A Brief History of Macrame by Peter the Knotter

Macrame comes from a 13th Century arabic weavers’ word “migramah” meaning “Fringe”  This refers to the decorative fringes on camels  and horses  which help,  amongst other things, to keep the flies off in the hot desert regions of northern Africa…

Another school of thought think that it comes from from Turkish “makrama”: “napkin,” or “towel” and was a way to secure the ends of pieces of weaving by  using the excess thread and yarn along the top and bottom edges of loomed fabrics.  

One of the earliest recorded uses of macrame style knots as decoration appeared in the carvings of the Babylonians and Assyrians. Fringe-like plaiting and braiding adorned the costumes of the time and were captured in their stone statuary.
Macrame traveled from north Africa, with the Moors during their conquests,  to Spain , and as a result of this conquest it spread, firstly to France, and then  throughout Europe.

Macramé became a specialty of Genoa, where, the Italian  roots  of this craft were born in the 16th-century technique of knotting lace known as “Punto a Groppo”.  “Punto a Groppo” is  Italian for “knotted lace”, (also an ancestor of Bobbin Lace-making),  and  was worked in 16th-century Italy by knotting, twisting, and tying fringes,  all without any weights, or bobbins, and entirely by hand. (modern Italian “macrame” lace is made by machine for curtains, Up-market table-cloths etc and resembles the later bobbin lace and Belgian /  Armenian varieties of lace rather than what we commonly perceive as “macrame” )

Patterns were usually geometric, sometimes interrupted with stylized human figures. It is thought that bobbin, or pillow, lace developed when the threads started  to be attached with lead weights and the design anchored on a pad, or pillow.  Macramé work is a modern form of punto a groppo.  In Italy in the 19th century, towels decorated with knotted cords  became very  popular.

Sailors, in the golden age of sail from the 15th to the 19th century,  helped spread the art to other places by using the long months at sea to make macramé objects to sell or barter when stopping at various ports. They even used macramé (calling the craft “square knotting”) to make their own gear, like hammocks, belts, “Ditty” bags, (though most of these were made of canvas), and bell fringes.

Queen Mary also played a part in macrame’s diaspora, in that she popularised it at the English Court, ( as did Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, later on… ), and, as we all know, there is generally no more “dedicated follower of fashion” than a courtier.

Macrame disappeared for a while though occasionally seen in home ornaments and dress. It came back into vogue in Europe again in the 19th century, particularly during Queen Victoria’s reign in England, where it was a hobby for homemakers, and was often included in books of instruction for dutiful wives and daughters for their “edification” and as a tool to embellish their homes. After this brief reappearance, macrame disappeared again until the middle of the next century

In the 1960s macramé became a popular craft and creative art technique in America and in Europe. It was used to create lampshades, plant hangers, bracelets, necklaces, clothes, hammocks, window coverings, and wall hangings.

 

Macrame reached it’s zenith in the 20th century in the beginning to middle 70’s when “Vogue” Magazine brought out a book on the subject, therefore elevating it to the rank of  “modern-chic” though it also heralded the beginning of the decline of an art which was also considered a sort of  adjunct to the hippie lifestyle.

 

In the early to middle 70’s there were very few homes in the UK & US that didn’t have either a pot-hanger or a macrame owl somewhere, both of  which started to eclipse the cliche that was the “three flying ducks”  or the painting of a dusky Asian Princess on walls. 

 

Hundreds of patterns were sold in the form of thin magazine-sized booklets.  (many of which are still for sale on the net),  and it was a hobby for many of the post-war generation of teenagers … and their parents on occasion. The art died out, again,  early on in the eighties…

Macrame  was revived, yet  again, with the nostalgic look-back at the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s that blossomed in fashion and accessories at the turn of the 21st century.

 

Nowadays Macrame has evolved into, and is rapidly becoming, respected as a valid art form in it’s own right; not only for the sorts of things that were produced in the past, but for new departures in the genre. In a repeat of history, like the end of the 70’s when it was used in haute couture, it has again been used by many large designer houses like Dior, Ferragamo,  Chanel, Alexander, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana etc, indeed, a very famous singer who headlined the pyramid stage at Glastonbury Festival in the UK, wore an all-macrame dress during her set.

 

This did not go unnoticed, and macrame dresses can be seen on Rodeo Drive, the Boulevard St Michel, Es-Cana market in Ibiza, Cafe Gijon in Madrid’s Paseo Castellana /Gran Via, Shepherds Market In London’s prestigious Mayfair, the Trevi Fountain and other watering holes for the chic and fashionable. Macrame is also becoming more in evidence as a hobby with items made as presents for friends and being sold in online stores.

 

Macrame”
This is “standard” macrame using some of the old 1970’s style, but usually with improved design and variety of materials.


“Micro-Macrame”
This form is where fine cords, more usually thick threads,  (which were not universally recognized as appropriate for macrame in the past),  are used to create very precise and well-designed pieces of jewellery, fiber art, baskets and other items.  It must be said that the predominant use of micro-macrame is in jewellery, ie: bracelets, earrings, necklaces, rings, anklets  and the like.  A not too exhaustive look around this site will yield plenty of examples to show the versatility and beauty of this facet of macrame work.

 

 

Cavandoli-Macrame”
This is another  rapidly spreading type of “macrame” which owes it’s existence to weaving and basket-making, both of which use this technique of using half-hitches to create many different objects. an early exponent of cavandoli work, who has, alas, passed, is Luis Cienfuegos, who made huge wall-hanging tapestries of cavandoli work. The Kenyans, Ghanaians and Navajo Tribe in North America are extremely well-known for their cavandoli-style basketwares.

 

 

Macrame-Sculpture”
Yet another facet of macrame’s capacity for diversity and flexibility that is becoming more and more common. There have been exhibitions all over the world of macrame as “pure” Art. There was  Japanese guy who had an exhibition of enormous masks, a lady in England using her macrame in avant-garde sculpture, free-standing abstract sculptures of all sorts abound, imitations of iconic objects like the beefburger and ice-cream sundae, chess sets and candelabra are just some of the choices modern makers are now choosing to produce.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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