Windy Chien spent a year learning to tie a new knot each day, now referring to 2016 as The Year of Knots. Prior to that, Chien, like many of us, would say that the knot that she tied most often was for her shoelaces—today, though, the San Francisco–based artist creates high-end sculptures and wall hangings composed entirely of hand-tied knots.
Chien didn’t start out as an artist, but creativity has always played into her pursuits. Her first venture began at San Francisco–based music shop Aquarius Records in 1990. After 14 years there, Chien was tapped by Apple as a music expert to build out iTunes in its infancy, climbing the ranks over eight years to become managing editor of the App Store, when a thought crossed her mind.
“I was sitting at my desk one day, and I realized that I had spent both careers, at the record store and at Apple, supporting other people’s creativity,” she says. “I had neglected my own creativity. There’s nothing wrong with supporting other artists’ creativity, but not at the expense of my own.” Roughly a month later, Chien gave notice and quit her job.
Knots were not the first medium she explored. Chien spent about a year dabbling in various workshops before a macramé class ignited a childhood nostalgia. “My mom had taught me macramé when I was a kid in the early ’70s,” says Chien. “I remember loving it, but I couldn’t remember how to get started. So I took a refresher class, and within five minutes, I fell back in love with it.” By 2015, she had launched her studio, focusing on knot art.
With time, Chien realized that in order to break away from the trodden path of macramé, she would have to go beyond the two or three knots it required. “That was the lightbulb moment,” says Chien. “I said, ‘I should learn one knot every day for a year, and by the end, maybe I’ll be fluent in this new language.’” Thus, The Year of Knots began, during which Chien taught herself a new knot every day of 2016, documenting the journey on Instagram. She was surprised to find how much attention the venture attracted—by the end of the year, Chien’s social media following had increased tenfold and she had seven book offers.
By that time, she had started accepting commissions for large-scale knot art installations in the commercial design industry, beginning with a 25-foot piece for high-end San Francisco restaurant Fogo de Chão and, later, IBM, Nobu Hotels and Google. Today, more than half of Chien’s clients are interior designers, and within that pool, the vast majority are custom jobs tailor-made to the space. Chien partners with Sunbrella for all of her cord production, which allows her work to suit indoor and outdoor projects, with a typical commission hovering around $40,000.
Chien’s mesmerizing pieces—whether a wall hanging, screen or light fixture—bring texture and rhythm into the spaces they inhabit. By focusing on a single knot per piece, the artist aims to celebrate the innate aesthetic appeal of knots, in addition to their utility. “I’m sort of antidecorative, and I don’t mean it that strongly, but when there are no frills, the design can speak more clearly and loudly,” says Chien. “Literally, in each of my bodies of work, there’s only one knot in each piece.”
Chien jokes that this experience has really been the cheapest history lesson she could have asked for. She is serious, however, about the power in knot-tying, a practice she thinks of as a universal language embedded with centuries of tradition. “Over seven years of knotting, I’ve developed a deep respect,” says Chien. “The ultimate goal for me is, simply, to magnify the gorgeousness of knots.”
Homepage image: Chien at work doing an on-site residential install | Courtesy of Windy Chien