Let's Meet: Brooke of Thörn Alexander

Brooke of Thorn Alexander, Needlepoint Designer
Brooke of Thörn Alexander

It's time to meet Brooke of Thörn Alexander! If you haven't heard of Brooke, you're in for a treat, and if you have then you already know it's going to be ace.

Brooke hand-paints needlepoint canvases that can be turned into pillows, belts, passport holders and much more. Thörn Alexander's fresh and fun collection celebrates Brooke's love for colour, texture, animals and popular culture icons.

So, let's pop the kettle on and settle in to meet the vivacious and dynamic 26yr old who's taking the needlepoint world by storm all while saving the planet, one tree at a time. 

Hello Brooke, tell us more about your passion for needlepoint...
In short, I have five brothers and a sister who would rather be skateboarding. As a result, my mother channeled all of her needlepoint loving energy into me in order to fulfill a century’s-long family tradition.

I first learned how to needlepoint the summer of 2014 while living in an art gallery/hippie commune of sorts in London. Needlepoint was perfect for commercial breaks during the World Cup or paired with a cuppa after a full day of being “on.”

Yellow and blue bumble bee needlepoint pillow
Brooke's first needlepoint project

Needlepoint not only allowed me to create on the go, but to visually meditate whenever I wanted to. From long tube rides to unwinding at the end of an eventful day in Hampstead Heath, I loved how stitching allowed me to create something that would eternalize that summer forever.

I keep my first project, a bumble bee pillow in my bedroom and it always reminds me of a faraway city I will always feel at home in.

My favorite piece of the whole hustle is when I receive photographs from stitchers of their work. Many times there are stories that accompany the photographs that are as touching as the works themselves. Weddings, babies, birthdays, a torn ACL, carpool pick up, chemo treatments, I am deeply moved that people choose to incorporate my work into these moments. The spark of pride in their craftsmanship is a special connection that keeps me going.

Fans stitching Thorn Alexander needlepoint canvases on the beach, by the pool etc.
Top L-R: Cecilia Underwood and Jess Bottom L-R: Aby at Stitch Club Newport and Scotty, Brooke's little bro

I love how you see stitching as a visual meditation, do you use it to combat stress?
1000%. Art has always been a therapeutic outlet for me. Whether it was a way to overcome adversity, get over a boy or cope through my parents’ divorce, making art has remained a constant source of therapy. Some of my best work has come from these moments.

When I finally took on needlepoint, it was that aspect that made it addicting. Needlepoint is an opportunity to shut my mind off, slow it down and just chill out while being micro-active in the process. You do you, but I find that fifteen minutes a day keeps the stress at bay. It’s my evening meditation before bed.

Pop art style Biggie Smalls Pillow by Thorn Alexander
Biggie Smalls, first canvas designed by Thörn Alexander

You started needlepointing in 2014 and today you’re stocked in over 100 needlepoint shops! You’ve achieved so much in a short space of time, it’s fantastic! What advice would you give a budding needlepoint designer?
Thank you! It’s really crazy to reflect back on it all and look at the big picture. When I started out, I’d left my job in interior design to move to Burlington, VT, to nanny for a bunch of families, sell my paintings and work on my business around my hectic schedule. In fact, I sold my first three designs to buy more canvas. I haven’t slept ever since.

Instagram has been the most influential part of it all and I really believe it provided the platform to get where I am now. However, I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that it’s a lot of work!

I have had to sacrifice a number of things that I care about. I need five of me and every day feels like finals week. I thought my all-nighter days were in the rear-view mirror but I’m so lucky to be this busy!

Starting my own collection was an inevitable future for me. In fact, during my senior year of college, my friends and I were talking and I said, “I just want to start a company so I can hire my friends and we can just travel, ski and do cool sh*t.” I had a decade of painting, graphic design, photography, Adobe, print design, etc. under my belt before I started.

Blue Olivier the Owl Needlepoint Jewellery Box by Thorn Alexander
Olivier the Owl by Thörn Alexander

This foundation helped me a lot in that I could visually narrate my collection. I also had incredible mentors including Maria Timmerman, a Local Needlepoint Shop owner in my hometown of Dorset, Vermont and her painter Beth Nagle of Doolittle Stitchery.

I definitely get by with a little help from my friends. I am truly so lucky to have people in my life step up to the plate to help. Some help after work or when they have time off and others have been helping daily.

They are so supportive and can be found taping canvases and writing thank you notes so we can hang out and watch a movie. Currently, I have my buddy Cecilia helping me. She’s been keeping me company and helping me fulfill orders. “Thank you” will never be enough.

In regard to advice, I say, you go for it! It’s amazing what you can do with some solid photography and an Instagram account. Definitely bug your Local Needlepoint Shop. They are incredible sources of information and each one is different! I travel with a little bit of wiggle room budgeted so I can look to see if there are any needlepoint shops in the area.

Stitch Style has awesome stitch-along posts and Needlepoint.com has all you need for online lessons! They send you the kits and everything. Books that really spoke to me when I started were The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Capture Your Style by Aimee Song and Recipe For Press by Amy Flurry.

Jack rabbit handpainted needlepoint canvases by Thorn Alexander in two colourways, blue and yellow
Jack Rabbits by Thörn Alexander

How do you fit sewing into your daily life?
Needlepoint is more of a reward in my world than it may appear. It’s such a treat to do, so I often save it for when I’m traveling, late night or Sunday mornings catching up on Saturday Night Live. Every once in a while, I stitch between tedious tasks to unwind; it’s remarkable how much time you have when you park your phone in a different room and unplug.

My favorite time to stitch is with friends! Whether it’s our bi-weekly Stitch ‘N B*tch, or when I get the “wanna watch a movie, stitch and get cozy coz,” text, I’m like “uhhhh yuuuuuuussssss!” To find your Stitch Club chapter in your city, be sure to check out  Stitch Club Official.

Where do you sit down to sew?
Everywhere! On trains, planes and automobiles. Doctor’s offices, you name it. My mother even stitches in Board meetings… lol. The majority of my canvases are stitched when I sneak in a little vacay or take the Amtrak en route to see a loved one. However, every few days or so, I treat myself to a solid sesh.

My partner Ethan (or “Mr. Oceans” for those who follow me on Instagram) found our apartment while I was hiking out West with friends and thankfully it has an abundance of natural light for a tiny urban space. I have decorated it to be a creative sanctuary with art from all over amongst fabrics in blues, grays and creams. So, when I’m stitching at home, my true north is on my couch.

Pop art style John Lennon Needlepoint Cushion and Leo the Lion needlepoint pillow
Imagine and Leo the Lion needlepoint designs by Thörn Alexander

Which threads do you like to sew with the most?
I really love the buttery texture of Planet Earth, Pepperpot and Vineyard Silk Collections as I mostly like to do basketweave. It really makes the meditative stitching process so much more enjoyable than scratchy wools. This also goes for Silk & Ivory as they also have beautiful hues in a soft merino wool/silk blend. Blue Chip is my favorite color.

Fyre Werks gold isn’t my favorite thing to stitch with, but it certainly looks beautifully elevated once completed. My latest loves are the Treenway Silks. I’m having a real moment with their Montano Glacier Lake silk ribbon. The variegated blues speak to my soul.

What does a typical day look like at Thörn Alexander?
Each day is dynamically different which is so fun, but also a lot to keep track of! My days are spent hyper-focused on painting, shipping, invoicing, editing, kitting, taping, social media managing, etc. to the point that I rarely actually get to stitch! Every task is fairly time consuming so days easily escape me; I work like 80hrs a week.

There are days where I feel like the post office hours rule my life and others where I paint until 4:30 in the morning cuz I’m in the groove and decide to just sleep in. I’m a night owl for sure. Some of my favorite designs were painted well after midnight. My favorite days are out and about taking photographs for content or traveling. I have a lot of jobs, but they are all vital to keep moving forward.

Golf caddy loaded up with parrcels driving into the horizon
Shipping orders while on vacay - Thörn Alexander

Which designers do you love?
Oh gosh, I could write a dissertation as to whom I love, but I’d like to highlight a few fashion designers as they were my first muses and continue to inspire me. Fashion was always a visual language of expression spoken in my family, my great grandmother was a director for The New York Dress Institute in the 1940s, and I think it helps that since childhood it has been on my mind.

The appreciations for the intentional, intricate craftsmanship that blooms from the houses and imaginations of Diane Von Furstenburg, El Anatsui, Kehinde Wiley and Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen are everything.

The ethos behind brands like Patagonia and Mejuri in respect to sourced materials and social responsibility play a huge role in the kind of founder I want to be.

I’m also fascinated by the everlasting evolution by which politics has informed fashion and vice versa. For this reason, I’m really loving Lingua Franca at the moment. Their hand-embroidered sweaters speak volumes of the tone of our society today and they give back to various organizations for a better, brighter future.

Brooke also gives back, for every needlepoint canvas sold one tree is planted by Thörn Alexander's partner, One Tree Planted.

Young woman stitching a needlepoint belt canvas by a lake surrouned with mountains
Brooke's friend, Allie, stitching in Jackson Hole

What do you watch while you stitch?
Dude, I am such a movie buff, it isn’t even funny. I’m constantly running out of things to watch. Movies I’m loving lately are On The Basis of Sex, Mary Queen of Scots and Free Solo. TV-wise, I’ve seen just about everything under the sun (except for horror or true crime), but Saturday Night Live is a weekly ritual, I love all historical fiction, and The *cough* Bachelor *cough*.

On YouTube I watch the Vogue 73 Questions, in fact, it was through Amy Adams’ interview with Vogue a ways back that I found out she is a needlepointer! When I’m on the T or walking about the city to run errands or meet a friend, I listen to podcasts. I’m new to the podcast game, but I’m always trying to surround myself with resources that will better my platform. I listen to Girlboss, How I Made This and Freekonomics.

Music artists I’m digging at the moment include Aubrey Haddard and Will Pellerin (two buddies that I have to plug because they are going for it and are crushing the game!) and Tash Sultana and Wild Child.

Blue Mimi the Whale handpainted needlepoint canvas by Thorn Alexander
Mimi the Whale needlepoint canvas by Thörn Alexander

Are your designs in some way a travel diary of the places you’ve been?
Absolutely! I truly believe that traveling is the best way to learn and is one of the biggest reasons why I started this company in the first place. Growing up, we were always on the road and moved around a lot.

Through these travels, I’ve been very fortunate to have interacted with a fair amount of inspiring landscapes, people, architecture, art and cuisines both within the US and abroad. This upbringing taught me to be compassionate, open-minded and a have a desire to see as much of the world as I can. Not only that, but to protect it. This is a piece of me that I try to evoke through my brand by way of subtle design decisions, sustainability practices and giving forward efforts around the globe.

Keeping a journal has never been my strong point so I like to think my photographs and sketchbooks are visual snapshots of different parts of my life. My work has captured my saddest days and the ones that have brought me the most happiness. Books that I’ve read, movies I’ve watched, music I’ve listened to, places I’ve been, they 1000% percent not only evolve my world view, but inform my designs as well.

Art is a healing, tangible expression of how the world around you moves you. I have some exciting trips planned ahead including Bermuda, Montana, British Columbia, maybe Machu Picchu and Kilimanjaro, all places I have never been before so I am really looking forward to seeing how they affect my collection.

Ben Bear and Isla Ibex needlepoint sign and purse by Thorn Alexander and the beauiful scenary of mountains and wild flowers that inspired them
Top L-R: Ben Bear and Camping in Curtis Canyon, WY Bottom L-R: Jackson Hole and Isla Ibex

How do you keep your needlepoint portable so it travels well with you?
When traveling, I love to bring along small projects that can fit in a project bag! Within an additional smaller bag, I keep thimble pads, needle threaders, extra needles in both sizes and a pair of small scissors. If I’m flying internationally, I tend to swap these out with nail clippers or a thread cutter. I wrote Stitching On The Fly, How To Travel With Your Projects to share more of my top tips!

I’m not one for frames so I usually have my projects rolled up in a project bag secured with a silk scrunchy or lying flat if possible. For me, it is more about the feeling I get from stitching than the final product.

I tried a frame once for my bison, heard the lectures and don’t care to hear another. I respect the hustle, but I am over people who criticize other stitching styles.

I like to “sew” or “scoop” quickly. I am not that delicate with my work but I have even tension and they turn out just fine. The imperfections gained act as tangible markers of memories for me.

Spirit Bison by Thorn Alexander stretched onto a plane and being stitched on a place
Stitching on the fly with Thörn Alexander

Which needlepoint books do you use?
Stitches To Go by Susanne Howren & Beth Robertson and A-Z of Needlepoint by Country Bumpkin are the two that I recommend the most for beginners. In fact, I have two copies of Stitches To Go, just in case! They’re both great for toting around and stitching on the go.

If the A-Z series is new to you, Mary Corbet of Needle 'n Thread has written an excellent review about Country Bumpkin, The New Face of the A-Z Series of Embroidery Books.

What’s the future for Thörn Alexander?
This is an excellent question. To be quite honest, I have no idea and that’s oddly very exhilarating for me.

My hopes and aspirations for Thörn Alexander are to encourage individuals to tap into their creative potential and cultivate a loving relationship with the joys of making something with their hands.

If you have the motor skills to tie your shoes, you can needlepoint. Needlepoint is a way to honor a feeling, a role model or an occasion that will last for generations to come.

Ethan and I will be moving to British Columbia this fall. He’s an oceanographic engineer and has been such an amazing supporter of my dreams and it’s time for us to go chase his.

With visas and shipping and all that jazz, there are a lot of things up in the air to navigate. I’m all for moving to a new place and this one in particular is highly accessible to the outdoors, a lifestyle I truly miss, so I’m stoked!

I have a few other creative avenues I’d like to explore so this may be a fine opportunity to take those on too. Who knows, but I’m excited for new scenery from my studio

Blue leather ring dish with Martie the Mountain Goat needlepoint design by Thorn Alexander in the centre
Fred's fave is Martie the Mountain Goat by Thörn Alexander

One thing I know for sure is that I will be attempting to summit Kilimanjaro January 2nd 2020. It will be such an amazing way to kick off the year and collaborate with non-profits based in Kenya. I will be climbing with Flying Kites and The Leo Project, two organizations centred round elevating children out of poverty through education.

I plan to fundraise through the sales of a new kit I am working on with The Leo Project’s fearless leader, Jess. I’m just really excited to rework my worldview and to be inspired.

Thank you so much for sharing your artistic journey so far with us, Brooke, it's been a pleasure to get to know the woman behind the brand, Thörn Alexander. Follow Brooke on Instagram to stay up to date with her new adventures!

Last time Jenny Henry shared her needlepoint journey with us over at Let's Meet: Jenny Henry Designs, and next time we'll be meeting Anne of Anne Fisher Needlepoint and I can't wait!

We love hearing from you, please leave your thoughts or questions for Brooke in the comments.

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I'll be back soon...until then, have a stitch-tastic time! 

Shannan, Bobbin and Fred xX

Fred the papier mache Goat kindly asking for social shares if you enjoyed this post

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