What is macrame?

What comes to your mind when you think of macrame? I didn't learn this word until 2020, and yet I had been making things using macrame since I was in grade school. 

Think of macrame in terms of the method used to create something. Whereas some textiles are created using weaving, knitting, croqueting, or sewing, this textile is made using hand knots. Tools can be helpful, but you could get started making something using macrame techniques with items you find just around your home (like a clothes hanger and a hook to hang it from, such as a dresser drawer pull bar). 

The first time I made something with macrame was during my Christmas break as a grade-school girl. My aunts bought me a DIY bracelet kit at the nearby craft store. I remember learning a square knot for the first time. It's perplexing looking back now. I would stare at the paper diagram of the knot over and over, trying my best to figure out the knot. Once it clicked in my mind, it was just so easy. I don't like learning off of a diagram now. I much prefer videos with no talking. Just show me how to make the knot, let me watch and rewatch on my own time, as many times as I need, and then I'm golden. Keep that in mind if you are getting into macrame, or anything for that matter. If it's not clicking at first, try to find the learning method that flows most naturally for you. 

I used macrame to mostly make different kinds of bracelets and lanyards. It wasn't until I had my first child that I picked the art back up again. The birth of my son also birthed in me a green thumb (or a desire for a green thumb?). I think it was from "nesting". I grew a deep desire to create a home. A peaceful, safe, and joyful home where my family could rest and grow. By the way, did you know the three core words of the Fringe and Free brand are Life, Peace, and Joy? Anyways, I learned how plants brought peace, pause, and life to a space. Life both in terms of their own life and the helpful air purification qualities they add to their environment. The air exchange has always mesmerized me. They need CO2, and we exhale CO2. We need O2, and they exhale O2. What is beautiful balance. 

When my youngest child started walking, he began knocking down my plant pots from my windowsills. I needed a way to elevate my plants out of his reach. So plant hangers to the rescue. I discovered hanging planters and S hooks. All I had to do was put my plant pot and saucer in a hanging planter, and hang it using an S hook from my curtain rods. 

When I began selling macrame at local artisan markets, my customers and fellow vendors shared with me a macrame history I never knew. At my very first market I learned that macrame was very popular in the 70s, and it was common for women to make macrame plant hangers out of jute (ouch!) in their dorms. There were a few other popular items that were also made, like a wall hanging made to look like an owl. As far as I know, other wall hangings were not really made. Cotton cord was also not really used. As far as I have been told and read in books from the 70s, jute was the primary material used. I also learned that Navy veterans who served as sailors during that time also used macrame. Knots are used in a utilitarian way on ships, any sailors are (or at least were) required to learn them during their Naval Basic Training. One veteran visited my booth and could name every knot I used in my pieces. He said he used to make decorations using knots (macrame) in his off-time while abroad. He said it was common for them to do, at least on his ship. There was even one market where a veteran visited me as soon as I opened. He was a fellow vendor, and he immediately purchased a wall hanging. He said he knew how much time the piece took and he wanted it. I was pleasantly shocked. I was new to selling my work, and he did not fit into who I thought my target audience was. For the duration of the market season he hung that wall hanging from his tent. That was a delightful experience that brought me more joy than I can articulate. 

Now macrame is used to create SO MANY things. Bags, coasters, curtains, table runners, clothes, pillow cases, and so much more. There are also some crosses between weaving and macrame, macraweaving. The materials used have also changed significantly. I think cotton cord is the most used medium now, though there are many different types of cotton cord. Single strand, multiple ply, braided, and all at different thicknesses and colors. I personally also like using hemp, raffia, and fleece in my pieces.

This is macrame, according to me. It is an interesting technique to dive into. It is used worldwide, and I find it interesting to see how people choose to creatively express in such different ways using mostly the same few knots. If you are just getting started with it, just keep going. You will eventually learn controlled tension and your knots can become quite consistent. And if you don't want to make it, thank you so much for supporting artisans like me who enjoy making it.