A dress created by Rachel Andrew for Omaha Fashion Week.

Photo courtesy of Rachel Andrew.

Most people who make a quilt wouldn’t dream of cutting it up, but not Rachel Andrew. In fact, she often spends hundreds of hours precisely piecing together squares and triangles into patchwork fabric for the sole purpose of cutting it apart again. Andrew creates girls dresses out of quilted fabrics and her designs are striking and original.

Andrew, who learned to sew in junior high school Home Economics class while growing up in Schuyler, Nebraska, began sewing in earnest when her daughter was a toddler. “Just having this cute little girl to dress was so fun. Every time I’d make her something she’d say, ‘Oh I feel pretty! Can I wear it?’” she recalls. “It encouraged me to keep going.” By the time her daughter was in Kindergarten Andrew sewed nearly all of her clothes.

“She’d wear these pretty dresses to school every day, but I was getting bored making the same patterns over and over.” It was her daughter’s second grade teacher, a quilter, who convinced Andrew to branch out. “I said, no, I’ll never quilt. At the time, I didn’t know much about it. I’d just seen the more traditional quilts which were a little more old-fashioned than what my taste was and I said, ‘Oh no, there’s no way that’s for me.’”

Peplum top and skinny pant.

Photo courtesy of Rachel Andrew.

Kaleidoscope pants.

Photo courtesy of Rachel Andrew.

Then one day while at the local library she was thumbing through quilt books and came across a crazy nine patch pattern in Fun Quilts for Kids and everything changed.

“I said, ‘This is a dress. I can see it right now.’ And that was the start of it.”

Back home she set about creating a series of nine patch blocks. She sewed them together, backed and quilted them, and then she cut out a dress from the finished fabric. Even though that first project was “a bit of a mess” because she didn’t know much about constructing a quilt, Andrew was hooked and has been making quilt clothing ever since.

She says most people making quilted garments are using repurposed old quilts, as opposed to creating new patchwork fabric to cut and sew the clothes like she’s doing. Her approach is different. “I decide what dress I’m going to make, then I make an entire quilt top and cut it up.”

She often starts with circle skirts for the bottom of the dress since circle skirts don’t have center seams. She takes measurements, then creates the patchwork, quilting it directly to the backing without a batting layer (batting would make the fabric too weighty). She keeps the quilting light so the fabric still has plenty of movement and drape.

Quilted dress by Rachel Andrew.

Photo courtesy of Rachel Andrew.

For the bodice she selects a smaller scale patchwork design (if the skirt is half square triangles sewn from a charm pack, for example, the bodice triangles will be at half that size.) Recently Andrew has been exploring foundation paper piecing patterns and one of her goals is to teach herself to draft her own patterns so that she can use them in future dress designs.

One of her proudest pieces to date is a pair of wide leg pants made from a kaleidoscope foundation paper pieced pattern that she says took about 100 hours in total to make. “I love them so much,” she says.

“That’s part of the fun saying, ‘What can I do? How far can push myself?’”

This year Andrew designed a complete runway collection for Omaha Fashion Week where she was a featured designer. “I didn’t know a whole lot about fashion going into it, but I had such a great experience and got great feedback. I’m thinking about applying again next year,” she says. The judges told her they wanted to see more movement in her garments, and more texture, ideas she’s been mulling over ever since.

In addition to quilting, Andrew is drawn to costuming and is considering creating a runway collection again next year that incorporates both. “I want to create a night sky asymmetrical dress that’s quilted on the right and has a chiffon skirt with micro LED lights on the left with a furry caplet in dark navy blue,” she says, brimming with ideas, another of which is a skirt that represents the solar system with a bodice that’s the rising sun. The quilted elements will remain. “I still want to piece all the fabric components of it,” she says.

Andrew’s daughter is now 13 and just started the seventh grade. She’s been the muse for over 20 quilted garments so far, each more complex and intricate than the one before, and Andrew is just getting going. She’s considering starting a pattern line so other sewists and quilters can create quilted dresses. That is if they’re brave enough to cut their patchwork apart.

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