We meet textile artist Katy Biele, whose embroidery is bursting with colour, inspired by her travels and childhood in Chile.
Canada-based Katy Biele uses travel and her childhood in South America as inspiration for her innovative embroidery — free-flowing designs that break the rules and push the craft to bold new levels. Katy creates unique embroidery kits and hosts workshops where she teaches others to create colourfully and enjoy the process as much as the end product.
We caught up with her to discover how a trip to the desert inspired her stitching journey and why travel keeps her creative.
- Library of embroidery stitches
- Embroidery patterns: Firework hoop art
- Video: 5 embroidery stitches in one video
Hi Katy! How would you describe your embroidery style?
People often ask me what kind of embroidery I do, but because there isn’t really a name for it I call it “intuitive”. I don’t follow proper stitches or patterns. I usually just draw an image on the fabric, then freestyle over it with whatever colours and textures feel right.
When did you learn to embroider?
I first learned in India in 2015, when I was taught a style called Bharat embroidery by a nomadic tribe in the Thar Desert. After that I studied under Trini Guzman, one of my favourite Chilean embroidery artists.
What’s the first thing you ever made?
A Bharat embroidery piece, which was simple, small and with fine lines; more of a test piece really. I made my first flower in Chile a few months later.
Where do you go to find inspiration?
My travels are a big part of my inspiration, but most of it comes simply from my imagination. All the flowers, birds and floating gardens have been there since I was about 14-years-old, when I did my first oil paintings.
Where does your love of colour come from?
My love of colour totally comes from South American culture. Chile, Peru, Brazil, Mexico and many more countries all use a lot of colours all the time, and I grew up with them all around me. My work maintains a really strong connection with that aesthetic.
Where do you create?
At the moment my workshop is my living room, which I’ve transformed into my studio while I look for somewhere more practical. I have a table full of materials, embroider mostly on my couch and paint at another big table. I can’t have the embroidery and painting areas together because the painting spot gets very messy!
What’s the secret to hosting a good workshop?
For me, the most important thing is that nobody gets frustrated and that everyone feels positive about the class. I want each person to leave inspired. I give attention to everyone who comes to my workshops. There are people who are really fast and are OK, but then there are others who need more help, so I do my best to support everybody. Plus, I always bring snacks!
What do you enjoy most about hosting workshops?
I enjoy seeing how people can create things from nothing, forget their work day and feel relaxed in a creative environment. When the course ends everyone is so happy about what they’VE made, which totally makes my day.
Can you explain the process that goes into designing one of your kits?
First, I figure out what would be nice to make. I try to make the kits simpler than my art pieces so people can easily use them without feeling frustrated, but also feel that they’re enjoyable and not too basic. I love putting extra things into the kits — little surprises, like cute handmade cards. I want the kits to be a whole experience.
How big is your crafting stash?
Pretty big! I have so many materials, plus I collect textile pieces from around the world. Most of my materials are from Chile or the US. My mom sends me supplies from Chile that I can’t get in Canada. This month I’m going to Chile and I’m bringing a big suitcase to stock up on so many things.
Who are your favourite makers and why?
One of my favourites is Trini Guzmán from Cosmo, bordado, tejío — the artist who started the freestyle embroidery movement in Chile. I also love Michelle Morin for her paintings of flowers and landscapes, the colours in Natalie Miller tapestries are amazing, and I’m crazy about the ladies painted by Isabelle Feliu.
What project are you most proud of?
In 2015, we created a little project in India to help the artisans in the Thar Desert. We made a collection of embroidered and woven pillowcases. It was great to learn more about the lives of artists in different and often challenging conditions. Also, all the workshops I ran last year make me proud. It makes me so happy to share creativity with people and give them inspiration to make something beautiful.
Name three things you can’t live without?
Travel, chocolate and creating — I can’t imagine not making new things that are full of colour. Making means everything to me.