Discover How This Chicago Creative Transforms Zip Ties Into Art


Sarah Leuchtner stands in studio in front of fringed artworks in shades of blue, green and pink

“It’s an ongoing process of layering and building up the composition and depth,” artist Sarah Leuchtner says of her woven zip tie sculptures.

Sarah Leuchtner is not an artist who has ever limited herself to one medium. Ever since she was a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she has roamed freely between the disciplines of painting, drawing, sculpture and fiber art. For her recent series of two-sided works made of zip ties woven through chicken wire and framed by copper pipes, Leuchtner draws from all these modes of expression—and more. 

Fringed artworks hang on a studio wall with drawings on a table beneath

Leuchtner's zip tie works are an evolution from her paintings, drawings and collages.

zip ties dyed blue and and aqua lay on a cloth stained with those colors

The artist hand dyes the zip ties so she isn't limited by pre fab colors.

watercolor paintings, drawings and zip ties lay on a white table

"Each work begins with the stencil which is then used across various mediums," explains Leuchtner of her process.

woman weaving blue and white zip ties on chicken wire

Leuchtner's weaving process is a "labor of love," she says.

Two large cut-out paper artworks handing on an art studio wall

The artist's large scale collage works include from a cue (left) and pool.

Five fringed artworks- two hanging on a wall, two leaning against a wall and one on an easel

The fringed sides of the zip tie sculptures mimic pixelated images.

“At school there was a free area where you could both donate and take supplies,” shares Leuchtner of how the series began. She foraged a batch of zip ties, but they sat dormant in her studio for a couple of years. “I always keep a surplus of materials ready even if I don’t know what I’ll do with them,” the artist explains. It was when she looked at some chicken wire she also had on hand that the idea came to her. “The work took off from there,” she says. 

Created by threading individual ties through the mesh and zipping them closed, the compositions are smooth to the touch on one side, shaggy and tactile on the other. “The chicken wire provides a strong graphic presence that I can then layer,” says Leuchtner, who considers both sides simultaneously as she weaves. “I love using it as a structure. There isn’t really a front and back for me.” 

Not limited to prefab colors, Leuchtner painstakingly dyes her zip ties using the same pigments she does for her other works, including large-scale collages and paintings. She then plans out her composition in a small watercolor, her sole reference. While the crisp side has a pixelated aspect reminiscent of vintage video art, there is also a nod to homespun handicrafts. “It’s a cross between needlepoint and something more technological,” she says. “I like that the tactility humanizes technology.” 

While the compositions blur the line between figurative and abstract, they are evocative of the industrial Chicago cityscape that surrounds Leuchtner’s East Garfield Park studio—buildings, scaffolding, exposed pipes and beams, and the glowing neon sun as seen through her window. Many of the shapes that compel Leuchtner, which she pulls from vintage signage and iconography, also appear in her pieces. “I’m trying to create a language with these symbols,” she says. “I don’t want it to be as blatant as a smiley face emoji. I want a gray area to have the viewer question what they’re looking at.”