Mixed fiber macramé artist Chantel Conlon is most prolific when her creativity is tied up in knots. Using traditional techniques combined with patterns of her own design along with unconventional materials, Chantel combines pattern, texture and color to make unique home décor items that carry the hand of the maker in every step. Enthusiastic about the art of macramé, you’ll find Chantel sharing her projects and techniques in the classroom, online or in her new book.
What inspires you to create?
I draw inspiration from a number of sources. Landscapes and wildlife, knots, materials and supplies and more inspire me. The colours of landscapes as well as the textures and colour patterns of wildlife (plants, flowers, animals) inspire me. Something as simple as a knot can also inspire me. 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.
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Sometimes I’ll pull out an arm full of materials and arrange them on a table. Then I’ll rearrange them again and again. Through that process I’ll find a colour palette that inspires me. Or sometimes a specific material will inspire me.
How did you start designing macramé? Always an artist, or was there a “moment”?
What I love about fibre art (macramé included) is the endless possibilities when it comes to creating and designing. There is no right or wrong way to create and I find that so exciting.
Right away I was interested in exploring different combinations of knots and designing patterns. I have always loved creating and have always enjoyed art of all kinds – drawing, painting, etc. But fibre arts are a true passion of mine. This started with traditional macramé using string and rope. But as I’ve grown as an artist I’ve started to incorporate many different fibres and supplies into my designs.
Did you have a “gateway craft” as a kid? Which creative projects led you to the work you do today?
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 received a tackle box full of embroidery threads; that summer I learned how to use the thread to create friendship bracelets. I used 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. Some of these are not commonly used in traditional macramé, but I was excited to incorporate them into my designs. I enjoyed seeing what I could come up with. Both of these built the foundation which kick started my macramé journey.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours? Have you created new knots for your work?
I was and still am interested in exploring the use of new materials. I enjoy experimenting with different knots/combinations of knots/patterns to create fun and fresh designs.
When I first started, I found a few rattan baskets at a thrift store and added a macramé pouch to the front of each so that small items could be added (plants, flowers, whatever you like). I loved the fact that this piece was stylish/trendy yet also functional. This was an idea that was different then a lot of mainstream macramé projects at the time. I received a lot of positive feedback on these pieces (I created 3 rattan basket designs). Over time they became signature pieces of mine.
When I create new tutorials, one of my go-to methods is adding cord to a dowel and just start exploring. I tie and untie knots and patterns until I see something I like. The art of knotting dates back a long time so it is unlikely I have created something entirely new but I’m confident that several of the patterns and the ways that I incorporate mixed fibers are new techniques for many.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your book, Mixed Fiber Macramé: Create Handmade Home Décor with Unique, Modern Techniques Featuring Colorful Wool Roving, Ribbons, Cords, Raffia and Rattan Baskets?
As I say in my book, “I hope that these designs help you to develop your own creative style and inspire you to try something new beyond this book”.
Tell us about your online platforms. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
You’ll find me on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, and now TikTok with additional info on my website. I share lots of fun videos/tutorials, my own work and work from artists within the community.
I hope that people are inspired by my content and are motivated to pick up macramé or try out a new knot/pattern. I’m so grateful to be a part of this community of artists – posting work from the community is a little way I can give back. I have a large following on several platforms and when I post work from the community it not only inspires others but also can help the artist gain exposure, sales, etc. (This is coming straight from the artists. They are so kind to message me to thank me and let me know how much my posts have helped them gain exposure, sales, and more).
When beginning a project, do you pre-plan your entire endeavor or do you simply follow where your inspiration takes you?
Sometimes I have an idea in mind. Other times I go into a project with a blank canvas and see where it takes me. I never plan the project exactly because it always ends up different than I imagined it would! Haha.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
Yes and no – I do have a dedicated space when filming tutorials. I’ve found a spot in our home with good lighting and a plain background that I always use for tutorials. When I create pieces of my own I do not have a dedicated space.
What I love about macramé is that it is something that you can do in a number of places. I like to work by hanging my piece from a clothes rack. Sometimes I set up my clothes rack inside and other times I set it up outside and work surrounded by nature.
What is your favorite storage tip for your creative supplies?
Not so much a storage tip but a tip on how to use up some of those stored-away scraps – I always receive so so many questions about what to do with scraps. Scrap cords work well to create key chains, macramé feathers and incorporate into some full wall hangings (depending on the design).
I have a tutorial on my YouTube Channel that teaches you a full wall hanging design that uses scraps. There is also a project in my book Mixed Fiber Macramé that uses scraps.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
Clothes rack, S hooks, corkboard, pins, sharp scissors, tape, crochet hook and tapestry needle.
There are two different setups I use when creating a project. Most of the time I use a vertical setup. When creating a project I will hang it by S hooks on an adjustable clothes rack. Other times I use a horizontal setup. I lay my work flat on a cork board and use pins to keep it in place.
Sharp scissors are a must for creating sharp lines within your work. It is much easier to cut a clean, straight line with sharp scissors. I would recommend spending a bit more to purchase a good pair of scissors.
Tape is useful to prevent your rope from fraying. Tape your rope before cutting it. Cut in the middle of the tape and then you’ll have tape on the ends of your cord which will prevent them from fraying when you tie your knots.
A crochet hook is useful when you are tying knots that involve pulling your cord through a small hole from front to back or back to front. This tool will save you a lot of time and is quite affordable!
A tapestry needle is the perfect tool to use to tuck loose ends into the back of your project! Again, a tool that will save you a ton of time and is inexpensive!
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
Sometimes, but rarely. More often I look back through old projects or search Pinterest for inspiration. Sometimes I’m inspired by colour palettes I find on Pinterest, other times by one or two knots, sometimes by nature and sometimes by the supply itself. I like working with a variety of supplies – string, rope, roving, ribbons of all sorts, to name a few. Sometimes the texture of the supply itself inspires me.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
When I’m creating a new design or project I usually work in silence; I find music can be a bit distracting. But when I’m repeating a pattern/design or have figured out the layout of the pattern beforehand, etc., I enjoy listening to music while I work.
Do you focus on one piece exclusively from start to finish or work actively on more than one project at a time?
Most times I work on one piece from start to finish. Although when I’m exploring new patterns and designs, sometimes I’m unsure if I like the finished design. So it sits on my wall unfinished for a few days while I work on other projects. Then I come back to it with fresh ideas.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
Both. I really do think that if someone sets their mind to it they can learn the skill. However, I also think that creativity comes more naturally to some, i.e. some are quicker to pick it up while it might take others more time to learn.
How do you get unstuck creatively?
Whenever I’m in a creative rut I take a break and turn to other activities I enjoy doing such as exercising (I love to run). I’ll then come back to my work with fresh ideas.
Tell us about a challenging piece. What were the obstacles and how did you get past them?
My most challenging pieces are when I go into a project with several ideas in mind. In almost every case, the piece doesn’t work out the way I wanted it to because there is just too much going on. Again, I take a break and then come back to it with fresh ideas.
Which of your creative accomplishments gave you the most satisfaction, and why?
I am most proud of writing and publishing my book Mixed Fiber Macramé. I worked extremely hard to put it together and several of my favourite projects are included in the book. The feedback I have received from my book has been so wonderful. Teaching is a passion of mine and I am so happy that I had the opportunity to write this book and teach others.
If we were to visit your studio today, what would we find you working on?
If you were to visit me today, you’d find me further exploring projects that incorporate a number of fibres and colours, packing and shipping orders, filming tutorials, photographing new products/pieces, and more (with my daughter by my side! :))
Interview posted August 2021
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