Design student’s work turns heads at international textiles conference
As a high schooler, Sarah Blanke skimmed through the discount container at the fabric store until she finally found material that caught her eye: a green floral print with a triangle pattern that looked like something she could have pulled off the rack at Anthropologie. Though there wasn’t much left, Blanke brought the fabric home where she designed and sewed an original dress.
“I remember how many people asked me where I got it or where they could buy their own,” Blanke said.
“I would describe my design style as whimsical and vintage-inspired,” Blanke said. “It has evolved over time, and now I’m designing more everyday pieces that are flowy and beautiful, just like the formal looks you see on the runway.”
Earlier this month, Blanke attended the International Textile and Apparel Association (ITAA) annual conference which was held in St. Petersburg, Fla., where her design was displayed along with winning designs by undergraduate and graduate students from around the world. Blanke’s trip was funded by The Center for Research and Scholarship, which supports student research work across all disciplines.
“ITAA has a low acceptance rate for designs they take in for each conference,” Blanke said. “But knowing that I was accepted is just amazing because there are so many beautiful designs. I’m amazed that I’m in the same category as some of these designers.”
At the conference, Blanke was awarded the Blanche Payne Award, which came with a $1,000 cash prize for her dress design, “Eliza in Plumes of Rose.”
The design was first featured in Liberty’s Family & Consumer Sciences Annual Fashion Show last spring. The theme for that show was fairy tales, and Blanke used the Hans Christian Anderson tale “The Wild Swans” as her inspiration. In the story, a princess named Eliza must free her brothers from a spell that has turned them into swans.
“I knew I wanted to do something with feathers,” Blanke said. “The dress was inspired by Eliza, so I wanted something that was knee length with an open back because in the story she is brave and daring but beautiful.”
Blanke said her time at Liberty has not only challenged her as a designer, but has also given her opportunities to dive deeper into many facets of the design world. Last year, she participated in Liberty’s annual Research Week, where she submitted an original dress design that combined contour designs with wearable art, inspired by the galaxies.
“The design was a continual bridge that mirrored the way galaxies spiral,” Blanke said. “The bottom part detaches, making it more functional,” she said.
Blanke said the experience helped her understand how important research is to fashion, especially when it comes to understanding a targeted market.
“At first, I was intimidated because I associated research with a science field,” she said. “But research can be applied to creative fields as well, and there are endless possibilities. This gave me a chance to not only develop as a researcher, but (also) helped me uncover a real way to apply my research to my designs.”
Blanke said she is happy to be part of a degree program where students support and inspire one another.
“Each of us has different ideas and incorporate our stories and backgrounds into what we design,” she said. “The fashion world is known to be cutthroat, but the atmosphere at Liberty is not like that. We want to help each other. It’s a unique environment.”