Interview by Madeleine Dore
Photography supplied by Rachel Burke
Designer, stylist, photographer
Brisbane stylist, designer and photographer Rachel Burke has a dazzling way of making the repetitive and mundane come to life.
From a photographic series where she bedazzles ordinary pantry items, to designing and making a dress every day, to creating the Apomogy project where anonymous apologies are attached to homemade pom poms, there’s a distinct delight in making the everyday different.
“I love repetition and it comes through in all my projects. With Apomogy, there’s such repetition in making the same thing but in a different way with each new apology. I do get fixated on things and I have to explore as far as I can take it.”
The doing of something, over and over, is what brings us to discover something new, she explains.
“It might start as one thing, but if I look from the beginning to the end of the project, it will have changed and that only came about through repetition. I guess that's why I really love doing these little series and things.”
Rachel balances small and large-scale projects with a full-time job working as the Senior Womenswear Designer at Universal Store, as well as freelance photography, styling, and DIY project development for clients including Frankie Magazine, GOMA, Etsy, and BONDS.
Yet despite this sense of cramming in work, her daily schedule even resembles her craft – up close it’s busy with no room left for a single sequin, but from a distance it’s an entrancing, joyful object that brings delight.
Often we are quick to judge busyness as a trap, but there’s a flipside to a crammed schedule. 'Busyness’ can certainly can be infectious and perpetuate the myth that to be content we always have to be doing something. However, we must also recognise what level of commitments helps us to flourish.
“I always say, if busy is not for you, then don't force it. Don't force anything that doesn't feel right. For me, not doing stuff and not keeping myself occupied feels more stressful than the alternative. I love filling my time up. I've gotten much better at saying no to projects that I don't feel like are worth my time.”
From morning cuddles with her sausage dogs Daphne and Daisy, to doodles in cafes before work and evening strolls with her husband, there’s a sense that a balance has been struck.
“I'm actually pretty happy with my routine at the moment. I feel like I am always cramming things in, and I guess the only thing I would change is to be able to cram even more! But there's a finite amount of hours in a day, you have to rest. I love even just the little things like cooking dinner and taking the dogs for a walk.”
When I think about it, I do have a set routine. I wake up at seven each day – I'm meant to get up at six-thirty when my husband wakes me up, but I can't. I just keep lying in bed and call the dogs into bed for a hug-fest – I love having a little cuddle with the dogs and sneaking in another half-hour of rest. It's really great. I'm just being a little bit naughty. Then I get ready in the speed of light, usually fifteen minutes. I love picking out my outfits for the day and usually do that in the morning haze. I curate my wardrobe a little bit so that no matter what I pick out, I'm going to love.
Then I do a big hairdo and put my make up on and that whole process happens in a flash. In the next fifteen minutes I try and squeeze in a photo for social media before we have to leave at seven-thirty. Often my husband is my photographer, which he really appreciates. [Laughs]
"I wake up at seven each day – I'm meant to get up at six-thirty when my husband wakes me up, but I can't. I just keep lying in bed and call the dogs into bed for a hug-fest."
I'm a non-driver, which can make things really interesting. My husband has to get to work early, but I don't have to be at work until eight-thirty-ish. In the morning he drives to a nearby station that's conveniently located near my work and drops me off.
After I’m dropped off I have a little bit of me-time before work, which is really fun. The beginning of the day is when I always have ideas. I just doodle in my diary and think about what I'd like to make that night. I always get a coffee and then have a little sit and write in my diary.
I do all my fun, crafty work at night and I plan for that in the morning. I'm working on a book at the moment about my dogs and I've got a deadline for that. I'll usually do some work in the morning to map that out and plan what little costumes and little headpieces I have to make that night.
If there's nothing in my head, I will just scribble out something strange that happened the day before. Whether I draw it or write it down, I just find it handy to start the day with some writing or some pre-planning. It gets my juices going for the rest of the day!
"The beginning of the day is when I always have ideas. I just doodle in my diary and think about what I'd like to make that night. I always get a coffee and then have a little sit and write in my diary."
I'll arrive at the Universal Store where I’m a Senior Womenswear Designer. I manage their in-house brands and do all the design work and the production.
I start each day by checking e-mails and writing a list about what I have to do. I work really well from lists. It's just myself and one other womenswear designer, so we work really closely together.
We put together a list and begin attacking it. It's quite an autonomous working environment. We definitely manage our own day, which is really good. I’ve been working as a senior designer for nearly four years now. It's a really nice, relaxed vibe.
I'm a bit of an early eater. I don't love breakfast unless it's the weekend, so I'm usually ravenous by 11:30. I just wish I could wait until noon, but it's always the same battle.
I might get some sushi, avocado toast, or there's a really good Mexican place near me. I do try to mix it up a little bit, but I do get fixations on food where I have to have the same thing every day. Those phases can last two to three weeks. I just got out of a Subway phase where I had to get chicken classic club sandwich every day. I'm just really obsessed. Then I get suddenly burned-out and I can never look at it again!
In Nundah the suburb I work in, there's a $2 shop that I religiously go to every lunchtime. There’s always little knick-knacks, paper or something that I have to buy. I just wander in there and get a little bit of inspiration from all the gaudy stuff in there. I’ll see if they’ve got anything new or buy supplies for whatever is on my to-do list.
My lunch is usually an hour, but sometimes I will just take half an hour and go back to the office if it's a busy day. Or I’ll go for a little stroll. Sometimes I'll take some photos of cute architecture that will never see the light of day.
"I do get fixations on food where I have to have the same thing every day. Those phases can last two to three weeks. I just got out of a Subway phase where I had to get chicken classic club sandwich every day. I'm just really obsessed. Then I get suddenly burned-out and I can never look at it again!"
When I get back to work I’ll keep going through the to-do lists. I might have some meetings in the afternoon and action things as they come up.
I finish pretty much around five or five-thirty, depending on how busy it is. I usually meet my husband at around six so there might be a half hour gap there. I'll either read my book or do a little bit doodling in my diary while I wait for him at the train station. He'll come along on the train and we'll drive home. We usually pick up some ingredients from the shop and head home.
We each cook every second evening. Sometimes we'll just grab some takeout. Or there's a favourite food truck of mine, the Bun Mobile.
I'm not an amazing cook, but we like what we like. I might cook some salmon and vegetables or some Mexican. Or I might make burgers or something. We usually stick to the same thing and refer to the little recipe book in the back of my mind.
Then we'll take the dogs out for a walk straight after and have a nice little stroll. We chat about our day and the walk starts to get my juices flowing and I want to make something as soon as I get home.
There will also be things to do during the week, but I make sure that I have a couple of nights off to hang out with dogs and the husband and have a chill night.
I strategically say no to some things, but also strategically say yes, so that I don't isolate myself. I've learned that maintaining relationships and friendships makes me really happy. I'm only trying to get the balance right, but not at the expense of any one thing. It is challenging, but I’m definitely conscious of it.
"I strategically say no to some things, but also strategically say yes, so that I don't isolate myself. I've learned that maintaining relationships and friendships makes me really happy."
I might put on a TV show or watch Netflix and either bring out all my craft room things into the family room and do some hot-gluing, or work on my projects. Or I'll just go into the craft room and work away until the wee hours.
If I do decide to flop on the couch instead, I'm ruined. I can't get up. I went through a little phase last year where I was just really tired and I just let myself go to bed at eight o’clock.
I find that if I’m forcing myself to work, it doesn’t work. That's why I have to acknowledge it. If I am really tired and I need a night off, it’s best not to force it because what I end up making is absolute crap.
I go through these phases – right now I'm just engaged with what I want to make. I can't even think about the concept of sleeping! I find that my best work is done when I'm excited and a rush fuels my energy. The more I make, the more excited and entranced I get in my making.
"I find that if I’m forcing myself to work, it doesn’t work. That's why I have to acknowledge it. If I am really tired and I need a night off, it’s best not to force it because what I end up making is absolute crap."
I’ll also do commissions in the evening too. That's when I can really struggle, because sometimes I'll have an idea to make something but I have to get back on the computer and do work or emails.
I find that the more emailing that I have to do, the more I can start to feel a little bit stressed and there's just so many things going on. If I don't procrastinate, then it's all fine.
Once I've gotten out of my trance, sometimes I will make a little cup of hot water. Because I love hot water.
I'll pick up one of the pooches and we'll have a little hug and then I'll go lie in bed and read. That's definitely the end of the day – a hot cup of tea and pooches.
On weekends, we definitely sleep in a bit more and then get up and we might take the dogs for a walk. I always like to have a fun breakfast and we'll try a new little cafe in Brisbane.
When I get back home at around ten-thirty, that's when I hit the stuff again. A Saturday will usually be full of taking photos, filling my online store, working on Apomogy, just like any of the things that I'm doing. I’ll do any job that I couldn't do during the week, like tidying up my craft room or working on shoots. I also get a load of emailing done.
I fit in some hang out time with my husband, too. Usually, we might watch a movie while I'm doing that kind of thing. That's my tip as well – if ever I'm watching anything on TV, I have to be doing something as well. I physically cannot watch something without crafting something or making something.
I definitely try to make time with friends and make sure my husband and I go out to things and spend some time together, and just go on little dates for the two of us.
Sunday is a bit lazier. We'll always clean up the house on a Sunday because things can get a little bit crazy. I always take the dogs for a walk and have a little bit of a play with them. I’ll do a lot of my making in my craft room too, until I just want to have some quiet time.
My husband recently brought his desk into my craft room, too. We found that we weren't seeing each other for eight hours on the weekends. He is a lawyer, so now he'll come in and work on documents alongside me. It's a crafts and drafts room!
“There's such fanciness and amazingness in the everyday stuff we have in our lives. I feel like there's so much beauty in average and mundane things. It's just about exploring that. You just have to look around you instead of always looking beyond.”
– Rachel Burke