Interview

Sarah Parkes of Smalltown

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Friday 27th January 2012

Knotted Egg pendant light by Sarah Parkes – aka Smalltown

Custom installation for Avido Restaurant and Wine Bar in Sydney. Photos – Will Reichelt

Two-tiered macramé plant holder by Sarah Parkes

Residential commission – custom chandelier by Sarah Parkes

You know what’s amazing?  It’s amazing when the initiative and unique skill of one person, at a particular moment in time, seems to single handedly drive a design trend in a certain area or city. I think sometimes it just takes one inspired creative to start making something new and distinctive – and before long that idea forms it’s own trajectory and becomes part of a a city’s collective consciousness.  And then it pops up everywhere!  I am sure Melbournians will have noticed this recent trend of incorporating oversized macramé installations into hospitality, retail and commercial interiors.  This idea has been springing up in lots of new venues in the past couple of years – but I’m willing to wager that’s almost entirely due to the unique talent of Melbourne designer Sarah Parkes – aka Smalltown!

As you’ll learn below, Sarah started out in graphic design, before turning to jewellery design – which in turn led her to discover macramé.  It wasn’t long before her small macramé accessories had been superceded by commisions for quite complex oversized installations.  In just 3 years Sarah has put her macramé stamp all over Melbourne – and a little of Sydney too!  Her output is impressively prolific – she’s worked on a great variety of shop, restaurant and bar interiors, and aside from her large, custom commissions she also makes smaller hanging baskets and accessories for sale via her website.

I’m sure if you live in Melbourne you will have spotted a little of Sarah’s work around town – now you can finally put a name to the knots!

Massive thanks to Sarah for her time with this interview and all the great pics!

Creating macramé installation and products for a living seems like a very niche and unusual career path! Tell us a little about your background – how did you first discover macramé and what path led to what you’re doing now?

I studied graphic design quite a while ago, and since then have followed several different creative paths.

About 3 years ago I started a jewellery label, and for my second collection I learnt how to macramé. I taught myself from old 70’s craft books that I had collected. Around that time friends were designing the interior of the new Claude Maus store in Melbourne and asked me to make a large knotted hanging. I loved the jump into oversized, working with large guage rope and seeing the beauty of the big chunky knots. That was quickly followed by two huge plant hangings for Space Furniture in Richmond which cemented my obsession.

For some reason macramé totally clicked with me creatively and I realised its endless potential. It can be purely decorative or, due to the strength of the rope and knots, it can also serve a practical purpose, such as suspending something. I really only use a couple of knots, it’s the way I put them together that creates the design. My brain enjoys the symmetry, pattern and neatness of it all. Knots have a history and symbolism and there is something beautiful about them. I’m pretty obsessed I guess and now I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Jewellery and accessories by Sarah Parkes of Smalltown

Where might we have seen your work?

I have interior pieces in Claude Maus boutique, Fur Hairdressing and The Brix and Lupino restaurants in Melbourne, Avido Restaurant & Wine garden and The Ivy in Sydney. Xmas 2011 windows for Kookai clothing stores. I’ve done installations for the last two Australian Tennis Opens. Some people might have seen my Knotted Egg light in magazines or on blogs.

Claude Maus store – Melbourne

Custom installation for Champions Bar – Australian Open 2011

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

I had a baby last year so my work pratice has changed quite a lot. My partner also works for himself so we’re doing the baby juggle between us at the moment.

I do my emailing and other businessy things in the morning at home. I have a lovely big studio space on Smith St, in Collingwood. I either take my daughter South there with me for a couple of hours or I’ll get a full day in there to myself. Once I’m there I try not to leave or get distracted and there’s no computer either… studio time is very precious!  Currently I’m either filling orders for my lights and plant hangings or working on commissioned pieces. So there’s generally a lot of knotting going on.

Hanging knotted pendants at Portmans, Sydney

Can you give us a little insight into how your business structured?  How does work find you? Do you have any helpers / collaborators to assist with the bigger projects you work on?

My business structure is pretty loose!  Promotion is not my strong point so work has always found me. It’s especially good now as I’m not working full time and I seem to have a nice flow of projects happening. I always think there’s an exciting job around the corner. I’ve been so lucky to have worked on a succession of great projects with fantastic clients who trust me and allow me free reign creatively. Each job has challenged and pushed me in unexpected ways. I enjoy the collaborative process with the client as they come to me with an idea and it’s often something I wouldn’t have done myself.

I usually do everything myself however my partner often helps me out. He’s a builder, very practical and has strong guns which is invaluable for some of my pieces. On a recent job for Kookai I had to produce window hangings for stores nationally and he was required to cut up 4kms of rope into 8m lengths!

Kookai Christmas windows – Macrame wall hanging by Sarah Parkes of Smalltown

I would love to train someone up to help and this would take a lot of time and effort but it’s something that I’ll look at in the future. And then there’s the part of me that wants to do everything myself. However my aim is to get someone to make my ‘product’ pieces such as the lights and plant hangings and I can concentrate on commissioned pieces which is what I love.

Custom window installation at Bloom, South Yarra

Which other designers, artists or creative people do you admire?

All my friends are creative and doing their own things so I’m constantly inspired by what they do.

Can you list for us a few resources across any media you tune in to regularly for creative inspiration?

I don’t have much time to trawl the net or read magazines. It’s always good to get a fix of internet browsing though to see what’s going on out there in the big world.  Most of my inspiration currently comes from my materials and the craft itself.

Amo La Vida decorative hanging

What would be your dream creative project?

An amazing, big commissioned piece with an unlimited budget.

Installation for The Brix, Fitzroy. Photo – Hilary Walker

What are you looking forward to ?

I think there’s so much scope with macramé and I’m always looking forward to the next possible job. I have some exciting potential projects in the works and the possibility of an overseas job this year. When I get the time I’m also looking forward to doing some more experimenting with different materials and processes such as dyeing. There’s so much to do and not enough time!

Installation for Lupino restaurant, Melbourne

Melbourne Questions

You favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?

I love living in Brunwsick… it’s low key, neighbourly and with lots of little interesting places. And Sparkly Bear (shopping centre) is a just short walk away.

What and where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

I don’t go out much now and we love cooking at home. My partner tries to make me eat more meat products and the ribs he bbq’d up last week were the best yet.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

At home cooking up mexican eggs and entertaining South.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

Staying home and watching bad tv on a Saturday night is cool. The Three Amigos and Blazing Saddles double header last weekend was killer!

Pot hangers – made to order (make contact via Sarah’s website)

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Friday 27th January 2012

31 comments

  • Wow, I never thought macramé can look so amazing! It’s so beautiful, I’m lost for words.

  • feyza 3 years ago

    WOW, so funky! Nothing like the stuff we made in art class at primary school. Remember the macrame owls, anyone?

  • Kimmy 3 years ago

    i love this refreshing work Sarah! Great to see macrame being revised and refreshed, an art worth keeping alive! Love it. thanks for sharing xx

  • Christine 3 years ago

    Giving macramé a good name. Lovely. Brave, strong work.

  • Gillian 3 years ago

    So hip and I so adore knot work, what a way to help people bring some greenery indoors living in our urban worlds

  • Lauren 3 years ago

    So cool, I think you’re right Lucy, I think Sarah has kicked off this trend all on her own as I’ve seen these pieces around and had no idea that these were all by the one person! Busy busy! And South, what a cool name!

  • Jen 3 years ago

    I love this article Lucy!! I’ve often wondered who the infamous knot person was that did Claude Maus and now the secret’s out. I have asked for a book of knots for my birthday… the intricacies are just mesmerising. what an amazing woman!

  • Lee 3 years ago

    Stunning work with so many beautiful applications! I really appreciated this article.

  • meggsy 3 years ago

    Reminds me of my misspent youth share housing in Q’ld with lovely Macrame plant holders just hanging out around the big open verandah……lovely.

  • Pippa 3 years ago

    Sarah your work is inspirational, I’m a macramé fan and love it for the same reasons you explained, though I’m making on a small level, thanks for sharing your beautiful work! Also thanks Lucy for an excellent post!

  • Phoebe 3 years ago

    I love Sarah’s thoroughly modern twist on an old craft.
    I would like one of each of those accessories. And that hanging for Amo La Vida is just stunning, particularly the finishing with the silver ends!

    Divine. Thanks Lucy!

  • Jane 3 years ago

    Absolutely gorgeous work! I love macrame, I haven’t done any myself since a jewellery range at uni but now I’m all inspired to get back into it!

  • Kajsa 3 years ago

    Amazing! Such beautiful things. They certainly give macrame a whole new meaning and I love it!

  • Margie 3 years ago

    spectacular effect of over-scaled lace… it’s got my crafting brain cells banging together like nobody’s business!

  • Brendan 3 years ago

    Wow wow wow wow wow…
    I was looking into knotted lamp shades recently, have finally decided that I will make my own and have been searching around for the right type of materials to use and then you post this… wonderful! I’m super dooper inspired now… superdooper inspired… thank you very much!

  • Ray Garrod 3 years ago

    LOVE Macrame, so good to see it tastefully done. The LUPINO Restaurant piece is stunning. Might have to get those fingers working again :)

  • Amy 3 years ago

    Great post. Love Smalltown!

  • Cara @ Gourmet Chick 3 years ago

    Amazing Sarah. I am now obsessed with your chandeliers.

  • Meg 3 years ago

    amazing work !

  • Poppy 3 years ago

    Beautiful work Sarah….. Finally get to see what you do after so much talk about it. Scotty and i would love one of your plant holders. I’ll be in touch.
    Poppy

  • Allison Taylor 3 years ago

    Truly stunning. Love it particularly the Lupino Restaurant installation, Bloom window display and the light fittings. Wonder if you can create words in macrame? The black is particularly dramatic.

  • winnie 3 years ago

    Growing up in Malaysia, we used to hang a lot of our indoor pot plants similar to this pot holders. I never really paid it a 2nd glance but seeing it being taken to another level of creativity, it’s looks amazing!

  • cassie 3 years ago

    I love the installation at the Avido Restaurant and Wine Garden. Amazing! I would love to translate it into a living space! Such an original medium/concept.

  • Anna Walker 3 years ago

    I love the re-interpretation and refreshing of old crafts making them relevant to this day and age…Gorgeous!

  • Bronwyn 3 years ago

    Oh Lucy this is fantastic. I posted about Macrame on my blog this week too. I have been in love with Macrame forever and spotted Sarah’s work at the Ivy a while back. Can’t wait to use her. Thanks for helping me find her! B x

  • Barbara 3 years ago

    So very clever! Makes me want to knot away. Thanks for sharing, I was wondering where these delights I was seeing around the city were coming from. Might just be saving my pennies…Another great post!

  • Adam 3 years ago

    LOVE this! I’ve been trying to find someone who produces this kind of thing. Now for a project…

    Great post, thanks for sharing!

  • Yael 2 years ago

    What a great re-vamp from an old craft. Such inspiration. Thank you.

  • jennie riley 2 years ago

    your work is too amazing for words

  • Laura Ferreira 10 months ago

    Hi there, my name is Laura I am currently studying fashion design. This year will be my final year where I will need to produce a collection. I will be focusing on the great technique of macrame. Your work is inspirational! I would appreciate it so much if you could give me any advise as I embark on this journey. Do you know of any good books I should get or videos I should watch so I can learn this craft? How did you go about learning this technique?

    Keep up the incredible work and thank you :)
    Laura

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