Enhancing Costumes with the Timeless Art of Embroidery
Costumes have the power to transport us into different worlds and evoke a wide range of emotions. Whether it’s a dazzling ball gown, an elaborate historical ensemble, or a whimsical fantasy creation, the artistry and craftsmanship involved in costume design are truly remarkable. Among the various techniques employed to elevate these costumes to another level, embroidery stands out as a timeless art form that adds exquisite beauty and intricate detail.
As a London based Embroidery studio, we have enjoyed working on a vast range of projects for film, TV and performance. Embroidery in film not only creates an impact and looks beautiful, it often sets a scene by indicating a characters wealth, heritage, and even plays a part in specifying an era where necessary. In performance, it’s a way of artistic expression and is often used to make stunning, standout costumes for stage.
Transforming Costumes with Thread and Needle
Embroidery has the remarkable ability to elevate a costume, adding depth, texture, and character. Whether it’s a delicate floral pattern, an ornate motif, or a shimmering embellishment, embroidery brings costumes to life and captivates the eye. Here are some ways in which embroidery by Hawthorne & Heaney has enhanced costumes:
My Fair Lady – Mrs Hggins
The costume department for the theatre production of My Fair Lady came to us with some designs they wanted embroidering for their Mrs Higgins on stage costume. They were looking for an elaborate embroidered trim that would stand out on stage and look characteristic of that era.
Our answer was to create this beautiful machine embroidered rendition using a mixture of thread qualities and stitch lengths to create the hand feel they were looking for. By using different stitching techniques, we added texture and dimension to the costume, and replicating the texture of the feather trims on the garment brought this piece to life on stage. These details help to establish the authenticity and visual appeal of a costume.
Our most high profile embroidery project for film to date is the exceptional costumes for Benedict Cumberbatch’s character, Dr. Strange and co star Chiwetel Ejiofor, Baron Modo in the 2016 blockbuster.
These were detailed pieces that made up both garments – some with a unique cross stitch effect created with digital embroidery, and others with traditional vermicelli embroidery. Upon first look you may not notice the detail and craftsmanship on these pieces, however they play a vital part in creating the overall effect for both costumes.
FKA Twigs, Magdalene
A fantastic example of how we can push boundaries through experimental digital embroidery techniques is the work we did for FKA Twigs’ 2019 tour. We had the pleasure of working on five outfit changes for the artist with superstar stylists Ed Kay and Matthew Josephs.
The head scarf and corset in the above photo are just two of the pieces we embroidered for FKA Twigs’ Magdalena Tour.
We often work closely with the design team to make sure that placement and size is accurate, especially for embroideries like this corset piece which made up the entire back panel of the garment.
At Hawthrorne & Heaney, we are admirers of the traditional goldwork pieces worn by the Royal Household (having being involved in the making of some recent pieces for them), so imagine our excitement when we were asked to recreate this star badge from Queen elizabeth’s reign for Netflix’s ‘The Crown’?
As an on screen production, there was no need for a full, hand embroidered piece, so we came up with this stunning marriage of machine embroidery and hand finishes to achieve the desired result.
While embroidery techniques have deep roots in tradition, contemporary costume designers have also embraced innovation, pushing the boundaries of this ancient art form. Digital embroidery machines and computerized designs have revolutionized the process, allowing for complex patterns and precision.
Da Vinchi’s Demons
This fictional account of Leonardo Da Vinci’s early days set in Renaissance Italy required traditional goldwork pieces representative of its time.
Raised stitches such as padded satin stitch, cording or raised goldwork can create a three-dimensional effect, giving the costume a tactile quality. This technique is particularly useful for replicating ornate historical garments or bringing fantastical creatures to life.
We created multiple exquisite hand embroidered goldwork pieces for them which can be seen throughout the franchise worn by multiple characters.
Embroidery can be used to convey narratives and symbolism within a costume. Historical events, cultural references, or personal stories can be intricately stitched onto the fabric, creating a visual language that speaks to the wearer or the audience. Such details add depth and meaning to the costume, transforming it into a work of art.
Eurovision – H&H x H&M for Tusse
We also had the opportunity to work with the bespoke division of H&M on some embellishments for Tusse’s Eurovision performance costume in 2021. With them we developed these starburst embellishments using a combination of goldwork bullion, swarovski crystals, sequins and beads.
Some of the threads were reflective, so that in certain lights the piece shone and captured the light in a different way to the crystals and goldwork elements.
This dystopian style film required a range of beautifully crafted badges for one of their main characters, Tom Natsworthy.
We made a collection of pieces (three of each design) using traditional goldwork techniques and raised elements to create maximum impact. These were used throughout the filming and can be spotted in the film which was released in 2018.
Embroidery offers a wide range of opportunities for adding embellishments and accents to costumes. Beads, sequins, crystals, and metallic threads can be incorporated to elevate a piece, and can be a key element to how a character is perceived.
‘Diana’ a BBC Documentary
Embroidery for film doesn’t always have to be for costumes or grand interiors. At Hawthorne & Heaney, we worked on a series of embroideries for the 2017 BBC documentary, Diana.
These were simple, script text pieces which were used as chapter openings for the on screen tribute. A unique way to separate chapters in television.
Embroidery has long been a beloved craft, and its integration into costume design is nothing short of magical. With each delicate stitch and intricate pattern, embroidery transforms costumes into breathtaking works of art. It preserves traditions, tells stories, and adds a touch of glamour to characters and narratives. Whether on stage, screen, or in the realm of cosplay, the artistry of embroidery continues to enchant us, reminding us of the timeless beauty that can be created with a needle and thread.
We love working on embroidery for film and performance here at Hawthorne & Heaney, it’s a joy to see how they come together in the on the big screen or on stage and we can’t wait to get started on the next!
To enquire about embroidery for your production, get in touch here.