Award-winning Quilting Designer Rachaeldaisy
We catch up with Rachaeldaisy, an award-winning quilting designer who discovered patchwork and quilting in her mid 30s.
By Erica Spinks
The first question that comes to mind when meeting Rachaeldaisy is how she came to have such a playful name. “Daisy was my beloved pet dog and she was the light of my life. Somewhere along the line Rachaeldaisy became a nickname,” she explains. “It also ties in with my florist days. I used Rachaeldaisy as my online name when I joined Flickr and then again when I started my blog, ‘Blue Mountain Daisy’.
A few years later, when I decided to enter my quilts in shows, it made sense to continue using Rachaeldaisy as that’s how people knew me. I now use it for anything related to my quilting. I like to think it’s a fun, happy and slightly quirky name, which suits the style of my quilts.”
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Rachael discovered patchwork and quilting in her mid-30s. “I arrived in a new city and decided I needed a hobby,” she says. “I looked around for dressmaking classes but couldn’t find any that fitted in with my busy work schedule. Around that time the Sydney Quilt Show was on and, on the spur of the moment, Mr Daisy and I thought we’d go and have a look. It was as though we’d wandering into a wonderland with so many beautiful quilts and endless aisles of fabric.” Rachael went home that evening with a bag of quilting tools.
Ignoring friendly advice to begin with a small project, Rachael immediately started on a queen-size quilt of squares. “I didn’t have a pattern because I thought, how hard can it be to sew squares together?” she laughs. “I wasn’t brave enough to machine-quilt it so I hand-quilted entirely with stitches that would make the quilt police laugh. Looking back, I realise I pretty much did everything wrong but the quilt has lasted all these years and is still one of my favourites.”
A childhood in an inventive family immersed Rachael in creativity. “My parents were artists and our house was full of art — colourful rooms with abstract paintings, big bold Marimekko curtains, Indian textiles, Sri Lankan batik wall hangings, Japanese scrolls and contemporary ceramics,” she explains. Creativity was always encouraged and Rachael admits to being immersed in multiple projects involving drawing, painting, pressing flowers, collage, cross stitch and tapestry.
Rachael’s grandmother introduced fabric into her granddaughter’s artistic life. “She would make clothes and I’d use her scraps to make clothes for my dolls,” Rachael says. “My grandmother later taught me embroidery stitches, English paper piecing and basic dressmaking. It was always a treat to go to a fabric shop with her; seeing all those colours, patterns and textures and then watching them turn into a garment that someone could wear was quite magical.”
Rachael became a florist in her early 20s, which provided the opportunity to hone her eye for colour, texture and design. “Floristry gave me the chance to play with these elements, not only with flower arrangements of all types but also eye-catching window displays, installations for events and magazine shoots.”
She applies many of the same design skills to her quilts and sees her quilting as a continuation of her creative life journey. “Inspiration is everywhere! Sometimes it’ll be the fabrics that inspire me, or sometimes colour I see in nature or in an outfit someone is wearing. Even song lyrics or a phrase can catch my attention.
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Art from all eras. Books of antique quilts are always inspiring and I love how ‘modern’ some old quilts look. A challenge theme is great for making me think outside the square. If I get an idea, I like to let it simmer and see where I can take it. I’m always scribbling down ideas on bits of paper, which I then try to transfer to a note book.”
Rachael won Best of Show at the Sydney Quilt Show in 2016 and Best of Show at the Modern Quilt Show Australia two years in a row. “I have been very honoured that my quilts have won some very special awards,” she says. “I never set out to make quilts with winning prizes in mind. The reason I enter shows is to contribute to the quilting community. If people don’t enter quilts we wouldn’t have quilt shows.”
Winning the Sydney Quilt Show was like a dream for Rachael. “I’m still pinching myself. I thought I was going to faint when I was receiving the award. It was lucky Greg Alexander, the managing director of Bernina Australia, was there to hold me up as people were taking photos. It was an earlier visit to the Sydney Quilt Show that made me decide to make a quilt, so to win at that particular show was extremely special.”
The impressive views that surround her in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, strike creative sparks within Rachael’s mind. “If I need to clear my head I go for a walk and stretch my legs. Seeing colours and shapes in flowers, trees and rock formations is always inspiring. Walking is wonderful for thinking through creative blocks, too.”
Afterwards, she returns to her sewing room where she makes “mountains of fabric mess”. Her space is simple and functional, with white walls to reflect light and white floor tiles so pins and needles don’t get lost. “It’s set up with furniture that I can move around to suit different projects. My sewing room is my happy place and I love spending time with my fabric, listening to music or podcasts as I sew.”
Rachael describes her quilting style as a “kangaroo on a pogo stick” because “I jump around using different colours, styles and techniques. One minute I’ll make a quick colourful scrappy liberated quilt and the next quilt will be a slow project of hand-sewing hexagons. Again, bringing it back to my floral experience in the flower shop, one minute I would make a delicate posy of pretty spring flowers and then the next arrangement would be a big modern tropical arrangement. In the same way, I enjoy the variety of styles and techniques quilting has to offer.”
She likes to play with colour, preferring bright, mixed patterned fabrics and loves scrappy quilts where she includes as many fabrics and colours as she can. “I like the idea of seeing new things each time someone sees my quilts. I also try for big impact to draw you in but then little details to charm those who look closely.” Her Blooming Doilies quilt in the 2015 Red and White Challenge at the Sydney Quilt Show was an example of her approach, when she quilted it with five different shades of red Perle 8 thread. “So even though it’s a two-colour quilt, I was able to sneak in some variety of colour,” she notes.
Taking inspiration from traditional techniques and using them in contemporary ways is another characteristic of Rachael’s quilts. “A friend once told me that I walk the line between traditional and modern, which I think is an apt description of my quilts,” she comments. “I like to include texture where I can through different fabrics or with quilting. I seem to be working more and more with three-dimensional elements, such as blocks with folded points, yo-yos or appliquéd doilies.”
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The myriad techniques of patchwork and quilting offer ample variety for Rachael’s explorations. Her current projects explore different ways of using folded-point blocks, as seen in her prize-winning Whizz Bang! quilt. She confesses these blocks can become addictive. “I keep jotting down new ideas as they come to mind so I might be making a few quilts,” she laughs.
“Sometimes it’s fun to just sit at the sewing machine and simply piece fabrics together. Other times I like hand stitching, whether it be piecing or appliqué, because it’s portable and can be done anywhere. Liberated, wonky or crazy piecing is always a joy for the freedom it allows and the surprises that can occur.”
Rachael enjoys hand quilting with Perle 8 thread and big stitches to add yet another layer of texture and colour to her work. “Quilting is that part of the process where the quilt is on its way to being finished, a chance to spend quality time adding final touches,” she explains.
A quote by Picasso — “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away” — resonates with Rachael. She has been sharing snippets from her life on her blog since 2010. “It is my little part of the internet. It’s a colourful diary of fabric, flowers, vintage fun and my life in the Blue Mountains. When people visit ‘Blue Mountain Daisy’ I hope it adds a smile to their day,” she says.
“There have been so many wonderful moments on my quilting journey so far, from kind comments from strangers who read my blog who have seen my quilts, to having my quilts published in magazines and winning prizes.” Rachael has also started sharing her quilt designs through teaching and writing patterns.
When asked about her creative goals, Rachael states: “I simply want to continue making beautiful, whimsical quilts that add colour to the world and make people smile. I have so many ideas, it’s just a matter of finding more time. Plus there’s always the goal to cull my UFO pile. I think pretty much every quilter says that!”