Home Interviews Meet Sasha Garrett – the chemist turned jeweller with a fascination for fordite
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Meet Sasha Garrett – the chemist turned jeweller with a fascination for fordite

by Camilla

Meet the Maker: Sasha Garrett

Jewellery designer Sasha Garrett originally trained as a chemist but strict secrecy agreements left her needing something in her life she could talk to people about – enter silversmithing. Perhaps not surprisingly given her background, the jewellery Sasha makes is influenced by the raw materials and their characteristics often determine her designs. She has a particular love of fordite – a material made from layers of paint built up in old car factories years ago – and the many colour combinations, patterns and historical fascination it offers. Sasha talks to fellow Folksy maker and textile artist Ellie Hipkin from Freyelli Textiles about her jewellery, her love of materials and the overlaps between craft and chemistry…

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Jewellery designer Sasha Garrett in her studio

I’m happiest when I’m doing something practical so I think I was always destined to be a maker.

Why did you stop working as a chemist and start making jewellery?
I started making jewellery as a hobby when I was still working as a chemist. The branch of chemistry I was working in (drug development) had strict secrecy agreements so I wasn’t allowed to talk about my work and I wanted something else that I could talk to people about. I’d always loved shiny things so when I spotted silversmithing classes at a local college it seemed like the right thing for me to have a go at.

Fast forward a few years and I’m making jewellery for myself and friends, however I’m also being made redundant for the second time. After a bit of soul searching about whether I wanted to stay working as a chemist or go for a change of career I opted for the latter and don’t regret it one bit. People often seem surprised at the change but I see a lot of overlap between the two disciplines – with the chemistry I had to design the molecule first and then figure out how to make it, with the jewellery I still have to design the piece first and then figure out what order I need to put the pieces together in.

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Personalised ‘elements’ jewellery by Sasha Garrett – choose your own elements from the periodic table

I see a lot of overlap between the two disciplines of jewellery making and chemistry – with the chemistry I had to design the molecule first and then figure out how to make it, with the jewellery I still have to design the piece first and then figure out what order I need to put the pieces together in.

What does it mean to you to be a maker?
My chemistry degree involved ‘professional training’ which included psychometric tests to find out what sort of worker you are and I came out as a ‘doer’. I’m happiest when I’m doing something practical so I think I was always destined to be a maker. The chemistry satisfied the maker itch but career progression was taking me out of the lab so I wasn’t finding it as satisfying, which probably made the career change decision easier. The jewellery allows me to progress and develop skills but stay making and doing the thing I love.

One of the other joys of being a maker is the effect that my work can have on people – a repair that brings a cherished piece back to wearability might have been simple for me to do but because of the memories associated with it it means far more to the recipient.

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My paperwork desk is currently hiding under crystallising dishes of beads and the next stones I plan to set, as the workbench is hiding under slices for Fordite waiting for me to finish polishing.

Where do you make your jewellery?
I have a small work room that I share with years of accumulated mementos, three zombies and a faux taxidermy cow head called Jacques. It evolved when the jewellery was a hobby and acted as my bolt hole, a place to store things and listen to loud music. My workbench is on one side of the room and was built for me by my father-in-law from two desks he got out of a skip. My computer/ paperwork desk (also built from salvaged materials) is on the other side of the room, so I just have to swivel round to switch between the two. Technically my computer desk is supposed to be my ‘clear’ desk, with the workbench being the messy one but it doesn’t normally work out like that. It’s currently hiding under crystallising dishes of beads and the next stones I plan to set (which are being admired by Sigi the Zombie Rock… but that is a saga for Facebook) as the workbench is hiding under slices for Fordite waiting for me to finish polishing and a part-done commission.

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Sterling silver and Dagenham fordite earrings by Sasha Garrett

I started buying rough fordite and learned how to cut and polish it for myself. Cutting it has a Schrodinger’s cat quality to it: the initial lumps of rough can look quite bland and it’s not until I cut into it that I find out if it is going to be bright and swirly or more black and white with sparkles.

My first set of tools were a present from my grandparents, I still use them and they, plus others, live in old mugs at the side of my bench – I just have to remember to not put the tools in the current mug of tea which is normally lurking somewhere, I’m not sure using a file as a stirrer is a good idea. Throw in a bookcase full of university notes/ accounts, a stereo and we’re done.

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Rocks, stones, fordite and a Zombie Pebble by Little Black Heart

I have a small work room that I share with years of accumulated mementos, three zombies and a faux taxidermy cow head called Jacques.

Where do you get your inspiration from?
I’m very much influenced by the rocks, I think the chemist in me finds the crystal formations and the effects of polymorphism very satisfying to understand, while the artistic side of me is drawn to the colours and patterns. Unless I’m shopping for a commission, I buy rocks whenever I see something interesting rather than shopping with a specific design in mind. These then get filed in slide holders, so that I can flick through them and see which one grabs my attention when I’m looking for a new project. Invariably several get pulled out at the same time and then get spread around my desk as I work out which way up they go, if they need combining with beads or other cabochons – all this seems to involve getting things out and putting them side by side rather than putting pencil to paper.

The folders of rocks are also useful for commissions -when I’m approached to make a piece to co-ordinate with a specific outfit or colour scheme we can go through them to see which looks right in terms of colour or pattern, even if the shape is wrong for the design they have in mind.

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It’s not just the colours and patterns that make me love fordite but peoples’ reaction to it – most have never come across it before and once they have heard the history they find it as enthralling as I do.

What is your favourite stone to work with and why?
My favourite isn’t a real stone but an accidentally man-made material called fordite. It is cured car paint that accumulated in the old spray booths at car factories as excess paint landed on the rails that the car panels were resting on. It would build up layer by layer until the deposit was thick enough to get in the way and had to be removed. Most of it went into the bin, however at some point someone realised that rather than sending this to landfill, it could be cut, shaped and polished to show off the many coloured layers. Depending on whether it formed in smooth layers, around odd shapes or had drips falling into it, you can get stripes, bulls eyes or psychedelic swirls, making each piece unique.

As fashions have changed so has the colour palette of fordite and there are unusual colours like purple and yellow that I keep an eye out for as they are diagnostic in dating when and where the fordite was formed. Changes to how the cars are painted make the painting process much more efficient but means that fordite isn’t formed any more and fake material is starting to appear on the market. Being able to date or identify the car plant a fordite sample came from helps to avoid the fakes.

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Vintage Dodge Fordite and sterling silver pendant necklace by Sasha Garrett

I’d like to get a piece of my fordite jewellery into the mineral gallery or the Vault at the Natural History Museum. Fordite was recently described to me by a geologist as the ‘mineral of the anthropocene epoch’ – so why not?

Getting hold of fordite isn’t easy, especially here in the UK, with only a limited selection available.  As it wasn’t always possible to get pairs of fordite for things like cufflinks, I started buying the rough material and learned how to cut and polish it for myself. Cutting it has a Schrodinger’s cat quality to it: the initial lumps of rough can look quite bland and it’s not until I cut into it that I find out if it is going to be bright and swirly or more black and white with sparkles. I then have to start thinking in 3D to figure out how best to cut it as you can get very different effects by taking slices at right angles to each other or giving a piece a high dome. This varies for each piece of rough, so it’s a continual learning process.

It’s not just the colours and patterns that make me love this material but peoples’ reaction to it – most have never come across it before and once they have heard the history they find it as enthralling as I do. I particularly enjoy commissions where people have gone through the stash and picked out pieces with the colour of their first car or their dream car to be made into cufflinks or signet rings for special occasions.

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Rough fordite in the process of being cut and polished to reveal the pattern and palette beneath the surface.

I’m very much influenced by rocks – the chemist in me finds the crystal formations and the effects of polymorphism very satisfying to understand, while the artistic side of me is drawn to the colours and patterns.

You’ve said that you often buy special stones while travelling or on holiday. Which has been your favourite stone to buy while travelling?
Buying overseas allows me to get stones that aren’t commonly available here in the UK or a much better selection and there is something about walking into a shop, asking to see their malachite and having them pour out a large bag for me to go through. I research what the local rocks are beforehand, what sort of price I could expect to pay and then I keep an eye out for gem markets and rock shops to see what I can get, although sometimes the best finds come from a person selling stones from a mat in the street rather than a physical shop.

When the jewellery making was a hobby, I would buy a rock or bead to make myself a souvenir of the trip so I’ve been practising my haggling for many years. Occasionally I buy rough material or find rocks on a beach and have taken it to Alex (a lapidarist who does my custom rock cutting) – the look on his face when he sees what I’ve brought him is classic. I think my favourite time, though, has to be the moment we drove into Hokitika in New Zealand and my partner saw all the jade shops. I love the green of nephrite jade and hadn’t told him that I’d planned the route of our trip to include a stopover in the jade centre of New Zealand. He then spent the rest of the day (and the next morning) following me in and out of shops as I chatted with the lapidarists about the various jades and went through their collections of cabochons and carved pendants. I asked him what is his favourite memory of me buying stones overseas and it involved a man chasing me across Jakarta gem market when he realised that me walking away wasn’t a negotiating trick and that he could accept my last offer, after all.

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New Zealand jade and sterling silver drop earrings by Sasha Garrett

Buying overseas allows me to get stones that aren’t commonly available here. I research what the local rocks are beforehand, then I keep an eye out for gem markets and rock shops to see what I can get. When jewellery making was a hobby, I would buy a rock or bead to make myself a souvenir of the trip so I’ve been practising my haggling for many years.

Who are the heroes behind the scenes who have helped you along the way?
You mean other than my partner for carrying home the rocks I gather while we’re travelling? I guess he also gets a special mention for carrying crates of stock to craft fairs, bringing refreshments to people when I’m doing open studios and he has on multiple occasions stood outside craft fairs holding up signs so people know it’s going on. When he’s allowed in the craft fair he has a fairly good sales patter on him too. Definite hero. He is a fan of the pieces I make with Murano glass, although I’m not sure if he enjoyed wandering round the workshops with me, chatting with the glassworkers or simply the fact he could do it gelato in hand.

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Work in Progress – Murano Glass Jewellery being made by Sasha Garrett

My partner is a fan of the pieces I make with Murano glass, although I’m not sure if he enjoyed wandering round the workshops with me, chatting with the glassworkers or simply the fact he could do it gelato in hand.

Can you describe your maker community where you live in Cambridge and are there any events you love to take part in?
We’re very lucky to have a well-established and very popular open studios scheme here in Cambridge, which I’m part of. Every July we hold Open Studios and the many and varied artists and crafters in Cambridgeshire open up their workspaces for people to visit. I had visited numerous studios over the years and thoroughly enjoyed chatting with the makers about their craft, so when the jewellery became the job it was a logical group to join. Not only do I get the same interaction with visitors to my studio but I have the massive knowledge base of the other members that I can plunder if I need to. I’ve had some real characters visit my studio over the five years I’ve been doing it and it’s great fun as you never know what the next conversation will be about (this year’s most random conversation was about heavy metal poisoning after being asked if I ever used bismuth in my jewellery!). I’ll be doing it again next year, so if you’re in the Cambridge area keep an eye out for the guide in June 2019.

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Bowlerite Jewellery by Sasha Garrett – Bowlerite is the name give to the hard plastic recovered from the outside of vintage bowling balls when they are too damaged to roll down the lanes.

What are your plans and hopes for the future?
I’d like a dedicated space for taking photos where I could set up some proper lighting rather than making do with bits of white card and tin foil. I’d also like to find some more UK fordite and get a piece into the mineral gallery or the Vault at the Natural History Museum (not that I go and press my nose up against the glass of the displays or anything). Fordite was recently described to me by a geologist as the “mineral of the anthropocene epoch” – so why not?

If anyone has any fordite, then drop me a message!

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Fordite through the ages – as trends have come and gone, so have the colour of cars and this can be seen in the layers of paint that make up fordite.

As fashions have changed so has the colour palette of fordite and there are unusual colours like purple and yellow that I keep an eye out for.

 

Shop Sasha Garrett on Folksy 

Discover more fordite jewellery on Folksy >

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Reversible red fordite and sterling silver pendant necklace by Sasha Garrett

 


Meet the Interviewer

embroidered art, stitch art, embroidered prints, freyelli textiles, personalised embroideries, embroidered portraits, personalised embroidered portraits,The maker asking the questions is fellow Folksy seller and textile artist, Ellie Hipkin from Freyelli Textiles.

Read our interview with Ellie here >

Shop Freyelli Textiles on Folksy > 

 

 

 

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1 comment

Rachel Smith August 6, 2018 - 9:19 pm

A fabulous article! Love your work Sasha.

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