Sarah Brusstar Applied Craft + Design MFA Practicum 2017

Senses and Sensibilities in Surface Design: Empowering Minds and Changing Bodies

This thesis is an exploration of how to create and implement surface design that promotes self- expression and athleticism for currently marginalized audiences, especially women. Surface Design encompasses “image, colour, texture and pattern applied to surfaces within the man-made environment.”(i) This thesis focuses on surface design as applied to textiles.(ii)

My work looks at printed (as opposed to woven, cut, embroidered, or appliquéd) designs. Though trained in conventional design motifs – floral, geometric, conversational, ethnic, and those related to art movements or period styles, with some 400+ subcategories and styles(iii) – I’m interested in doing something different. Not just in breaking the traditional grid system of print and pattern design, but in interrogating and refiguring the value we put on the literally superficial.

Conventionally, identifying something or someone as superficial is a way of both passing judgement on it – as something emotionally or intellectually trivial or un-nuanced – and dismissing it. To call someone superficial in Western culture, especially a woman, is damning.(iv) Instead of accepting this vilification of the superficial, I privilege and investigate it. I want to re-value a concern with – and the quality of – surfaceness, using it to create new aesthetic options and powerful psychological change.

Like canonical surface designers before me – William Morris or Maija Isola of Marrimekko – I draw inspiration from my physical environment and creative moment. We are at a unique time in our design landscape, where digital image manipulation is prevalent and often political, where the borders of traditional crafts – like textile and wallpaper design – are being pushed forward by unprecedented technological advancement, and where awareness of the power of textiles (as fashion [and fast-fashion], as surface coverings, as banners and as symbols) is surging.

I want to stand at that point of confluence and develop and demonstrate a set of digital tools and techniques (primarily focusing on glitch) that allow me to create stunning, disrupted textiles that step outside convention and expectation. I propose that glitch is an opportunity, a moment of unravelling of the status quo, a breach in the projected visual language and everything that assigns. It is a chance to distort, to refigure, to make anew, and in glitching to transform.(v)

My project is a prototype hardshell jacket showcasing the use of glitch in surface design, on a garment, as well as the design and planning labor that is involved with bringing a prototype to completion, much less to market at scale. I will also be including a swatch book; each swatch will feature a different print, made and printed digitally, that explores the boundaries between technician and tool, designer and computer, algorithm and artistic eye and subvert the expectations around the constraints that borders, corners, and seams can play in traditional textile and surface design.

My target audience starts with the local, national and international surface and apparel design community. This includes athleisure, outdoor and activewear companies, fashion designers, graphic designers, and home goods designers among others. The audience also includes myself and individuals like me, who find themselves marginalized by the surface design on products currently on the market. Feeling alienated, unrepresented, or un-catered to as a consumer – and as an individual – can and does act as a barrier to entry to sports participation, and to a deeper understanding of the strengths of our bodies, and the potential of ourselves.


i Musson, Neil. “Surface Design; What Is It, How Is It Changing and What Are the Ingredients of a Successful Curriculum?” Art/Design/Media Subject Centre. Somerset College, n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2017.

ii Traditionally this encompasses toiles, tailleur and flou, pleating and folding, lacework and leatherwork, and embroidery, and applique. (Motwary and Blanks) With the advent of mechanized production and the Digital Age, designers like Hussein Chalayan, Issey Miyake, and Iris Van Herpen are now exploring cutting-edge surface design techniques including machine sewing, 3D printing, machine cutting, laser cutting, heat-molding, computer-programmed machine-jacquard weaving, machine pleating, pattern- rendering software, ultrasonic-welding, sublimation printing, and featuring remote-controlled panels and embedded LEDs. (Bolton and Cope)
iii In this tradition, generally, prints are organized according to a grid system, and follow the equation of: pattern = motif/figure/unit + network. Networks are also known as grids or net lines. The most common types of networks are squares, brick (and half-drop), diamond, triangles, hexagons, ogee, and scales. In the equation above, the “+” stands in for placement: the spacing, scale and rotation of the motif/figure/unit on the grid. Each of the components of the above equation can be manipulated to generate specific effects. Including figure-ground reversal, counterchange, moiré, dilation, and rotational, reflectional and dihedral symmetry. (Stewart)
iv Indeed, Adolf Loos accuses pattern—slash–ornament of indulging savagery, prolonging imperialism, draining human vitality, weakening the economy, and blocking historical progress.” He observes “Anyone who goes to [Beethoven’s] Ninth Symphony and then sits down to design a wallpaper pattern is either a con man or a degenerate.” And yet symphonies unfold according to a pattern, too—a fact Loos chooses to ignore.” (Loos, Adolf qtd. In Stewart)
v This conceptualization of glitch production encourages, if not necessitates, a term for talking about these deliberate glitches. Terms in use include ““glitch-alike” [and] “domesticated glitch.” (Betancourt) While some argue that domesticated glitch is not “true glitch,” they overlook the outcome which is, to the viewer, work that could be generated by man or machine. Betancourt observes, “While [domesticated glitches] are not the result of a technical failure, their role in this work is to represent those failures, making its consideration relevant.” (Betancourt) Menkman agrees, stressing “Just as with noise, the word glitch in glitch art is used metaphorically and thus slightly different than the stand-alone technical term ‘glitch’ […] The glitch is no longer an art of rejection, but a shape or appearance that is recognized as a novel form.” (Menkman)

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MFA in Applied Craft + Design Thesis Works