Macramé, a knot-tying technique introduced to the western world by 13th century Arab weavers and sailors, is perhaps best known for the iconic, decade-defining plant hangers of the 1970s. But as the heady days of free love and bell-bottomed jeans faded, so too did this once-popular art form, and, despite a few false-start comebacks, its popularity seemed doomed to become a trope of a bygone era.
But while we weren’t looking, macramé has begun to experience a quiet transformation. Artists like Kitchener, Ontario-based Chantel Conlon have reimagined the art of macramé, incorporating wildly different fibres in unexpected ways, all while staying true to the practical roots of this age-old technique. Chantel is the owner of Lots of Knots Canada, and in addition to creating her own blend of macramé and weaving, she is also the owner of a retail supply business and author of the book Mixed Fibre Macrame, and she nurtures a thriving global macramé community on social media, with over two hundred thousand subscribers to her YouTube channel, three hundred thousand followers on Instagram and thirteen thousand members in her Facebook community group. The following email interview with Chantel was edited for length and clarity.
Michelle Woodvine: Your work totally blows up the ‘70s macramé plant-hanger stereotype—in a good way! What drew you to macramé and weaving?
Chantel Conlon: Thank you! As a kid I loved arts and crafts of all kinds. Drawing, painting, knitting, crochet, graphic design, just to name a few. Looking back, my macramé journey dates back to my tenth birthday. I was given a tackle box full of embroidery threads, and that summer I learned how to use the thread to create friendship bracelets using a lot of the same knots that I use today. Around the same time, I spent a few summers at a sailing camp learning several sailing/boating knots. I was excited to start incorporating them into my designs to see what I could come up with. Both of these built the foundation of my macramé journey.
I took some time away from art but took it up again in 2018. This is when I was drawn to both macramé and weaving (among other textile arts and mixed fibre/mixed media art). The textures and colours of weaving drew me in, and I was fascinated with how it could be incorporated into macramé pieces. I started to develop my style from there.
MW: Under the Lots of Knots name is a retail supply business, an extensive collection of YouTube tutorials, and a thriving social media community supporting students and other artists—plus your new book! Tell me the story of Lots of Knots.
CC: It all started as a hobby that was something fun I could pick up in the evenings after work. I like to keep my hands busy, and this was the perfect solution for that. Soon, our house was full of wall hangings (ha-ha) and so I opened up an Etsy shop and started an Instagram account to showcase the pieces I was selling.
Around the same time, I was finding it difficult to source materials and I had started to receive requests from several followers asking for tutorials. Through the connections I had made with my Instagram account as well as my own research, I was able to source materials myself and started selling a very limited supply of rope and string on Etsy. I slowly started to expand and now sell a wide range of supplies (rope and string in several colours and sizes, raffia, roving, silk ribbons, frizz ribbons, velvet, yarns, and more).
I have always loved to teach, and at the time there really were not a lot of macramé tutorials out there. Especially tutorials that explained in detail the complex macramé patterns/knots/designs, or tutorials for topics like how to get started, setting up your workspace, macramé terms, etc. So, I decided to start a YouTube channel. As I mentioned, a lot of the knots I use in my work I had learned as a kid, but it really just came down to trial and error to figure out some of the more complex patterns/knots/designs that I created tutorials for. The tutorial requests I was receiving from others gave me a bit of direction in terms of what sorts of patterns/knots/designs people were most interested in. Also, having had a couple of years to figure out macramé myself, I was able to create tutorials for patterns/knots/designs (as well as other more general topics like tips and tricks, getting started) that I found most challenging and my solutions to them.
Now you can find hundreds of tutorials on my YouTube Channel ranging from beginner knots/patterns, full wall hanging tutorials, plant hanger tutorials, tips and tricks, holiday-themed tutorials, you name it.
MW: Your designs are innovative and a lot of fun! What inspires your style?
CC: Thank you! I draw inspiration from a number of sources. I’m inspired by landscapes and wildlife, knots, materials/supplies, and more. The colours of landscapes as well as the textures and colour patterns of plants, flowers, and animals inspire me. I’m also inspired by something as simple as a knot. I’ll look at a knot and dream up all the ways I could incorporate it into a wall hanging—repeat it horizontally, vertically, space it out, etc. Sometimes I’ll pull out an armful of materials and arrange them on a table. Then I’ll rearrange them again and again, and through that process I’ll find a colour palette that I’m inspired to work with, or sometimes a specific material will inspire me. Other times I’ll be inspired by an idea or even a dream, sketch it out, or pull out a piece of driftwood or a dowel and start brainstorming ways to make it come to life. I’m also very inspired by other artists—fibre artists, but also artists of different mediums. I find mixed media art, knit and crochet designs to be particularly inspiring.
MW: You make, and teach others to make, so many different, incredible things—from stunning mixed-fibre wall hangings, to knotted yarn flowers. What’s your favourite thing to make?
CC: I find so much joy in creating fibre art and even more in teaching others. As you might have guessed, I love to create mixed fibre pieces or pieces with lots of colours and texture. Lately, I have really enjoyed making macra-weave pieces specifically. A macra-weave combines both macramé and weaving techniques—essentially you make the skeleton of the piece using macramé knots and then use weaving techniques to fill it in. I just love how I can incorporate so many materials/colours/textures quite easily into a macra-weave.
MW: Do you have a favourite piece that you’ve made?
CC: Yes. It’s an idea I brought to life rather than a specific piece, as I’ve made a few designs using this technique—my wall basket pieces mean the most to me. These were the first projects where I started exploring designs and techniques outside of what I would call a more “traditional” macramé wall hanging. I had an idea to add macramé to the front of a rattan basket to create a pouch which could then be hung on a wall. The pouch could then be used to hold flowers, mail, or something else. This idea and these pieces then lead me to all of the different mixed-fibre projects I enjoy working on today—which adds to why they mean a lot.
MW: Do you have a favourite knot?
CC: I do use a lot of knots in my work, but I really love the way the berry knot looks when incorporated into a piece. It adds depth, looks great added to a variety of different projects, and looks like it might be tricky to create but is easy once you get the hang of it. This was also the first knot I created a tutorial for on YouTube, so it is sort of special in that way—my very first knot video on my YouTube channel.
MW: I love your book! What made you decide to write a book and how did you decide what patterns to include?
CC: Thanks so much. The idea was always in the back of my mind. I was contacted by a publisher in the States that wanted to work with me to publish a book—this was sort of a pivotal moment for me. At the time I was working another job full time, but I knew it would not be possible for me to work full time as well as publish this book. I was fortunate that I was able to arrange part-time work with my employer, which allowed me the time I needed to write my book.
My publisher and I discussed what the overall theme would be for my book and how I could make it my own. In the end we decided on the theme of colourful mixed-fibre projects so I could include some of my very favourite projects (wall baskets, macra-weaves) and then expand on that.
You can find an assortment of projects in my book that use lots of colours and teach you how to incorporate a range of supplies in your work, from plant hangers to macra-weaves to rugs/pillows to accessories and more.
MW: You have more than thirteen thousand members in your Facebook Lots of Knots Canada community group and more than three hundred thousand followers on Instagram! How important is it for you to connect with your fibre art community?
CC: It is so important to me to connect with my community. It always makes my day whenever I receive messages/emails/comments about how my tutorials have helped a follower learn macramé, or how I’ve been a huge inspiration to them, or simply photos that show me their work that has incorporated my supplies or my tutorials somehow.
I feel very fortunate to be a part of this community. I’ve met some amazing people within the community just by connecting online. It really does amaze me how many others I’ve inspired. I am so happy that I’ve been able to help others along their fibre art journey in some way.
What they may not realize is that they’ve inspired me too.
MW: What’s the macramé scene like in Canada today and do you have a sense of where your customers and followers are from?
CC: I’m connecting with more fibre artists in Canada now than I ever have before. I ask my followers on social media every so often to comment where in the world they are following from, and it is truly remarkable how social media has connected us from all over the world. A lot of followers from Canada, the United States, Australia, Europe, Brazil, New Zealand, the list goes on.
MW: Where should a beginner get started?
CC: My book! But in all seriousness, I do think it is a really good resource for total beginners as well as more advanced makers. Sometimes it is a bit overwhelming to start—in my book I take you through what materials you’ll need, macramé terms to know, how to set up your workspace, how to measure cord for your projects, step-by-step beginner knots, beginner weaving techniques, and more. The book advances with you—it offers you beginner projects to start, as well as intermediate and advanced projects once you’ve got the hang of it.
I (also) have a playlist on my YouTube channel with several videos that teach you how to get started. From setting up your workspace to basic beginner knots, it is all there!
MW: Do you have any tips or tricks for beginners?
CC: Be patient with yourself! Some knots/pattens might not click right away. That is okay. Keep at it and you’ll get the hang of it!
MW: What’s your advice for macramé artists looking to find their own style?
CC: This takes time. Don’t worry if you need to copy a tutorial directly when you’re first starting out (although if you’re wanting to copy an artist’s work directly, I would recommend reaching out to the artist first to discuss). The more you create the more you’ll figure out what knots and patterns of knots you like and don’t like, which combinations of knots/patterns you enjoy and which you don’t, what colours and textures you like and dislike, etc., and from there you’ll start to develop your own style.
MW: What’s next for you and Lots of Knots?
CC: I really do enjoy both the creative side of my business and the social side—connecting with others through fibre art. I am passionate about creating patterns, designs, videos, taking photographs, etc., and then sharing these ideas with others through tutorials, social media, workshops, etc. This is something that I plan to continue doing in the future.
On the supply side of things, I’d love to expand, but I have reached the limit of what I’m able to do myself. I’m considering partnership for fulfilment—something I’ll be looking at more closely in the new year.