Designer Edge: Rachel Andrew
Skilled seamstress Rachel Andrew has sewn clothing for years, but was reluctant to try quilting … that was until she found a way to make it her own. Combining her garment-making skills with quilt block patterns and a bright colour palette, her inspiring designs have caught the attention and admiration of fashionistas and sewists worldwide.
Rachel’s biggest fan, and her business namesake, is her daughter Alexia Rees. Rachel has always made clothing for Alexia. For a few years she made her entire wardrobe. “I would send my daughter to school every day in a handmade dress and her teacher would comment on it and tell me I should try quilting,” says Rachel. “I would laugh and tell her that there’s no way I’d make a quilt. Up until then, the only quilting I was familiar with was more traditional quilts. Those are just not my style so I disregarded all those well-meaning people. Eventually I got to thinking, ‘what’s the big deal with quilting?’ I went to our local library and started flipping through quilt books. I stumbled upon a crazy nine-patch quilt and knew immediately that this design would become a dress. That was the start of my quilted clothing.” With her vision came the challenges of learning to quilt.
Rachel had to learn all about paper piecing, pressing verses ironing, and squaring up blocks. But she’s taken it all in her stride, with an open mind and a willingness to learn. “My first quilt dress was really a mess. I didn’t know anything about quilting. After finishing it and knowing what a hard time I had with seams matching, bunching etc, I started Googling proper quilt technique. I’m in a few quilt groups on Facebook and I check in every now and then and just read. I see what other questions people have and absorb all the information I can. If I need or want to know something in particular, like how to paper piece, I research it before starting.”
In just a few hours Rachel can sew up a standard dress. But her quilted garments are much more labour intensive. First, she makes the quilt top. She then bastes the quilt top to the backing before lightly quilting. She cuts out the pattern pieces from the quilt and assembles the garment. Rachel pays special attention to scale and balance when creating her quilted clothing. “If you use 5in half-square triangles for the skirt, that’s just too big to use in a child’s-size bodice. I like to make the half-square triangles about half that size or even smaller. Or, if you make the skirt half-square triangles smaller, then the bodice can be the same size,” Rachel explains. “When I make a bodice or a bodice insert that is quilted, I apply lightweight interfacing to the back of the quilt top and then stitch my quilt lines. When constructing the clothing, I fully line the bodice. Then you won’t have extra stitching irritating a little one’s skin.”
Having ventured into the quilting world, Rachel is inspired by the limitless design possibilities. Bargello, half-square triangles and paper piecing are some of her favourite techniques and patterns. She’s drawn to teals, pinks and purples and garments with clean and simple silhouettes, which allow the patchwork to be the ‘wow’ factor. Her garments are designed for six- to 12-year-olds. “There’s so much out there for the younger girls and for women. I want to help tweens feel confident and beautiful while rocking a totally unique outfit.”
The admiration for her clothing continues to surprise and inspire Rachel. Last year, her collection of quilted garments was featured at Omaha Fashion Week and she hopes to design more runway collections. “Although I’m extremely excited that my quilted clothing is getting all this recognition, it still feels surreal. I grew up in a small town and still think of myself as just this girl from Nebraska who happened to start making something unique. It hasn’t quite sunk in yet that this could be something big!”
Rachel is excited to continue learning and trying out new techniques and patterns. “There’s always room for improvement, but don’t be afraid to try. I would have given up a long time ago if I had given in to failure. It’s a part of the learning process. Sometimes I’ll seam rip out whatever wasn’t working and other times I just dump it in the trash and try again when I better understand the process. Everyone starts somewhere and what works for one person may not be right for someone else.”
To find out more about Rachel and her business, Alexia Rees, visit the website (www.alexiarees.com) and follow it on Instagram (www.instagram.com/alexiareesdesigns) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/alexiareesdesigns).