Knots have a language of their own, says “knot queen” and artist Windy Chien, and her collaboration with the jewelry collective Cast shows off how they can speak to strength, protection, and beauty.
Knot Life, which debuted May 23, is a design partnership between Chien and Cast, the San Francisco-based collective cofounded by Rachel Skelly and Eric Ryan. In earrings and pendants, Chien’s knots are elegantly wrapped in 14k gold and sterling silver around charcoal jade, gold, or silver hoops.
For Chien, art is a third career—she formerly worked in the music industry and then joined Apple, where she focused on iTunes. When she quit that job, Chien says she wanted to use her hands to craft something. She tried ceramics and woodworking, but knotting proved the best art form for her.
“My mother taught me in the 1970s when macramé was everywhere—we were all making plant hangers,” Chien says. “I took a refresher class after Apple, and I fell deeply in love. I started small with little rope necklaces and hanging pendant lights. Then, I took it into the realm of fine art.”
Chien is now known for her room-size installations, which she says are meant to show the importance of domestic arts done by women, especially those of a mature age.
“It became about taking up space,” Chien says. “Domestic crafts are often seen as hobbies. But all of that work is valid in our world. When I make [knots] at a massive scale, I feel a sense of awe at it. The work becomes bigger than myself.”
Skelly’s husband worked with Chien at Apple, and she has long followed Chien’s artistic journey. As a former graphic designer, Skelly says was eager to bring Chien into Cast to see what she could do in a new medium.
“The collaboration was interesting because we wanted an artist who didn’t come from jewelry. We knew jewelry and the materials, and Windy knows art and her materials. It was such a fun partnership because of that,” Skelly says.
“We always knew at Cast that we wanted a knot collection, and Windy was at the top of my list, so I sat down and pitched her the idea,” she says. “Knots have been traditionally used in many industries, and they’re a language. For Cast, I wanted a modern take on knots as a symbol.”
At that first meeting, Chien astonished Skelly by weaving a necklace as they talked. She gave it to Skelly as a gift when they completed their conversation.
Chien says there are more than 4,000 kinds of knots, and translating knots into jewelry using different gauges of gold and silver mesh was a challenge she enjoyed. The collaborators selected charcoal jade for some of the pendants because it symbolizes protection, connecting the knot and the stone.
To realize the designs, Chien and Cast had to innovate how the knots work around these materials and how to put the pieces together, Skelly says. As a result, the jewelry is not only a statement in terms of texture and luxury, it also has a sense of lively movement.
“Windy’s work is not a hard, structural thing. It flows and moves,” Skelly says. “If you look at the earrings we created, they spin. They move. They’ll never look the same way twice.”
Top: Windy Chien, known as the knot queen within the fine art world, has applied her specialty to a collaboration with Cast, a jewelry collective that showcases women designers. (Photos courtesy of Cast)
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