Sarah Desmarais

2019 QEST Garfield Weston Foundation Scholarship - Textile Design

Sarah is a textile designer maker producing hand-printed silks and hand-sewn garments using traditional means: drawing, resist printing, hand dyeing and hand stitching. She patterns cloth using the materials of Japanese katazome – paper stencils and a rice paste resist. She is interested in the distinctive characteristics of slow, labour-intensive, manual craft practice, and its potential to support a sustainable relationship with the things we own.

Sarah has been involved in various craft research projects, including doctoral research into the relationship between crafting and mental health. Recent projects include a practice-based research residency exploring the teaching potential of 400 Japanese stencils at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture; and residencies with Bow Arts (Raw Materials: Textiles) and Ventnor Botanic Garden. She currently supervises doctoral research at the Royal College of Art. Her QEST Garfield Weston Foundation Scholarship will enable her to study with katazome practitioners in Japan.

At one level, my work is about slow making itself. My practice explores the value inherent in laborious, precise, repetitive, mindful manual production. This value can be articulated in terms of a more sustainable culture of ‘fewer, better things’ (Adamson, 2018), and also in terms of an ethic of patience and care metaphorically sewn into each piece, resulting in textiles with emotional durability. Visually, I’m interested in exploring an aesthetic of tiny variations, tenacious repetition and fragile order perturbed by currents of disruption and minor imperfections – ideas echoed in the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi. I often work in a reduced colour palette of blacks, whites and neutrals in order to focus on pattern and form. I’m fascinated by the way that a motif hand printed with a hand-cut stencil results in myriad forms that are each unique; and how the stitches in a hand-sewn seam each have their own unique length and character. These irregularities produce a liveliness and syncopation captivating to the eye, and often lacking in digital repeats and industrial garment construction. At another level, my work seeks to communicate emotionally. I intend my mark making and means of construction to articulate a poetry of the fragile and the intricate. My use of extremely delicate, sheer and irregular materials, often layered, references human embeddedness in complex, shifting assemblages including fragile ecosystems. I see my textile and garment design as occupying a liminal space between the fine and applied arts – a space that enables the use of the body as a canvas, and inspires a rich affective vocabulary.