Artist Interview: Nicole Melton of Knot & Splice

Nicole Melton is a multidisciplinary artist who works mainly with jewelry and textiles. She is the designer and owner of Knot & Splice. She uses materials all sourced in the US andspecializes in turquoise and herkimer diamonds. She makes modern jewelry with a traditional Native American feel. What drew me to to Knot & Splice was their simple designs and the entire idea behind the brand. I love artists who are very passionate about where their materials are sourced and the quality of the stones. I own two of Nicole’s pieces and they have become some of my favorite pieces of jewelry, especially her original design “The Orbit Ring”. I am very impressed with the attention to detail and quality of all her pieces. The designs are so classic, its not something I would ever get tired of. We have become good friends over the past few months and here is the interview we did together:

Hi Nicole! I am so happy to be interviewing you today! We have been following each other for a long time now and I am so glad we were finally able to connect. 

I love that you came into metalsmithing with a desire to make only rings, thats pretty much what I wanted to take metal arts for in college too! Im obsessed with rings. Do you have a particular favorite ring you make? What was the first thing you made in class?  As your business?

Thanks so much, Ally. I do like working on other pieces, but I am most known for my rings, I guess. I love making them, so it works out. I really love working on one-of-a-kind pieces. Although the stones I use are all pretty much one-of-a-kind, I enjoy working on something really different where I’ll only be making one like it. There is something about working on a piece rather intensely that can be an uplifting process…seeing the finished piece to completion, and learning from the process is something I favor over production work. 
The first item I sawed out was a hand-drawn little fox and thunderbird I had doodled. Our first couple classes, we were just sawing out the shapes in copper and filing them. I still have them hanging on the door of my studio…they’re just sort of charms, I guess. I took a super basic metalsmithing class, but I’m mostly self-taught. It’s nice to have the safety foundations one can garner from a class setting. Also, to get exposed more easily to some of the things that you can only learn from another person who has a lot of experience in their field (I’ll have to say, however, we are so lucky to have the internet for sharing, as you can learn so much from searching online and watching Youtube videos). 

Its also great to see your passion for weaving. I always talk about how I wish I could practice two things at once and how amazing it is when I see other artists doing just that. Its a difficult balance when you have many creative ambitions, how do you find time for it all? Do you think there is ever going to be a day where you stop making jewelry to pursue other avenues? 

Working in two mediums is actually very difficult for me. I tend to be very focused and kind of serious about what I’m doing. I get really into working when I’m in my studio (even though I’m also distracted at times). I think the hardest thing about working in two mediums is switching gears. I do think I’m using totally different skills and parts of my brain to do the work. Metalsmithing is a technical’re making pieces that someone is wearing on their hands, which means they are enduring a lot more abuse than most other objects a person could design and make. Materials themselves will never be indestructible, and I realize this, but a lot of care goes into crafting something you know is going to take a bit of a beating. Whereas, with fiber arts, I think the materials lend themselves to strength, but the end products usually are either hanging on a wall, or are maybe worn on the body but with a lighter type of wear. Anyway, not to ramble about the applications…the actual process of switching myself over is very hard. Sometimes I just want to weave and spin yarn, but I’m super dedicated to my orders and putting them first, so it’s a bit hard trying to break up my time so that I can do both. 
I would love to eventually find a really great person to help me with some of my administrative tasks so that I could free up more time for making. The administrative tasks themselves with running a business can take up so much time (emails, business expense reports, taxes, shipping, etc.), and it’s often where I spend the majority of my time…I usually do not have days off, and if they are my sort of days off, I’m spinning or weaving…they kind of feel like guilty pleasures, since I can work on a weaving project for 6 months or longer. Even though I love to think of my studio as half textiles, half metalsmithing, it’s mostly metalsmithing and administrative tasks. :p I think that most businesses are always running on a work-in-progress type of model. We are trying to be the best we can be at this moment in time, and we’re learning in real time from mistakes, experiences, and any weird thing that comes up…I’m glad to have these experiences to help develop a unique business.
I have seen a couple instances where a really successful creative business person shifts their entire business model. Or leaves behind what they love to pursue other mediums or adventures. It is inspiring to know that the possibilities are really endless. If you’re doing something you really love, you shouldn’t feel trapped by it. I think that artists are such thinkers and feelers—we can get overwhelmed by the assembly line approach of business. It can get so overwhelming that some people abandon it and do something else. I think that it’s okay if that happens to you…we have just one life to live and I hope we’ll live it as fully as we can. I do not see myself leaving either of my mediums behind, although, I do imagine I will close my shop periodically to complete new work and push myself to work on pieces that take a lot of time and focus. Finishing paid orders always comes first, and timeliness is also important to me. But once orders are finished and mailed, it frees up time to focus on new things, learning, etc. I never want to stop learning and pushing myself creatively.

I dream of having a commune or a big farm where all kinds of artists can live and create and be free to just experiment and learn from each other. Until then I love that we can form a sort of community online. How have you found it working with other artists online? Have you found other people to be inviting, or a more competitive spirit?

That does sound so nice. I do love the idea of community so much. I have found some really great friends individually online. I think that sometimes there is a competitive spirit…there’s also a lot of copying and appropriation that I come across all the time. It is sad and always upsetting to the original maker, however, the whole sharing and community vibe sometimes blurs boundaries or norms for some folks. The majority of makers and designers put their heart and soul into what they do, and they respect others’ rights and creativity, however. As a small business owner, it can be so helpful and reassuring to link up with someone who is doing something similar and asking if they’ve had a particular issue or experience. The idea that you aren’t completely an island unto yourself is just so reassuring. I’ve met some seriously wonderful people who feel like such close friends. I have a few friends I talk to daily online but have never met in person. 
There is a huge saturation in the jewelry market, and I think people can be very protective and closed off to sharing information of even the smallest kind, for the most part. I’ve found the complete opposite with the fiber community, for the most part. I don’t really feel like I fit in or belong to either group…I am kind of a lone wolf in some ways. But I try to stay away from negativity or drama whenever possible. Friends just find each other, from what I have experienced.

I also saw that you were really inspired early on by Native American beading. Is that also what has inspired your current jewelry line? 

My mom was a beader and she had a couple older seed beadwork books that she knew she couldn’t use. I usually work on projects when we visit my family at Christmastime, so that year, I decided I just wanted to make a pair of beaded earrings. I actually really enjoyed the process (I had been doing hand embroidery for a long time—embroidered drawings). I started off making beaded earrings and no one was really interested in what I was doing. I kept with it anyway, and then later decided to take a metalsmithing class so that I could make metal components myself or make something that no one else was doing. So it really was just a progression, of sorts. I only took the class as a sort of therapy/hobby outside of my job. I never intended to start a business or make things to sell, but it happened rather organically.

I love the color palette of your weavings. Do you feel like there is any kind of tie between your jewelry making and your weaving? Are they similar at all in the way you find inspiration or is it two totally separate entities?

Thank you. I think it’s harder to see connections between the work when you’re the one making them (or at least, that’s how I feel). I think they’re fairly separate…most of my current weaving is pretty experimental. It’s material response and I’m not sure I can really define it. Metalsmithing tends to be more technical and precise. I appreciate any handmade work that shows the human hand, the process and love that goes into it, but I do strive fora different aesthetic when making my jewelry vs weaving. I suppose the fiber work is a bit more wabi sabi.

I love your woven tops and the jean jacket and jeans! What inspired you to tie weaving into other clothing items? Pure genius! 

Thanks, Ally. I was actually working on garments for almost a year…there are a couple Japanese pattern books that are specific to weavers. The couple of garments I very loosely based on those patterns. I didn’t study fashion and I don’t usually make clothes, so the patterns helped me understand a bit of sizing and piecing a woven textile together. Because with most handwoven items, the weave structure is larger than a machined piece of fabric, any line that is cut has to have a double stitched line so that the weaving doesn’t unravel. Trying to figure this out and measure and piece together a garment with handwoven material is super challenging. I actually had this really wonderful experience with my mom over this past Christmas. We sat down with this book and looked at my weaving and then made a sample piece out of plain fabric first. We then made the actual piece from the handwoven textile. It was so wonderful to have her advice and assistance to start out as she knows so much about sewing and patterning. After that, I made all the others on my felt like such a special thing having my mom’s help starting out. The jackets idea came from this thought where my mom said I should use found or pre-bought fabric with my weavings to help reduce the prices (seriously labor intensive trying to hand weave enough fabric to make one piece). I always owned jean jackets growing up (love embellishment, embroidery, and when people collect pins on them) I started checking in thrift stores and online and found a few vintage/used jackets that I thought would look so cool having the back patch. The weaving I made for each piece was a much larger piece of weaving than what ended up on each jacket. I saved any of the scraps and will probably incorporate them into something else in the future. Waste not, want not. :)

What would you say your favorite stone to work with is? I know a part of your mission is to use only items made in the US, what does this mean to you? All your stones are sourced here in the US? I love that! 

I love turquoise. I guess that’s apparent. It’s also one of the few gemstones I’ve been able to find in any sort of quantity (although I work with other stones). Finding cut gemstones that have been mined in the U.S. and also cut in the U.S., is so much harder than it seems. The majority of gemstones are imported from overseas. Much of the mass manufactured cut gemstones are machine-cut in China or India—often with less than healthy working conditions. The diamond mining industry is just dirty. When I started making jewelry, I was overwhelmed with the amount of gemstones online and I also quickly noticed that a lot of what is sold isn’t ethical or honest. A lot of “turquoise” is actually not turquoise at all, but is dyed magnetite or howlite. It really freaked me out to think I could be buying something labeled as one thing but actually not be a real stone (or that it could be something that was molded from real stone and glue to make a “stone”). Within the first few weeks of making jewelry, I was instantly drawn to the idea of using stones sourced only in the U.S., and I’ve spent thousands of hours searching and trying to learn about them, how to find them, where to get them. It’s taken me years to find reliable and honest sources for my stones, and I’m happy to say that Knot & Splice supports legitimate American lapidary artists and dealers/collectors. A lot of people rely on my material purchases to keep their small businesses going. Some of my dealers/lapidary artists have become real friends…we talk all the time and isn’t just a business transaction between us. We are real friends and send each other birthday gifts or cards, or drop little “how are you doing, just thinking of you” types of notes. When I put these stones into my work, they carry this nature of good and positive vibes. I have bought stones direct from miners and lapidary artists, who really care about what they do and what they put into the world. So it really goes beyond just buying something and sticking it in my work. There’s an actual emotional connection I have to the materials themselves.

I recently watched the video on your site and what really stood out to me was when you talked about jewelry holding a really significant place in your life over clothes or other material possessions. The older the better. Its almost more well loved with age. What are your favorite pieces of jewelry you have? 

I have a few special heirloom pieces. I really love vintage jewelry so much and have been drawn to it since I was maybe 5 years old. I have a couple brooches that were my grandma’s and my mom’s. I keep them in this old vintage tin with a few other pieces of jewelry I’ve collected over the years. I’ve also done trades with some really beautiful jewelry designers—their work isn’t just amazing, but they’re amazing people. I think wearing something that carries that kind of positivity really makes the piece that much more meaningful. I know that there’s this idea that if you are a maker you should only wear your own work, but I couldn’t disagree more. I started making jewelry because I loved other types of jewelry (not because I thought I’m the only person in the world with good ideas). I still collect vintage rings. My wedding bands are all antiques and I love them to pieces. I love trading with makers that become friends first. I love old hand engraved pieces and I will sometimes buy up a ring just because I love how it looks.

I also know you spin your own yarn as well, what are your favorite raw materials to work with? Is that important to you to have something you made from scratch be a part of the final product? I mean obviously you make your jewelry and the actual work on your weavings but to actually have even your own yarn incorporated into it is like next level! 

Well, I started with drop spindle and it was so hard on my wrist. A few spinners suggested that I try out a spinning wheel. I looked online for a long time to try and find a used wheel…just when I was giving up, I found the perfect one. My current spinning wheel has changed hands three times. The first two didn’t have much time for spinning so they gave it up to someone who would. It’s really been such a therapeutic tool for me, and I’ve been amassing handspun yarn like crazy. 
I really like being able to do the whole process of a piece myself. Due to how readily available ideas are online—we are all sharing our works on social media constantly, things get reposted or “found” on Pinterest, and suddenly, the identity and story of our piece is lost, someone else copies it (sometimes knowingly or maybe unknowingly)…I think the best way to avoid this is to do something so spectacular it’s hard to copy. Maybe it’s a silly notion, but when I started doing tapestry work, I found that so much of it online was copied ideas. I wanted to separate my work even further by making it harder to make. I purchased a floor loom which was a huge purchase for me, and I took a couple weaving classes to further my studies. I am drawn so much to yarn and those traditional fiber materials, but i think they can also lead you to explore new materials and ways of making. Playing around and seeing what you can discover, that’s the whole fun of being an artist. Although I try hard to separate myself, push myself to be different, so many of us have similar ideas or inspirations…I’m not so deluded to think there’s truly something perfectly original in the world, but it’s something to strive for as an artist. Even if we never get there, just trying for that, you may actually be original in your creations. 
I think making the yarn myself is a fun part of the process. Spinning can be so creative and you can make some truly unusual yarns by doing it yourself. I am currently making as much yarn as possible and hope to make an entire piece with handspun yarn. I tend to want a lot of different textures and widths in my pieces, as well as colors…so maybe this will happen, maybe I’ll sell some of the yarn instead. I’m just enjoying the process of making it and seeing what I can do right now. :)

Do you have any new projects coming out soon? Anything you can tell us about? I know you just reopened your shop and that in itself was an accomplishment but maybe you have something brewing behind the scenes?

I have been working on a carved and cast jewelry collection for almost a year now…whew! Not constantly or actively working on it (more like working on it when I can, which is not enough time). I think, on social media, it can look like a person is just making so much work. How does this person do all this? Do they sleep at all? I think it can be surprising how much a person can do when he/she sets his/her mind to it. But there are always those projects just beyond your grasp at the moment, or things that get put on the back burner. My paid orders always come first for me…I don’t like keeping customers waiting long. I am hoping to actively start working on it again soon…I took off about 1–2 weeks last summer to carve this collection. It took awhile for me to get them ready for casting and send them out (I work with a small business caster in NY). I have the raw castings sitting in a bag on my work bench, but just the cleaning process for those pieces would take a full day. The hand-carving and casting process is a way to really make something original. Because each piece is carved by hand, it’s hopefully a bit more difficult for someone to copy, and I also think, making a piece that is truly solid metal, it’s essentially more indestructible than a metalsmithed piece which has solder joins. You’d probably be surprised, but people can be extremely hard on rings and jewelry…I really love cast jewelry for it’s strength and durability. But I’m also able to do things like carve my initials inside the band, and really do something more sculptural (sometimes with a bit of drawing). It almost feels like a third medium in a way, and I’ve seen ceramicists or sculpture people adopt hand-carved and cast jewelry most likely because of the resemblance to their other types of work. Anyway, that’s what’s next, I think. More 14K gold pieces, and always more turquoise! I may be featured in something before summer which I’m honored by. I love connecting with other artists and positive folks, so hopefully there’s more of that coming, as well.
Thank you so much for having me here, and for allowing me to participate in this series for your blog. I sincerely enjoyed doing this interview.