It was a foregone conclusion that Rachel D.K. Clark would make quilts. It was part of her family’s heritage.
“My great-great-grandma sewed, my great-grandma sewed, my grandma sewed, and my mom sewed,” she said. “I just love the idea of creating. I consider myself a folk artist.”
Anyone who looks at the pieces that Clark creates would also consider them works of art. She makes brightly colored clothes – jackets, dresses, and more – that utilize quilting techniques to piece together up to 150 different fabrics into one garment.
“I would describe my style as very eclectic,” she said. “I love color. I like ethnic. And I like combining and mixing them.” It can take years to collect all the different fabrics she needs to create one garment.
“I am drawn to creating wearable art because it allows me to play with all sorts of ideas, and it allow me to use my voice to express or explore ideas and tell stories,” Clark added. “If I didn’t sew, I would be a storyteller.”
Instead of telling stories, Clark will be telling others the tricks that make her clothing so memorable at the Schweinfurth Art Center’s Quilting by the Lake conference, being offered July 14-26 at Onondaga Community College, in Syracuse.
Clark grew up in Louisiana when it was still the segregated South. She recalls her aunt visiting the only department store in town on the weekend to look at the latest styles. But she couldn’t try the clothes on because she was black.
“The clerk would hold them up and show her the front, then the back,” Clark remembered. “Then my aunt would go home and take brown paper bags, cut them up, and tape them together to make a pattern. The next week, we would be wearing the clothes she saw in the store.”
She moved to Watsonville, CA, in 1970 pregnant with her son and has lived there ever since. At first, being shy, Clark had a hard time meeting people in her new town. But when she wore one of her brightly colored coats, the compliments and conversations flowed.
In 1990, Clark’s husband died suddenly and she was at a crossroads. She decided to try her hand at teaching her quilting techniques for three years to see if she could make a living at it. She is still at it, nearly 30 years later.
“It has been a while since I taught at QBL,” she said. “But what I remember most is the camaraderie, that the space that I worked in was great, and that I met people there who have become longtime friends.”
Clark will be teaching a two-day class, “Fast Piecing with Seminole Techniques,” and a three-day class, “Clothing for the Body and Soul + Quilts.” She’s excited to teach Seminole piecing because she love watching her students begin to understand the technique and expand on it.
With her second class, she hopes to keep garment-making alive. “I’m glad there still are people wanting to create clothing that makes a statement,” she said.
Rachel D.K. Clark owns six sewing machines:
• Brother straight stitch
• Bernina 1530
• Singer Featherweight
• Janome Memory Craft 6500
• Husqvarna Viking 300
• Phaff 240
She uses the first two in her studio, the second two for teaching, and she needs to find homes for the last two machines.
What: Quilting by the Lake, a two-week fiber arts conference run by the Schweinfurth Art Center
When: July 14-26, 2019
Where: Onondaga Community College campus in Syracuse, NY
Details: Fifteen different in-depth workshops taught by 10 renowned instructors from around the world. Also available is an option for an independent studio space to work on your own projects without an instructor.
Cost: Varies depending on number of days attending, classes enrolled in, and whether room and board are needed
More information and registration: quiltingbythelake.com
TOP: Detail from Dragon Tales. Rachel D.K. Clark said she made this because she wanted to play with the Indonesian panel that she had.
PROFILE: Rachel D.K. Clark uses quilting techniques to make her one-of-a-kind clothing, include the piece she is wearing, Out of the Shadows, which was unfinished at the time.
SINGLE COAT: This coat, Let's Hear It for Seminole, represents one of Rachel D.K. Clark's favorite fast piecing techniques: Seminole piecing. She will be teaching that techquie at Quilting by the Lake 2019.
FRONT AND BACK: This coat, Running with the Wolf, honors blues singer Chester Barnett aka Howlin’ Wolf, an influential American blues singer, guitarist, and harmonica player who was born in White Station, Mississippi.