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    Category Archives: Tools of the Trade

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    Tools of the Trade: Belinda Evans & Alchemy

    By Brianna Read

    The interview for this first chapter in the second volume of Tools of the Trade raised two particularly pertinent topics for the wonderful platform for discussion that is the Creative Women’s Circle: social media and collaboration. I shall return to these topics shortly, but let me introduce the subject who brought these to the fore… Belinda Evans is the creator of Alchemy, a beautiful label and online store which I admired long before I crossed paths with Belinda herself.

    Alchemy Australian Found Wood Necklace - Alchemy Knitted Cotton Necklace - photos by Belinda Evans - 2012

    Alchemy Australian Found Wood Necklace – Alchemy Knitted Cotton Necklace – photos by Belinda Evans – 2012

    My reason for this admiration was that this tiny little nook, in the vast ocean of online stores, managed to cultivate an extraordinary air of calm. As anyone who has lost their way while navigating the information superhighway will understand, calm is not something you happen upon very often. I mention this particular quality because Belinda’s extraordinary talent lies not only in her hands which craft each beautiful, thoughtful product you find in the Alchemy store, but also in her ability to create quiet space and genuine connection in the arena of online shopping and social media.

    How, I wondered, has this woman stayed so true to the ethos of her slow, calm, creative practice while building a tiny empire and devoted following in the chaos of online?

    Alchemy Faceted Maple Necklace - Photo by Belinda Evans - 2012

    Alchemy Faceted Maple Necklace – Photo by Belinda Evans – 2012

    Belinda spent her childhood surrounded by a wonderful array of tools: lathes and pottery wheels were both things she was encouraged to try and with a glass blowing studio and furniture making workshop at her fingertips it would seem a natural progression for such a childhood to lead on to a practice such as that displayed at Alchemy. But not without an invaluable step in a different direction…

    Belinda also works in the field of project and event management and it is her experiences using social media in this environment which she credits with developing the skills that have proven invaluable in the development and management of the online presence of Alchemy. Take a quick look at the Alchemy blog or her Instagram posts and her genuine enjoyment of this media is wonderfully apparent. Her beautiful blog for Alchemy has a quiet sister in the blog titled Simple Things which Belinda dedicates to displaying images of a wide spectrum of design works which catch her eye and entertain her mind. Belinda says of her sharing ‘I’m not shy about sharing my techniques, how I source my materials, and the beautiful work of other artisans that I love to surround myself with.’.

    Belinda Evans - indigo textile dyeing - photo by Olga Bennett - 2013

    Belinda Evans – indigo textile dyeing – photo by Olga Bennett – 2013

    This leads me to the second topic of collaboration. I recently read an article posted on Li Edelkoort’s Trend Tablet authored by Peter Stitger and to borrow his words ‘We are leaving an individual era behind us.’ This article continued on with a brief treatise on the merits of collaboration and fostering creative environments which work on the premise of camaraderie with the sharing of tools, knowledge and creativity at the center.

    Belinda Evans - indigo textile dyeing - photo by Olga Bennett - 2013

    Belinda Evans – indigo textile dyeing – photo by Olga Bennett – 2013

    Belinda has exactly this approach to her practice, take one look at the beautiful photos of Belinda using indigo dyes for some of her new projects below. Taken by Olga Bennett, these photographs showcase the talents of photographer and subject in equal measure, a perfect example of the beauty of collaboration. This appreciation for the talents of others is one of the defining characteristics which make Belinda’s online voice so pleasant to listen to. In a time which seemed to favour the loudest and most shamelessly self-promoting voices, stumbling across Alchemy and then crossing paths with the quiet collaborator herself was equal parts breath of fresh air and renewal of faith in social media platforms. Belinda, thank you!

    Belinda’s blogs can be found here and here. Her lovely escape from the world store is here and to find her on Instagram she is known as: @iamalchemy…

    Brianna Read is a designer and maker based in Melbourne. Her knitwear label Jack of Diamonds  employs traditional hand-made techniques in combination with machine knit technologies. Her multi-faceted creative practice encompasses design, production, works for exhibition and machine knitting workshops

    Tags: Alchemy, Belinda Evans, collaboration, craft, design, designer, hand made, Melbourne, Olga Bennett, photography, Regular Columns, social media, sustainability, sustainable design
    Posted by: Brianna
    Categories: Regular Columns, Tools of the Trade | 1 Comment
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    Tools of the Trade: Sarah J Coombes Shoemaker

    by Brianna Read

    This month’s instalment of Tools found me in the charming rabbit warren of the Nicholas Building in the heart of Melbourne. This wonderful building is home to many talented folk of a creative bent but I had come to visit the studio of cordwainer (and CWC memberSarah Coombes. The term cordwainer is a name given to artisans who craft shoes, different to a cobbler who traditionally repairs them…

    I didn’t know quite where to start with the tools of this trade, there are so many of them! Sarah’s beautiful, light filled workroom (which she shares with fellow hand crafter Phong Chi Lai) is packed with tools of every kind, there is serious machinery and workbenches covered with tools and materials. Sarah walked me through the studio introducing me to the bare essentials of her toolkit:

    The essentials of a shoemaking tool kit

    Hand skiving knife – starts as a flat length of metal about 25cm long without a blade edge, this has to be honed by hand, this makes each knife blade shape quite different as it is shaped by the technique of each maker.

    Lasting pincers – these come in a range of shapes and are used repeatedly throughout the lasting process to stretch the leather around the last and hammer onto the insole.

    Shoemakers hammer– a smooth rounded hammer on one side and curved edge the other, both sides are used for many different processes from neatening edges during lasting to hammering on the soles to the shoe.

    Edith the faithful Pfaff

    And lastly the tool known to Sarah as Edith – a beautiful seventy year old Pfaff industrial post sewing machine, whose age has apparently not impaired her speed…They sure don’t build them like they used to!

    The Johnnie Stitched Boot - my personal favourite!

    Recently some of Sarah’s summer sandals made their way to Northcote shopping treat A Quirk of Fate and when I ask if they are available at any other retailer Sarah discusses the enjoyment she takes in the process of meeting with a client and crafting a pair of shoes just for them.

    Given that many of her designs include time consuming details, such as hand stitching, I get the impression that this practice is very much about the crafting, this footwear is the ultimate in fast fashion antidotes. In addition to the high levels of hand craft involved in the making of each pair of shoes Sarah has also enlisted the talents of Melbourne jeweller Tessa Blazey to create metal embellishments for her designs, adding another tier of the bespoke to each pair leaving the studio.

    Visiting the creative space of an artisan like Sarah whose trade has a long and rich history prompted a slew of questions about how she learnt to use such an extensive toolkit, a trade after all is usually something you must learn from another… Next month’s post will be the last for the year and Sarah has inspired the perfect wrap-up topic: masters & apprentices…

     

    Brianna Read is a designer/maker based in Melbourne. Her knitwear label Jack of Diamonds  employs traditional hand-made techniques in combination with machine knit technologies. Brianna’s multi-faceted creative practice encompasses design, production, works for exhibition and machine knitting workshops

    Tags: cordwainer, custom made shoes, Melbourne, Nicholas Building, Sarah J Coombes, shoemaker, tools
    Posted by: Brianna
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    Tools of the Trade: Fiona McDonald of Ichimu

    By Brianna Read

    The subject of this month’s Tools of the Trade brought up a rather interesting idea in the discussion of creative practice – rules. With every trade comes a history of how the practice has grown and moved with time, there are always long lists of the recognised methods of practice and an equally long list of things which ought not be done. This particular idea was touched upon in an earlier Tools instalment and I was glad for the opportunity to get a little further into the topic – you see I am an advocate of bending and breaking rules… I am making my subject sound rather rebellious which is actually not the case at all.

    Fiona McDonald makes objects of porcelain – under the label Ichimu (translated roughly from Japanese meaning a dream, or a fleeting thing).  Everything about Fiona’s creative practices are as gentle and light of hand as the name implies. The rule breaking I referred to was from an almost off-hand remark Fiona made about why her ceramic practice brings so much pleasure: ‘Maybe it is because I don’t really know the rules about clay and porcelain that I love it so much.’

    Porcelain by Ichimu

    I adore these types of honest insights as they reveal so much about why we create. During the interview Fiona made mention of her love of children’s illustrations (those done by children rather than for them) and her appreciation of the honesty they hold. Her remark about not knowing the rules of porcelain and the link this may have to her enjoyment of the process revealed that she found for herself in ceramics what she appreciated in the unfettered and unpretentious expressions of children’s creativity.

    Vessels and Spoons

    Take a look at her work in Ichimu and it is not difficult to see the pleasure taken in creating it. When I asked Fiona to interview for this column I presumed that the effortless beauty in her ceramics had been from years of labored study and crafting with the medium of porcelain. I had no idea Fiona’s background was in fact in graphic design and pattern design for textiles. Indeed, Fiona was introduced to the art of ceramics by a friend relatively recently.

    Bisque fired porcelain

    I think it is precisely because of her recent introduction to the medium and an absence of formal training that Fiona’s work stands out. I love that the hand and marks of the tool can be seen in the work – these pieces have a physicality which speaks of their production. Of course, her knowledge of and practice in the visual arts can be seen in her ceramic work. Each piece is hand built using a variety of tools and found objects and the surface treatment and colour sensibility of each collection of pieces clearly displays her talent for design.

    Illustrated Vessels

    While I wholeheartedly appreciate mastery in any medium and understand that rules are made often for very sound reasons; whenever I encounter an artisan who blazes their own trail through a quagmire of dos and don’ts I am reminded of the very reason why creativity exists: because it brings pleasure to those who create and those who behold the results.

    Yet another invaluable tool for the kit of any creative: the ability to shirk the rules when they are hampering the enjoyment of the creative process.

    More of Fiona’s porcelain work at Ichimu can be seen here and here. Her textile and graphic works have online homes here, here and here.

    Brianna Read is a designer/maker based in Melbourne. Her knitwear label Jack of Diamonds  employs traditional hand-made techniques in combination with machine knit technologies. Brianna’s multi-faceted creative practice encompasses design, production, works for exhibition and machine knitting workshops

    Tags: ceramics, colour, craft, design, Fiona McDonald, hand made, Ichimu, illustration, Japanese influenced design, Melbourne made, porcelain
    Posted by: Brianna
    Categories: Tools of the Trade | 5 Comments
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    Tools of the Trade: Melanie Stapleton & Cecilia Fox

    By Brianna Read

    When I meet Melanie Stapleton she was hard at work putting the finishing touches on the brand new premises of Cecilia Fox. I know a little about florists, they work harder than most people imagine! The common perception of florist as a romantic career path filled with fragrance and beauty simply doesn’t cover it – there are early hours, really long days, hard physical labour and perishable produce. The reason I point this out is that Melanie sits opposite me in a café neighbouring her new shop, days from opening, nine months pregnant patiently waiting for my questions and not once do I sense an air of stress. This is one creative woman who has mastered the art of juggling – she looked serene!

    I admit I was quite familiar with Melanie’s work before we met – I have long admired her work, documented beautifully on her blog. I was very curious to hear about how she arrived at her particular design sensibilities, I always like to ask if the tools used by a creative have any particular history. When I point out that there have been no great advancements made in the tools used in floristry Melanie chuckles and replies ‘No, just a pair of scissors really!’.

    Melanie has been running Cecilia Fox from a Brunswick workshop for over five years. Prior to going out on her own she spent years in Auckland, Sydney, London and finally Melbourne learning from others in the industry. She cites London as a turning point for her, here she discovered what floristry could be like. ‘I learnt that it was ok to specialise,’ She says ‘not in an exclusive sense, just that it was good practice to do what you do well rather than do many half-heartedly.’

    This particular quality is reflected so well in the lovely photographs of her designs. There is a distinct Cecilia Fox floral stamp and many other creative have recognised this. Since going out on her own Melanie has had a number of clients she lists as inspiring – all of which have recognised her keen design sensibility and asked her to bring a little into their worlds. Cecilia Fox was responsible for the floral designs in Husk for a number of years, she regularly works with the event coordinators Georgous and also works with Kuwaii for their eye catching window displays.

    The new shopfront for Cecilia Fox can be found nestled between New Day Rising and Triple R headquarters on the thoroughfare from Brunswick to Northcote and is sure to attract many folk overjoyed with a lovely splash of colour and perfume in the neighbourhood.

    Melanie described the ethos of her approach as one driven by bringing beauty, understanding the client’s needs even when they are unsure. Most importantly, what I took from this inspiring interview was that when you remain true to your creative sense you will attract projects and clients which inspire and add fuel to the fire you laboured to build.

    Cecilia Fox – Out of the Woods can be found at 221b Blyth St Brunswick. Melanie and her wonderful staff are instore from Thursday through Sunday with the following hours: Thu 9-6, Fri 7-7, Sat 8-4, Sun 10-2

     

    Brianna Read is a designer/maker based in Melbourne. Her knitwear label Jack of Diamonds  employs traditional hand-made techniques in combination with machine knit technologies. Brianna’s multi-faceted creative practice encompasses design, production, works for exhibition and machine knitting workshops

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