Tools of the Trade: For the love of machines…

By Brianna Read

‘Precision instruments are designed to achieve an idea where perfection is impossible. There is no perfectly shaped part of the motorcycle and never will be, but when you come as close as these instruments take you, remarkable things happen, and you go flying across the countryside under a power that would be called magic if it were not so completely rational in every way.’  Robert M. Pirsig Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance 

Firstly, welcome to the debut post of Tools of The Trade and thank you to the wonderful Tess of the Creative Women’s Circle for the opportunity to explore and share my own particular interests in the realm of women and their creative practices.  I chose the quote above as I feel it conveys, quite completely, why I chose tools as the thread connecting each of the forthcoming posts.

I picked up Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance quite a few years ago when my father revisited his love of motorcycles, his enthusiasm for these wondrous machines was contagious and I soon found myself coasting along highways on my very own. This re-acquaintance with motorcycles coincided with my introduction to a very different type of machine – the knitting machine.

These machines were popular in the sixties and early seventies with the more common models made by Singer and Brother – familiar names to those of you who sew a little…

I loved to knit before I set my hands upon one of these clever machines, but this discovery caused a cavalcade of creative possibilities to spring forth – the principles of the technology used in knitwear manufacture were here housed in a portable carry case and it was hand powered! Sketchbooks filled themselves and I could not wait to learn more of what these machines were capable of.

The parallel between the motorcycle and the knitting machine – though they may appear completely contradictory in nature – is that when a maker first places a hand on the instrument which makes their ideas seem possible it is very like the ‘flying across the countryside’ feeling Robert M. Pirsig mentions in the passage above.

Curiosity and possibilities…so began years of study through the formal teaching of Textile Design at RMIT and the informal and invaluable experience of production knitting for a Melbourne based textile design house. This leads me to introduce myself a little more formally…

My name is Brianna Read, a recent graduate from the RMIT School of Fashion & Textiles; I have recently shown a graduate collection of knitwear created on my favourite tool – the domestic knitting machine. Jack of Diamonds is the name I have given to my design practice which is primarily textile works for exhibitions and hand/machine made knitwear but soon to also include a series of machine knitting patterns and workshops.

In my own creative practice I find the rituals of the setting up and packing away of the tools wonderful bookends to a day in the studio. As any creative person knows the exploration of concepts and inspiration is quite unbounded and potentially limitless. For me the process of making acts as a counterbalance to these creative explorations, the ritual-like and methodical qualities grounding all those wonderful ideas and slowly aiding their materialisation!

Tools may seem to some an archaic term, conjuring images of heavy, rusted objects wielded by burly arms, but I cannot help but feel that the idea of a tool is as relevant today as it ever was. The Creative Women’s Circle celebrates women who have carved out delightful niches for themselves in the design world and I am certain each of these women have a tool (or a box full of them!) which made this carving possible.

In each of the forthcoming instalments of Tools of the Trade I intend to introduce you to the weird and wonderful implements, machines, appliances, gadgets and devices which help make material the ideas of many creative women. For now I will leave you with an image from the wonderful Museo Guatelli an historical homage to the tool in all its glory…

Knitwear designer/maker Brianna Read views fashion as a form of artistic expression. Under the label Jack of Diamonds she creates knitted garments and accessories. Using traditional hand-made techniques in combination with machine knit technologies her pieces travel from hand to machine and back again. Brianna’s multi-faceted creative practice encompasses design, production, styling, exhibition work and machine knit workshops.