Sally England, Fiber Artist


Until recently, you couldn’t hear the word “macramé” without it conjuring up visions of thrift-store place mats, summer camp friendship bracelets, and Mama Cass’s bolero vests. But thanks in part to Sally England, the masterful, Michigan-based, macramé artist who has made distinctly modern, large-scale commissions for the likes of Nike and Ace Hotels, the once nostalgic medium is having another day in the sun.

We visited England’s studio in Grand Rapids, located on the second floor of her Old Victorian flat, a few months ago. Growing up in rural Michigan, England says, her deep connection to the outdoors was a precursor to her eventual, tactile love affair with natural fibers. “There’s something about the textural element of macramé that feels really good and cozy — in an earthy kind of way,” England says.

England received an MFA in Applied Craft & Design at Portland’s Pacific Northwest College of the Arts. And while she’s explored other mediums like knitting since then, England, who is self-taught, prefers macramé for the control and versatility the fiber material allows, and she sees its applications as practically endless. Along with custom plant hangers and wall hangings, England has also created room dividers, window screens, lampshades, chunky rope necklaces, and even ponchos, among other pieces.

Her technique is premeditated, but always trial-and-error. “As time goes by, I’ve become more accurate in my precision,” she says. “But since each of my works is different, my process is never quite methodical.” Because she works primarily on a commission basis, she’ll brainstorm with a client on a particular vision before sketching the design in order to help illustrate its concept. (Sketching knots, she admits, is very difficult). Once a concept is approved, she sources her rope online from an American supplier, before sizing, cutting down, mounting the ropes to the wall, and, eventually, knotting.

“For me, just getting started on a project and letting myself get into the zone can be the hardest part,” she admits. Rustic dwelling, however, is conducive to the concentration that’s needed for time-consuming and often-repetitive projects that would otherwise be thwarted by the distractions of big-city life. England fancies herself a country girl for life, and she daydreams frequently about buying a chunk of land — perhaps a farm or a commune — where she hopes to one day write a book on her craft. “My biggest inspiration,” she says, “is the simple and thoughtful ways of living from the past.”