Interview: Sally England

October 12 2014

The history of macramé dates back to the 13th century when Arabian weavers would create intricate hand knotted pieces for everything from protecting their horses from flies to decorating their homes with intricate wall hangings. In short, macramé made its way through Europe, to the hands of sailors using the technique to create hammocks and nets, to resourceful hippies making fringed clothing and planters in the 60s and 70s. In the early 80s, the macramé seemed to fade back out of fashion until its recent resurgence in the revival of craft arts. One might say that fiber artist Sally England is at the forefront of this macramé revival, flawlessly weaving thousands of strands to create awe-inspiring pieces that demand the attention of the modern eye.

Sally was kind enough to chat with us about a perfect Saturday, her cat Georgia, and the beauty of knots.

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Where are you from? Where do you currently reside? Any formal training?
I’m originally from the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area in Southeast Michigan. I currently live in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and I am very much looking forward to wintering-over out West! I studied at Grand Valley State University in West Michigan for my undergrad, and attended the Applied Craft & Design Masters program offered by Pacific Northwest College of Art and Oregon College of Art & Craft in Portland, Oregon. Much of what I know I’ve taught myself by reading instructional books and through trial and error.

Do you have any pets?
I have an 11-year old Persian cat named Georgia. She’s great. She’s got the best personality and she looks like a cross between Garfield and an Ewok! She loves to hang out with me while I’m working; I imagine its like a dream for her to be surrounded by all sorts of ropes and yarns all of the time.

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When you’re not in your studio knotting up a storm, where can one find you?
I’m usually attending to the business side of things, and working on other creative projects, but you might also find me hanging out at the house, listening to records and re-arranging the furniture, or on the search for treasures at antique & thrift shops.

How would you spend a perfect Saturday?
In the following order: Sleep in, Brunch (the perfect meal), flea market, scenic drive, fruit pie, Lake Michigan dunes, beach fire, star gazing, midnight swim. ‘

Did you use to school the other girls at summer camp during bracelet making?
Ha! No, but I did school them at God’s-Eye making!

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Not your average hanging planter at Grandma’s house, why take macrame to the next level?
When I first started creating my large-scale macrame work in grad school in 2011, it seemed that Macramé was still stuck in the 60’s and 70’s. It had become stereotyped. I wanted my work to bring back the value and potential of macramé as an art form and speak more to who we are today. I was also thinking about the benefit of hand work as a therapeutic process that could help counteract the effects of technology on our psyche. The timing just felt very right.

You truly are a master of your craft, how long have you been honing your talent?
Awe thanks! 35 years! I feel like every experience I’ve ever had has brought me to where I am today, but I started macramé-ing in grad school in 2011. Before then, I was creating a lot of soft sculpture and soft goods that I sold on etsy and at a shop I had at the time. I’ve been making things for as long as I can remember.

Where do you find inspiration? Conceptually and visually. What really inspires your creativity?
Conceptually I am inspired by the opportunity to evoke emotion through fiber and to challenge viewpoints and break molds. I find visual inspiration everywhere. From fashion, to art, to interiors and nature. Texture and pattern give me endless joy.

Tell us about your collaboration with Portland’s Ace Hotel. What was it like working with such a creative crew?
It was really great. I’m really grateful to have had the honor to work with such a visionary group of people.

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From necklaces to wall hangings, what are you favorite pieces to create?
My favorite are the wall hangings. The larger and more sculptural or experimental the better.

How long do you, typically, spend on a piece?
It varies from piece to piece. It depends on the knots I’m using (some knots take longer than others) along with the intricacy and scale of the design. Smaller works can take a few days, and other larger projects sometimes take me months.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Where do you see your craft going?
I’d like to continue to push the limits of my craft. I feel like there is alot more exploring to do in regards to my relationship with macramé. I can see myself living a more harmonious existence with nature, on a farm and making my work in an indoor/outdoor environment.

Any other crafts you feel like trying your hand at?
I’ve been doing some quilting lately and it has me thinking about making my own clothes.

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You can check out more of Sally’s work here as well as follow her on Instagram here.

Photographs by Carson Davis Brown.