Interview by Calla Camero
Film and photography by Nadia Agsen
We visited Brian Blakely’s home studio in Queens to see where this embroidery artist both lives and works. As he walked us through each of the rooms, where every inch of space is ornamented with a piece of collected history that is more interesting and detailed than the one before, we came to understand why Brian’s work is so beautiful and intricate. His taste is pronounced by the art he surrounds himself with, and his work is a reflection of the home he has made for himself.
Check out our interview with the man behind the sewing machine below.
How'd you get started doing chain stitch embroidery?
It was all kind of by chance honestly, it was a little over three years ago now, I was working with a clothing company called Knickerbocker Manufacturing and we had this large factory space doing the brand as well as garment and hat production. I was doing sales but thrown into learning about garment manufacturing and loved all the old machines we had.
There were a couple chain stitch machines which hadn’t been used since the guys had gotten them; someone got them running one day and a few of us were messing around; I was pretty much hooked right there. My goal was to write my name on a jacket though, maybe do a back piece up for myself if I could; at first I didn’t realize what it would become.
What things inspire your pieces?
From early on when I started doing pieces I was always drawn to using different typefaces and sort of emulate that classic service station uniform look. I still love doing pieces like that whenever I get the chance. Recently been working more with old packaging artwork. The graphics used on matchbooks, cigarettes, and razor blades, things of that nature.
What do you listen to when you're stitching?
We’ve been on a mixture of the velvets, 13th floor elevators, lightnin hopkins, early outkast; sabbath is always in the rotation. A lot of documentaries just in the background when doing production jobs, helps to pass the time on those ones. The Chipmunks in 16 Speed Covers plays a lot, you should check it out if you haven’t.
How do you get your work day started?
Slowly. Make a pot of coffee in the morning and try to take care of emails and stuff like that early on so I don’t have to the rest of the day. My buddy Matt works outta the space with me, we play a lot of backgammon and usually get a few games in before the day gets going.
What's the best thing about working for yourself? The worst thing?
Traveling has been the main benefit for sure. Flying with the machine can be a hassle but I have it down pretty solid now. Flew with it in a tote bag as my carry on for a while. Waiting on getting paid is the worst. I don’t get a Holiday work party anymore either.
What's your favorite piece you've made?
The canvas pieces I’ve been doing are some of my favorites since it’s been great working on pieces outside of clothing. The one I wear the most is my Black Widows Car Club Jacket based off a flashing painting I did in college.
Aside from those few which have personal value, the jacket for Rocky was a super fun one to be able to do. It was of a crash test dummy face promoting the Testing album that just came out this year. There’s probably ten tones of tan and beige in it to give the depth without it looking too much just like a tan oval.
Bruce Davidson was one of the first photographers I really started investing in learning more about.
Otto Heim was an amazing typographer who I’ve been trying to find more work from. He has these beautiful type specimen sheets that I have been planning to works with for a while.
I’ll always have a soft spot for Warhol. I was able to get a copy of his A, A Novel recently and an original Exploding Plastic Inevitable newspaper from the show in Colorado.
It fell into my lap and I never really wanted to stop. Couldn’t imagine doing anything else really at this point.