Photos courtesy of Katy Biele.
Katy Biele grew up in Chile around a very artistic family, so it’s no surprise that she’s an artist. Her grandmother had a sewing studio, and Biele’s mother and aunts love to sew, embroider, and knit. It’s these inspirations that led Biele to what she creates today: beautiful pieces that combine painting and embroidery.
Though Biele was always interested in fiber art and was a self-taught painter, she went to design school and earned a degree in graphic design from Diego Portales in Chile. She took additional illustration courses after she earned her degree, creating original drawings and selling them as postcards. She also held an exhibition in Chile with her drawings and paintings.
Travels to India
In 2015, Biele took a trip to India that completely changed her art. Always eager to travel, she participated in a program called Help Exchange. Help Exchange connects volunteers all over the world with free short-term housing and food in exchange for volunteer help. “I lived overseas for about four years traveling and living in different countries of the world,” she says. “I went to India to work as volunteer in Thar Desert and I thought [about] doing a project and crowdfunding to help them. . . It was an amazing project and great experience.”
There, Biele worked with Ashok Bishnoi and a team of refugee Pakistani fiber artists. Using the money from crowdfunding, Biele helped the artists create a home decor collection with their embroidery and khadi weaving.
She also walked away with a new skill: The artists taught Biele how to embroider, and she became completely obsessed.
Biele returned from her travels and continued to practice embroidery, but it wasn’t until 2017 when she started combining her love of painting with embroidery. It wasn’t a success right away.
“My first experiments were not nice at all,” says Biele. “First I tried on paper and then I started on the fabric.”
After several experiments, she found the best combination of supplies to get the texture and look she wanted.
Embroidery + painting
Biele’s go-to supplies are acrylics, gouache (like an opaque watercolor), inks, watercolors, paper, and sketchbooks. She adds embroidery using fabric, yarn, and threads—some of which are from Peru and Chile.
She says this combination of painting and embroidery helps take her art to another abstract level. It also brings a taste of her own culture to other parts of the world. That’s very important for Biele now that she spends most of her time in western Canada. “I think here in Canada this kind of art is very different and talks a lot of my South American culture. I am Chilean so it reflects a lot [on] what I do, with my culture and Latin American art.”
Once she combined painting and embroidery, her art began to branch out. Biele started selling embroidery kits that she refers to as intuitive. “The process of this is that everybody can stitch it in a different way if they want,” she says.
“There are not rules and expectations; just follow the intuition.”
Teaching and gallery work
Biele had started teaching painting workshops in Chile before her journey to India, and she added embroidery workshops in 2016. The workshops were a huge hit. “I felt that people were very excited about learning and doing something new,” she says. “Also art makes people happy!”
Teaching also allows Biele to do something else she loves: travel. Her workshops are held all over the world, from Chile to England, The Netherlands, Spain, and Canada.
When Biele found her new style and started teaching workshops, she also started to get more invitations to exhibit in galleries. The pieces she creates for galleries are the same as the pieces she sells online, except that the gallery pieces are usually bigger in size. She has exhibits all over the world, from the National Gallery of Singapore to Dyeing House Gallery in Italy.
As for what’s next, Biele has added calendars to her product line and says she would like to create some larger pieces, plus work on more commissions and collaborations. “Creating art is my life. It feeds my soul,” she says.
Ashley Little is a craft writer and editor by day, serial crafter by night. Her blog, TheFeistyRedhead.com, explores knitting, crocheting, sewing, and crafting at large, and includes Ashley’s own original patterns and reviews. She’s also a regular contributing writer for Craftsy.com and the author of Chunky Knits.