To honour the release of season 6 on dvd in the UK  just prior to airing season 7 of Game of Thrones HBO commissioned a large tapestry representing a battle from one of the episodes.

With the finale coming up I thought it was time to remind you all of this…

Hardhome is where Jon Snow and the Wildings barely escape from the White Walkers and we, the viewers get a better understanding of what the whole seven kingdoms are up against should they decide to march south of The Wall. The tapestry shows the White King, a very sinister character with ice cold features and skin. As the leader of the undead White Walkers he is a very formidable adversary indeed.
Many groups and individuals were enlisted to complete the work harnessing a wide variety of skills and techniques. The roll call of those who were involved reads like a ‘’who’s who’’ of the UK based textile practice.

My personal involvement was to machine embroider the hands and shoulders/top of arms of the White King to go under his body armour. (If you take a look at my textile art work, I do a lot of skin!)

Once I received the printed fabric the first thing I did was a lot of research on the image of the White Walker from the scene to be depicted. The digital fabric print out that I was given was incredibly blurred so I found it difficult to differentiate between his hands and the background. Fingers were blurred and merged with the people behind him.

I always immerse myself in the image to be sewn for a long time before I start stitching. This gives me an overview to retain in my head when I’m working intensely on a small part of the whole that is captured and stabilised in an embroidery hoop. I made sketches and also traced the original printed image to keep for reference later when checking tension and shrinkage.

Part of the brief was to keep the thing as monotone, cold and scary as possible in recognition of the general murky, icy and foggy look of the whole. If you’ve ever watched an episode of Game of Thrones it looks as though all scenes shot in the north, particularly north of The Wall, look as though they’ve been shot through a blue lens; you can almost feel the cold from your sofa!

Bearing this in mind I made a selection of threads ranging from black and navy blue through various shades of blue, grey and violet to an icy blue and white; In all I used 14 shades of ordinary domestic sewing thread. The technique I used was freehand machine embroidery and my machine is an industrial Bernina 950. 

I did several practice samples on scrap fabric in a similar shade to the official one. I tried to use a technique known as cable stitch where thicker yarn is wound by hand onto the bobbin and the piece sewn upside down. I was trying to introduce some metallic yarn into the mix to give the icy feel. This was unsuccessful due to the thickness of the fabric. I knew if I just used sewing threads it would look very flat and possibly recede too much into the background with the “war torn landscape”.

Since the White Walker is the prominent figure I wanted to make sure his skin supported the other elements of the piece.

I spend a lot of time sourcing and trying out a variety of solutions and settled on an applique of spun thread “open” fabric from a florist shop that was blue and slightly sparkly; perfect. Its original purpose is to be wrapped around bouquets of flowers!

I struggled with the traditional method of using bondaweb to fix it to the piece before stitching as the fabric didn’t want to bond with the web! I persevered and finally got it to stay in place long enough to stitch a rough outline down before doing the detailed stitching

Once this underpinning was done I began by filling a selection of bobbins with a range of threads; not all the shades but just a selection ranging from black to white.

Then by using a wider variety of shades on the top of the machine, starting with the darkest colour, I built up the skin tones, moving towards the paler shades and emphasising any highlights in white where necessary.

As with any project of this size it is important to keep stepping back and assessing the work to maintain the integrity of the piece as a whole. It’s very easy to get bogged down in the little area you are working on and lose sight of the bigger picture.

As the skin pieces were isolated I had to make sure that as a whole they looked homogenous, as though they came from the same person. To do this I kept working on all the pieces with the same colours as opposed to finishing one piece and starting another. I find this keeps the balance right for the depth of stitching and the shading.

I had no idea what techniques were being used on the other elements of the tapestry or who was doing them. We were all working in seclusion. It was quite exciting, wondering how it would all come together. Assembling the final pieces must have been a mammoth task, not one I would have envied. The thing is huge! If you want to see more of the results click on this link.