Go Biggie or Go home
Behind the scenes:
Q&A by McKenna Polich of The lala, May 24th, 2016
What made you want to start Tess & Thorn?
Tess: Brooke. She is the mad scientist behind our whole operation. When I met her that day in my Mom's painting studio, saw her designs and heard what she was doing I was so inspired and knew I had to play a part in this somehow.
Brooke: Tess & Thorn is honestly a result of being lost in the right direction. After graduating from University last May  with an Art History degree, I decided to embrace the fact that I had no flipping clue what I wanted to do. I had worked in galleries, interior design and for an equestrian handbag line and enjoyed it all deeply, but had always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I knew that I wanted to be a designer, but I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to focus on as I have a long list of things I want to create and believe in checking off the “what if” boxes. My creative aspirations include starting a jewelry line, being an interior designer, designing snowboards and launching a hand bag collection. I have also dreamed of designing windows for Bergdorf Goodman and Alexander McQueen surfboards. It took me over ten years to succumb to my mother’s wishes to start needlepointing, but to my pride’s dismay, I fell in love. I discovered that there were several benefits to needlepoint other than just the final product and wanted to encourage peers to do the same. In addition, it was a way that I could continue painting in a way that is more versatile and marketable.
Tess’s needlepoint roots are deeeeeeep. Last summer, Tess's mother, Beth, and I connected through our local shop, In Stitches Fine Needlepoint in Dorset, VT. It was during a studio visit that I met her daughter, Tess. Tess had been living in New Orleans at the time and is one cool chick. We hit it off right away and decided to pursue a partnership as entrepreneurs.
With needlepoint, Tess & I found that there was room for a revolution of sorts, a niche market if you will. Ultimately, we found that starting Tess & Thorn not only allowed us to be creative and collaborative, but to make our mark in the needlepoint industry simply because designs like ours don’t exist in that market. Our mothers, especially Beth, have been an incredible mentors and I can’t wait to see where this journey takes us.
Tell us a little bit about how you got into needlepoint?
Tess: That, I owe all to my Mom. She's been stitching, painting and designing needlepoint since as far back as I can remember. I grew up around it. I have many fond memories of hanging out in needlepoint stores as a little girl. I never thought it was something that I could do though. It wasn't until a couple years ago when I was living in New Orleans. I was going through a hard time and was really stressed out. My Mom suggested I pick up needlepoint and start stitching as a stress reliever. I entertained the idea but never followed through with it until I made a trip home to Vermont. My Mom and I sat down and she taught me how to stitch. That day was huge, everything changed for me. From there I was stitching daily, couldn't get enough of it. I started painting for my Mom's needlepoint line, Doolittle Stitchery. And that was around the time I met Brooke and everything fell into place.
Brooke: We both owe it all to our mothers. Plain and simple. The results are what inspired us to keep going. Tess started by acting as an apprentice for her mother, painting and stitching designs. My journey began with [a hippie commune,] a blank canvas and some freestyling. [Long story.]
The one attribute that both took away from needlepointing is that it was a platform to visually and creatively meditate. Whether you’re surfing, stitching, hiking, biking, or heck, shopping, at the root of it all, the act of doing what you love allows you to connect. To connect with your Self. To connect with others. To connect with the outside world and ultimately, shape your world view. To perpetuate an existential exploration of the Self through a meditative act.
Derived from the term “soul surfing," we call this journey soul stitching. We also metaphorically call this journey a wave. Waves come and go, some big, some small. Some pack a punch and some are lost before they muster the energy to reach the shore. No wave is the same and no wave is alone. Like the sound of the waves, the repetitive motion of needlepointing can be an incredibly beneficial (and productive) aspect of your daily routine. Maybe it’s for fifteen minutes on the train to work or in the Doctor’s office. Maybe it helps you stitch your way through a long plane ride. Or maybe, it is even a visual outlet that lets you ground yourself as you cope through a difficult time. In fact, I find that after a day or two away from my projects allow tension to resurface.
Because the design is painted for you, all you have to do is follow the pattern while you free your mind. The repetitive motion doesn’t require too much attention so you can either focus on your surroundings or unpack your train of thought. As a result, it also keeps your stress at bay by stitching for even a few minutes each day. Incorporating needlepoint into your daily routine allows you to set aside some time each day relax while tackling some tension or anxiety in a healthy way.
What inspires your designs?
Tess: Inspiration, for me, is everywhere. It's certain colors, patterns, shades, forms, sayings, ideologies, religions, people, places, things!
Brooke: I am very fortunate to have been raised around creative people my entire life. From art lovers, interior designers and creative DIYers with impeccable taste to fashion designers and and art teachers/professors, I have been subconsciously absorbing and developing my aesthetic since I was a child. This aesthetic then translates to a creative intuition. The best way that I can think of designing is like waking up from a dream. Sometimes I'll wake up with literally 50 designs in my head and have to desperately find my sketchbook to write them all down. By the time I get to the seventh, the others will have drifted off into the abyss, looking for the next artist or human collaborator to turn them into reality.
Our designing process is very dynamic. There are lots and lots and lots of layers, thin and thick. Typically a design will begin as a generic painted sketch. The composition and palette evolve through the development, changing as our surroundings change. Everything from the season to the playlist on the sound system to whatever we’re watching as we work, have a huge impact on the final product. For example, if one of us had just been flipping through an interior design book regarding a style in Santa Fe, New Mexico while watching Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, there's most likely going to be a juxtaposition of themes from the two incorporated in the final product. As a result, designs tend to feature different cultures and time periods cultivated to create a unique piece.
I am also highly influenced by my concern for preservation of our ecosystem. If I can spread awareness about how the exotic animal trade industry has an impact on our ecosystem while simultaneously inspiring young men and women to needlepoint, I’ve done my job.
Essentially, our designs are a result mixing and matching our favorite things, making them up as we go, allowing our subconscious take over as we work. Our designs also pay tribute to what inspires us from nature to icons. Drawing motifs, styles, and color palettes from different eras allow us to create non-traditional forms that transcend in time. While they are clearly contemporary works, there are several signals to historical periods well before our existence. For example, I am currently working on a pillow (for myself) that has a fauvist Biggie Smalls with an Italian Baroque background.
How would you suggest girls our age get into needlepoint?
Tess: It's one of those things where it seems impossible to learn how to do. I remember feeling that way when my Mom suggested I pick it up. I would get frustrated because it seemed like a trade or something that you needed a degree in! Turns out, all you need is 10 minutes with someone who knows how to stitch and you got it down. After just a few stitches, people realize why women obsess over needlepoint. Just pop into your local needlepoint shop OR watch a YouTube video!
Brooke: There are eight million reasons why you should take up needlepointing. Trust me, I know that on the surface, needlepoint can come off as being kind of dorky. But in truth, it lets you do something cool. Needlepoint allows you express individuality while creating something that no one else will have. Due to connotations of our grandmothers, you could even say there’s a secret society of stitchers. In fact, it wasn’t until Tess & I launched our line that I found out one of my best friends, Molly, needlepoints. Plot twist.
The many benefits of needlepoint include visual meditation opportunities, relaxation, envy worthy results. There are few other monotonous hobbies you can do that result in such beautiful works that will last for generations. I love the fact that although I only spent a few years with my step-grandmother, I can hold pillows that she created with her own hands. You can customize projects, give them as gifts, create your own couture and be your own interior designer. In fact, we did a blog post on a few of our favorite reasons to start stitching.