Inside her larger-than-life creative space
Sally England likes to work with the barn doors wide open, hanging large loops of thick cotton rope from the curtain rod above the entry, twisting and knotting the material into modern sculpture while the warm breeze and the sounds of Ojai fill her studio.
“I always dreamed of living and working in a place like this,” says the fiber artist, a Michigan native who relocated to California more than two years ago. “I feel such a strong connection to nature and I was so drawn by the weather. One circumstance or another kept me from moving here over the years. Now, I’m never leaving.”
England is well-known to boho-chic design lovers who have followed the evolution of her oversized macramé since 2011. As a graduate student working toward her MFA at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon, England reimagined the homespun, earthy ’70s-era aesthetic of macramé by using pale, undyed cotton rope and blowing it up to huge proportions. She hung a few wall-sized pieces at a small gallery in Portland, caught the attention of an editor from Remodelista and—one shared picture at a time—became an in-demand artist making commissioned pieces for Ace Hotel Portland; Stumptown Coffee Roasters in L.A.; The Laylow, Autograph Collection hotel in Waikiki; and even the Tommy Hilfiger store in Manhattan. By day, she was a display coordinator for Anthropologie. On nights and weekends, she was transforming huge skeins of rope into increasingly inventive installations.
“Back when I started, there was no one doing this kind of thing,” she says. “You’d search for macramé online and all you would find were vintage plant hangers. So many people are doing it now. My goal is to keep pushing it forward as an art form.”
England and her husband, Nick Stockton, made the move west after he landed a coveted job as a color designer for Patagonia, which is based in Ventura. England, who has a three- to four-month wait list for her commissions, was receiving enough orders to work on her art full-time. England and Stockton have fully integrated into the growing creative scene in Ojai, and England even offers custom workshops out of her studio.
“We spend a lot of time over at the Ojai Rancho Inn, and I’m working on a macramé fort for their pool area out back,” she says.
In addition to an upcoming major installation at the new Freehand Los Angeles hotel, her current projects include pieces at the Instagram offices in San Francisco, a fitting undertaking since her success is easily tethered to the rise in popularity of photo sharing on social media. It’s a funny juxtaposition, how the tech world has embraced her work, which is really a reinterpretation of the ancient, rustic art of hand-knotting rope. England’s technique is incredibly physical; tying rope is so natural to her now that she says it’s almost meditative, and her fingers, wrists and forearms can practically do it from memory. Her day-to-day life in Central California is equally analog.
“We love to go for hikes and to the hot springs,” she says, noting that she spends most days in the studio with her cat, who whiles away the hours playing with stray fibers and yarn on the floor. Sometimes, the only other person she will see is the UPS deliveryman, who has raised an eyebrow more than once about the hefty parcels she sends from her home.
“When I ship out the boxes with my larger installations, they are the size and weight of a dead body,” England laughs. “So I had to explain to him what I was doing in here. He gets it now.” sallyengland.com.
Written by CHRISTINE LENNON
Photography by AMY DICKERSON.