Bridget is a multi-disciplinary designer who is changing the face of fabrics and fashion. She's also director of Fabriko, a social enterprise that runs Fab Lab CHCH.
What do you do on an average work day?
I’m not sure I have an average work day!
Most days I am working in Fab Lab CHCH on our bigger projects so on any given day I am soldering rough electronic prototypes to give to our technician Cameron to redesign to make safe for human use. I don’t have all the skills but enough to design and manage the process. I make prototypes for client work using our Fab Lab machines: 3D printers, a really big laser cutter, power tools, vinyl cutter and sometimes the milling machines. These always start with digital files, so I spend a fair amount of time on the computer too.
Teaching is a big part of my work. I experiment with any new smart textiles materials and components I can get my hands on, and then turn them into kits and classes for learning.
I design and facilitate hands-on workshops for tertiary students in art, design and fashion about how to use digital fabrication and smart materials in their work. I also train technology teachers in the same and sometimes I work with Ara and University of Canterbury on outreach programmes for high school students.
We have community meet-ups and workshops here after hours, too, so days can get very long!
What did you study at school? And after high school?
At school English was my best subject, but I loved maths, art and physics. I spent a lot of time in the local library reading as there was no internet back then, and we had minimal educational resources at school. I was always curious and looking for answers to everything, so read a lot of history, philosophy and science books.
School in the 80s didn’t really prepare me for what I would be doing afterwards as we had no computers, the world wide web hadn’t been invented yet, and we didn't have any of the digital tools like photoshop or illustrator, and certainly not affordable 3D CAD [computer assisted design] software.
Being a rural kid, the South Canterbury science fair in Timaru and Cantamaths in Christchurch were ways to get out of school but also my first experiences of project based learning, using all my skills including problem solving and design. Me and my friend got third prize in the Biology section of the science fair and we blew the prize money on Duran Duran tapes, but I got really interested in science after that!
I always loved making stuff and, growing up in rural New Zealand, if you loved fashion you often had to make it yourself. So I did. Local women taught me spinning, weaving and other crafts; and my mother was a dressmaker so I spent a lot of time learning to make things from scratch.
80s fashion was pretty 'out there' so I taught myself fabric printing and graphic knitting so I could have rad clothes. I wanted to hear the latest indie music so I built an aerial out of broken TV contents to pick up the RDU radio station in Christchurch. I knew what I was doing parallelled the Punk DIY movement at the time from magazines, but I was doing it out of necessity.
My younger brother regularly broke stuff so that was my introduction to electronics! The Usborne book of electricity was my introduction to circuits, which became a lifelong interest, but then I went to Art School at Otago University and studied Textile Design for 3 years.
An exhibition of contemporary Japanese Art at the Otago Art Gallery in 1992 introduced me to the work of Tatsuo Miyajima, who used LED numbers and electronic circuits as an art medium, and all my different interests - art, craft, science, design, philosophy and maths - suddenly became one.
Was your study directly related to what you do now?
After art school I did a year at Otago University where I took computer science, and a computer science student introduced me to this new 'world wide web' thing, and I learnt basic HTML.
This led to years working in IT as a web and graphic designer, but it was my meddling with textiles and my robotics hobby - all of the unofficial, not work related stuff - that led me to what I do now!
The arts have definitely been my gateway into a technology career.
What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?
Your future pathways won’t be linear, so I believe it is really important to get an understanding of a range of areas, not just vocational subjects that you think will lead to a set job. You never know what you’ll need them for! I am learning biology again to grow fabric out of bacteria and fungi right now.
With the world changes we are facing now you’ll need all the resources you can get. Having said that, maths, science, CAD and programming are things I use now in my creative industries job, and I wish I had started learning them more intensively earlier, as it takes years of practise to get good at them.
What are some of your career highlights so far?
Definitely getting to go to two international Fab Lab conferences, where there are people from many different cultures and languages all sharing their inventions, projects and resources with each other. Working on a prototype when you and your friend don’t speak each other’s language is something everyone should try, we communicate by making.
I’ve taught hundreds of children and adults Maker skills over the last 10 years: 3D printing, digital design, how to make interactive textiles and machines, smart materials and more. This has become my art practice: helping others to create.
Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand?
The world I grew up in is so different to the one my children are now engaging with. There is such a need for everyone to have a basic literacy in the STEM subjects now, just to understand what is really going on - as opposed to what you are being told by an infinite number of changing sources of information.
The STEM subjects are the portal to critical thinking skills for everyday life - like voting, everyday health and economic decisions.
Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?
Learning and building careers in STEM is our big chance to get in there and change the physical world, and rebuild some tired and rotten structures - social as well as matter-based - instead of it being done for us.
Cultural and community diversity in STEM is important too. When you have a big problem to solve, having a greater number of different lenses to look at it can only improve the outcome.
Bridget is a multi-disciplinary designer and director of Fabriko, a social enterprise that runs Fab Lab CHCH, part of the international Fab Lab network.
This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.
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