We're back with another amazing and inspiring fiber artist! If there ever was an artist who could inspire you to just “do you,” it’s Rachel Clark.
Rachel Clark’s one-of-a-kind wearable quilt pieces are some of the most colorful, intricate, and personal examples of fiber art I’ve ever seen. Rachel Clark is a quilter, but she’s also a fashion designer, storyteller, and a highly-quotable sage who has as much wisdom as she has creativity. I can’t wait to introduce you to her… in blog form.
Before jumping straight into Clark's story, make sure you check out our other fab fiber artists:
Raised by Strong Women
"I just think that everybody has a story. How you tell your story is important… it defines who you are, and also leaves a footprint… where you’re coming from, and hopefully where you’re going."
- Rachel Clark
The story of Rachel’s life and the people who encouraged her to pursue sewing is a bit of a rocky one. She grew up in the segregated south, as the child, grandchild and great-grandchild of seasoned sewists. Clark was raised by strong, creative women who led by example, showing her that even though a department store may not allow you try on an outfit because of the color of your skin, that doesn’t mean you can’t take a good look at those clothes and then go home and sew them yourself. (And that's exactly what the women in her life would do!)
Photo cred: Patchwork Nation
Because of all of the seamstresses in her life, Rachel said she didn’t have to find who she was – she already knew. She was a fiber artist by birth.
Finding Her Voice
Rachel’s life as a quilter didn’t fully blossom until she got married to her husband, Gary, and moved from New Orleans, Louisiana to Watsonville, California in the early 1970s. After this long-distance move, she found herself without community for the first time in her life. Clark discovered that even though she wasn’t very good at approaching people and striking up conversations, she was very good at designing clothing that could serve as an excellent conversation piece. (Which is a great sewing conference hack – always wear something handmade!)
Clark loved both dressmaking and quilting, and didn't feel the need to choose between the two. She explored the possibility of combining them to make unique clothes with quilting techniques. People were interested in her clothes, and in turn, interested in her. She used clothing to “invite people into [her] orbit.”
Photo cred: rdkc.com
Finding Beauty in Loss
After years of marriage and raising a son, Rachel's husband died unexpectedly, leaving her depressed and lost. Hearing her talk about this on her Patchwork Nation episode is heartbreaking. But then, in almost the same breath, she picks herself up and shares a conversation she had with herself and a decision she made to be a survivor.
"We have survived slavery. We have survived The Depression. We have survived the loss of husbands and children, and you are going to lie in your bed and whine about what has happened to you? Life goes on. You get up, and you move on."
Photo cred: Patchwork Nation
Now, let me just interject here that I have gotten very good at whining over the years. It could be listed pretty high up on my resume if I thought it would impress anyone. To hear Rachel Clark make such a matter-of-fact, bold statement...well, I better cut out my complaining (for a while. I'm still so good at it!)
After that turning point, Clark decided to pursue some of her life goals with new vigor and passion. One of those goals was to teach sewing around the country. A planned 3-year stint turned into a 25-year tenure that still continues today, as Rachel Clark inspires others to express their thoughts, feelings, and even their struggles through fiber art.
The Art of Rachel Clark
Clark's work is full of excitement, color and an eclectic use of materials and prints. She uses her interest in quilting, color, and high fashion to create unforgettable wearable quilts that explore themes from politics to farming. She uses anywhere from 5 to 175 different fabrics in any given piece, often waiting for years to finish a project until she finds just the right fabric.
Clark likes to teach her students to create art that depicts “your truth.” All of Rachel’s pieces are highly personal works of art that have helped her find her voice, and share her values with those around her. After her husband died, some people told her that she should go back to school and “get a real job,” but she trusted herself, and decided to dive even deeper into her craft, and she coaches other artists to do the same.
What's Rachel Clark Doing Now?
Rachel Clark continues to teach sewing while creating her own whimsical wearable art pieces. She has toured nation-wide with her one-woman fashion shows, and has been featured in many magazines like Threads, and “The Quilting Quarterly” on HGTV’s Simply Quilts.
She now has her own pattern line, RDKC Patterns, which includes patterns for coats, vests, and wall quilts. She has also published a booklet on wearable art techniques.
Photo cred: rdkc.com
Have you taken a class or been inspired by Rachel Clark? Let us know in the comments!