Starting this piece, I feel kind of like a little kid, wanting to tell you everything and then more – but I’ll have some restraint. The subject of this post is about chain-stitching and how it’s used today by Brooklyn-based brand Knickerbocker MFG. More specifically, I reached out to Brian Blakely, who works with the team, to find out a little more about his craft, how he got into it and where he wants to go with it. As a brand, Knickerbocker are up there at the top for me, they are just doing it as it should be done – more on them later as I could gush on and on about them, just like a little kid. Over to Brian.
For me, from day one, it was the sound of the machine that pulled me in. The clack of the presser foot hitting the plate; being able to visibly see your designs coming to life on top of the fabric. I was instantly hooked.
My name is Brian Blakely, I am 23 years old and I do embroidery.
I started in the industry a little less than a year ago and work primarily on a Singer 114w103 Chain Stitch Embroidery Machine in Brooklyn, New York. I work mostly out of the Knickerbocker Manufacturing Company where I work on our brand under the same name.
I got into doing embroidery in late summer of 2015 and was fascinated with the machine from the first time I used it. I was terrible at first, not knowing how to work the machine and having no idea what its capabilities were, apart from being able to write a name on a jacket. The only real place to start with explaining how I got into embroidery would be with Knickerbocker itself.
Our space is located in Ridgewood, New York. Knickerbocker was started three years ago by Andrew Livingston, Daniel “Rickard” McRorie and Kyle Mosholder. The facility was once the old Watman Headwear Corporation, having been in business for 60+ years producing baseball caps and felt hats for the Hasidic community. The then owner Steven Watman made an offer to Andrew to take over the facility. Teaming up with Dan and Kyle they started the place that so many of us now call home.
My job and passion fall within our brand, which is under the same name as the facility itself, Knickerbocker Manufacturing Company. I came on as an intern, fascinated by everything they had produced in their year and half. Never had I stumbled across a group of people making things that resonated with me so much. I’d been following the brand for quite some time and jumped at the chance to work with such a great group of people. I took an internship in sales, a field I had never thought I would be apart of being in school for photography at the time. Fast forward six months and I think by that point I was spending more time within that old factory than I was anywhere else. I worked my ass off day in-and-out and became head of our sales department and overseeing garment production. I was and still am loving every minute of it no matter how stressful it can get. I knew though being inside this place, where so much is being made I needed to learn how to use some of the machinery and I wanted to produce something myself.
It was a summer day and a few of us were messing on the machine, I hopped on to try and write my name. It looked like what your 5-year-old would write in crayon to put it lightly, but I was determined to learn. I stayed late for the next month every night, until I felt comfortable scribbling around and decided to do my first direct to garment piece. It was an older tan Knickerbocker sample and I placed the term “One Up the Devil Himself” with the numbers 667 on the chest. I pulled the inspiration from an old hot rod which I had seen with this painted on the side. From then forward I have been taking on as much commissioned work as I can handle and continue producing one-off pieces for sale as well as taking on a few production runs doing projects with Wooden Sleepers a vintage shop based in Red Hook Brooklyn, Knickerbocker Mfg. Co., Rickard Guy New York, Peel’s Painting, retail store American Two Shot and most recently Obey Clothing.
I’ve been very fortunate to have found a craft where I could display my art, having painted flash for many years, I use many of the same references and styling in that as I do now for embroidery. I love the look of simplicity, a single rose sitting proud on a piece or some classic Americana inspired folk artwork. The better the picees come out, the more pieces I want to do. I love the big intricate works but sometimes some nice clean lettering is all I look forward to hitting. I love the customization factor of the craft, being able to create one off pieces that no one has ever seen or possibly thought about seeing on a piece of clothing.
I plan on growing with embroidery and have recently picked up a second machine for myself to have for a home studio setup. I want to take this old craft I feel so grateful to have learned and push my machine and myself to the limits. I have some large scale projects that should be coming out by the end of the year and are going to be more of art and show pieces. Keep your eyes peeled!