Talented DMU makers rewarded with cash prizes at New Designers


Gothic-inspired ceramics and textiles resembling coastlines have earned two talented De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) students impressive prizes at a national showcase.

Sophie Bennett and Sam Thornton were among the 2,500 final-year students hand-picked from around the UK to show their work at New Designers, the longest running graduate design platform.

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Sophie Bennett

As the winner of the Vessel Gallery’s Ceramics and Glass Designer of the Year Award, Sophie dazzled the judges with her ‘dark and beautiful’ collection of thrown ceramic jars inspired by the Gothic Revival during the Victorian era.

As well as a £500 prize, Sophie will benefit from a six-month mentorship programme with the Vessel Gallery’s founder Angel Monzon, and will get the chance to exhibit at the gallery in Notting Hill.

The 24-year-old Design Crafts student from Northamptonshire said: “I really put my heart and soul into this collection, so it feels amazing to win and I’m grateful for all the opportunities that come with that.”

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Sophie's collection features more than 20 vessels in various sizes

Resembling pieces that wouldn’t look amiss in a Victorian cabinet of curiosities, Sophie’s ceramics feature functional lids, intricate skull beading, gold detailing, religious imagery and shiny glazes made using her own recipes.

“This collection was so challenging. Up until recently I’d never made a lid, so I spent hours practicing. I also researched and mixed all my glazes, which added another layer of unpredictability. There were many failures along the way, but I kept going and I’m so happy it paid off,” she said.

Sophie first completed a business administration apprenticeship before making the ‘best decision ever’ to enter higher education.

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Intricate beading in the shape of skulls

She said: “When I visited DMU, everything looked so impressive and seeing students working in the workshops made it feel like such an exciting place to be. The look of DMU got me here, but what got me to stay is the friends I made and the support from the technical staff.

“I really can’t say enough about the technicians – they’re all fantastic and show a genuine interest in your work. They made the experience what it is and are the heart and soul of Design Crafts at DMU.”

As of last month, Sophie started a role as a ceramics production assistant at renowned furniture manufacturer deVOL, where she’s learning to use a traditional Victorian tile press while working on the company’s signature handmade range.

Sam, the winner of the Weavers’ Company Woven Textile Award, received a £1,000 prize for his wool collection in hues of blues and inspired by coastlines. As well as providing sample swatches, Sam impressed the judges by turning his textiles into scarves, cushions, pencil cases and more.

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Sam Thornton

“I was in complete shock when I won - it means a lot as I live near the coast and this collection is really personal to me,” said the 21-year-old Textile Design student from Blackpool.

“Just being at New Designers was amazing. It felt like a celebration of all the hard work and determination we showed through Covid and all the lockdowns.

“I made it my mission to get to know as many makers as possible, from established professionals to those starting out like me. I even met someone who works at a mill in Yorkshire who encouraged me to apply for a job there and I’m just waiting to hear back after my interview.”

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Sam's designs displayed at New Designers

After going down the mixed media pathway at the start of his degree, Sam switched to weave in his second year and has never looked back since.

He said: “It’s a really magical discipline and I just clicked with it. You get to control everything from the colour and type of fibre to how your textile drapes.

“Until the end of my days, I will be singing the praises of DMU’s textiles facilities and staff. The weave workshop is like heaven, with top of the range looms, and you get to use every other workshop going from 3D printing to metalwork.

“The technicians are worth their weight in gold too, moving mountains to help you achieve what you want to. I just feel part of a big creative community at DMU.”

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Textiles samples and scarves

Posted on Wednesday 10th August 2022

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