It was a sailing trip to Nantucket that inspired Sophie Aschauer to make her first handwoven mat out of recycled marine rope. Soon enough, in 2011 her brand, SerpentSea, set sail. “In the beginning I only made the mats for myself and didn’t think it would turn into a business,” she tells us. “I used to work in an art gallery, and a co-worker told me she was looking for a doormat.” Sophie brought in all her mats the following morning and within five minutes had sold them all to various colleagues. “That’s when it dawned on me that I could turn it into a business.”
We visited the Australia native and new mom, who resides in New York with her husband, Paul Sevigny, at her studio on the Lower East Side for a peek into her process and a tour of her favorite local spots.
In addition to her durable, colorful mats, Sophie weaves key chains, chokers, and bracelets. “All the knots are traditional knots that I found in old books and illustrations,” she explains. While most of her designs will fit in front of your door’s threshold, she does have bigger plans: “I worked once with a mathematician who specializes in knots to develop an enormous pattern for a big area rug, but I have yet to realize it. It is very daunting, and I am lacking the space at the moment.” Needlepoint pillows and “soap on a rope” are soon to come. “Initially I wanted to make all the soap myself, but I realized I need a manufacturer to help with the production,” she says.
In a building that houses other small businesses and artist work spaces like her own, Sophie’s bright studio is a vibrant emporium of tangled rope, punctuated by surrealistic paintings on its white walls. “Most importantly I needed enough floor space for making the mats, but light was also very important, as I am doing all the product photography myself,” she says. “I have to admit it’s a bit of a mess, but I kind of like a mess, and that is the only space where I am allowed to have one!”
The art-school-educated crafter reveals that the palettes of her mats are very much driven by the materials she secures. “Since I only work with recycled rope, my choices in colors are limited, as I have to work with what I get, but I think that is part of the challenge,” she says. “I have to use all the rope I receive and turn it into something beautiful.” Although the variety of colors and patterns “may seem endless, they are not,” Sophie notes. “I can’t get any blue or green I like—it’s not like paint, where you can mix together anything you like.”
My choices in colors are limited, as I have to work with what I get, but I think that is part of the challenge. I have to use all the rope I receive and turn it into something beautiful.