For most people, New Year’s resolutions typically involve exercising more, improving diets, or managing finances responsibly. For Windy Chien, however, kicking off 2016 meant enriching her life through a unique skill—tying a beautiful new knot every day of the year. She began her project by constructing four knots on January 4th, 2016, and by New Year’s Eve she had tied 366 knots. From mastering a new loop, hitch, bend, or lash each day, this dexterous tradition helped to expand Chien’s artistic abilities while also elevating the daily rituals of her life. The practice was meditative and allowed her to “quickly access the blissful state of flow that had previously been so elusive.” They culminated in a series aptly-called The Year of Knots.
Creating knots may seem like a simple and straightforward task, but they have a rich history and take many forms across an array of cultures. Chien began her project by referring to The Ashley Book of Knots, which lists around 3,900 types of knots with each one individually named and numbered. She quickly transformed herself into “a knot engineer” and describes the process as “a history lesson, where I learn knots’ context in nautical life, the material and physical properties of rope, and how for any given situation there’s a knot that is right while all the others are wrong.”
Chien had previously worked at Apple for eight years. The hours spent in front of computer screens led her to diversify her creative pursuits and take a variety of arts and crafts classes. She then discovered an affinity for macramé. Chien took the hobby one step further and decided to devote her time to creating new knots. Tying different knots allowed her to explore other paths, lines, shapes, forms, colors and materials. As she further explains, “I like the repetition of knots—it lets me get into a state of flow. But what I’m primarily interested in is how our eyes follow a line. The line is one of the six building blocks of art, and I’m obsessed with it.” She even personalized her own knots and invented a few of her own.
For Chien, learning new knots each day was just as stimulating as learning a new language. “Alphabets and letters form words, and words communicate,” she says. “So the knots are a new form of communication, to make, as Rebecca Solnit puts it, ‘the mute material world come to life.’” Now that Chien is a knots expert, one of her favorites is the button knot, which forms a delicate design of interweaved patterns when tied.
You can view all 366 knots in detail on Chien’s Instagram page, and The Year of Knots is now an art installation that is slated for an exhibit at the Minnesota Street Project gallery in San Francisco. Chien hasn’t stopped tying, however, and she plans to continue this habit through 2017 and beyond.