Fiber Artist Feature: Lise Silva Gomes
Journey into the world of Sacred Knots with us! Author and fiber artist Lise Silva Gomes’ practice honors the ancient craft of knotting and connects our past to our present. She explores the power of ancient symbols and the grounding, restorative nature of craft with her book Sacred Knots: Create, Transform, and Adorn Through the Art of Knotting.
Her nuanced and instructive guide to contemporary knot making offers a respite from our busy lives, encouraging a deeper engagement with our hand and the knot. Modern Macramé’s Elspeth Vance connected with Gomes for an exclusive interview to dive deeper into Gomes’ exploration of the intersection of knotting and ancestral wisdom.
Photo by @erinconger
Elspeth Vance (EV): The projects in your book are gorgeous! You have an impeccable eye for color, texture and composition. I especially love the Colorblock Woven Knot Panel on p.103. Which project in the book is nearest to your heart?
Lise Silva Gomes (LSG): Thank you! I would say the Colorblock Panel feels the most personal to me because it has my design innovation through materials, which is a process close to my heart. I started with the intention to devise a design specifically suited to Lovefest Fibers’ Tough Love, which is a beautiful thick felted yarn cord crafted by artisans in Nepal. It kinks a little when curved or bent, and I was determined to figure out how to use this texture in a way that vibed with my aesthetic. It took me a while experimenting to figure out that a tighter weaving technique blended really well with the texture. Figuring out how to construct and embellish the Weaver’s Plait knots was kind of like a fun design puzzle to unlock.
The Woven Colorblock Panel, photo by @erincogner
EV: Your approach to knotting and your craft is rooted in the spiritual as well as the technical. You offer your reader more than the promise of merely bringing a new object into the world; you encourage thoughtfulness and remind us that we get to choose how we engage. On page xi in the preface you write, “The universe of knotting techniques contains so much technical variation and so many styles of practice that it can be challenging or relaxing, elevating or grounding, mindful or mindless--all depending on what I need in the moment and which kind of technique I choose.”
This passage really rang my bell! Particularly the idea of mindfulness vs mindlessness. Both states provide the artist with a sense of abandon and each state has merit. Mindfulness; a state of concentration, intention, meditation. Mindlessness; relief, repetition and relaxation. Where do you find yourself residing most in your practice? Or is it a spectrum? Where do you desire to be psychically while knotting or engaged in other creative practices?
LSG: That’s a great question, I think most of us fluctuate through different states throughout the day or week and we may have different coping strategies or relaxation rituals to get us through. Rather than looking to knotting to provide just one, we can use different styles of knotting that speak to different restorative states of mind. Knotting can be a challenging mind puzzle working through complex ornate knots, or it can be mindless repetition through a simple square knot sequence you’ve done a million times, or it can be creative as you design new patterns and shapes.
An in-progress shot from Gomes’ Instagram
As an artist that works on different aspects of my craft and business every day, I try to structure tasks to sync with my mood. In the early evening I really like to unwind by doing the more mindless repetitive tasks while watching a movie, for example sewing pieces or doing repetitive knotting, then later at night I usually feel the most creative, so I’ll save design tasks for that time to playfully experiment. My favorite state to work in is the latter, I love to play around with techniques without a particular goal or destination and just see where I end up.
One of Gomes’ bold Sacred Knots jewelry pieces, modeled by @dallosional
EV: The universality of the knot is truly astounding and your extensive research, knowledge of materials, knots and the cultures from which they emerged is a very important part of your writing. You also encourage knotters to do their own research, that no matter what their background is, if they dig deep enough they will find knots (and what an amazing metaphor)! Besides connecting to one's own cultural identity, what is the value of research in art making? Why is it important to make work from an informed perspective?
LSG: I think the crafting community as a whole needs to bring the concept of community back into focus. The internet fosters individualistic approaches to crafting-- the positive side is that you can learn things very quickly and cheaply, but the negative side is that it tends to extract humanity from creativity, causing design theft and watered-down trends to become rampant.
@ashy_clown modeling a Sacred Knots necklace next to one of Gomes’ wall hangings.
If people slow down to understand the history of the craft they are working in and connect to the community working in that space, they will not only have a more community-grounded practice, but also go deeper in the craft and find a unique voice. Research brings respect and context into the craft so that it's not just an activity, but a personal creative practice that connects us with our ancestral legacy and community.
Photo by @erinconger
EV: Because of the multitudes of knots within ropecraft it seems there is always more to learn no matter one’s skill level. What is your favorite knot to teach absolute beginners? And what knot do you enjoy teaching experienced knotters?
LSG: To teach absolute beginners, I always start with the Josephine/Double Coin Knot because it's what I would call easy-challenging-- It's a really simple, easy knot that you can teach a child, but there’s still something mystifying about how it works. Although it's easy to make, it takes a while before you can really understand the mechanics of it. It demonstrates so much about knotting as a whole-- the balance of tension, the overlapping pattern of the cord, and the wide negative spaces it can hold. It's also a really impressive looking knot that builds confidence, quickly.
Sampling of Gomes’ knots, pictured with one of her knotting booklets.
I don’t personally teach experienced knotters because I’m not an advanced technical knotter, as my contribution to knotting is more in the design area, blending of different fiber techniques with knotting; but for students that are a bit more intermediate, I enjoy working through the Plafond Knot with them. That knot really flexes a student’s skill with tightening, which is an overlooked aspect in knotting. For more experienced intermediate knotters, I recommend working through the Pan Chang/Mystic Knot.
Photo by @erinconger
EV: What is up next for you? Do you have any projects on the horizon that you are excited about that you would like to share with us? Do you have any fantasy vacations planned or splendid dinner parties you find yourself dreaming of after the constraints of Covid have lifted?
LSG: I just launched my first Knotting eCourse and will be building upon this foundational course with additional courses to teach the more advanced techniques involved in making wallhangings.
Gomes' “Ladder to the moon” piece. Photo by @erinconger
I’m also beginning to write more in-depth around how to build a community-grounded creative practice weekly on my Patreon, where I touch on developing professional boundaries, avoiding appropriation, pricing and selling art/craft, design integrity, and more aspects relating to being an artist and maker.
A shot from Gomes’ booklet Craft & Practice: Meditations on Creativity & Ethics, which explores ethics in arts & craftmanship from four perspectives: Boundaries, Teaching/Learning, Muses, & Culture.
I’m excited about the release of my latest Wovenutopia mag, a digital magazine that has interviews, photos, submissions and essays around fibercraft that I will hopefully transition to print. The content overlaps fiber and ritual, sustainability, and [using craftsmanship] as a therapeutic way to work through emotions. You can find more at @Wovenutopia.
I haven’t done much in the way of post-Covid planning because everything has felt so day-by-day, wait-and-see, but I am definitely looking forward to post-Covid travelling to see family and friends. I have been talking with my friend and previous collaboration partner Mary Evans about making some art films together, which is really exciting to dream about.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Lise!
We hope this interview with Lise Silva Gomes has left you feeling inspired to delve deeper into the roots of fiber arts and knotting, finding meaning in the history and traditions. Start your journey today by ordering your own copy of Sacred Knots, now available in the Modern Macramé crafting library.
The MM Team