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  • The Liberty Lighthouse of Love, Louise Gardiner, Photo: Emma Williams

Louise Gardiner and Liberty

The embroiderer has just completed a commission in celebration of the London store’s 140th anniversary

How did the Liberty commission come about?

I did a quilt in 2010 as part of their Quilty Pleasures project. Then, this year, they approached myself, Karen Nicoll and the WI to make pieces for their 140th birthday celebrations. The shop is built using the wood of two ships, so the design brief was to include maritime tattoos within the quilt. Oh, and they needed them in 20 days!

That’s a short timeframe – is that unusual?

In the commercial world I wouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t but in the embroidery world it is. I love a challenge! I’ve always had the idea in my head of an embroidery challenge where you’ve got 24 hours to make something, because it’s such a slow medium it would be interesting to go against people’s preconceptions about what it is. So this was a 20-day challenge.

How did that short timeframe alter your usual process?

It's the largest single piece I've ever made at 160 x 230cm, so I gave myself 5 days to research and work on the design. There was no time to ponder or reflect with this project. I had to make decisions really quickly.

Talk me through the design...

After looking into the maritime tattoo traditions, I knew I wanted it to be cheeky and eye-catching. Apart from the two ladies at the bottom, everything was hand drawn because I was amalgamating lots of things from my research. I wanted to keep it saucy, so the lighthouse is slightly phallic as well as showing Liberty at the lighthouse of fashion, a beacon from a far. But there’s also lots of details and interesting fabrics: black PVC, snakeskin, metallic leathers – there are some tacky fabrics! The lighthouse beams are high-vis fabric so they flash white when they hit the light.

Might there be more projects like these for you?

Another challenge? Always! I loved working on it. Projects like these test your capabilities. I was getting up everyday at 6.30am, did some yoga, walked my dog and then I’d get on with it. I was doing 16 hour days by the end. The whole thing was exhausting but so exciting.

The Liberty Lighthouse of Love is on show in the Liberty windows until 18 May after which it will be on display in the haberdashery department until 2016.  Gardiner and her sewing machine will be demonstrating live in the Liberty window on 15 May.