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Inside Steven Alan

A Moment With . . . Sally England

  • Textile artist Sally England‘s oversized macramé weavings have been on our radar for some time, and we recently had the opportunity to meet her in person while admiring her work at Sight Unseen OFFSITE. We chatted about her creative process, the macramé revival, and Michigan summers.

    Sally and her cat in her studio. Photo by Carson Davis Brown.

    Where are you from and where do you live now?
    I’m originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, but currently call Grand Rapids, Michigan my home.

    How do you like to spend summers in Michigan?
    Summer is the best time to be in Michigan. It’s basically like paradise and everyone is so happy after making it through the long, cold winter. I live a half hour from Lake Michigan, the most beautiful of the Great Lakes, and possibly the most beautiful lake that ever existed. I’m there pretty much every weekend in the summer, soaking in the sun, swimming, reading, and hiking through the dunes and woods. There are so many great little towns and farm stands along the coast, as well as antique and thrift shops. My favorite place for antique-ing is called ‘Sunset Junque.’ It’s on Blue Star Highway near Saugatuck. It’s a bit of a compound — you walk around and explore the little barns and buildings, and the wooded yard filled with so many treasures. The vibe there is very Professor Marvel’s wagon from The Wizard of Oz, and I always find something I can’t live without! Last time I stopped by I found the most gorgeous floral kimono robe from the 1950′s for $12.


    How did you get into fiber arts, and specifically macramé?
    Well, I’ve always loved working with my hands, and my mom was also a macramé artist, but I didn’t start macramé-ing until about four years ago when I was in grad school in Portland, Oregon. Until then, I was more of a soft sculpture artist, but once I began knotting I was hooked. I love the intimacy of using my hands as a tool, and the tactile nature of working with rope and other fibers. There is so much opportunity with macramé to play with pattern, color, and texture. It’s so versatile and each new project still feels really exciting. Macramé, along with other repetitive fiber arts, can also be a very therapeutic and relaxing process. So, needless to say, I love what I do!

    We love the large scale of your work, which really allows the textures of your materials to speak. What inspired you to want to work larger?
    Thanks! I was thinking a lot about macramé and its generally kitschy stigma, and made it my goal to create work that felt fresh. I wanted to make macramé for who we are today. I started with one small sampler, and then went right into my first big project: a 6′ by 7′ room divider using 1/2″ diameter rope. I too love the attention to the texture of the know patterns as a result of working on a large scale. You can see the movement and details of each knot, which you just don’t notice as much with tiny macramé. I love working big.


    Tell us a bit about your creative process. What inspires your patterns? Do you work them out in your head, or sketch them out?
    I’m really drawn towards primitive geometric shapes, and many of the patterns I use are traditional macramé patterns that I combine intuitively. A good portion of my work is commission-based, so when I’m creating work I’m thinking a lot about the environment it’s going in, the client’s preferred style, and the thickness of the rope compared to the overall scale of the piece. Sometimes I will sketch out the design ahead of time, but most of the time I will have a rough idea in my head and then start a row of knots and see where it takes me. I think sometimes the best results come from improvisation.

    What would you consider to be your most intricate, or most labor-intensive piece?
    I recently created seven large macramé window panels for a new restaurant in the Financial District in NYC called El Vez. The largest was 16 feet wide! I used over 20,000 feet of rope for this project. I was in-between studios at the time and so I knotted them with some help from my friends in our living room, and with the help of my guy Nick we dyed the rope chartreuse green in our basement. It was quite the production — rope was everywhere in the house and we were working really long hours. It was really chaotic but fun.


    Do you have a favorite type of knot?
    My current favorite is the Chinese Crown Knot. When a group of strands are knotted together using this technique, they form a thick tube, almost like one big thick rope. You see this knot sometimes at the top of a plant hanger, and I believe this knot was used to make the plastic tubular friendship bracelets I remember from childhood.

    Macramé has been experiencing a revival lately. What are your thoughts on why this is happening right now?
    I think the timing is right for a revival, we are living in an age where almost any item is available via mass production, so handmade art like macramé is especially attractive as a result. The macramé that is being made now is also more appealing to the masses — it’s softer (less itchy jute!), and adds a unique texture to a space that has the potential to provide visual comfort and make a house feel like a home.

    A weaving commissioned for a home

    Are there any upcoming projects you’re especially excited about?
    Absolutely! I will be creating artwork using a hybrid macramé technique for rooms at the new Freehand Chicago, a high-end hostel designed by Roman and Williams. I stayed at Freehand Miami during Basel last year, and I was really impressed with the attention to detail. I pretty much love anything Roman and Williams does, so I’m super excited to be working with them!

    You just got back from a trip to Colombia. What did you do while you were there?
    I was there for a wedding in Medellin. My friend married the most wonderful Colombian man. We spent four nights in Cartagena before the wedding, on the Caribbean coast. I fell in love with the charm of the historic city center. Colorful old colonial buildings, balconies for days, giant double doors, cast door knockers, turned wood window bars, beautiful weather, and such happy and kind people. In Medellin we stayed with a local couple, friends of the groom. They took us to all of the local spots and we ate the traditional food, including empanadas, bunuelos, arapas, and tried fruit that we didn’t know existed. We took the metro cable all the way to the top of the city, and the views were amazing. At the top there was a park with a local market, and I met a man who was selling this beautiful macramé jewelry and we shared photos of our work and spoke in Spanglish. It was the most amazing trip, and I’m still riding that post-amazing-trip high days later.

    A wall hanging for the Ace Hotel Shoreditch

    Many thanks to Sally! You can check out more of her work here.

    This entry was posted on Friday, July 18th, 2014 at 5:58 pm and is filed under A Moment With . . .. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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