I am a huge fan of Nicole Melton's incredible pieces of jewelry and now her gorgeous weavings. She crafts handmade adornments rooted in the values of quality American work. Nicole's line of jewelry is called Knot and Splice. Why? Well, you have to read the interview. Many months before I even started Straw and Gold, I had a running list of makers that I constantly checked up on. Nicole was number one on my list. It is remarkable the thought and the attention that goes into every single piece. Not only is Nicole's work beautiful but she is one of the sweetest and humble beings I have met yet. She is completely dedicated to her art and that is evident just by glancing at her jewelry.
How has living in Chicago influenced your work?
There are so many creative and inspiring individuals living in Chicago. I have been fortunate to connect with some of them. I am pretty much a lone wolf when I create work . . . I like to work in solitude. But it's good to make time to see what friends are working on, too.
My first visit to this city set things in motion for me. I moved to Chicago to go to the School of the Art Institute in my early to mid-twenties. I actually came here to study photography after visiting a friend here and shooting several 35mm street portraits during a cold Chicago Fall. I went to a Friedlander photography exhibit at the Art Institute Museum, and his work really resonated with the photography I was trying to make at that time. I ended up not studying photography in Chicago, which is kind of weird. My work and experience is uncomfortably vast. I studied photography, printmaking, visual communication (graphic design), fiber & material studies (embroidery—and more independently, metalsmithing.
What do you enjoy most about living in Chicago?
It's so vertical and dense here compared to where I lived in Florida. it's kind of a place to be alone, yet crowded, all at the same time—if that makes sense.
I lived in New Jersey for a spell in my early twenties, and my friend and I would drive into NYC almost every weekend to take photos and to entertain ourselves, and it just never resonated with me the way Chicago does. We have that midwest hospitality here. People also seem to stare at people (public transit people watching) a lot here, which is different than NYC—and also a less desirable note if you're like me and want to be invisible to the world.
Where does your business name come from?
My husband gave me the idea for the title, Knot & Splice. It's related to naval knot techniques. "Knot" and "splice" are action words. They have a strong American history, and a tie to the sea. My work is all sourced from American suppliers, and all of the stones I use in my pieces are only from U.S. mines (this isn't something that is commonly done because the majority of gemstones are found outside of the U.S.). The name Knot & Splice has a strong sense of time and place (at least for me) in that it relates to American history. Also, when you knot and splice something you are securing, you're creating actual ties and strongholds.
In addition, I started making jewelry by hand-beading work with glass beads and nylon thread. I felt that it was hard to really customize the pieces by limiting myself to the materials used for that type of work. Wanting to break away from this sort of limitation, I took a very basic class in metalsmthing, became obsessed, and have taught myself the rest. The name "Knot & Splice" still applies to the work I am building on.
For instance, I had spine surgery four months ago (and have had to take a longer than desired hiatus from metal work). During this time, I became more active in making fibers work again and started created woven wall hangings, natural dyed/shibori pieces, and even soy candles. "Knot & Splice" is the idea of strong work tied to strong American values (to me, those are supporting other American businesses, and carefully selecting materials from American suppliers and collectors; although, I do incorporate salvaged and vintage supplies at times, to add character).
What are your go-to spots?
Home. Ha! I'm a real homebody. Sometimes people ask me how I make so much work. That's how. I am always working on projects at home, or studio.
I could recommend cool places to visit if you're coming to Chicago for the first time, but I think most people who live here do most of their living in just a couple neighborhoods close to home (unless one travels far to work).
Where did you learn your craft?
I have a background in the art. I wouldn't say that it's easy to get into metalsmthing nor learn it as fast as someone who has a lengthy arts background. I took a basic metalsmithing class, but I was truly obsessed with doing the work and teaching myself outside the class. I taught myself wax carving and paired up with a local caster. Learning this type of work was challenging. The amount of technical information you can find online about wax carving/casting is pretty limited. I learned by just doing and learning from mistakes. I think that, to really learn techniques, you have to be willing to try to teach yourself a great deal by trial and error. You have to be really passionate about the craft, because so much of it is technical and difficult, and not foolproof. It requires patience and love, but also an obsessive personality, I think you really have to love what you're doing. I've been told I have a lot of patience in metalsmithing, which is what I wish I had in other aspects of life. I think I just get really focused on the work, so it seems like patience.
What is the most satisfying part of your making process?
I would say the most satisfying thing is when there is a challenge and I have no idea how to make the piece, yet I just somehow come up with a solution. The moment when something actually works out, and looks right, I guess that's the most satisfying aspect to doing metal work.
I also think production work (making a lot of a single design) can be satisfying. Seeing a massive amount of work slowly pile up. There's a great feeling of accomplishment, like, "How the heck did I make all of this?" And then it all gets distributed/mailed away, which is also satisfying. The fact that people want to spend their hard-earned dollars on something I've poured love into? I'm really grateful for that kind of support.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
Probably my husband, Z. L.. He's an amazing writer and musician (labors.bandcamp.com). I bounce ideas off him a lot and ask for his feedback on my work (he has great ideas, which really strengthen the work I produce). It's kind of an invisible process to the public eye, but I'm really thankful for his love and support—and crazy intelligent assistance.
So, my husband and I are currently converting our living room into an unconventional, but awesome work space. It's fun to be in this together and to be able to make the best of our current apartment situation. After my surgery, we really can't take on moving into a bigger place due to my physical limitations. We're both going to be able to make our work in the same room—and more comfortably. It's weird to get rid of the beat-up old denim couch we've had for years in order to make room for tools and desks.
In addition to making a studio space, we have plans to collaborate on his next book. I will be working on the illustration and book design to compliment his writing. I think our collaborative work goes hand in hand in a special way.
Do you listen to music while you work? If yes, who?
Oh boy, this is a mixed bag. I used to work in a shared metalsmithing studio, so I would listen to music on speakers when there was no one around. And when the studio was crowded, I put on headphones. I guess my go-to's were old country music like Johnny Cash, George Jones, Kitty Wells, and Patsy Cline. Sometimes Morrissey/The Smiths or Etta James. I draw a lot of comfort from listening to a single album, or just one musician for a period of time—and then I'll switch it up.
I'm excited about working from home in the future, though, because we have a record player. I collected a lot of hardcore records in my time, and a lot of rare 7"s. It's probably not the most efficient way to work, having to flip a record every so often, but there is something so satisfying about those record pops—it's an idyllic soundtrack to work to.
Describe your workshop
It's still coming together! We're still building on some ideas to use the space more efficiently. But here are some photos of things in the space:
Where's your favorite place in the world?
The Great Smoky Mountains? Actually, I haven't been there since I was about 7 years old, so it's hard to say. I was told as a child that I wasn't very "worldly". At the time, I took it as a way of saying I wasn't good enough. Now I think the most favorite places are the comforting spaces and dreams in my mind. Places in the world can change, and that can lead to nostalgia or even progress, but sometimes it causes uncontrollable sadness—for me, anyway. And I like to escape that. I like to pour myself into the work I'm doing and really get lost there. My favorite "place" is somewhere in between the work I'm doing and a daydream. Maybe it's otherworldly. Still, I would love to travel more someday.
Name your three favorite (or ten favorite) makers?
Oh wow, this is hard. While I find many makers really inspiring, I try not to pay too close of attention to what other people are doing—unless I consider someone a friend. I think it's easy to be unknowingly influenced by what others are doing and I don't like that. I like to come up with my own ideas and experiments. There is a lot of really upsetting plagiarism in the jewelry world. Every once in awhile, you'll come across a close copy of what you're doing and it's really upsetting. Then again, I try to keep an open mind as I think minimal or nature-inspired pieces are the easiest to unintentionally replicate. For example, if you ask two people to draw as many sketches of a ring design, using only a bar and a circle, there's a good chance they'll both arrive at several of the same conclusions. This isn't copying, just arriving at the same idea. It's a fine line, though. Get your own ideas and really run with them . . . don't copy! It's boring.
That said, I am really excited about people who are doing similar, but different work than me. I think having support and giving it to other artists/designers is really awesome. I tend to follow people who are far away from fashion and are more into building or making with their hands. For instance, smaller businesses or artists who are accomplishing a lot with limited resources: woodworkers, natural dyers, weavers, restorers, ceramicists, painters, tattoo artists, etc.—mostly humble people with an original story or voice, who are just doing their own thing, and making the world a nicer place because of it.
Did you have another career before starting jewelry?
Yes, I worked as a professional graphic designer before my spine surgery. I had nerve damage (due to broken, degenerated discs in my spine compressing my sciatic nerve). I had a lot of pain and weakness, post-surgery, that continue. I was also in a scary accident after surgery that further agitated my healing process.
I have limitations and pain due to this nerve damage that prevented me from returning to my day job (which required me to travel 1.5 hours each way and to sit for 8 hours at a time). My goal now is to just try to make due with what I have, accept my situation as much as possible, and to dedicate more time to my passion, Knot & Splice. I really try not dwell too much on the bad things.
Who were you at sixteen?
Angry and emotional. I was dealing (or not knowing how to deal) with an accumulation of pain. This is a problematic question, though—teenagers have a rough time, don't they? I was a pretty cute baby, though. :)
Name three things you can't live without
My husband, family, cooler weather (I can't stand the heat!)
Any fun summer trips coming up?
I'll be at home working. :) Someone go enjoy the mountains and desert landscapes for me.
Shop Knot & Splice on Straw and Gold