Sophie Aschauer makes mats.
But these are no ordinary mats. Woven from reclaimed sailing rope, each one is made out of one single knot…
Originally featured in Issue 02
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Tell us about how you came to do what you’re doing now? Was there a particular moment when the idea came about?
It was after I discovered an illustration of a mat in an old sailor knot book. I was instantly drawn to it as I think they have a really nice graphic quality to them and I wanted to try making one. Also, as kids, my brother and I would walk to a sailing supply store to get short pieces of rope so we could practise the knots we were taught in sailing class and it took me back to those days.... I did the exact same thing – went to a sailing supply store, got some rope and I started practising. Knots are a bit like puzzles to me and I love puzzles!
Can you describe the first marine rope piece you made?
Do you still have it?
I still have the first mat – I have it in my bathroom. It turned out really small and looks a little awkward; people recognise it as the ‘first mat’ and usually say something like, ‘Is this the first mat you ever made?’
The making process looks both quite physically demanding and involves a lot of repetition; is this part of the pleasure of making for you?
Yes it is indeed physically demanding! I like working on the floor and now my back is used to the work, but in the beginning I would get terrible backache. I think I built a lot of muscles I didn’t used to have! So now that my body is used to the work it doesn’t feel demanding any longer but it certainly is repetitive! I listen to audiobooks while I am working otherwise I think it would get boring...
What do you enjoy most about the process?
My favourite part is when I can see all the colours coming together and surprise myself with a design. Each mat is always a bit of a surprise, as when I select the colours initially you can’t really tell what the bigger picture is going to look like. For me the most important thing is to achieve the right balance of contrast. If you take, let’s say, five different strands of rope that individually look great and also next to each other they look great, they do change appearance once they are shaped into a mat. Often halfway through I realise that the effect they have on each other is to cancel each other out or that they make the colours look dull, so then I have to figure out which of the strands is the problem and try to substitute it for one that makes everything look better again. This may sound very banal but the good thing is that it isn’t. I learned a lot about colour and its relativity and how each piece of rope can change its look completely depending on how you pair them. Sometimes I play a game in which I try to use only the ‘ugliest’ colours and I love it when it turns out that they make up a great design together.
Can you tell us a bit more about the knots you use?
Where did you learn how to do them?
I learnt them all from books – they’re not very difficult, it just takes a lot of patience to do them.
How many would you use in something like the heart mat?
The reason for the patience is that each mat is one single knot. It takes a lot of proportioning to get it right – if you want to get one corner a little tighter or looser you have to work your way through the entire mat.
What keeps your interest in making piece after piece?
Yes, I wonder! Maybe it’s because each mat is unique. If I had to do the same mat over and over again I probably would lose interest but since each is its own creation and demands my whole attention, I still like making new ones!
You are originally from land-locked Austria, right?
Can you tell us about the first time you remember seeing the sea?
Ha! I don’t remember. But I grew up on a lake, and loved it, and my first memories of the ocean are not liking it.... the salty water, the sand, everything itching, I couldn’t dive with open eyes and so on. I thought the lake was much better!
Is the ocean something that holds a particular interest/romance for you?
Hmm... to be honest I am always a bit afraid of the ocean ...
I love all sorts of things that are associated with it but the ocean itself is really scary to me, especially at night!
Photographs Martin Crook