When you think of knot tying as an art, the idea of “macrame” often comes to mind. While this may conjure up visions of 1970s style – in the manner of fussy hangings or old-fashion fringe coasters, it isn’t so in the case of the jewellery created by Lorraine Lee.
This talented Malaysian has made the act of tying knots fashionable and deservedly modern. Just take a look at the chic earrings she creates. All of her handmade pieces won’t look out of place on a runway.
“I think of my work as a sculptural art form that is made to tell a story, more so than the functionality and patterns it represents, ” Lee, 28, points out, regarding how her brand Talee is hardly mumsy.
While she believes that most knotworks have a casual aesthetic – being either practical or decorative pieces, she still views them as “timeless”. Her own knots however, are unique and can’t be found in any knot making books.
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The patterns are achieved through the process of making them, rather than sketching them out. She views this as more of an “organic approach” to creating knot designs. It also takes more time compared to the conventional method.
“I don't actually have any experience in jewellery design. I have to say a big part of creating these knots is adapted skill, and learning over the years from other forms of making, ” she notes.
Talee (derived from the Malay word tali) was founded three years ago in Canada, the country wherein Lee studied and later worked. It moved along with her when she returned to Kota Kinabalu in 2019.
“The art of knot tying, for me, is an equivalence of the art of making memories. Instead of just creating knot patterns, it has become a form of healing and discovery for my passion in arts and design, ” she enthuses.
The backstory of how Lee fell in love with tying knots, in itself, is enough to tug at heartstrings. She discovered the passion when she was helping her father recover from an illness.
In 2010, her dad was diagnosed with Brugada syndrome. Due to lack of transfer of oxygen to the brain caused by it, he suffered from hypoxic brain injury. It resulted in short-term memory loss.
He was then encouraged to tie knots to help jog his mind. This was an activity that he had picked up as a boy scout when very young. Lee and her sister later joined in as part of the therapy.
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“Before the incident, my father, who is a boating enthusiast and a water skier, would take the family out in the ocean every weekend, ” Lee says, adding that he was the one who first introduced them to knots.
“All of my knots were founded from mistakes or discoveries during knot tying sessions I shared with my father. I would then deconstruct these knots into something wearable, ” Lee relates.
Her creations require an average of one to two days each to complete. Twinning fibres repetitively to be knotted takes up the most time. Then there is the sewing, trimming and quality examination.
But it is more than just a process. You could even say that the jewellery Lee creates comes from her heart. According to her, the knot that would best describe her journey is called hati.
"This knot in particular was the start of my passion for wearable knotted works, seeing it coming to life, from knotted mistakes to infusing my own creative technicality towards its overall aesthetic."
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Lee says that her mum was the first person who saw the initial earrings she made from knot tying. Her mother is proud of her. Not surprising, as Lee has managed to turn her passion into a purpose.
Her father, on the other hand, is not fully aware of what is going on. His memory is still unable to retain any new information, including the understanding that he played a big part of Talee’s founding.
Lee however, chooses to remain positive about life: “As hard as this sounds, I take this as an opportunity to retell the story to him as if it was the first chapter of the book.”