From a distance, Andrea Brokenshire’s work looks like a painting of a beautiful floral scape. But come closer, and you’ll see that it’s actually a hand-painted silk art quilt exploding with texture and dimensionality; an exquisite blend of paint, fabric and thread that together create exceptional realism.
Between painting, appliquéing and decorative stitching, these masterpieces can take more than half a year to create. One thing that’s a constant for much of the process? Andrea’s CraftOptics glasses.
I enjoy every stage.
I really enjoy the anticipation of making something: figuring it out, deciding if I need to develop a certain skill to do what I’ve envisioned. Often, I’ll be thinking about a project that I won’t make for two years down the road because I’m going through the process of problem solving how to make it happen.
I love painting the quilt. I put on my music; I look at my photos. I have a degree in zoology and biology and my aesthetic is realistic botanical imagery of the natural world. I try to make my work look as real and correct as possible. Different plants have different morphologies and I do my research to make sure my paintings are accurate. That’s not as fun as the painting itself but it’s important to me to do it right.
The stitching process comes next. I love, love this part—it’s where the piece comes to life, where it gets its personality, its texture. Sometimes things don’t turn out exactly as I envisioned at first, but I’ve only had one project that I wasn’t able to redeem. You learn how to fix things and you learn more from your mistakes than from your successes.
Then, are my least favorite steps: blocking, finishing the edges, putting on the bindings. The drudgery!
The end result is fine art. I sign and date every piece in thread; it’s quilted into the piece.
Every piece I’ve made over the years has been part of my journey as an artist. You start in one place and learn and grow over time. My first quilts are very different than what I do now—the stitching isn’t as good; the painting is different. But I would never go back and try to fix or change my earlier pieces. Each one is special in its own way and has a story.
I’ve been sewing and enamored with creating since I was a little girl—I started sewing when I was about five years old. I’m one of six kids and if you wanted to have clothes, you made them. One of my favorite memories was going to the fabric store and “petting” the fabric and envisioning what I could make. Sewing has always been part of who I am and part of my identity.
I’m originally from Oregon and when I moved to Texas, I got involved with a stitching group. One of the ladies was a quilter and always wanted us to make a quilt. I was resistant—I had a vision of what being a quilter was and it wasn’t me. Finally, I agreed to making a “picnic” quilt. My first quilt was a round robin quilt we worked on as a group. We each made a center medallion and then everybody created a border until we each made a pieced quilt. That was in 1995. I realized, “Ok, this is kind of fun.” I went into applique from there and then I really got into it. Initially, I hand quilted all my quilts but now all my quilting is machine quilted. I use a regular domestic sewing machine.
I left quilting behind temporarily in 2005. I was really ill and because I’d been quilting during that period the two things were linked in my mind. During this time, I kept nurturing my creative side with knitting and about two years later I started dabbling again. I’ve taken numerous classes from expert quilters over the years and from that foundation of knowledge I started to play. I experimented with small projects. I had all this pent-up creativity and energy and started creating my large format flower painting. Through this process of experiences and subsequent growth, I found my unique voice.
I am still continuing to hone my skill and learn new things. I’m a technique junkie! If there’s something I’m interested in, I’ll try it: You don’t know what you’re capable of until you try it. My trick is to start small. Then, if something doesn’t work out, it’s not a big deal.
I also found that I love to share what I have learned with others . Teaching others has become very fulfilling to me. I love to see the excitement in others as they try something new and different and it sparks their imagination.
My favorite project is called “Dance of the Twirly Girls.” It’s part of the permanent collection at the National Quilt Museum. It won the 2018 Best Wall Quilt at the American Quilter’s Society (AQS) Quilt show in Paducah, Ky., and was a purchase award (which means the awarding body purchases the item).
This is a whole cloth painted quilt; the entire silk charmeuse surface was painted. Then, this top was transformed into a quilt by adding batting and a fabric backing and stitching them together with quilting.
This quilt is dedicated to my Aunt Esther and Aunt Helen. They slipped their earthly bonds within a month of each other in early 2018. I needed to put my sadness somewhere, so I pulled out the fuchsia top that I had painted that previous summer and turned my sadness into joy. These fuchsia blossoms were at least 4-5″ long and danced in the wind. While stitching, I thought of my aunties twirling around in a joyous dance. They are the Twirly Girls.
It’s emotional for what it represents and just a really beautiful quilt.
It was back in 2014.
I’d gotten to talking with Jeff Caplan (the owner of CraftOptics) at the Houston quilt show a year before. We discovered both of our dads were dentists as we got to talking about the glasses, which were created by Jeff’s dad for his dental work. The following year, I decided to go ahead and try the glasses—so, when I came to the quilt show in 2014, I had my prescription ready and just went ahead and ordered the glasses right at the show. (Though they’re very easy to order online too!).
They make up for biology! I’m getting older and my eyes don’t work like they used to. My projects require very intense stitching—some of my stitches are less than a 16th of an inch apart. I simply couldn’t do them without my CraftOptics glasses. They’ve been a total game changer.
I’m happy to use any tools that will allow me to continue creating. I’ve been a creator my entire life and the thought of not being able to do it just isn’t acceptable!
I just switched over to that recently. I had the original light from when I first purchased my glasses and just updated to the DreamBeam.
The old light was good, but this is amazing.
Three things. First, that in my case, I was able to get part of my glasses paid for with my insurance—anyone who’s interested in CraftOptics should investigate and see if that’s true for them too.
Second, that I love the idea of supporting companies and families that create tools to make your craft better and CraftOptics is a great example of this. And I’m a big proponent of small and family operations. I like to support the “little guy”—I’m a “little guy”—and I like to support U.S. companies.
Last, that I think it’s important to connect with others and to share what we know. I love the sense of community I’ve had as a creator. Watching someone’s eyes light up when they tackle a challenge while creating. The fun of collaborating and tossing ideas around. If I have a technique, it’s not mine, it’s ours. I want to share it as much as possible. We’ve lost so much with phones and social media. Creating can be a good excuse to get together.
You can find me on Facebook on my business page “AMB Fiber Art and Design” and then follow me. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.