realisation.
Image: All That Glitters…, Marten’s head. ©MCE 2021. Courtesy of Michele Carragher.
These artefacts— glove, bodice and hair pin —are referenced in relation to the body; hands, heart, and head. This, in turn, situates the work in the philosophy of the Arts & Crafts movement, where the golden key to excellence is the triumvirate of physical making (hands), combined with both intellectual (head), and emotional (heart) stimulation.
The glove’s historical reference is the Elizabethan Golden Age (1558-1603), and Carragher explains clearly the ‘iron fist’ nature of that period, when dissent was quashed and social, economic and political inequity was rife. Previous experience as a textile conservator, engaging with the highly decorative, bejewelled, and symbol-laden objects of this period, afforded Carragher the detailed knowledge of skills and materials that allowed her to reimagine her own All That Glitters glove. While the object speaks of luxury, power, and riches, the concept also dissents and problematises, as hints of tarnish are allowed to whisper an undercurrent of unrest.
Image: The Hand Artefact…, Gauntlet. ©MCE 2021. Courtesy of Michele Carragher.
As well as telling the story of an historical period, and its impact on her creative thinking, the generosity of this text extends to what Carragher calls ‘working insights’, which enable a practical understanding of the fabric and technical choices made in the completion of this magnificent piece. The juxtaposition of concept, construction, and feel bring head, hands, and heart fully into focus as just some of Carragher’s many strengths.
Image: The Hand Artefact…, Robin. ©MCE 2021. Courtesy of Michele Carragher.
From the court of the Virgin Queen, we move to 18th century French court decadence with a stomacher— holding, caressing and constricting the heart —and then to a 19th century love token Japanese hairpin, crowning the head. Again, alongside an abundance of fabulous embroidery bringing both light and darkness to the fore, Carragher reveals her wisdom, sources, and methods with a generosity and warmth that resonates from the pages of this glorious publication. The historic and symbolic depths in this volume speak to an impressive command, and fire creativity and imagination.
As Winter approaches, and gifts are required, this book will warm the heart, head, and hands of any lover of textiles, stories, and the sublime.