Last night were were exceptionally lucky to have Louise Gardiner, a professional embroiderer of twenty years standing, to talk to us. First of all she is a very engaging speaker, bursting with enthusiasm and passion for embroidery. She is very funny and tells great stories, so she is a delight to listen to. That aside she is also a very talented embroiderer and designer. This meant that the slides and the things that she brought with her were really sumptuous. I think just about everyone in the room wanted one of her scarves by the end of it, and I could definitely see myself lounging against one of her exquisite velvet cushions.
Over and above that though, she was fascinating on the subject of being a single woman supporting herself for twenty years as a professional embroidery artist. As she said, she gave up her first ambition to be an actress because that didn’t seem like a very secure way to make an income, and choosing embroidery was not that much safer. Her conclusion was that she did not choose embroidery; it chose her. This was a theme she returned to again and again: embroidery is an addiction. Kirstie Allsopp apparently called it the crack cocaine of craft, and while that’s a bit of an exaggeration, it does capture something of the compulsive nature of embroidery, including the desire to have those threads, and beads, and paints, and gadgets and and and. It is a therapy and a curse, as Louise said. And I really liked her thoughts about how by choosing to embroider you already put yourself outside the mainstream and the conventional, not that you have much choice.
She was fascinating on the subject of building a business and the demands of doing commercial work. The physical act of doing embroidery has left its mark on her, and she is having to find ways round not being able to stitch for hours on end – although I thought training her dog, Billy Fox, to work the sewing machine was inspired. The only snag I can see is that terriers are not exactly the most biddable of creatures, and I think he would be better sticking to modelling than producing:
She is developing a new line: designing and printing onto fabric. This allows her to do less actual stitching which has become painful for her. I really liked the way that she talked about the demands of running a business if you an artist and how much of your time you have to spend on marketing. She estimated that she spends 70% of her time on her computer doing marketing and brand-building and social networking. It is time well spent as she has a lovely website. She talked about the tug of selling work and knowing that you won’t see it again. I once gave someone the choice of all my work and they chose a piece about Freddie Flintoff with little framed pictures of him on it (it was about corporate foundation myths!) and she said she would replace them with pictures of Jon Bon Jovi. Part of me wanted to grab it back and say she couldn’t have it, but things take on lives of their own and we have to be prepared for that.
She ended by talking about why embroidery is so important, and gave quite an inspirational speech about how we must be passionate about what we do and not apologise for it. Lots of people are cashing in, which is fair enough, but those of us who have been embroidering for years need to be proud of our work and show it and be happy to take it out into the world.
So, it was an excellent evening, and I recommend her as a speaker. There are articles about her in the current issue of Embroidery Magazine and BBC Homes and Antiques Magazine and she is going to do more work with Kirstie Allsopp, so we should be seeing more of her soon.