We’ve all made friendship bracelets in primary school, and enjoyed making all sorts of different patterns by combining colours and knots. What few of us may not know, however, is that this is a form of macramé, a type of textile-making commonly used by sailors, made from knots and hitchings.
Macramé Friendship Bracelets - mia half, Flickr
The word macramé comes from the Arabic word migramah, which means ‘fringe’, and dates back to 13th Century weavers in northern Africa, who used the skill to create decorative fringes to keep the flies away from horses and camels. The first recorded usage of macramé can be traced back to carvings by the Babylonians and Assyrians, in the form of plaiting and braiding in clothing. It spread to Spain, and through to the rest of Europe, after the Moorish conquest, eventually reaching England in the 17th Century, where Queen Mary II taught the art to her ladies-in-waiting.
British and American sailors named the skill after the most commonly used knot: square knotting, which they used to make hammocks, bell fringes, belts, and ornaments other ornaments. This helped macramé spread even further, until it reached China and the New World in the 19th Century, when it was at the height of its popularity.
It experienced another surge of popularity in the 60s and 70s, with the hippie and grunge communities, and was used to make jewellery, clothing, draperies, plant hangers, and other decorative items.
Macramé Plant Hanger - Wicker Paradise, Flickr
Macramé uses all types of cords and threads depending on the type of object, including yarn, floss, hemp, linen, wire, and polypropylene. These are often used with a knotting board, clamps, or a variety of pins, to secure the cords in place when working. Jewellery made from macramé also contains beads, pendants, gemstones, or shells as a focal point. You can purchase all of these materials at your regular crafts and hobby stores.
The knots used range from simple sailors’ knots to more elaborate, complicated ones that can be self-styled by the creator. The four most common knots are:
Half-knot — used for tying shoelaces
Square knot — described as ‘two half knots in opposite direction’
Double half-hitch — wrapping one string around another, which bears the knot
Overhand knot — using one string to make a loop onto itself
Macramé Knots - amyalessio.com
Macramé is also used in place of weaving or knitting to create textiles. Cavandoli macramé is a variety of this, using primarily single and double half-hitch knots to form both geometric and free-form patterns. Lace macramé can also be used to decorate textiles and clothing, which was most popular in the Victorian era.
Another version of macramé is Chinese knotting, a traditional folk art dating back to the Tang and Song Dynasties from 960AD, and popularised in the Ming Dynasty. A single thread is knotted to form a double-layered, symmetrical lanyard. These can be found in a range of colours and shapes — red is the most common colour, a symbol of luck and prosperity; dragons, butterflies, and flowers are also common shapes.
Chinese Knots sold in Chinatown - hslo, Flickr
Macramé is fun, creative, and perfect for keeping restless hands occupied. It can be used to make all sorts of household items, not to mention ornaments, decorations, and accessories. Here's a helpful video to get you started on the basics:
What are some of your best macramé creations? Have you seen any amazing ones? Share them with us here at Classie, or on the forum!