Andrea Brinkley is a textiles designer originally from South Africa and now lives in North Carolina. She founded O&Y Studio in late 2016 “as a way to market and sell flower-inspired fiber arts.” O&Y comes from the phrase people have said to her all her life — “Oh Andy!”
How did you get into textiles?
My mother introduced me to knitting when I was just four years old. My parents had a friend who lost her entire family in a car crash and she became a surrogate aunt who often came to stay on our farm. She spent countless hours teaching me to embroider and also advanced my knitting skills. I can remember making baby bootees when I was six and she taught me to embroider bullion roses on them. All along I was hand sewing Barbie dresses so my mum bought me a sewing machine for my 11th birthday. It just kept growing from there with me sewing and knitting my own clothes; even my wedding dress later on. In my teen years I taught myself to crochet from a British women’s magazine and then I taught my mum to crochet. Because I am self-taught, to this day I don’t hold the yarn correctly! I have loved all colours my whole life and they heavily influence my work. It must have started back then because I was so intrigued by the brightly coloured plastic shopping bags from various shops that I figured out a way to shred them into long strips, like raffia, and I crocheted them into handbags, tote bags and even floppy sun hats for all my gift giving. So I was early on the recycling bandwagon!
Your work looks so intricate. What kind of techniques and equipment do you use?
Wanting a product that was uniquely mine, I came up with a method of using wool thread to crochet a background which I mount into a traditional wood embroidery hoop and then, using a myriad of stitches and techniques, I embroider it with wools and mohair. I have always been drawn to texture and I love the effect of using hand spun and dyed yarns in my embroideries. Besides colour, I am also strongly influenced by the beauty of flowers and nature so almost all of my stitching is floral or botanical, although I have embroidered cats, owls and even a Hobbit door for a special order!
Is running O&Y Studio your main job?
I attended culinary school in Cape Town, South Africa then worked as a hotel chef. After moving to the USA and marriage, I became a stay-at-home-mum who earned an income smocking children’s clothing for a business. I went on to own a smocking shop where I sold needlework supplies and taught classes that ranged from intricate hand embroidery on smocking to French hand sewing techniques. After selling my shop and a divorce, I trained to become a retail buyer in housewares and Christmas decor. I remarried and retired last year with a dream to get back to my passion for making and creating. O&Y Studio is happily the result and currently my main job. In retrospect, if I had had more direction when seeking a career, I would have far rather pursued design, fashion and textiles, but you know what they say about hindsight!
Where do you get your materials from?
My embroidered hoops don’t require a lot of materials so I started out with a few vintage embroidery hoops that I bought in an antique store and yarns from my embarrassingly enormous stash. I have long collected wools, fabrics, laces, notions and various threads to use in my creative pursuits and I usually bring back items from my travels. My brother farms in the wool and mohair region of South Africa where a nearby farmer employs impoverished women from a small community to spin and dye their wools. The colours and textures are amazing. Her “learn to earn” business has grown and grown. I feel passionate about supporting those lovely women so a lot of my stash has come over from Karoo Moon in South Africa. I also like to support local Charlotte, North Carolina artisans, and I love several hand dyed and hand painted yarns that I have bought from Junk Yarn and Queen City Yarn. The colourations of these yarns are so fun and adds an interesting depth to my work, producing a unique look.
What other techniques would you like to explore?
My head is constantly swimming with ideas! I have to rein myself in and not dabble in too many areas at one time. For right now, with the popularity of wooden hoop frames, I’m focused on my unique application of wool-on-wool embroidery. I plan to try new colour combinations and also to dig into my collections and add embellishments like beads and other types of threads, including recycled finds. I am experimenting with adding metallic foil to some hoops and like that look. I am also mulling over the use of other types of frames because I have had people ask me when I will take the embroidery out of the hoop, so I realise that hoops are not everyone’s cup of tea. I am also considering other types of wool surfaces to embroider on.
Can you recommend any books for lovers of textiles?
Does a magazine count? Because right now I am enamored with a new periodical out of the Netherlands, called Koel Magazine! Recognising that there was no publication uniquely for interior home decor using yarn crafts, Studio Bloesem recently started the magazine and to date they have published two issues. After perusing my copies, I’m itching to get back to macramé, tassel making and even latch hook.
What are your goals for O&Y Studio this year?
Though I’ve been creating my whole life, O&Y Studio is still quite new! In the short term, I’ll continue with my Etsy shop, but I’m working on selling my embroideries at upcoming local art shows and galleries. Other lovely opportunities are opening up for me, which is very exciting. I have a running list of new things to try and a goal is to put at least one into effect each month. My list includes things from trying different yarns and wool surfaces to new embellishments as well as ways to improve my website, a newsletter, a blog and to grow my social media.
What do you love about textiles?
I am in love with being able to use my hands, take a strand of a fiber and turn it into a form of textile, be it crochet, knitting, felting, weaving you name it. My lifelong history of creating and embellishing textiles has given me a true appreciation and respect for the work of textile makers, particularly the amazing women who support their families in developing nations.