Self-Discovery and Quilting Stories with Brooke Biette

Brook Biette is a free-spirit from Maine who has journeyed her way to Tucson, AZ. She is a quilter who tells stories through her work and gets inspirations from landscapes, people and moments. You may have seen her amazing work at the recent CULTIVATE Spring Market or you may be a long-time consumer from her Etsy shop days. 

When most people think of quilting, they may think of bedtime stories with grandma or... just grandma, but Biette's abstract and intellectually influenced work is beyond the old-fashioned stigma of this artistry. As we converse about apriltwoeightyquilts (her quilting brand), we also cover lone travels, self-discovery, full-time and side-hustle balance, lessons learned and more. 

What’s your first memory of quilting?

My mom always quilted. She made all my clothes as a kid and all my blankets, as well as things for the house and gifts for others. I remember growing up around it and probably when I was around ten my mom asked me to help her quilt something for my baby cousin. She felt I should learn how to do it, so I did. I didn’t consistently start doing it until I was in my high school/college years.

What inspired you to really passionately go after it?

I had an Etsy shop for ten years. It was great because I could make projects and people would buy them and like them. I was using a lot of fabrics that I really liked (there are so many amazing fabrics out there) but I was sort of making projects based out of other people’s designs and not really making anything that felt like me. Once I moved across the country and started to mold myself, who I am, what I want and enjoy, it came really fluidly out of that the past four/five years. I’m making projects now that I feel are like me.

Was self-discovery what inspired your move?

That and also that awful, snowy winters! I wanted a warmer climate! But yeah, I figured if I didn’t move then I probably never would. I wanted to see what I can do. I felt like I had done everything I wanted to do there and was ready to start a new chapter.

It was really interesting to learn a totally different way to do what I really loved to do but have a totally different outcome.
— Brooke Biette

You did mention to me that you did an internship. Can you tell me more about that?

I did that out in LA and it was my main reason for heading out there. I had met this artist, Luke Haynes, through Instagram (Instagram has been so great for me. It’s just opened up an entire world!) and he mentioned really liking my work. At the time, I wasn’t even making a whole lot of stuff but I was really flattered that I stuck out. He told me that if I wanted to ever work for him I could go out to LA. I thought about it for a while and decided I would do it. He makes projects that are completely different than anything I would ever make.

Basically, I just learned his style and how to make the things that he was making. It was really fun. It was really interesting to learn a totally different way to do what I really loved to do but have a totally different outcome. My process is really personal and really individual to whom I am. His process is a little bit more business oriented. It’s less about the process for him and more about the finished product. He does a lot of gallery shows and traveling around the country and around the world. He also teaches. It was an amazing experience.

What would you say is the biggest thing you learned from him?

I think the biggest thing that I took from it is that it’s totally possible as a money making business. To be able to make a project and promote it in all the different ways that you can and then actually on a large scale be able to show your work. Which is amazing because up until that point I created a little Etsy shop and was in my own little bubble about my work. It opened up my eyes that I can do this on a big scale. It takes a lot of work though.

I would love to be able to do it full-time. That’s my end goal. I currently work a regular full-time day job. I work forty hours a week and then probably put in as much time on my sewing business.

So your internships ends, then what? 

I moved to Northern Arizona and just did a lot of exploring and hiking. I would go to the Grand Canyon and Flagstaff. I was trying to see where I wanted to live because I knew that I didn’t want to stay in Prescott. It was just a really small town. Phoenix felt too big. I’d visit friends here in Tucson and would get a feel for it. It felt like a good size. There were plenty of opportunities but still felt like a small town. I did a lot of inspiration gathering and writing. I kept a journal and wrote about a lot of the things I was experiencing. The landscapes in the northern part of this state are incredible. They change every hundred miles. I did a lot of soul searching and ended up here!

One thing that I find really interesting about your work is that you tell stories through your quilts.

Basically, I take whatever inspiration or moment and try to recreate it. I think about how it felt, what it looked like, what it sounded like, what were the textures and colors like… and I try to pull all that together with fabrics. I use different colors and different patterns. I try to encapsulate whatever that moment was and put it into that project.

What would you say is your most recent? 

I just did a whole set of pillow covers that I brought with me to CULTIVATE and sold most of online right afterwards that were all inspired by the desert. They had a lot of natural components. So it had very obvious dusty, sandy landscape type colors. A couple were inspired more so by the monsoons here. Some were inspired by the saguaros or the trees out in Joshua Tree. I did do a sunset quilt earlier this year where I took a photo of an actual sunset when I was out in Joshua Tree. I sat down, graphed it all out color-wise and recreated it into a quilt. I loved that project. It came out really nice! So sometimes they’re really literal and very realistic, sometimes they’re more abstract. Sometimes it’s more so about the site, other times more so about the feeling.

I’ve had to get myself in that mindset that if I really want to do this, I have to put in the time.
— Brooke Biette

What would you say has been the most meaningful project?

One of the most meaningful projects that I did was back in 2013 when I took my first trip out to California from Maine before I decided to move. I went to Joshua Tree for the first time and took a picture of the sunset. I was really itching to make a project that represented that trip. It was one of the first times I had ever really done this type of experience influenced project. I recreated the photo into a little pillow. That was where I realized I could do something different with my work that felt authentic to who I am. That was a meaningful moment. When I look back at that project, it looks like it would be something I could have made now.  

Last year I made four clothing quilts for a family of a friend of mine who past away. That was extreme. One for each sibling and one for the parents. That was a project that wasn’t really my style but it was super gratifying to be able to take fabrics from clothing or textiles and make this project that gave new life to the family who can have it forever. It was really amazing to be a part of. He was a big supporter of my sewing and quilting. It was a nice way to come full circle.

I want to get into how you balancing having a full-time job and this craft that you’re super passionate about. How do you find balance? 

I’m kind of lucky in the sense that I work a really great shift to be able to give me time to do my business. I work at a surgery center and I’m up at four a.m. I’m at work by six in the morning and out by two-thirty in the afternoon. So I work my shift in the early part of the day. When I get home I’ve got at least five or six hours to do what I need to do before I need to go to bed. Most days that means that I’m sewing at least for a couple hours. I’ve had to get myself in that mindset that if I really want to do this, I have to put in the time. Sometimes that time isn’t at the sewing machine. Sometimes it’s time spent building my website or promoting on social media or meeting with you! Time spent putting myself out there. It is tough. It’s like working two full-time jobs. I very easily could just say nevermind but I know that if I don’t put in the work, it won’t happen.

To anyone that’s trying to find their way with their art, you just have to do it.
— Brooke Biette

Have you ever experienced self-doubt?

Oh yeah. Especially when I started making these inspired and intuitive type projects I was like, “People aren’t going to be able to read my mind. They won’t know what this pillow cover means.” A lot of times I don’t put forth a lot of the details because some of it is really personal stuff. When I first started I felt like no one would understand. People are going to see what they want to see. Like any other art, it’s open to interpretation and perspective. There are moments where I do get bummed out if they don’t see what I see in a piece. But overall, what I do is so different (even within the quilting community) that having confidence about it and feeling really strong about what I do is really helpful as far as getting myself out there.

What advice would you give to an artist who wants to pursue their work but has hesitance?  

I think the really important thing to remember is that everyone’s voice is different. We all have a story to tell. We might think it’s boring but someone else may relate to it. I think it’s important to share these stories at whatever level you’re comfortable with. There’s always that one person that’s looking to connect with someone else and not feel alone or weird. I think that art is the most amazing way to connect with other people. It’s hard to share your voice but it’s so important. Once you do it often, and see how good it feels and get good feedback, it becomes easier to do. For me it’s second nature now. To anyone that’s trying to find their way with their art, you just have to do it. Just do it and see how it feels! It may be scary and weird at first but once you get that momentum, it feels awesome and is totally worth it. The people I’ve interacted with through my art have been some of the coolest and nicest and most supportive people I’ve ever met. I wouldn’t have met any of them without my art.

Since I feel your work is very emotion-based, if you had to pick three emotions to describe your current project, what would they be?

The collection I’m working on now is called, “Lovers and Landscapes.” It’s inspired by people and relationships I’ve experienced while traveling. The three words I would choose are: vulnerable, hopeful, nostalgic.

All of it is a work in progress, all the time.
— Brooke Biette

What are the three biggest lessons you’ve learned so far either through self-expression, your art, or your travels? 

Number one is to be humble. I feel like I’ve made more mistakes and crazy decisions for myself where things didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to. I’m one of those people where I like to have a plan and my expectations and ducks in a row but it doesn’t always work. Definitely learning to be humble and admitting when something may not be working for me. Knowing where that line is has been huge.

I think also being honest and open has been huge, especially through Instagram. I feel like being honest and willing to share that kind of personal stuff with strangers may seem bizarre sometimes but it’s opened up some really amazing dialogue.

Third, being brave and willing to just go for it! Whether it’s with traveling or with my art. I think being brave and confident and willing to do whatever it may be has been really important. I don’t always feel this way. All of it is a work in progress, all the time.

Check out Brooke's new website/blog here.