Sophia DeJesus-Sabella is an artist, weaver, and educator based in Hartford, Connecticut. Her woven and sculptural works interrogate class, gender, queerness, and utility by combining handwoven cloth with found construction materials.


What first drew you to the world of textiles? How/when did you first get involved in weaving?

I found textiles and weaving sort of by accident. All of the women in my family are artists, and I always knew I wanted to be an artist, but I went to MassArt as a freshman prepared to study graphic design. I was placed in an Intro to Fibers class my first semester - I didn’t even realize you could study fibers - and I fell in love with the practices and thinking going on in the department. From a young age, I’ve always loved fashion and interior design, and thinking back to the Halloween costumes my grandmother would make for us, and the Marimekko pillows that my mom sewed herself, textiles were always there.



What part of textile/weaving history interests you the most? Are there any textile artists that you are influenced by?

I’m particularly interested in the change in weaving’s role at the turn of the century, and how the introduction of mechanization and synthetics completely transformed our relationship to textiles in such a short period of time. Dorothy Liebes is a hero of mine, and I think a lot about her position in industry and manufacturing and the way it changed a lot of peoples’ understanding of textiles and handweaving. It’s a double-edged sword and not an admiration that comes without criticism. Liebes infiltrated the ‘boy’s club’ at DuPont, but at what cost? Assimilation with the status quo simply allowed synthetic fibers to overtake the textile industry.

I think about other iconic weavers - Anni Albers, Mary Meigs Atwater, Olga de Amaral - who existed in both domestic and fine art spheres and worked to re-establish weaving’s relevance beyond utility. I think about pre-Columbian weavers whose mesmerizing work reflects a transcendental quality of life and spirit, and contemporary weavers on the margins of society whose work channels that magic. Diedrick Brackens, Erin M. Riley, Sarah Zapata, Mia Weiner, and Melissa Cody are some of the many weavers whose work I look to for inspiration, and I’m grateful to feel such a fervorous energy around weaving at the moment.


Tell us about your process, start to finish how you make your pieces. 

My pieces often come to me as a finished shape or form, but the details of pattern or materiality are a surprise when the work is actually woven. Unlike most weavers, I don’t often sample before I make my pieces. I rely on my knowledge and intuition as a weaver, plan to the best of my abilities, and truly believe that the one-off nature of the entire process is inherently important to the piece itself. 

For my most recent piece, Veiled, the seed of inspiration came from a photograph I took of the sun coming through my roommate’s lace curtains. The plastic blinds behind them cast an undulating shadow, and the layers of light and shadow combined with the temperature and glow of the sun, encapsulated a feeling of euphoric bliss and satisfaction that mirrors my understanding of the world when I’m manic. I sketched iterations of the installation before settling on its final form and knew I wanted to use the warp screen printing technique I had developed at ACRE to replicate the lace pattern. Grand, immersive, ethereal, and transportive were all words swimming in my head, and the installation of the piece itself - the introduction of reflection with the insulation sheeting, the sound, and movement from the box fan - brought these ideas to life. 

In the work on display at Heirloom, particularly the wood weaves, I draw inspiration directly from hardwood floors in specific locations. elm or chestnut 1 and 2 are recreations of the floors at Visitor Center, a gallery in Newburgh, NY. I measured the floors, accounted for shrinkage within the weaving, and drafted the pattern on my digital software before manually threading the loom and weaving the cloth. 

On the loom, I improvise my treadling to shrink and extend the pattern, opening, closing, and reversing the lines to create organic shapes within a rigid structure. When the piece is finished, it does not look like wood, because it is not-wood. The woven cloth will never be not-cloth, despite its best efforts at performance and mimicry. What are we to do with this hybrid object that falls flat of expectations? I think about the way my mother maintained the original hardwood floors in my turn-of-the-century home, despite the constant construction and disarray caused by my father.

Much of your work deals with themes of class, gender, queerness, and utility. How do these themes or concepts intersect in your work? 

I think so much about what it means to be useful in a world that values the utility of objects and bodies to the utmost degree. My own experience living on the inner fringes of gender, class, and sexuality informs my understanding of moving through the world in a body that fails to perform how one expects it to. I channel the peculiarity, humor, and beauty of this hybrid experience in my work, creating handwoven pieces that hint at, pull from, and decontextualize the mundane to distill the feeling of euphoric bliss in the moments where anything feels possible. 

My work takes a variety of forms but is always grounded in handwoven cloth. screwing pipe, rubbing sink, and stroking valve are from my DIY Erotica series, in which I pulled illustrations from a 1977 Reader’s Digest Do-It-Yourself manual and wove them as tapestries on a floor loom. The illustrations are singular moments of intense intimacy between humans and objects and rendered in soft wool on a postcard scale, they act as sincere proposals of respect for the way we treat objects, ourselves, and each other. 

elm or chestnut 1 and 2, original hardwoods, and the other smaller pieces are part of a different body of work entitled wood weaves. They utilize and deconstruct the historic weave structure, colonial overshot, to simulate the appearance of natural wood grain. I’m interested in handwoven wood as a proxy for the queer, intersex, working-class experience. Despite the cloth’s best efforts, the limitations of the loom and the inherent qualities of the cloth prevent it from fully passing as wood. Bodies on the margins adopt similar strategies of mimicry and performance to survive in a society that does not value their difference. By creating hybrids that occupy the space between cloth and wood, material and object, I am subverting expectations of authenticity and functionality while celebrating failed attempts at being the ‘real thing.’

You also teach workshops on Visible Mending including a recent one at Heirloom. Can you speak to the importance of this medium and why you chose it?

I’ve been teaching my Visible Mending workshop for a couple of years, and a focal point of the workshop is creating a sustainable mending practice. The importance of repairing your clothing cannot be understated - textile waste is one of our biggest problems, and by repairing your clothes to extend their lives, you’re re-establishing the kind of intimate connection we were meant to have with our clothing. I think about the ethics of preservation, and what it means to ‘restore’ or ‘preserve’ something to its original condition. What is the value in ignoring, even reversing, the undeniable effects of time? What if instead of trying to hide the process of wear and aging, we celebrate it as another step in the garments’ life? This is the approach I take with Visible Mending, establishing it as both an artistic practice and a survival skill.


Where/what do you look to for inspiration? Has this changed over time or stayed constant?

One of my biggest inspirations is my parents. My dad’s an electrician and my mom is a painter, and they both had very distinct spaces in my home growing up. The objects that populated my childhood emerge again and again in my work - plastic box fans, electrical connectors, traffic cones, plywood scraps, PVC pipe - and the colors in my mom’s paintings are foundational to my color sense. I think about the comical duality between swift, provisional gestures and absurd labor intensity and the way those moments were present in my home growing up (ex. plywood counters on our brand-new cabinets for over a year). Working between the ‘divine’ and the mundane is a reconciliation of the shame I felt growing up with such visible class and gender differences.

Do you have any upcoming shows or events you are excited about? 

I have a duo exhibition with New Orleans-based weaver Phoebe Vlassis at Nikki Gallery in Arabi, LA on view through May 29th. The show, refracted futures (in black and white), includes my aforementioned newest piece, Veiled, a handwoven kinetic installation. I’ll be back in New Orleans for a closing reception/artist talk and Q+A on Thursday, May 29th from 5-8 pm, and I’m really looking forward to being back with the piece and connecting with folks. My next solo exhibition, Nip Slip, opens at The Arts Industry in West Hartford, CT on August 24th. I’m working on having live music at the opening and am very excited about the work I’m making. It’s going to be a big one-night-only party - come out! Otherwise, I’m teaching workshops at Hartford Artisans Weaving Center this summer and will be launching my own fiber arts co-op, Parkville Fiber Arts Co-op, this June. 


Is there anything we haven’t covered that is important to you or about you that we should share?

I just want to offer an open invitation to anyone who is interested in my work, weaving, mending, Hartford, or anything, to reach out to me. I think artists are often perceived as unapproachable, especially weavers, and I really want to break that down to emphasize warmth and generosity. I’m always open to studio visits and am prioritizing connections and community-building right now. So please, say hi! Thank you again to the entire Heirloom team for having me, this show has been a dream.