Published on May 6, 2020

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Photography by Windy Chien

When artist Windy Chien was looking for a new studio space in San Francisco’s Mission District, one unusual feature topped her list: strong ceilings. For someone who works exclusively on commissioned artworks starting at 24 square feet, beams that could withstand their weight were a nonnegotiable. Her previous workspace, in an old police station with a weak roof, made it impossible for her to hang her large-scale pieces, including her signature Year of Knots. It now dangles in the center of her new atelier, acting as an artist’s palette of sorts. “Whenever I need a new knot for a project, I just look up and find one,” she explains.

Earlier this year, Chien found her dream space on the second floor of the Heath Ceramics tile factory. It has a 20-foot pitched ceiling with sturdy open rafters and natural light streaming in from large walls of windows on the east and west sides. In other words, it’s perfect. During the shelter-in-place order in California, it’s felt even more serendipitous. The location (a five-minute walk from her apartment) and having a floor all to herself with its own separate entrance means that she’s been able to spend long days there without seeing a soul, save for Shelley Duvall, her greyhound pup. 

Finally settled in, Chien is able to focus on her art. Her production schedule hasn’t slowed down either—her commissioned works are scheduled to last her until late summer. She’s even managed to complete a limited-edition series of smaller works and donate the proceeds to the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank. Here’s how the artist made her new workspace feel like a second home, followed by a tutorial for creating a classic Good Luck Knot.

She Cozied Up the Floors

Windy Chien's large knot artPin It
Photography by Windy Chien

“I’m a child of the ’70s, so wall-to-wall carpet is my favorite thing in the world,” she says of the space’s large white shag rug. But there’s a practical reason for it, too: The white cotton rope Chien works with would easily pick up dust from regular flooring. With a fully carpeted studio, she can throw her materials on the ground knowing they’ll stay clean. She also spends a lot of time barefoot sitting on the floor. “Guests remove their shoes when they walk in. It’s supremely cozy,” she adds.

She Found Solutions by Looking Up

Knot art hanging on white wallPin It
Photography by Windy Chien

With the lofty rafters in sight, Chien could finally hang pulley systems to raise and lower her in-progress works as needed, a lifesaver for her posture during multiple hours of repetitive knotting. In total, she installed eight of them along walls, windows, and in the middle of the room to act as dividers. “It’s not practical for me to face a wall when I work, because my pieces must be beautiful from both front and back,” she explains. “And because I have so many pulleys, I can work on several pieces at once. It’s perfect for me.”

She Made Space for Every Last Item

Windy Chien's art studioPin It
Photography by Windy Chien

There’s a stereotype of what an artist’s studio is supposed to look like: paint drips on the floor, organized chaos. But Chien’s atelier is tidy by even Marie Kondo’s standards. All her rope and cordage is arranged on heavy wood shelves in one long row underneath a wall of windows. “I thought if I’m going to spend all of my time here, it should be as thoughtfully planned as my own home,” she says. Her favorite feature, by far, is her library of dusty sailor’s-knot books, some which are 100 years old; they’re a constant source of inspiration for new patterns.

Ultimately Chien’s transition to her new studio has been a breeze. “This is one of the ways I knew it was right for me,” she says. “If things are too hard to make happen, that’s a clue that the space (or the project or the boyfriend) may not be for you. Life is short.”

Make Your Own Good Luck Knot

Knot art has a meditative quality that’s kept Chien serene during trying times. Here, she demonstrates how to make a Good Luck Knot—which she learned from Chinese master Lydia Chen. In some sailor’s manuals, this knot is called the Shamrock. It appears in chapters covering “fancy work,” which is a term for decorative knots that have no functional purpose. Adopt it as your own lucky charm. After all, we could all use a little more serendipity in our lives right now.

The Supplies

5 feet of 1/4-inch cotton braid. If your cordage is thinner, you will need proportionally less of it, and your knot will be smaller. 

Windy Chien DIY tutorial step 1Pin It
Photography by Windy Chien
Windy Chien DIY tutorial step 2Pin It
Photography by Windy Chien

Step 1: Find the midpoint of your cord. Keeping the midpoint at the top, arrange the cord into a plus sign shape. Each of the four “legs” of the plus sign should be equal length.

Step 2: “Crown” the four legs counterclockwise: Flip Leg 1 leftward to cross over Leg 2. Make sure it looks just like the photo. You may have to press the leg against your tabletop to make it stay flat and in place. And remember to leave a small open loop at the base of Leg 1.

Windy Chien DIY tutorial step 3Pin It
Photography by Windy Chien
Windy Chien DIY tutorial step 4Pin It
Photography by Windy Chien

Step 3: Repeat for the other legs. Here, you flip Leg 2 downward to cross over Leg 3. (In doing so, Leg 2 will also cross over Leg 1.)

Step 4: Flip Leg 3 rightward to cross over Leg 4. (In doing so, Leg 3 will also cross over Leg 2.)

Windy Chien DIY tutorial step 5Pin It
Photography by Windy Chien
Windy Chien DIY tutorial step 6Pin It
Photography by Windy Chien

Step 5: To complete the crown, flip Leg 4 upward and tuck it under Leg 1 (into the small open loop.) In doing so, Leg 4 will also cross over Leg 3. If you have done this correctly, the knot will look like you have created a small open square in the middle of the knot, bound by pairs of lines.

Step 6: Tug each leg outward until the square is snug and holds together, with no space in the middle of the square. The legs should be roughly equal in length. If they are not, gently shift the cord around to make them equal. 

Windy Chien DIY tutorial step 7Pin It
Photography by Windy Chien
Windy Chien DIY tutorial step 8Pin It
Photography by Windy Chien

Step 7: Now you crown the legs again, this time moving clockwise. Flip Leg 3 leftward to cross over Leg 2. You will probably have to hold the leg in place so it stays flat against your tabletop.

Step 8: Flip Leg 2 upward to cross over Leg 1. (In doing so, Leg 2 also crosses over Leg 3.)

Windy Chien DIY tutorial step 9Pin It
Photography by Windy Chien
Windy Chien DIY tutorial step 10Pin It
Photography by Windy Chien

Step 9: Flip Leg 1 rightward to cross over Leg 4. (In doing so, Leg 1 also crosses over Leg 2.)

Step 10: To complete the crown, flip Leg 4 downward and tuck it under Leg 3. (And in doing so, Leg 4 will also cross over Leg 1.) If you have done this correctly, the knot will again look like you have created a small open square in the middle of the knot, bound by pairs of lines.

Windy Chien DIY tutorial step 11Pin It
Photography by Windy Chien
Windy Chien DIY tutorial step 12Pin It
Photography by Windy Chien

Step 11: Tug each leg outward until the little square is snug and holds together. The legs should be roughly equal in length. If they are not, gently shift the cord around to make them equal. 

Step 12: This is the magical part. With your index fingers, reach behind the little square and flip outward the little loops you’ll find back there, creating cute small petals. Flip the knot over, so the cute small petals are in “front” of the three large petals. There you have it: a perfect good luck charm to keep with you when you need it.

It’s hammer time: Follow @reno_notebook for easy rental updates, clever DIYs, and tips to nail your next project.

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