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Louise Gardiner

by Jan Lasnon

Published: September 2012

here to begin with the amazing story of Louise Gardiner?
I think first off I should declare a personal interest - I’m really thrilled that Louise has become our first textiles Maker of the Year. Her work is such fun and so exciting to look at that it’s difficult to equate that with the sheer scale of creativity, planning, hard work and hours and hours of stitching that goes into each and every piece.
When I first spoke to Louise the timing was perfect - at least that’s what she told me! She had been selected as one of ten Project Space artists to feature at Collect 2012 and was just embarking on the final part of her five-piece embroidery installation: ‘You Blow me Away’. The news that she had been voted craft&design Selected Maker of the Year 2012, by both the public and specialist judge Pat Robson, gave her a huge boost exactly at a time when she needed some energy and enthusiasm to spur her on.
The project for Collect 2012 took more than six months to complete. A very intense 6 months. The five pieces told the story of a fictitious tumbleweed which fractures off at the root and rolls precariously, gathering momentum and creativity along its way until, eventually, flying through the air into the Saatchi.
“The challenge was to create something that was still and brittle then gradually develop the piece into something that exploded with colour and movement. The idea was based on letting go of the creative process and working intuitively with your materials and techniques,” Louise explains.
“I wanted to do something really special that would challenge my ability. I was one of ten artists selected from up to a hundred applicants so it was an amazing opportunity. Having applied last year and been unsuccessful, I was more determined to get in this year. Collect is one of a very few prestigious platforms for contemporary craft. My work is very niche and I hoped it would appeal to the Collect audience at the Saatchi Gallery.
“I have sold four of the five pieces as a result of the show, although in my heart of hearts, I would have liked all five pieces to be sold as a series. For example a public gallery collection would have been perfect to maintain the series as a story as I set them out to be. But I am delighted that I sold four and have actually been left with my favourite of the five pieces.
“My only real regret is the speed with which everything happened following the show. It seemed as though the product of months and months of hard work and solitude was only seen by a relatively small audience - one show, 5 days - before being split up. That means the whole collection will never be viewed as a series again which I find a little sad but that’s life, you have to let things go. However, the film commissioned by the Crafts Council is a lovely record of this project which I will treasure.”
‘You Blow me Away’* was the latest addition to a prestigious portfolio of both private and public commissions. To pick out a few, Louise has completed large collections of work for various hospitals and the ‘Licky Lips Genie’ for Liberty in Regent Street, London.
There is currently a 12-month waiting list for her work which is quite a good position to be in considering the state of the national economy!
Louise’s style of embroidery is far removed from the careful stitching usually associated with a sewing machine. She is both artist and illustrator and graduated from Goldsmith’s College, London with a Textiles BA (Hons) in 1994 followed by an MA in Illustration at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Rather than specific mediums such as pen and ink, watercolours or pastels for example, Louise delivers her art through an imaginative combination of intricate free machine embroidered drawing, paints, appliqué and inks. She says her ‘original and energetic embroideries aim to celebrate the rich and colourful medium of thread and illustrate her sensitivity to her surroundings, lust for life and observational humour’.
I’ve come to realise that Louise’s sparkle and sense of humour is never very far below the surface and that’s a trait that’s inherent in some of the most inspiring teachers.
She gave a very public master class on Channel Four’s ‘Kirstie’s Homemade Home’ back in 2010 when Kirstie described Lou’s style of embroidery as ‘the crack cocaine of craft’, and demonstrated on ‘Woman’s Hour’ for Jenny Murray. There is also a wonderful review of her class in the Guardian column, ‘Emma’s Eccentric Britain’. Emma attended a course held at the picturesque Bedruthan Steps Hotel in May last year and you can read it online at:
Louise has also reached a wide audience by teaching at Museums, Guilds and Universities across the UK as well as further afield at the New Zealand Embroiderer’s Guild Conference.
However, it’s at her own three-day ‘Superstitcher’ workshops at the undeniably appropriate Quarry Bank, a water powered cotton mill built by Samuel Greg in 1784, that she really comes into her own. Delegates coming in, expecting a quiet day at the sewing machine are in for a bit of a surprise as Louise looks for ways to encourage students to tap into their creativity naturally - with the help of a little music, movement, coffee, biscuits and that all important element - sherry!
There is actually a waiting list for these courses - I wonder why! Everyone secretly loves sherry?
So with waiting lists for commissions and workshops, does Louise feel she’s exactly where she wants to be?
“Well, not exactly,” she ventures. “I mean, it’s a fantastic position to be in and I am very grateful, but I won’t be able to spend my days stitching for ever. It is a painful sport, free machine embroidery! I can’t keep up physically, its so bad for your posture. There are many new projects I have in mind, one of them being an illustrated book called ‘That’s nice’, a tongue in cheek adventure into good manners and modern etiquette. I would like to secure a more comfortable and secure future with my work as I cannot go on turning into a Tumbleweed in my studio! I need to get out more!
“I would also love to do some sort of documentary, a dry comedy piece about sewing, creativity and Britishness. Everyone that comes to my workshops says how much fun they have had. People come from all over the place and I push them right outside their comfort zones with sherry and dance music. I get amazing feedback and it’s really satisfying. When I look at some of the fly on the wall type documentaries out there, I think this would be very entertaining; a fantastic insight into the women of this country today who are really rather eccentric. So, who knows… any offers?”
For details of Louise’s Limited Edition Prints, Exhibitions and Superstitchers workshops:

M: 07736 081423
E: [email protected]

Louise will be showing her COLLECT pieces at the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair in Manchester, where she will be a guest speaker on Friday 5 October. Three pieces of her work will be exhibited at the show as a special feature, number 4 from the original series and two new additions to the series.

*The Crafts Council commissioned a short video on the making of ‘You Blow Me Away’ which can be viewed at
Alternatively search for Louise Gardiner on YouTube.
Pat Robson
Specialist Judge

“Reading through the artist statements and the answers to the questions posed by craft&ddesign magazine to the six finalists in the Textiles & Needlecrafts category, as well as looking at all the beautiful and varied work on the websites of these talented textile artists, has reinforced my love of textile art.
The six finalists between them show how exciting the manipulation of materials can be and what extraordinary diverse results can be achieved with a length of thread, piece of fabric or a dye bath.
The use of colour from all six is stunning, from the elegantly sophisticated colours of Nicholas Ozanne, the little jewelled gems from Julie Bull and the colours used by Louise Gardiner flood the senses and make her work so exciting.
I have chosen Louise Gardiner for the Gold Award as in my original comments as to what I would be looking for as a judge I stated excitement in work, originality, uniqueness, colour, line and composition and technical ability, to me Louise has all of these in abundance. I know that her work is labour intensive but it never loses the spontaneity, which makes the viewer feel that it has just all poured out of a very lively mind!
I feel that more than any of the other finalists, Louise who is already producing fantastic innovative work of a very high standard, will continue to push the boundaries and who knows what wonderful work she will be producing over the next decade as she says, ‘doing a Grand Prix with her Bernina’.
I am sure that we will be seeing Louise’s name up there with all the UK’s most admired and respected textile artists in the future.”


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