Inside Rachael Porter’s Studio
A passion that began with the archetypal sampler quilt has blossomed into award-winning quilts, teaching gigs and now a blossoming online business for quiltmaker and designer Rachael Porter.
Words by Michael O’Neile. Photographs provided by Rachael Porter.
Rachael reminisces that her quiltmaking has markedly changed since she began this textile journey. Initially her quilts were machine pieced: – “why hand sew when I have a sewing machine?”
Now, her preferred approach is to hand sew, as she enjoys the meditative process of it. She finds that her chosen method of EPP allows great accuracy and also allows portability.
A “self-confessed fabric addict”, Rachael Porter is a NSW-based quilt designer and tutor who is becoming widely known for her exquisite English paper piecing. Essentially self-taught following a structured introduction, Rachael has developed her skills and had them acknowledged in a variety of ways: she was a category winner at the prestigious NSW Quilters’ Guild Show in 2016, she has had several quilts published in Quilters Companion, with one of them being chosen to feature on the magazine’s cover, she has been engaged as a tutor for the 2020 Australasian Quilt Convention in Melbourne and she is now enjoying commercial success with her own online quilting design, pattern and kits business, Stitches & Sew On.
When Rachael was a child, her grandmother would knit clothes for her dolls, and her mother knitted and stitched clothing. Although she took textiles as a subject in high school, her interest at that time was more in screen printing and batik rather than machine or hand sewing. She subsequently tried a number of different crafty hobbies, including cross stitching, ceramics, folk art and scrapbooking, but these were all eventually sidelined when she discovered quiltmaking.
In her early 20s, a chance encounter with a colleague where she worked who was teaching a beginner’s patchwork class grabbed her imagination and so began her fascination with patchwork and absorption in quiltmaking. She purchased her first sewing machine, a Janome, and visited her first patchwork fabric shop, thus setting in train a fabric obsession, and no doubt a growing stash.
The first quilt that Rachael made was a sampler constructed of pieced and appliquéd blocks, needleturned where required, and hand quilted. She has retained this sampler as an exemplar in her classes to make the point, especially for apprehensive beginners, that we all need to start somewhere when learning a new skill or technique. Rachael says that “it’s also good to look back on it every now and again” as a reminder to her of where she started and how far she has since progressed.
Following marriage and relocation from Canberra to the NSW Central Coast in 2006, Rachael sought out a patchwork shop that was to become her “local”, and not long after, she commenced working there. She remarks that “after a little coaxing, I also began designing and teaching”. Now Rachael operates her online business, Stitches & Sew On, as an outlet for her own patterns, with papers and template kits to accompany them. The patterns are for designs of her own creation including quilts, bags, cushions, needlecases and sewing satchels. Typically, the patterns use English paper piecing to achieve consistency and accuracy.
Rachael has taught patchwork for some years both locally and interstate, focusing mainly on her own designs. She draws inspiration for them from all manner of things such as tiled floors, antique quilts and fabric patterns. Her designs rarely emerge spontaneously in one inspired effort but evolve incrementally over time. They often begin as an idea for a block and develop through experimentation with papers to see what shapes fit together or to experiment with the different designs that can be created with just one shape and insightful placement of a particular fabric.
Rachael reminisces that her quiltmaking has markedly changed since she began this textile journey. Initially her quilts were machine pieced: – “why hand sew when I have a sewing machine?” Now, her preferred approach is to hand sew, as she enjoys the meditative process of it. She finds that her chosen method of EPP allows great accuracy and also allows portability. It is no problem for her to curl up in big recliner and stitch. The family Australian Shepherd dog, Oscar, is uncomfortable if all the family are not in the same room at night, so he will often “round her up” if she is settled in her “quilting space” and bring Rachael (and her stitching) in to join the family.
The quilting space is a spare bedroom that serves as a sewing room/office, housing her cutting table, Bernina sewing machine and an enormous fabric stash containing reproductions from both the 1800s and 1930s, many “pretties”, yuwa fabric, linen and Liberty prints. The room also serves as a temporary storage room for her online business patterns, papers and template packs.
Favourite tools include a rotating mat and 28mm rotary cutter, which, used together with acrylic templates for EPP, provide the speed and accuracy of cutting she requires. Rachael also uses Sewline glue pens for fast and accurate basting, especially when fussy cutting. A 3½in fussy cutting mirror and fussy cutting viewers are indispensable, as are size 11 milliners needles and Elfina (Wonderfil) thread – a 60wt cotton thread that “sinks beautifully into the fabric” for both EPP and appliqué.
Rachael has had several quilts published in Quilters’ Companion in recent years. Her first was Brighton Stars, which appeared on the cover of QC#65 Behind the scenes, her supportive husband arranged to have the cover and relevant pages from the magazine framed, and they now have pride of place on their hallway wall. Her second quilt to feature in Quilters’ Companion was Victorian Tiles, which was published after it won first place in its category at the Sydney Quilt Show in 2016, as well as first runner up, Star Quilt category, in the recent Quilters Companion Hall of Fame.
Although Rachael’s quilts are usually made for teaching purposes, she does have a current favourite. “It would have to be my Dear Violet quilt – one of the projects I am teaching at the Australasian Quilting Convention this year and am currently hand quilting. It’s mostly scrappy with lots of pretties and just a little fussy cutting. The centre is a beautiful Julie Wallace toile and the borders have a linen background with appliqué. It has a vintage feel and was named after my great grandmother, Violet.”
She encourages her students to use fabric that “makes them happy”.
An important feature of Rachael’s quiltmaking is that she needs to “love the fabric” she is using, otherwise the quilt is destined to remain unfinished. In this context, she encourages her students to use fabric that “makes them happy”. Whilst acknowledging that it is sometimes the fabric that attracts one to a quilt or project in the first place, if the fabric is no longer available, she likes to offer guidance to students in making alternative fabric choices. Equally, Rachael gets a “real buzz” when someone wants to make something that she has designed, and states “that is mainly why I teach”. But an important motivation is to demonstrate to students that something is not as difficult as it may seem. For example, she loves to see a student’s eyes light up when she demonstrates the fussy cutting mirror for the first time and their realisation that such a simple tool can open up their world in quiltmaking.
For the foreseeable future, Rachael will be working on developing on her website and online business, more teaching, making more quilts and developing ideas that are “floating around in my head … if only there were more hours in the day”.
To see more, visit Rachael’s website here.