Fashion designer and textile artist Sophie Cagniart always knew she would do something creative with clothing but did not imagine elevating waste denim to an art form. By combining the ancient art of Sashiko embroidery with discarded contemporary denim fabric, Sophie makes each piece unique as the materials let her know how they want to be combined in any given garment. The result is Silent Wave Indigo, wearable art that is created by hand, one stitch at a time.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path?
It was always there, I always loved playing with fabrics since I was a kid! I enjoyed crafts of any kind and making things with my own two hands.
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My grandmother taught me how to sew and I started making my own clothes when I was 10 years old.
That’s when I knew I wanted to become a fashion designer. I see fashion as an art form, a way to express yourself as well as share a story.
That’s why I started Silent Wave Indigo. I love my creative freedom and my work really fulfills me!
What motivates you artistically? Why do you work with repurposed materials such as discarded denim as a surface for embroidery?
I chose denim as a canvas, a common fabric with a rich history, aging with style and differently for everybody. I communicate a feeling through one-of-a-kind pieces, all of them handcrafted and embroidered.
Discarded old jeans or denim items get a second life as well as show people the potential in what we call “waste” by turning something plain into a piece of wearable art.
It all started when I came across a stock of jeans given to me by a store owner who didn’t know what to do with all the jeans that couldn’t sell due to some defects. I saw potential so started reusing the denim from the jeans to create everyday items and embroider them by hand.
The uniqueness in my work is that I aim to communicate a feeling to my clients because every item is unique and completely exclusive.
Through my art I want to introduce people to a completely transparent world as well as the forgotten ways of craftsmanship using the waste of the fashion industry to show a more sustainable path.
It is the story of one person getting inspired and spending days working on one single item stitch after stitch to give it that uniqueness that everyone deserves yet is out of reach for a lot of people.
I love the contrast between the roughness of denim, the fact that it is still considered “common” and my work which turns it into an art piece.
I love that people can actually wear those items every day, wash them as often as they want and that age will only make them more beautiful.
Is there an overarching theme that connects all of your work?
I would say that nature has always been a source of inspiration for me.
If you look at my designs, especially the ones with illustrations, you can see that the sea is a recurrent theme. I’ve always been fascinated by it, so I never get tired of embroidering powerful waves on my denim!
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours? When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser? Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop? How does a new work come about?
I think my process makes my work unique. In the very beginning I get inspired by the garments themselves; I might see a garment and have a specific feeling or picture of what I want to do with it. Then I work that out further. I sketch, think and sometimes even dream about it! When I actually start the work though, everything can still change during the process, so there is a good part of improvisation. For example, if I’m doing an illustration, I will decide to stitch “shading” in a certain spot, the same way a painter would do.
If I’m working with Sashiko, then I actually have to take breaks in between embroideries to study the lines and see what will bring more harmony. I sometimes struggle with a piece, and I have to remove some stitches to replace them with others, but I cannot plan that work. It all comes naturally as I work on a piece. As a result, the finished piece is always a surprise for me!
What is it about Sashiko embroidery that captures your imagination?
Sashiko caught my eye a long time ago and it took me a lot of practice before I could master it. I still have a lot to learn, and that’s the beauty of it!
I love how simple and logical it is, yet it offers endless possibilities and combinations.
Not only does it transform fabric visually. It also gives it structure and it feels amazing to the touch while also making the fabric stronger.
I find beauty in its rich history and in continuing an ancient craft.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like? What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio?
I work from home where I have my own little space. It’s a sturdy wooden desk and a shelf where I keep my needles, scissors, yarn and pins close to me.
In the background I have shelves packed with old jeans waiting for me to recycle them. So it looks like it’s about to give up, ha-ha! I’m always keeping my workspace tidy.
What piece of your work makes you most proud? Why?
I would say that for now, my fondest creation is Sachin, the Hanten jacket. It is a patchwork of different blue fabrics, cotton, denim, velvet and every centimeter of it is embroidered in Sashiko.
I had this idea in the back of my head for a while and it’s only when I started it that I realized how much work it was going to be!
Also at first my idea was to embroider parts of it but once I started, my vision for it changed a bit. As I explained earlier, there is a part of improvisation in my work and I need to start a design to know what will happen next. With Sachin, it meant embroidering the entire design!
It took me at least a week or more to complete. At the end my fingers were sore for a few days, but the result was amazing and totally worth it.
This piece was a challenge and I am really proud of it!
How does your formal art education help your work develop? Does it ever get in the way?
I graduated from ESMOD France with a degree in fashion design and patternmaking. During those years, I learned perseverance and creativity at levels matching high fashion standards.
That is where I discovered myself as an artist and where I learned to express myself in ways I never thought of. It is also where I rediscovered my love of denim and craftsmanship. This education brought me everything I needed to start my own creative endeavors, and I am grateful.
The knowledge I acquired there still helps me today and always will.
Which artists do you admire? What draws you to their work?
As a denim lover, I have to say Ian Berry. He makes the most amazing compositions out of jeans that give the illusion of a painting. I find his work insanely beautiful and inspiring. His attention to details, the balance and harmony of his composition are stunning.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I believe that most people are creative from the start, but it always needs to be cultivated to make it grow to its full potential.
It takes practice to learn how to trust your creative instincts!
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
Everything I make is one of a kind and when someone purchases a piece, they are the only person in the world to have it. `
I gave life to those pieces but they won’t be truly alive until someone makes them theirs by wearing them everyday.
That’s what I want to communicate, I make wearable art but the customer is as much of an actor in that piece as I am, since those pieces only become more beautiful with age, and everyone brings something different to it.
My art is not the kind that you shelter and admire from afar. It’s the kind you put on your back when you go on an adventure!
It is that powerful feeling that I want my visitors to gain.
Interview posted February 2022
Browse through more inspiring sashiko projects and stories on Create Whimsy.