Interview with Felicia Brenoe

Interview with Felicia Brenoe

Posted by Deirdre Quirk on Feb 24th 2017

Please welcome, Felicia Brenoe, author of My Cozy Village and The Quiltmaker's Butterfly Forest, to the blog today! Read on for an in-depth, insightful interview with this amazing artist. 

Where do you find your quilting or sewing inspiration?

All over the place! Often it is in color combinations in nature. Sometimes it is an interior in a home. My inspiration rarely comes as form; it tends to show up as only colors, and then it is up to me to give it shape and structure. The other day I was reading a nonfiction book and there was a bubble chart in there that I really would like to translate into a quilt. Sometimes a quilt comes sailing out of the sky, or shows up in a dream, already constructed. All I do then is follow orders.

Who has inspired your creativity? 

I grew up surrounded by artistic people in the little town in Norway where I was born. I think there were two women in particular who set my compass for color. One was my parent’s good friend Jorunn. She was a patchworker, knitter, painter, weaver ... and she just had this incredibly rich sense of how to put fabrics together. The other was Ulla, an artisan seamstress who was also a good friend of my parents. I still have dresses and jackets with patchwork detailing that she tailored for me. They are just brilliant colorists. When Kaffe Fassett’s knitting books showed up in the 80s, his sense of color already felt familiar to me. Brilliant, but not foreign, thanks to the talented people around me.

How do you stay up-to-date on new trends?

I am actually trying NOT to stay too updated... It is one of my New Year's resolutions not to get knocked off my authentic artistic course by getting sucked into the latest color trends, fabric fads, and must-have tools. Don’t misunderstand. I absolutely love fabric, quilt books, etc. But I am starting to feel a little resistant to how our quilting culture is almost starting to mimic the fast-fashion industry in the sense that you are supposed to fall in love with something new every few weeks. Fabric especially is in and out so fast it makes me sad for the talented and hardworking designers. It is almost impossible not to stay up on current trends if you are on Instagram and other social media. However, my goal is to value fabric and tools depending on how well they fit my own authentic voice, not how popular they are with somebody else. Whether the fabric is this season or twenty years old really shouldn’t be part of the decision to use it in a project. Right now on my wishlist is Katarina Rocella’s newest line, as well as all the checks and windowpanes and the Bird’s Eye View collection from Cloud9. This is not because they are trendy, but because they happen to fit my two predominant color schemes that I tend to return to.

What is something we might not know about you?

I LOVE KUNG FU! Really, I am like Kung Fu Panda. I don’t do a lot of the jumpy and acrobatic stuff (mainly because I am getting older, have a ripped Achilles tendon, and seem to spend most of my time making dinner for kids), but I am an avid tai chi practitioner, and I even compete. I would like to say that tai chi gives me inner peace ... the kind of stuff people say about yoga. But really ... it just makes me stupid-happy. And when everything works out in practice I feel this deep sense of my body moving in the right way that is hard to even describe. Watching somebody do tai chi beautifully gives me chills the same way looking at exquisite handmade Japanese quilts does. Understated, refined, and with an enormous amount of patience and spirit behind it.

What was your favorite part of the book writing or production process?

To me the really exciting part is getting the idea for a book and then working with the C&T editorial team on the shape that it may take on, planning the projects etc. I am driven by color in my work, so the fabric selection process is always pure joy. Then there is the day that you actually pack up the box of quilts and send them off to be photographed. It is fun and scary to realize you have produced quite a body of work around the concept of your book.

What are your go-to colors?

I have multiple personalities in this arena. On one hand, I adore muted colors. It is so easy for me to go into a pretty low-contrast world of taupes or chalky pastels. My other identity is much richer and loves to play with magentas, purples, emerald greens, etc., with a dose of earth tones.

What projects are you working on right now?

I have about sixteen unfinished projects in my studio, and I won’t bore you with all of them. Some are for a new book I am working on, so they are secret for now. However, for the last year I have had a love affair with paper piecing Log Cabin quilts. I have made one with four-inch blocks and one with seven-inch blocks, and currently I am making a large quilt with ten-inch blocks in silk dupioni. It is absolutely to die for. I can’t get enough.

What’s your favorite project that you’ve made?

That depends which week you ask me. I am proud of My Cozy Village. That quilt took me a long time to design and sew. I got to indulge in my fantasy of making a taupe quilt, inspired by the Japanese taupe quilts we have seen at shows over the last ten years. But it is definitely mine, so still pretty whimsical. I think the yellow and white Log Cabin quilt that I finished this past year, inspired by my grandfather’s glass veranda (sunroom) in Denmark, is one of the most successful quilts I have made in terms of telling the color story I was initially inspired by.

Where do you shop for fabric?

I think I am doing a pretty good job of supporting my local quilt shop... At this point in my quilting career I am getting rather picky about what I buy. I started collecting fabric when I was a tween ... it was Provencal cottons from France. I actually used some of it this past year in a quilt. I spent a few years building a stash of Japanese taupes. They are hard to come by, and I got most of them at Quilted Threads and Kallistiquilts on Etsy. Then I realized that I might not be the only one who loves these fabrics so I have opened up a little online shop,, to sell the fabrics that I really love, like Liberty of London, Daiwabo yarn-dyed taupes, and Michael Miller Cotton Couture.

Can you share with us one quilting or sewing tip?

Follow your quilting personality! I write about this in The Quiltmaker’s Butterfly Forest. I used to go through phases where I tried to emulate the quilters that I knew who are really technically perfect, or who did great work with super-bright fabrics. But I have realized that my best work is done when I do what I do naturally. For me that means that color and the overall mood are the most important parts of the quilt, and that there are usually 40+ fabrics in any one project. For you it will probably be totally different. Just go with what your natural tendencies are. Grow those into their full potential.

How did you come up with the idea for The Quiltmaker's Butterfly Forest?

It is quite a long story, and I write a little about it in the book. It involved being a new mom, going to the Amazon, swimming in a caiman-infested river, and then trying to capture just a tiny bit of the beauty and mystery that I felt on that trip.

Thank you so much for sharing, Felicia!

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