Learning the Basics of Macrame

A brief history of macrame
Macrame seems to have developed around the 13th century, when it was used by Arabian weavers to finish the edges of their fabrics. The Moors conquered this area and eventually brought the local crafts, including macrame, to Spain, from which it spread to the rest of Europe. It eventually arrived in England in the late 17th century, and continued to grow in popularity there, until it reached its heyday during the time of Queen Victoria – when it was used to decorate anything and everything it could be attached to.

Interest in macrame faded for several decades, until it was revived by the “back to nature” trend of the 1970s. Although it’s not quite as popular as it was then, it’s still being practiced, with new uses being developed all the time.

An even briefer definition
Macrame is the craft of tying and connecting knots in cord in order to construct an object.

Macrame knots
Macrame does not use many different kinds of knots; the creative part of this craft lies in how they are combined. Here are the most commonly used knots:

  • square knot – two overhand knots in succession, each going a different direction (for example, right over left, then left over right)
  • lark’s head knot – usually used, tied horizontally, at the beginning of a project to connect the cords to a rod, ring, or mounting cord, but may also be tied vertically
  • half hitch – also called a clove hitch; may be tied vertically or horizontally
  • Josephine knot

Macrame has been called, and occasionally compared to, Chinese knotting. But they are actually two different crafts. The one knot they share is the Josephine knot, which in Chinese knotting is called the double coin knot.

Supplies needed
Macrame is not an expensive hobby to start. Here is a list of the basic supplies needed:

  • cord
  • measuring tape or ruler to measure the cord
  • scissors to cut the cord
  • a rod, ring, or other cord to attach the working cords to
  • straight or t-pins to hold a large project in place, especially if you’re tying horizontal or diagonal knots
  • a padded board, foam core, or thick cardboard to pin down a large work-in-progress

Cord types
Basically, any cord that is stiff and not too stretchy can be used for macrame. Most of the cords listed below are also fairly thick, but it’s possible to use thinner cords like embroidery floss, especially for the new craft of micromacrame.

Here is a list of the most popular cord types:

  • hemp – stiff and sometimes scratchy at first, but gets softer with wear – especially if it’s washed frequently
  • jute – thick and stiff, great for plant and other hangers
  • twine
  • leather
  • rattail – silky smooth and a bit slippery, but makes some beautiful pieces
  • elastic cord – the exception to the rule; if it’s thick enough and tied carefully, it may produce some very interesting items. It’s not for beginners, though.

Some other considerations
Measuring cord can be tricky. Ideally, the cord should be long enough for the entire object; it’s sometimes possible to add cord if you run out, but this will depend on the individual project and the knots you’re tying. It’s best to cut all the cord you’ll need before you start.

If you’re following a pattern, there will be instructions on how long to cut the cord. If not, you can guess that the cord will need to be several times the length of the finished object – at least six, probably. But once again, the length will depend on the kinds of knots you’re using. And any cord that’s not being tied (but has knots being tied around it) will of course be shorter. If you’re really not sure, you can always use premeasured cord to make a sample piece, then compare the size of the sample with the lengths of the cords used.

If your cords are very long, it’s a good idea to wind them around a piece of cardboard or other “bobbin” to keep them from tangling. Or you can wrap them around your hand and then use a rubber band to keep them together. This works well, because the rubber band will let you pull out as much cord as you need while keeping the rest together.

Macrame projects can be made from more than just cord. Many people add beads or other small items – anything with a hole in it, really – to “dress up” their projects. The nice thing is, because the cord is cut, you don’t need to thread the items onto the cord before you start the project; you can add them whenever you like.

What can you make with macrame?
The first objects that probably come to mind are plant hangers. Macrame does make nice hangers for plants or other objects. But it can also be used for wall hangings, mirror and picture frames, accessories like belts, bags, and pet leashes, and of course edgings – like those early Arabians made!

The most recent use for macrame, especially on a small scale, is for jewelry. Hemp bracelets and necklaces are popular, with and without beads, and other materials can be used as well. For example, some people tie knots in thin jewelry wire!

Really, the uses of macrame are limited only to the imagination. If you’re looking for something new and creative to try, consider macrame. It’s no longer just a “retro” craft.

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