STUDIO VISIT: EMILY KATZ OF MODERN MARCRAMÉ SHARES HOW CRAFT INSPIRES CONNECTION
· By Rachel Schwartzmann · Publication: The Style Line · February 2020
To create is to have hope—this was our main takeaway after visiting Emily Katz of Modern Macramé at her stunning studio in Portland, Oregon.
As you'll discover in this story, Emily is no stranger to the idea that creativity can illuminate our lives in ways we never thought were possible. Since her company's inception, the industry-leading maker has worked diligently to combat the challenges that have arisen in our interconnected age by inspiring people to get back to the basics—or perhaps more appropriately, to make (and live) with intention.
But even before starting Modern Macramé, Emily's inherent creativity manifested itself in numerous other projects, ranging from printmaking to fashion design. She attributes these ventures as an exercise in patience (and persistence), which inevitably helped shape her multidisciplinary practice. Now, with Modern Macramé, Emily has built on her creative work while also exploring the big-picture potential—and opportunity for respite—that the DIY movement can bring to modern culture. "Craft has the ability to connect you to yourself and relearn (or learn) how to quiet your mind," Emily explained. "I want to support people in their relearning or unlearning of these tech habits, so we can connect more deeply to those parts of ourselves that need nourishment and, in the end, are truly the measure of a happy and prosperous life."
︎ Please introduce yourself. Who are you outside of your profession, what do you enjoy, and what do you value in life?
My name is Emily Katz.I live in Portland, Oregon, but often I am traveling for work and play. In 2012 I decided to go on a #tripamonth and try to do that as much as possible (even if it's only one night camping somewhere an hour from my house in Portland). I love connecting with people over delicious meals. Music, photography, travel, and food are my top passions, followed by handcrafts and fashion. I value quality in all things and strive to uphold the ethics of quality in all I do in my life, whether it is quality time with my husband and friends, quality fabric in my clothing, to quality food to nourish my body. This year I began a daily meditation practice, and it has helped me feel more confidence, joy, and playfulness in my life.
I have been so many things and worn many hats, from fashion designer, to bankrupt artist, to caterer, to personal chef, to now owner of Modern Macramé. There I CONTINUE to wear many hats, including owner, CEO, marketing director, creative director, project manager, and pattern developer, cheerleader, product buyer, content creator, writer, and occasional office mop slinger. Keeping the peace within myself to make informed and creative decisions while wearing all of these important hats keeps me challenged and in constant gratitude for my small team of rad women.
︎ Portland is the epicenter of the maker movement. Tell us about your life and work there and the unexpected discoveries you’ve made about your (creative) self as a result of being based in this city.
Growing up in Portland, I have seen the city change dramatically, with varying levels of support offered to the creative community. I am a glass half full person generally, and so I tend to see how our growth is bringing more people who are aligned with my mission and vision together. I hope to use Modern Macramé as a vibrant resource for cultivating this exuberant and passionate DIY community. I first began selling my art on the street in 2003, at Last Thursday, where artists would line the sidewalk with their handmade goods. At the time, I was creating a line of freehand embroidered art garments and sold them on a handmade clothing rack designed by my then-boyfriend. On our first-ever day selling, we sold out of our shirts that were whimsically embellished with our drawings and were offered a Japanese distributor.
Many years later, once I started selling macramé (this wasn't until 2014), I always heard from people walking by, "Oh! I can make that!" or "I used to make that in the '70s". There was a part of me that struggled with that DIY mentality. I WAS MAKING IT, and I was TRYING TO MAKE A LIVING. SO BUY MY STUFF, PLEASE! Instead of feeling upset (ok, I was a little upset, but moved through it), I saw that what the market needed was encouragement and inspiration and materials, so they could feel empowered to pick up the craft again.
So in a way, paying attention to my customers and seeing what Portland wanted was how I moved into this DIY direction. Still, even though we are an online-only business, a very large slice of our online business comes from Portland.
︎ As we head into another tumultuous political cycle, there’s something to be said for stepping away from screens and indulging in the art of making something. What have you learned about art’s role in our increasingly complex culture? Can you share an experience of how craft helped you get through a challenging or stressful time?
Craft has the ability to connect you to yourself and relearn (or learn) how to quiet your mind. We as a culture (and myself fully included!) spend WAY too much time "connected to the web/Instagram/whatever" but DISconnected to our inner voices, our breath, or our intuition. I want to support people in their relearning or unlearning of these tech habits, so we can connect more deeply to those parts of ourselves that need nourishment, and in the end, are truly the measure of a happy and prosperous life.
︎ Many of our interviewees are engaged in movements like slow fashion and slow food. In a similar vein, we’ve been exploring the slow content movement. We’re curious to know what the idea of “slow storytelling” means to you and your work at Modern Macramé?
I spend much of my day at Modern Macramé coming up with thoughtful ways we can connect with our community. Taking our time to share small and large successes, to talk about what matters to us, and celebrate the network of people who are creating with our materials, it all takes time to consider and share. Crafting and making is a true act of slowing down and taking your time. I love the meditative quality of making. I would love to encourage people to slow down and create something with intention each day—even if it is only a small handwritten note to oneself to say that we are doing the best we can.
“NOW, IN MY WORK, I LOVE THE DISORDER. I LOVE DRAWING OUTSIDE THE LINES. BUT THERE IS CREATIVITY IN BOTH STRUCTURE AND FREEDOM.”
︎ Personal style is one of the primary lenses we use to tell our stories. How has Modern Macramé shaped your sartorial style the most—and given you an appreciation for independent designers?
I started my creative career as a fashion designer with two of my own clothing lines back in 2003, so fashion has always been a big part of my world, especially independent and emerging designers since I used to be one. It was back in the days before social media, and I quit being a fashion designer in 2011 but never lost my love of fashion. I still love supporting women-run companies in general and small brands when I can.
I am attracted to big, bold statement pieces. I love pieces that I can throw on and look effortless—vintage and cozy textures. I like quality and tend to treat myself occasionally to a piece that I know will last and get compliments whenever I wear it. I like fashion and style to tell a story.
︎ What is one question you wish people asked you more often?
"What is your favorite food?" The answer is umeboshi plums. I am obsessed. I was once featured in ELLE Japan, and I made a simple snack of umeboshi and cucumbers. The photographer laughed that it was just Japanese flavor, and most westerners didn't enjoy it. But just writing about it makes my mouth water.
︎ How do you think creativity contributes to some of the world’s bigger conversations, and what role do you hope Modern Macramé plays in this shift?
I didn't study business. I studied printmaking in college (for the one and a half years that I was there) and chose that medium because I wanted a little bit of discipline. Printmaking is a rigorous process, detail-oriented, and involves many steps that you have to follow in order. Order was not a big part of my upbringing, and so I sought it out.
Now, in my work, I love the disorder. I love drawing outside the lines. But there is creativity in both structure and freedom.
Sometimes I wonder if we limit ourselves by assuming that a creative life has only one way of looking. Yes, I make my own hours (though I work many, mostly, all the time), and I have a beautiful studio and a certain kind of creative life. But any problem-solving is born from a spark of creativity. From the need to provide for a need—it gives me a sense of contentment thinking of people coming to Modern Macramé for their creative outlets and excited when they innovate on our materials, making something unexpected.
︎ How would you advise the next generation of makers to leave an imprint in the world simply by doing what they love?
That is a great start. But doing it with a conscience and knowing that what you make turns into something and leaves a footprint. That footprint can be physical. For example, all of the artwork I made as a teenager/undergrad is now in the trash somewhere, but it was absolutely necessary for my personal development to make it. The value and healing and learning vastly outweigh the waste.
We also make an imprint energetically with our words, actions, curation, connection with the people in our lives that we touch. I would hope that people consider their actions and be big and bold and lovely as they can dream of being.
The Style Line’s website operated from August 2013 to May 2020 and featured hundreds of original interviews and photoshoots with creative luminaries and business professionals worldwide. Similar to the movement of a train, The Style Line traveled through communities around the world while stopping along the way to share the stories and styles of individuals in different destinations. Founded originally via Tumblr by Rachel Schwartzmann in 2011, she relaunched and formed The Style Line LLC in August 2013.