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All stitched up

No longer just the preserve of the couture houses, embroidery has taken to the streets for summer, says Melanie Rickey
Embroidery, like the other traditional crafts of beading, knitting and crochet, has made a something of a comeback this summer at all levels of the market - but especially the mainstream - where we can all have a chance of buying it.

Embroidery has always been appreciated as an art by couture houses in Paris and beyond, where there are no price limitations on garments, but in the UK it is not recognised as such, and is deemed as an at-home hobby for people with time on their hands to make cushions and tapestries. However, young gun Alexander McQueen has used graphic rose motifs embroidered onto nude dresses and sharp suits for his forthcoming winter collection and Ghost have been covering their beautiful bias-cut slip-dresses in delicate strands of romantic embroidery for seasons.

Not to mention the offerings from Next, Whistles, Karen Millen and Warehouse that are in the shops now. These subtle embellishments are a far cry from the heavy rich tapestries that dominated the Eighties trend for embroidered garments.

Former New Generation designer Sophia Malig designs the embroidery for Ghost - which doesn't mean she spends hours with a needle and thread in her hand. Instead, together with the design team, they decide upon a theme to work from, then source visual material that reflects the theme. This season it was Chinese. "We source books, old fabrics and even fortune cookies, which we use as inspiration. Then we draw a design and take it to the embroiderer, who does a sample. If we like it, it gets done," she says. Sounds easy. But it is an international process. Ghost's embroiderers are in Italy. Alexander McQueen's embroiderer, Geraldine Larkin of Seoidra Designs, lives in London but travels to India at least six times a year to visit the Muslim craftsmen who execute her designs.

Geraldine Larkin set up her company in 1990 after working with Romeo Gigli, who himself is passionate about embroidery. She has noticed fashion's return to the craft with glee.

"It always goes in and out of fashion like everything else, but this time round it's so pretty, it's different. A garment can have just one section of stitching, instead of being covered, or it can be a repeat design, something most of the high street have done for the summer," she says.

And it's not likely to go away just yet. This winter we will be striding around in all manner of embroidered finery; coats, evening dresses, suits, bags and shoes have all been thrown open for a needle and thread rethink. Thankfully, unlike a few hundred years ago, it is not just for Royalty who want to show off their status, wealth, and worth by the amount of stitching on their coats; it is for real people.

Photographer: Andrew Lamb

Stylist: Charlie Harrington

Model: Claire Wilson @ Models 1

Hair and Make up: Denise Rabor @ Mandy Coakley

Chinese embroidered dress, pounds 275, by Tocca at Browns, 24-27 South Molton Street, London W1.

Prices subject to change due to summer sales

Pale pink embroidered shell top, pounds 29.99, and wrap over skirt, pounds 59.99, both by Next Directory 0345 100 500.

Sheer apple green embroidered dress, pounds 195, by Whistles, 12 St Christopher's Place, London W1, and 27 Sloane Square, London SW1 (enq 0171 487 4484)