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What is Macrame?

By S. Mithra
Updated May 16, 2024
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Macrame is the art and craft of decorative knotting. Some twine and a few basic knots are all a hobbyist needs to explore the possibilities of constructing jewelry, clothing, wall hangings, or plant holders. In the 1970s, the American craze for this craft was preceded by hundreds of years of Chinese macrame. Now, Western macrame attracts fiber artists, sewers, and creative crafters.

Chinese macrame differs from modern macrame in a few key respects. First, there is only one piece of string folded in half, such that two strings enter the knot and two exit at the bottom. Also, the pieces are always symmetrical and double-sided, so they leave a pouch in the center. People store semi-precious stones, carvings, or even fruit within the knotted folds. Some decorative knot names are Monkey's Fist, Double Coin, and Good Luck.

Western macrame involves many threads of different colors or textures. From the endless kinds of twine, you can choose hemp, silk, yarn, embroidery floss, cord, precious metal thread, wool, or even ordinary kite string. The weave, color, stiffness, and width will all affect the look of the finished macrame. Also, you can add accessories within the knotted pattern to thematize your work. Many crafters collect beads, charms, seashells, and tassels made of ceramic, glass, metal, or plastic to accentuate their pieces.

The basic supplies to begin macrame are a knotting board, T-pins, a pattern, and twine. The knotting board, a flat piece of cardboard, cork, or foam, will hold and stretch the first "holding" string horizontally, so the other vertical threads hang down at a right angle. As the knots emerge, T-pins can hold the design at certain intervals to keep it even, flat, and symmetrical, since the knots have some flexibility. With just a few simple knots you probably already know how to tie, you can make a belt or wall hanging.

Most everyday knots can be traced back to sailors entertaining themselves with extra rope during long months at sea. A half-knot is the first thing you do in tying a shoelace. A square knot is what most people think of when they hear "knot," two half-knots in opposite directions. A double half-hitch, a variation on a square knot, is where one string bears the knot and the other string wraps around it. An overhand knot is accomplished with just one string, where you make a looped knot onto itself. Once you have mastered these types of knots, you can investigate more complicated ones or just make up your own!

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Discussion Comments

By elizabeth23 — On Jul 27, 2011

@BambooForest- I like some macrame bracelet patterns, though I like hemp too. I think it is cool that there are people who still do all of these handmade crafts, especially since the other alternative is to spend large amounts of money on jewelry that could easily be made yourself.

By BambooForest — On Jul 26, 2011

I have looked into how to do macrame, but my big thing has been hemp jewelry; it's a similar style, but you usually need fewer materials. Most of the hemp pieces I have made just required hemp twine and a few beads. I also think that the hemp jewelry materials that can easily be found are a little more timeless than macrame, which always makes me think of the 60s and 70s. This might just be me, though.

By sunnySkys — On Jul 26, 2011

@SZapper - Sounds like your mom made a pretty durable plant holder!

I have a friend that makes macrame wall hangings. They are really lovely. She uses many different colors of embroidery floss and clear beads. She has her whole house decorated with them and it gives the place a really unique look.

By SZapper — On Jul 25, 2011

My mom was really into macrame in the 70s when it was popular. And I must say, the string she used for her macrame was quite sturdy.

Growing up, we used several of her macrame handing plant holders out on our deck. Those things lasted for years! And in fact, I don't think they were retired because they wore out. Eventually we moved somewhere smaller and didn't have space for hanging plants.

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