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My name is Sarah Szymczak. I'm a 32-year-old human from the Central Coast of NSW, Australia. I am an artist and dreamer, a nature lover, a terminal perfectionist, and I live with multiple chronic and debilitating medical conditions, the biggest being ME/CFS, a complex neuro-immune condition that has changed my life drastically over the last 15 years. I started walking with a cane at 15, got my first wheelchair at 21, and rise (albeit with lots of groaning and clicking joints) to the unique challenges presented each day by my body. My incredible partner, Kieran, is my full-time carer and helps me through the difficult parts of my day, which often includes dressing and bathing.

I have a preference for amethyst, opal and moonstone, repurposing old items and love working in brass and silver. I take inspiration from a mix of folklore and fairy tales and the natural world around me, as well as a heavy influence from history and historical fashion trends.

Outside my jewellery work, I have a keen interest in any skill which requires my hands and physical labour- proof the universe has a sense of humour. I adore gardening and spending time with my two beautiful chickens. I'm a competent leather worker, seamstress, prop maker, wood worker and have dabbled in larger scales of metalwork and ox-acetaline welding, amongst other things. I infrequently take on commissions for complete or partial costume items, costume restoration and repair, prop making and creative consulting.

I am frequently engaged in projects with Black Dragon Bespoke making incredible, one-of-a-kind theatre props for LARP and cosplay, as well as my own commission work.

My Journey

My jewellery work, which started as a hobby, has become a wonderful and liberating way for me to express my creativity and passion on a small scale.

Even as a child, I had a fascination with the often overlooked world of small things. Home-made dolls houses where I imagined bugs and fairies to live, trinkets made out of scavenged beads and dried flowers, a jewellery box full of smooth rocks I had squirreled away in my pocket while on walks; it was a passion that started young, and has been with me since.

As my an adult, I worked in several sectors and found I had a talent for high-stakes, fast-paced environments that required lateral thinking (and somehow still managed to find pretty rocks in the car park), and on weekends, I would go for 15km bike rides and hikes for fun and was highly engaged in medieval reenactment and living history. I could fight with a sword, dagger and axe, shoot a bow, ride a horse and recreate complex historical costumes, but my disability progressed beyond my control. Soon I found it was impossible to maintain any kind of mainstream employment and found myself further and further limited by the capacity of my body. I was forced to give up all of my hobbies as I no longer had the capacity to be involved on any level. As I searched for diagnoses to explain my symptoms, I was spending more and more time in bed, and my mental health was suffering.

My finances were tied up in specialists, medications and increasingly more expensive costs of living as I had to adapt my environment to my rapidly decreasing capacity. At my worst, I found small solace in making little beaded trinkets and selling them to friends to cover the costs of materials and it was from there that the idea of running my own business was born. Founded in 2012, The Tattered Tower was a business spawned out of a mix of creative passion and necessity. While it was far from a reliable income, making things with my hands gave me a sense of accomplishment and independence that immeasurably helped my mental health, and I very quickly realised that this was something I loved.

Little by little, I moved forward - slowly increasing my capacity, teaching myself new skills by borrowing a dozen library books at a time, or consuming hours of youtube tutorials and then making mistake after mistake until I succeeded. I couldn't afford formal classes or materials, so I made do with what I had around the house, and focused on more accessible interests like beading. Eventually I was able to start doing markets, and I can not describe the satisfcation of knowing that, after everything so far, someone who had no invested interest in me wanted to give me money for something I had made. It was addictive, and I realised that I needed to improve my skills further.

TAFE NSW wasn't an option due to accessibility issues (I am ambulatory wheelchair user), I was able to take two weekend-long short courses at private schools but the costs very quickly added up, and apprenticeships were rarer than hen's teeth, even WITH a fully functional body.

So at this point in my journey, I find myself doing a good number of things to further my skills:

- Taking online courses to cover the units normally taught under the apprenticeship skills course

- Devouring online content from fellow creators and teaching myself at my own pace

- Connecting with the greater community of other apprentices and master jewelers for peer support

While I still deal with debilitating health issues, my work has given me motivation and a drive to succeed in an area that I hadn't even considered for a career, and I wouldn't change a thing. I'm able to focus on detail and the quality of my work and have worked hard to establish a (mostly) accessible workspace so, even when limited by my conditions, I can bring a little bit of magic into the mundane world. The profits from sales go towards purchasing the materials and units I need to continue my studies, and to upgrade/replace/purchase equipment that will allow me to work with less strain on my body.

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