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Textile and jewellery designer Kirsty Stevens takes inspiration from her multiple sclerosis, turning scans of her brain into beautiful, empowering patterns.

How can design help reveal hidden medical conditions in a positive way? How can the act of designing make people living with a diagnosis stronger?

Kirsty Stevens is a designer who has taken on these challenges in inspiring style, from illness, to a diagnosis of a serious medical condition, to creating a range of pieces of design that have given her new confidence.

“Using my own MRI scans that were taken in the lead up to my diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in 2007, I use the shapes created by harmful lesions as the source material, creating beautiful patterns and designs that turn this negative into an unrecognisable positive,” she says.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a medical condition where a person’s immune system attacks their own body, mistaking a material calling myelin which coats and protects nerves for a foreign body. The nerve damage disrupts the signals sent along nerves, which can affect speech and physical movement. Over time, the nerves themselves can become damaged.

For Kirsty, it was important that her diagnosis did not define her – at least not negatively.

“Design matters as it can be used to raise issues with different audiences that wouldn’t necessarily engage with those topics,” she adds. “It has allowed me to talk freely about my diagnosis, as at first I was embarrassed by it, even ashamed. I never wanted to make other people feel awkward when I told them I had MS, which is ridiculous!”

Kirsty’s design work focuses on creating surface patterns, all based on the scans of her own brain. Her current products include laser-cut acrylic necklaces, cushions, and beautiful silk scarves.

With all of these products she’s focused on challenging people’s ideas about illness – and making this medical condition visible is a new and positive way.

“As MS is an unknown and unseen condition, I make it visible by printing on fabrics and etching on various materials,” Kirsty explains, “giving it impactful permanence, reflecting what MS does to the body. That leads to questions about what MS is and raises MS awareness.”

Kirsty has channelled her energy into her own design brand called Charcot, named after neurologist Jean Martin Charcot who discovered multiple sclerosis in the 19th century. “Charcot is a surface pattern design brand inspired by MS which has allowed me to design work which wouldn’t have been possible without it,” she says.

It is for all of these reasons that V&A Dundee has chosen Kirsty to be our first Design Champion.

“I think V&A Dundee is incredible as it is already bringing so many different aspects of design to people’s attention,” she adds. “The design of the building by Kengo Kuma alone is a triumph and I can’t wait to explore and continue learning more about design through the exciting future exhibitions and projects it will hold.”

More than 100,000 people in the UK have MS, according to the MS Society, with the condition affecting almost three times as many women as men.

Find out more about Kirsty’s work, and see her MS-inspired designs, at the Charcot website.

The V&A Dundee Design Champions are inspirational designers creating high-quality work and helping to enhance people’s lives, or champions of the power of design to improve the world.

We will announce one Design Champion a week until the museum opens in 2018.

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