With blasts of color and pattern, award-winning Quilt Designer Rachaeldaisy Dodd makes her presence known through her art. Working with a variety of fabrics provides endless opportunities to combine color, shape and line, creating quilts that honor tradition while making a statement in the here and now.
Why textiles? Why quilts? How did you get started?
I started playing with fabric with my grandmother when I was just a little girl. Granny would make clothes and I’d use her scraps to make clothes for my dolls. She later taught me embroidery stitches, English paper piecing and basic dress making. It was always a special treat to go to a fabric shop with her, seeing all those colours, patterns and textures and the way she turned the fabrics into garments that someone could wear was quite magical to me.
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With creative encouragement during my childhood I always had various projects on the go. I tried everything from drawing and painting, pressing flowers, collage, cross stitch, tapestry and sewing experiments, clothes, toys etc. I was always being creative in some form or other.
As for Why Quilts? I discovered patchwork and quilting in my mid thirties when I arrived in a new city (Sydney, Australia) and decided I needed a hobby. 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 wandered into a wonderland with so many beautiful quilts and endless aisles of fabric. The spark was lit and I went home that evening with a bag of quilting tools.
I ignored some friendly advice to start with a potholder or cushion and jumped in and made a queen size quilt of squares. I didn’t have a pattern because I thought “How hard can it be to sew squares together?”. I wasn’t brave enough to machine quilt it so I entirely hand quilted it 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 very favourite quilts.
What inspires you to create?
Inspiration is everywhere! Sometimes the fabrics inspire me. Sometimes the colour I see in nature or the colours of an outfit someone is wearing catches my eye. Even song lyrics or a phrase can spark an idea. 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. When 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 notebook.
How does your experience as a florist play into your quilt designs?
When I became a florist in my early twenties, it gave me the chance to play with color, texture and design. I used these concepts to create flower arrangements as well as designing eye catching window displays, installations for large events, fashion and magazine shoots. My quilting is very much as a continuation of a creative life journey. I apply so many of the creative processes and design elements I learned through my work with flowers to quilting.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I’ve described myself as “A Kangaroo on a Pogo Stick” when it comes to a quilting style. I jump around using different colours, styles and techniques; I enjoy them all! One minute I’ll make a quick colourful scrappy liberated quilt, and the next quilt will be a slow project of hand sewing clamshells.
This resembles my flower shop experience. One minute I would make a delicate posy of pretty spring flowers and then the next arrangement would be a big modern tropical composition. In that same way I enjoy the variety of styles and techniques quilting offers. I take inspiration from traditional techniques and enjoy seeing how I can use them in contemporary ways. A friend once told me that my quilts walk the line between traditional and modern which I think is an apt description.
I am a bit of a maximalist, making quilts that people describe with words like whimsical, swellegant, exuberant and happy-go-lucky, often with an added twist. I like to play with colour, preferring bright mixed patterned fabrics. Then I add texture where I can with fabric choices or quilting.
I am working more and more with 3 dimensional elements, making blocks with folded points, yo-yos, appliquéd doilies, etc. I love scrappy quilts, and the more fabrics or colours the better. Each time someone sees my quilts, I want them to see new things. I also try for a big impact to draw viewers in, but then have little details to charm those who look closely.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
People think I produce a lot but really I’m quite slow in my processes because of the planning I do. I like to take the time to find the right fabrics. Designing takes time, and taking time to try different options is all part of the process. I do a lot of hand sewing which is never fast. But I don’t think about time when I create. Somehow I block out the world and time doesn’t matter. I just immerse myself in fabric and stitches and off I go.
I’m pretty focused when creating and work hard to get things done by deadlines. That takes planning. I am a bit like the tortoise, plodding along slowly and steadily, but I always make it across the finish line.
What do you do to develop your skills? How do you get better at what you do?
I keep making quilts!! It’s like anything – you improve the more you do it. I learn new things with every quilt I make. Because I work intuitively I create and develop ideas as I’m working, and I often have experiments that go wrong or make mistakes. But that’s part of the process of trying new things. I keep my ears open for handy tips and interesting tricks, or I will read about things in books or on the internet. I’m odd in that I don’t like You-Tube so I don’t watch tutorials – I much prefer the written word.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your book, Whizz Bang Adventures with Folded Fabric Quilts?
I wrote Whizz Bang about the techniques that I used to make my Whizz Bang and other folded block quilts. It has colour photo step-by-step instructions to make different blocks, and several projects in a variety of styles to inspire the use of the beautiful textured circles. But the book is also about being creative. It’s primarily about taking a technique and seeing how to use it in different creative ways.
I chose to have my book published by Quiltmania, a French publisher, so the book is in French and English, but they’ve designed it so you quickly click into only noticing your preferred language. The bonus is that the pages with French allow for more photos, and that is the main reason I chose them as a publisher. Quiltmania produces beautiful books with lots of photos that show the details in my quilts. Close ups of the circle blocks show the patterns created by colour placement. In fact, I often have people tell me that they bought “Whizz Bang’” for the color and fabric inspiration.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I am lucky to have a sewing room where I can make mountains of fabric mess as I concoct my creative experiments. It’s very basic but functional with furniture that I can move around to suit different projects. I chose to have white walls to reflect light and white floor tiles so pins and needles don’t get lost in carpet. It’s my happy place and I love spending time with my fabric, listening to music or podcasts as I sew.
Outside the studio, I live in the Blue Mountains, an hour west of Sydney, Australia. It’s a beautiful place with National Parks with amazing bushwalks to explore and impressive views to admire. Mountains and valleys full of trees, waterfalls, rocks to climb, clouds to watch, all sorts of birds and wildlife. If I need to clear my head I like to get outside for a walk and stretch my legs.
Colours and shapes in flowers, trees and rock formations always inspire. These don’t always translate directly as pictorial work, but maybe as colour ideas, lines of branches, layered leaves. Also moving and staying fit is important to me as I want to be healthy so I can sew and create for many years to come.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
I’m a Bernina fan through and through!! I started with an old 60’s Bernina that still sews true and straight every time I get it out of the cupboard. Now I love my Bernina 720. It’s my everyday dream machine. I love the wide throat and it might sound silly but I love the giant bobbins. 70% more thread on a bobbin means they run out (and I have to change them) a lot less.
For workshops and a back up machine, I have a Bernina 215, which for a small machine is very solid. When I first got it I sewed a denim quilt on it to see if it could handle heavy sewing. It worked a treat!
My Karen Kay Buckley Perfect Scissors are extra sharp, comfortable and light to hold. I also love my little craft iron; it’s lighter than a large iron when pressing lots of small pieces. My unpicker gets a good workout too. I never hesitate to unpick, it’s all part of the process of getting something just right.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
I am always plotting and planning lots of fun things but I don’t like to say too much until I am certain they are happening. To keep up with my adventures you can find me on instagram as @bluemountaindaisy or through my website, www.rachaeldaisy.com
Can you tell us about your proudest moments as a quilter?
There have been so many wonderful moments on my quilting journey so far, from kind comments from strangers who read my blog or who have seen my quilts, to having my quilts published in magazines, to winning major prizes. I have been very honoured that my quilts have won some very special awards. I never set out to make quilts with winning prizes in mind. The reason I enter shows is to contribute and be a participant in the quilting community. If people don’t enter quilts we wouldn’t have quilt shows.
Winning Best In Show at the 2016 Sydney Quilt Show with my quilt “Whizz Bang!” was a dream. The Sydney Quilt Show is the largest quilt show in the Southern Hemisphere and accepts quilts from around the world. As an international show, to win awards there is always special.
Another amazing moment was to win Best in Show at the Modern Quilt Show Australia two years in a row, 2015 and 2016. Having the international judges, fabric/quilt designers and authors, Anna Maria Horner and Carolyn Friedlander, choose my quilt at the 2016 MQSA made the experience even better.
Winning a ribbon at Houston for my modern Yo-Yo quilt “Fair and Square” was a surreal experience, sitting with other quilters from around the world as we received our awards. The cherry on top was when I received the judges’ critiques. One judge wrote a simple line: “This quilt makes me feel happy!”. That, to me, is the best compliment anyone can give about my work.
The combination of winning Best in Show at the Sydney Quilt Show and The Modern Quilt Show in 2016 prompted my decision to teach. Mr. Daisy sat me down and said, “The Universe is trying to tell you something! You should think about sharing what you have with others.” I am ever grateful to have his encouragement and support in my creative endeavours.
The best part of the journey has been meeting so many lovely people along the way. My teaching has taken me to lots of wonderful places from all around Australia, France, the US and New Zealand. Wherever I go, I am always reminded that quilters are the loveliest people!
What are your favorite techniques, and why do you enjoy them?
The great thing about patchwork and quilting is the different techniques for different times and different occasions. I also like that there are always new and interesting things to try or to inspire new projects.
At the moment the different folded fabric blocks from my Whizz Bang book are my favourite thing to make. I’ve made about 20 of these quilts, and I still have ideas for more quilts using them. Seeing the kaleidoscopic patterns emerge as the blocks grow is quite magical and entices me to try them in different layouts and colours.
Sometimes it’s fun to sit at the sewing machine and simply piece fabrics together improvisationally and see what emerges. Liberated, wonky or crazy piecing is my most natural way of sewing. I love the freedom it allows and the surprises that occur.
Other times I like hand-stitching, whether it be piecing or appliqué. Those activities work anywhere, so they are portable. I’m also a fan of Yo-Yos or Suffolk Puffs. I overheard someone say they were boring and old fashioned – and that spurred me to use them in fresh, modern ways.
Hand quilting is one of my favourite stitching activities. The quilt is on it’s way to being finished, so it’s a chance to spend quality time adding final touches. I use perle 8 thread and love how big stitches add another layer of texture and colour. I quilt with all sorts of different stitches, crosses, zig zags, seed stitch: anything that adds interest and character to the quilt.
If you could interview a creative person (past or present), who would that person be? What is it about that person that intrigues you?
In the quilt world it would be Gwen Marsden. I was lucky to do some classes with her about 10 years ago and she was so wonderful in every way. I love her relaxed yet passionate approach to quilting. Her techniques were rooted in Traditional Amish quilting and yet she continued exploring new styles all the way through her life and generously sharing her knowledge with other quilters. I wouldn’t necessarily interview her but would love to just happily chat and sew together.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
While I believe everyone is creative, I don’t think it comes naturally to everyone. When I’m teaching I meet so many people who are wonderfully creative and clever with fabric choices and colour, and yet they don’t believe in their own abilities. I see a lot of what I do as a teacher is to help people gain confidence in their own innate creativity.
How can people overcome the challenges they feel to their creative ability?
Let go of being perfect!! I often see people being so worried that what they make won’t be perfect that it stops them from starting.
Creativity comes more naturally with confidence, and that can be gained by jumping in and trying things. Most of the time the result will be fabulous and if it’s not, you can always unpick it, or change it, or even scrap the idea. No one says we have to finish every idea. You will have learned creative processes along the way.
One creative trick to break you out of your comfort zone to try is to do the opposite of what you’d normally do. For example, instead of always using white low volume fabrics do the opposite and use black. This is what I did with my Ric Rac Razzamatazz Quilts.
Another trick is to start with something safe and add a bit of something different. For example, start with a range of fabric but then add some extra fabrics. This will inject a bit of unique personality. Or start with a pattern and then make a couple of changes, perhaps add an extra border or two. Those changes get your creative mind working..
Join in group challenges through quilt guilds. These are often for small quilts so it’s a great way to try an idea with a theme you might never have thought of yourself. Start a creative challenge group with some friends, pick a theme and make a small quilt each month.
I’d like to add that one of the fabulous things about patchwork and quilting is that it’s perfectly okay not to be “creative”. Sometimes it’s the act of making that brings joy, so why feel challenged to be creative? It’s great that there are patterns to follow, and that shops make kits for quilts so you can just make a beautiful quilt that you know you will love. Sometimes taking the pressure off and simply enjoying what you do without feeling challenged allows one’s creativity to naturally grow.
What is on your “someday” creative wish list?
I am a dreamer so I’m always having ideas of fun things I’d like to do. But more and more I’m really trying to reign myself in and focus on what is in front of me and the next step, so that my journey is one of appreciating every step of the path rather than racing from goal to goal. I do find that wonderful opportunities open up if you just continue to plod along and enjoy what you do.
Having said that, I do wish to make it back to the US and Europe to teach, when we get a lid on Covid. I’ll cross my fingers for the future. I find it so interesting and wonderful to teach abroad because quilters in different places bring their own unique perspective. Although one thing is for sure: no matter where I go in the world I am reminded how wonderful quilters are, and what a great community I am a part of.
Interview posted July 2021
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