Andrea Brokenshire




Andrea Brokenshire


In this interview, conducted at the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas, Andrea Brokenshire explains her quiltmaking process, as well as fiber art as a therapeutic practice.




Andrea Brokenshire


Sandi Goldman

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Martha Sielman


Houston, Texas


Sandy Goldman (SG): This is Sandy Goldman and today's date is November 5th, 2011 and I'm conducting an interview with Andrea Brokenshire for Quilters' Save Our Stories and it's a project for The Alliance for American Quilts. Andrea and I are at the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas. Andrea, will you please tell me about the quilt you brought today, which is titled "Summer Solitude"?

Andrea Brokenshire (AB): It is a quilt that I made in 2008 for my daughter, Samantha. She took the photograph this quilt was inspired from when we were visiting my family in Oregon.

SG: How old is Samantha?

AB: She is nineteen now.

SG: Is she a photographer?

AB: Amateur photographer.

SG: Does this quilt stay with her?

AB: No, she'll get it someday [laughs.]

SG: It's beautiful.

AB: Thank you.

SG: Can you tell me about your process in creating this particular piece that you brought today?

AB: Yes I can. I work from photographs. I took the photograph and enlarged the image using a large format photocopier. On the photocopy, I traced out the major design elements with a black sharpie marker. The Sharpie marker bleeds thru the paper so when completed, the mirror image of the image is created on the back side of the photocopy. This becomes the master template pattern used to create the design. Each template piece was numbered then transferred to paper backed fusible web and then individually cut out. Fabrics were auditioned for each template unit, fused then cut out. Using a applique pressing sheet, the template pieces were reassembled into larger units (petals of the flower). I would work one unit (petal) at a time around the circumference of the flower I worked on entire, then I completed the center. The bee is a needle felted, and the wings are made with Angelina fiber and organza that I stitched , then attached.

SG: I noticed the background is many small pieces of fabrics, could you explain how you create that and is that also fused?

AB: The background is created using numerous batiks and hand-dyed fabrics to make a pallet of color. This is important because when I cut the fabrics into small irregular pieces the color goes all the way through the fabric.. These bits of fabric were placed individually down onto a foundation background covered with fusible web, fused down to temporarily hold them in place prior to free motion stitching. After they were stitched down, I used my fingernails to roughen them up a little bit to have the edges that were not sewn down lift up to give texture and dimension to the quilt.

SG: Is the background under the whole flower or is it just where we can see it?

AB: It is just where we can see it. The flower was put down first. Then I would lift up the edges of the flower petals and just place the background bits just within a quarter of an inch or less within the perimeter. Then everything was heated with the iron to fuse the edges and bits down and free motion quilted.

SG: Is this the way you normally work, or is this how you're working now.

AB: Yes this is the way I am working now. Most of my recent quilts are either whole cloth painted quilts or are images that are painted then appliqued. This one is not a painted quilt but concept is basically the same; large image on appliqué down, raw edge fused appliqué, with a piecey confetti-style background back to give texture and dimension.

SG: It's beautiful kind of the contrast between the smaller pieces and the larger pieces. So you mentioned that you use free motion quilting, and that this whole piece is done by machine, how do you visualize the free motion quilting?

AB: I look at the photograph quite a bit to look and see how the veining and how each petal is moving and how the light is touching each petal contrasting with the shadow. Then I take what I see, and try to thread-paint that into the design following the shape of the petal.

SG: Did you sit down and work on this all in one day, one week, do you have a feeling? Or do you work between projects? Will you work on one or two projects at a time or were you only working on this quilt?

AB: I only worked on this quilt. I have a hard time thinking about many quilts at a time. I knew I had other projects that I wanted to do but I pretty much work one piece at a time because I want to put my full attention there. I'm not one to have many hands in the fire so to speak.

SG: When you made the bee, because the bee is made separately, did you, had you needle felted before?

AB: No, no, but I had bought a needle felter and I wanted to try it out. It was interesting to me. I am also a knitter and so I have a real love for different fibers and I wanted to try some include different textiles to give interesting tactile qualities for the quilt.

SG: I think it's a very successful piece.

AB: Thank you.

SG: Why did you choose this quilt, to bring this quilt to the interview today?

AB: This is a quilt that I made for my daughter and I love the image and I kept on asking her if I could make a quilt with this image and she kept on saying, "No." I had to wait a while, and wait, and finally she said "Mom, okay you can make a quilt just don't make it ugly." I decided to bring that because that thought kind of always sticks in my mind.[laughs.] and so that's why I chose this quilt.

SG: Do you think this quilt reflects your style? What would someone think about you if they saw that, like a viewer, what would a viewer think about you?

AB: [ten second pause.]

SG: I can repeat my question; I said what would a viewer think about the person who made this quilt? Do you have any ideas?

AB: Well I think first and foremost, I love color. I think that comes out in my quilts. I find color to be very therapeutic and to be very inspiring. I absolutely love the play of the golds and the yellows against a cerulean blue sky. and that is what this particular quilt really speaks. I love nature and I like how beautiful the natural world is. I would hope to think that if somebody saw this quilt that they would see the beauty that is all around us.

SG: Were these fabrics all in your stash or did you have to go buy fabric?

AB: No they were all in my stash [laughs.] I gravitate towards batiks and hand-dyed fabrics and because of the depth and the trueness of color and the variety. I also like how the color goes all the way through the fabric as opposed to printed fabrics where the design is only on one side. I like the many tonal qualities in batiks. I like how these fabrics work together.

SG: Would you say you're mostly using cottons in your fabric then, cottons in your quilts, all cottons?

AB: In this quilt, yes. Currently I work with natural fibers of cotton and silk, most of my appliqué is done in silk but the backgrounds are done in cotton.

SG: What are the plans for this quilt?

AB: This quilt is going to stay in the family and when my daughter moves into her home as an adult I will be giving this to her.

SG: How do you store this quilt then?

AB: This quilt is stored flat with cotton fabric over it and stored on a spare bed.

SG: Stored on the bed. Are there other quilts stored on the bed?

AB: Yes. My quilts are stiffer and small and so if you start rolling them up or putting them they get all bent, so I like to keep them flat, I would like to have a better storage system later on but at this point I don't have that. I just put it on the bed and cover it with a dark cotton fabric so everything breaths but the sun can't get to the quilts.

SG: Do you use a particular batting in your work? Does it make a difference to you?

AB: I use 100% cotton. I like the cotton because it gives stiffness and a suppleness the needle will go through all the pieces.

SG: Are you using just three layers? Meaning the back, the batting, and then your piece top.

AB: Actually there's four layers. There is the back, the batting, a what I call a foundation layer (what all the little pieces are put on to) and then all the pieces.

SG: How did you get started with quiltmaking? You said you were a zoology major.

AB: I am one of five girls in my family and I have been sewing since I was five years old. My mother was determined to make sure her daughters knew how to sew. She was raised on a farm. Being the eldest, she spent most of her time outside. When I was a young girl, my older sisters and I went to "Singer "sewing lessons and that's how we learned to sew. I pretty much made my garments through my high school years. Quilting, I didn't start quilting until 1997, that's when my daughter decided she did not want me to make her any more clothes. About that time, I was in a neighborhood stitching group. My neighbor suggested that we make a "round robin" Picnic quilt. (A round robin quilt where each person would make something then it would go to the next person and they would add onto it and eventually we would have a quilt). I thought, "There was no way that I would ever do that. I'm not a piece-y piece-y type of a person" [laughs.] I couldn't even imagine but, I tried it anyway. We made a number of round robin style quilts and that was how I learned how to quilt. Started out very traditionally, like most new quilters, and in 2004 I was trying to take traditional quilting and making it more with bright colors and more relevant for today's time. In 2005, I got very sick with a disease called Toxic Shock Syndrome. I was working on a couple of quilts for my niece and nephew when I got sick. I was traumatized every time I would come in front of the machine (PTSD). That's when I started knitting and working in other fibers. In 2007 I started quilting again, mainly making something for a friend that I knew that would really appreciate a handmade item and that broke ate mental barrier. All the sudden, I had a million ideas came into my mind and I went in a completely different direction. That's how these quilts started.

SG: Right now are you a full time studio quilter?

AB: I would say 70% yes. I'm an empty nester. I was a at-home mom for years and I am still balancing a little bit of house and the kids but for the most part, yes, I try to work in the studio every day.

SG: Is the studio in your home?

AB: Yes it is.

SG: And so everyday you get to do something.

AB: Yes. but to say full time eight to ten hours a day, I do not have that luxury at this point, but hopefully I will eventually.

SG: You're the only quiltmaker in your family?

AB: Yes, in my immediate family. I have a sister that also is interested in quilts and she has made a few traditional style hand pieced quilts in the past, but at the moment she is not quilting.

SG: Do you quilt together, you and your sister?

AB: No, no, she lives in another state.

SG: You mentioned that you were sick but while you were sick for a few years you didn't quilt.

AB: I did not quilt at all.

SG: But you used knitting to get through that time?

AB: Yes.

SG: You used fiber?

AB: Yes. When I got out of the hospital, (I was in ICU for about two weeks) I had to relearn how to do everything.I had lost all the skin in on my hands and so it took a number of months for the skin to come back and be strong enough that I could touch things. I had to relearn how to walk and I had to relearn how to do everything. There was a knitting store that had just opened up near my house and my friends would take me there. I would sit there my eyes transfixed by the colors and textures of the yarn. I remember thinking "I need to learn how to do this." So when my hands heeled enough, I learned to knit and crochet. After six months, I started working there.

SG: Right, so it was yarn therapy.

AB: It was yarn therapy, that's right. But is was also color therapy. I made some lifetime friends there.

SG: Yarn and color and I think they relate.

AB: Yes, I think they do too.

SG: What do you find pleasing about quiltmaking?

AB: I love the full creative process from looking and dreaming about how I want something to be to placing it on paper. From conception to the execution. Once it's done, it's kind of lost its interest in me. I mean, I love looking at my quilts, it makes me really happy to see them, but they are done. It's the process the journey from the beginning to the end that keeps my interest. Once finished, I'm ready to go onto the next project.

SG: Is there any part of it the process that you don't like?

AB: I don't like putting on sleeves and bindings [laughs.] I do not like sleeves and bindings.

SG: We found that, I've heard that from other people.

AB: [laughs.] And I have a hard time thinking about names for my quilts. Sometimes that's difficult for me.

SG: Do you currently belong to any quilt guilds or groups or both?

AB: I do. I belong to a number of groups. I am member of International Quilt Association (IQA), Studio Art Quilting Association (SAQA), IQF),Austin [Texas.] Fiber Artists (AFA) and it's like an art quilt group. I'm also a member of Surface Design Association (S.D.A.), and the Austin Area Quilt Guild.

SG: Are you attending, how many bees a week or a month? Are you going to the bees?

AB: I do not go to bees. I was involved in one a number of years ago but lost touch after I got sick. I do go to the meetings for the Austin Fiber Artists Group.. Problem is, a lot of the meetings are at night and I have to drive though Austin [Texas.] but I try to make as many as I can.

SG: Do you, are you a technology person? You mentioned using a oversized copier and having to go somewhere to do that, but what other technology things do you use?

AB: I'm not a very technological; I'm actually very intimidated by all of that. I can get around a computer fairly well. Photoshop and that type of thing I can do but I generally take my photographs and go to FedEx or Kinkos and have them do all the work because it's a lot easier and it takes a lot of the headache out of it. It's totally worth it for me to have them do it versus me do it.

SG: Do you have more than one sewing machine?

AB: Yes I do. I have three sewing machines [laughs.]

SG: So it would be bad if the power went out, right? [laughs.]

AB: Yes it would. I always keep my hands busy. Before I made my quilts by machine, I did hand appliqué and hand quilting so no matter what I will be always creating as long as my hands work, I will be making something.

SG: So you've also known what it's like not to have your hands working?

AB: Yes I always have a project in my hands. I'm not sure if it's a product of the way I grew up. We always had something to do. I don't know the meaning of being bored, I always have something I could be doing.

SG: Where do you create? What does your studio look like?

AB: My studio space is on the main level of my house. I have a Bernina 820 machine/ cabinet. i have shelving filled to bursting with supplies. I'm starting to grow out of that room so I'm spreading out to the rest of the house now [laughs.] but that's where I have everything there. I have all my fabrics in there and my dyes and my yarns and I'm just surrounded by all sorts of things that and products to help me in my creative process.

SG: How do you store your fabric?

AB: I store my fabric in a closet located in my Studio. I have like open bins so my fabrics are easily accessible and its all there and then I close the closet so the sun doesn't get into them.

SG: Are they organized by color or fabric style?

AB: They are organized by color, then fabric types. The fabric are separated into two groups.I have one area that I call fashion fabric(non-hand dyed, batiks, dyed cottons or printed fabric) and then a area for hand-dyed and batik fabrics.

SG: Do you use, do you have a design wall and do you use it?

AB: I do have a design wall located in my studio but I use it more as a bulletin board. I have a two-story house with an open foyer. I place my work on the floor and walk upstairs to get a better perspective. I look down on my work and I get a better view.

SG: It's almost like squinting at it in a way, but you're above it.

AB: Mhm because you need to be far enough away to get the whole overall design and if you get too close you don't see things sometimes.

SG: How do you bring it out then? Do you bring it out on a piece of batting or just it's already put together?

AB: Yeah at that point it's already pretty much put together. When I'm putting the composition together I'll audition fabrics and petals before it is fused to make the overall design. For example, in this piece when I was adding and making a specific petal, and before the piece was actually put together I would lay it down and stand back and look at it. If I didn't like the petal and it needed to be reworked, I would see that I would make a new one. I mean it would be auditioned and if I said to myself, "No I don't like that, it's too dark," or, "That color's not quite right," or "It stands out,' or for whatever reason, I just make a new one and start over for that particular area.

SG: Do you save the pieces that don't work?

AB: I am more and more. Before I didn't because I'd get kind of locked on that, I needed to have a fresh pallette, I just had to put it away. I am saving things more and more because I'm not sure if I might use it in some other application in somewhere else.

SG: Would you redo the same quilt in a different way, or do you always move on to the next?

AB: I don't, I go on to something else. I try to do something different with every quilt that I do, I don't, I think everything needs to be a one of a kind type of a piece and even subject matter to that extent.

SG: Do you work with music on or do you like quiet?

AB: Yes, yes I love music, especially when I'm machine quilting. The music puts me in a Zen moment and relaxation. I like to listen to ambient music like piano and just very soothing.

SG: So probably music that has no words, just background noise would you say?

AB: Right instrumental, instrumental music, just very peaceful music kind of helps especially when you're machine quilting for a while you get a little tense in your shoulders.

SG: Right, so you can get up and move around.

AB: Mhm.

SG: I'm going to ask you some questions about just your general feelings about quilting in general, like what do you think makes a great quilt?

AB: [seven second pause.] I'd have to think about that for a second. What I think that makes a good quilt really is the fact that it's been made. We live in such a society where people don't know how to do anything. They go somewhere else to have things done. I think it's important to be able to make something and to go through that process so all quilts to me have value and meaning because somebody made them and they weren't mass produced. I guess I'm not one for kits and that type of thing or preprocessed type stuff. Every quilt has a story, there's a meaning that every single quilt artist has and they're trying to convey. So, just the fact that they're made from a beginning quilt that, the first attempt that somebody trying to do something to most intricate and elaborate style quilts, just the fact that they were even thought of and made in the first place I think means something to me.

SG: Do you feel influenced by other quilters? Or is there anyone particular?

AB: Absolutely. Probably my first influence of quilters were the ladies that said, "Oh we can just make a picnic quilt. We'll just make one and we'll sit on it during a picnic." I refused to take mine out on a picnic, because I worked too hard on it. But, there's a number of quilt artists that mean a lot. My best friend, Diane Sehorne, is a piecer. She is meticulous. Becky Goldsmith was one. I sat and watched her do needle turn appliqué and learned how to do it perfectly. Pat Campbell with her gorgeous Jacobean floral work. Judy Coates Perez who taught me how to paint, I didn't know I could paint, but I took the ideas of color and what I do with fabric and transferred it into painting and making art quilts, didn't even know I could do that. Philippa Naylor with her precision work. There's a lot of people that I just find absolutely fantastic and I am always trying to learn new things. I like the challenge myself and try to come up with new ways and problem solving type techniques.

SG: Are you the type of quilter that takes classes?

AB: Yes I take, I've been taking classes all week long. I am a lifetime learner. I think that there's always something new to learn and everyone has value in what they can give. I like to take other people's information and process it and come up with my version that is uniquely my ownand it kind of spits out on something new in my brain.

SG: So you were taking classes all week--

AB: Mhm.

SG: Here in Houston [Texas.] You're a part of the Lone Star's Three book--

AB: Yes.

SG: Have you been published in any other books?

AB: Yes I have. I have a quilt in 500 Art Quilts that was published about a year, two years ago through Lark Publications.Karey Bresenhan was the juror for that book. The first time a quilt of mine was published was in 2003.My quilt "Full Bloom a Celebration of 40" was published in a commemorative book AQS put out for their 20th (or was is their 25th) Anniversary for the Paducah [Kentucky.] Show. I'm kinda of new to this whole publishing thing.

SG: How does it make you feel when you hear that you got your quilt accepted in this book, or any book really?

AB: Like I won the lottery [laughs.] It's great, it's great. It's like sometimes I think, "Oh man, they must have made a mistake that, they don't really think that my quilt." It's just honor, it's just honor and a privilege to be involved in this and as my girlfriend says, "You're now part of Texas history," and I thought, "Wow, that's pretty cool."

SG: Did you submit artwork or did they ask you?

AB: They asked me. I had a couple quilts in the show last year, and those two quilts Karey asked if I would put them in the book.

SG: The show here in Houston [Texas,]?

AB: The show here in Houston [Texas.], yes.

SG: Do you always submit to the same category when you submit?

AB: No, no it just depends on what quilt I make. I generally do art pictorial or nature-style quilts depending upon what it is, I have had quilts in art painted surface, art pictorial, and art naturescapes. Generally in those categories, but it just depends on the quilt.

SG: The quilt that you have in the show this year, how, can you tell me about that quilt?

AB: Yes I can. It is called "Artichokes in Bloom." It is in the art painted surface category. It is a picture of artichokes that are actually blooming. The heads of the artichokes are filamentous and they look like they're blowing in the wind. It's quite beautiful. It has a pieced background, the confetti-style pieced background, similar to the quilt we're looking at today. It won judges' choice this year and that was very exciting for me. I feel like I'm Cinderella, I just don't want to lose my shoes [laughs.]

SG: Did you know beforehand that you were going to win Judges' choice?

AB: No I did not. I just, I had gotten a call from Houston [Texas.] in September, I had just returned from a trip visiting my family and actually completely forgot about the notifications and got the call and I just was jumping up and down and was like, "Oh my gosh, oh my gosh I can't believe this," and was just, couldn't believe it. It was very thrilling, but I didn't know what award I won, I just knew that I had won a cash award; I did not know what it would be until Tuesday night, November 1st.

SG: Oh, that's how they work it. That's really really exciting. How would you say quiltmaking is an important part of your life?

AB: It's part of my identity I think. I have always sewn. When I was growing up and I was sewing clothes, and my sisters were sewing clothes, I used to get such a charge out of making something no one else had... to be unique, I loved to sew. I would get so excited. One of the things I've learned as I got older was patience. I'm getting better at it being patient, not so great all the time, but striving to slow down.. When I was a kid, I didn't have any patience and I just rushed through things and thus my garments were not made very well.I have always been drawn to bright colors. I would go and I would pick out the most bright colorful crazy garish patterns that I could possibly find and I made my clothes. I was so proud. As I got older, my older sisters didn't sew as much, they looked at it as a chore and they looked at it as drudgery or something that they had to do, and I've never felt that way. I've always looked at it as a possibility, and as a joy, and a way to express my emotions. If sometimes life gets really hard, I find that's when I make my best quilts because there's always a sense of hope and possibility. That's what I like about quilting and garment sewing. For me it is a part of how I define myself., I can't imagine not creating something, to me it's like breathing.

SG: What direction do you see your quilting going in?

AB: Well, I love art quilting. I really don't know. I'd like to continue doing original work and but as far as where it goes, I'm not sure. It just depends on what happens in the future in my life. I would like to try some abstract-type work but I don't really think abstractly. It makes me uncomfortable but I think doing thing that are uncomfortable will stretch me as an artist. I'm a nature lover, I would like to do more work in with animals and more different subject matter rather than botanicals but I love botanicals and I love big flowers and the curves and I think they're kind of sexy and they have, they just have presence. I just love that. I'm guessing I will always stay in that general area, but I don't know.

SG: Do you have a lot of quilts on the horizon?

AB: Yes.

SG: Are they in your head, are they on paper, how do you keep track or how do you know what you want to do next?

AB: I'm constantly looking for interesting subject matter so I always have my camera with me. I have probably about fifteen quilts that are in my head, waiting to come. I have the photographs are already there, it's just the process of making them and spending the time to make them. Like I said before, I have a number of family members and each one of them will get a quilt and the next quilt that I will be making will be for my sister, Heidi, and so I will try to balance a show quilt then a quilt for a family member and other quilts for galleries.Each quilt I make have different reasons for being. So yes, I have many things going on.

SG: How do you keep track of what quilts are where?

AB: I use my computer. I have all of the quilts cataloged. I have folders for each quilt that contains full and close-up photographs. I have lists of where all my quilts are and what they're made of and how much it took me to make them and all that type of information. Currently I have one of the is at the Texas Museum, for the Lone Star Three Exhibit. I have a number of quilts at Copper Shade Tree Gallery in Round Top, Texas.. I'm entering different competitions and things nationally so I keep track of all of that.

SG: That's a big job keeping track of everything.

AB: Keeping track of everything. I think it's important, I have a document that is a list of credits and I am constantly updating. Any time that I get a quilt accepted into a venue, I update. It helps me not to forget.

SG: That's true. Do you feel like, do you most of your family members have a piece of your work?

AB: Not yet, but they will be. I am from a blended family. Biologically a have 4 sisters and 1 brother. I also have 2 sisters, and brother from my Dads' second marriage, so there are nine of us. Three of them have quilts, my mother has a couple, my dad has a couple, so they're all, the rest of them are waiting [laughs.]

SG: Do you teach?

AB: I do.

SG: Where do you teach?

AB: I teach at Honeybee Quilt Store in Austin, Texas and I teach beginning free motion quilting and intermediate free motion quilting and raw edge appliqué and this background and pretty much I'll teach anything that somebody wants to learn. I've also started traveling and teaching in the local areas around Austin [Texas.] such as Marble Falls in central Texas.

SG: So where you could drive is that pretty much--

AB: Yeah, right.

SG: You must really enjoy it.

AB: I do, I do, but I have to get over something called stage fright. I do very well in small groups, microphones get me very nervous, and talking in front of large groups of people, so I'm working on that, but I do good in small groups.

SG: Do you limit your class sizes?

AB: I do, depending on the venue and how big the space is, anywhere from six to twenty, depends on the space. I want to make sure everybody gets individual attention because I think that if somebody spends money and wants to come and listen and learn something they deserve hundred percent of my attention and knowledge. My students get every little tip and tidbit that I could possibly think of and I want them to be able to have that. I think you get too big you lose that intimacy.

SG: So you sound like a very busy quilter, teacher, mother; is there anything that I didn't ask you that you want to mention today? I think we covered a lot of aspects of your life and quilting.

AB: I don't think so I just think it's important that we continue to create and to make beautiful pieces of art and keep this tradition and this art form alive for future generations. I think that's very important.

SG: Well I'd like to thank you Andrea for letting me interview you today, and I believe I forgot to mention that we started at ten o'clock this morning, and it's now 10:41 and we are concluding our interview now. Thank you so much.

AB: Thank you, thank you.


“Andrea Brokenshire,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 21, 2024,