Modern Macrame by Windy Chien

By Regina Connell.

Macrame has a great deal of baggage associated with it.

Modern macrame by Windy Chien

Modern macrame by Windy Chien. Part of her knot a day project.

At some point during my early life, my mother gave me a 1970s book on macrame. She wasn’t particularly keen on it herself. In fact, I don’t think she had ever attempted the craft. Not for lack of talent: she was pretty much outstanding at most crafts at which she tried her hand. No. I think she gave it to me in despair, with the wish that it might be the one craft skill I could pick up: I, who’d been pretty hopeless at knitting, crocheting, embroidery and all those feminine feats requiring patience and even a modicum of fine motor skills.

I gave a predictably adolescent sneer/eye roll, and contrived to pour a glass of orange juice on it so the pages wouldn’t open. (Even then, I had a hard time with craftiness.)

So back in late 2014 when I started seeing the design mag/blog articles about macrame, I embarked on another round of eye-rolling. Nothing looked particularly different from that vintage 1970s book and its crafty hippie earnestness.

The monkey fist knot

The monkey fist knot

So imagine my surprise when I found myself looking in admiration at the work of a woman I’d recently met, only to discover it was… macrame, dammit.

But it gave me hope: that perhaps through the work of someone with a distinctly modern sensibility, with fresh eyes and a dedication to getting it right, it might end up being something not just good, but wonderful, even.

I’d first encountered the work of Windy Chien through my friend, Leslie Santarina of SpottedSF. I’d initially fallen for a gorgeous wooden spoon, that in addition to being meticulously crafted, had a very modern sense of proportion and scale, a thoughtful ergonomic handle, and a fabulously unPC name: Fat Bottomed Girl.  In a world of great wooden spoons, this stood out. I bought one. Quickly found it indispensable. Then met Windy. Loved her. Mentioned her here. And I started keeping an eye on her. I had faith that something good would come from her melding of craft and design.

lamp tangle new

Helix Light by Windy Chien. Image by Cesar Rubio.

What I saw next from Windy was the Helix light, in macrame. But instead of all those hippie associations with this traditional macrame technique, it felt clean, very graphic, crisp, sharp even, modern, a clear association with DNA. Effortless, but soulful. Defined but not self-conscious. In other words, it got the balance just right. And there was a black version, of course.

Windy Chien's Black Helix

Windy Chien’s Black Helix. Image by Cesar Rubio.

Since then, these retro-modern pieces have done incredibly well, going into restaurants, in the form of some powerful, graphic wallhangings, selling out at the Remodelista Market, and getting all kinds of love. They’re sculptural, and the wiring is incorporated (in fact, she also sells an extension cord—the first one I wouldn’t even think about hiding.)

Macrame, mid-installation

Macrame, mid-installation

But who is Windy, this woman who can go from carving wooden spoons to breathing new life into macrame?

She’s a Taiwan-born, Hawaii-raised, San Francisco-based product designer and maker living and working in the Mission neighborhood. So far, so unremarkable.

Windy Chien, with her spoons

Windy Chien, with her spoons. Image by Leslie Santarina

But she is an old soul of many talents and reinventions. She previously she studied filmmaking (even presenting her work at Sundance), owned and operated SF’s Aquarius Records on Valencia Street for over a decade, and also was an exec at Apple’s iTunes. And then, seeking more meaning to her life, she decided to do what spoke to her, what she had always loved and been doing all along… and that was using her hands to create; lending her eye for sharp design, and her love of building community to all she did.

For all the people who said they wanted to do this in 2010, she actually has done it, and stuck with it.

But what’s most notable about Windy is her belief in “elevating the daily rituals of life,” whether it’s through her craft or the way she lives her life. As she told me, “enjoying the richness of our daily lives is something available to anyone, rich, poor, old, young, creative or not. It keeps us savoring every moment.”

Windy Chien macrame wall hanging

Windy Chien macrame wall hanging

Her rituals: Exercise first thing every morning—yoga, walk, or run. For that, an outfit one feels good in cannot be underestimated.

A knot a day. This is such an amazing practice. It keeps me steeped in history—I read about each knot exhaustively. It keeps me in learning mode, a form of being in the moment. It teaches me about the properties of rope—the different types of weaves and braids, how different fibers behave. And by photographing each one, finding the right light and composition, the knots have even forced me to improve my photography skills. Be a part of that journey, here

Windy Chien: The Zeppelin Bend Knot

Windy Chien: The Zeppelin Bend Knot

 I cook every day. I believe one should only ever need a single spoon to make a meal, and am consistently thrilled when I can use a single spoon to measure, scrape down the sides of the Cuisinart, scrape the brown bits of the bottom the pan, and serve. Using a beautiful spoon to cook—itself one of the most creative acts—is a simple, deep pleasure. (And of course, her favorite—as is mine—is the Medium Fat Bottomed Girl.)

Chien lamp: table

Chien lamp: table. Image by Cesar Rubio

How does the Helix fit with your work? Well, part of elevating the every day is to notice things one takes for granted. Thus, the pendant light cable, something we see every day, gets some thought applied to it. The previously-naked cable gets a beautiful encasement. 

But why macrame?  I love everything about it. I love that it’s top down, that you must start with knots at the top of a piece and work them downward, that gravity is as much an element of the form as is the rope. I love that knots are intricate, to my mind much more intricate and thus more interesting than weaving. I love that knotting, of which macrame is but one subset, springs directly from the history of seamanship, life on and around the sea. 

All images courtesy of Windy Chien, unless otherwise credited.



Instagram: @windychien

This entry was posted in Box 1, FURNITURE+LIGHTING, HOME, TEXTILES+PAPER, THE CREATORS, THE GOODS. Bookmark the permalink.

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