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:

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.

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!

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

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

Tools of the Trade : Taë Schmeisser

By Brianna Read In this second instalment of Tools I have the great pleasure to introduce you to the inimitable Taë Schmeisser. A Melbourne based designer and jeweller, Taë’s creative background is as diverse as her jewellery collections – Taë has studied glass and ceramics and more recently engineering technology (jewellery) – her design collections utilise materials from glass through to felt. Diverse though her materials and methods of construction may be, a consistent thread throughout each range of designs is that of the body and more specifically objects to be worn on the body.

So you can understand why I chose to interview Taë about the tools of her trade – which tool could a designer like this not live without? The answer: a sketchbook and pencil. Of course! Taë also mentioned that she would be rather lost without her flexi drive drill but continued on to explain that the sketchbook is the constant player in her tool kit, she says “It’s not particularly ordered and there is a whole lot of chicken scrawl, torn out pages of magazines, photos, embarrassing and impractical ideas but it’s where it all starts.”

As a designer ever ready to embrace a new material, Taë mentions the importance of the material informing the tools. She says that with the development process of every collection the ideas have to work their way around the materials chosen. For her most recent collection, titled Architexture (launched this month under the label Bëuy), a range of wearable works of art have been created using German wool felt and metal. The results are quite simply striking.

With a genuine love of exploring new territory this is reflected in her choice of favoured tool – it is the point where the working through of an idea begins. The sketchbook is the ‘this is where I want to go’ part of the design process. Taë calls it ‘tumbleweeding’, in reference to the action of an idea rolling around in the head of the designer.

On the horizon she is looking toward a collection which returns to one of her early loves – glass; but she is certainly not traversing old ground. Always up for a design challenge, her designs are incorporating elastic, glass and metal. I for one cannot wait to see the fruits of that adventure…

Architexture by is available online at www.beuy.com.au and in store at The Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art Shop.

Brianna Read is a designer-maker based in Melbourne. Her knitwear label Jack of Diamonds Knits 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.