What is “Macrame”?

what is macrame origin history

Most people would know what it is but might not necessarily be familiar with the actual term “macrame”. If you googled it, a lot of pictures would come up of wall hangings and various plant hangers and you’d recognise them instantly. 

In fact, you might already own some type of macrame in your home – it could be a table netted cloth, a throw/or blanket or some type of handmade rug or if you ever made or received a friendship bracelet, this would have used macrame knotting techniques too.

Macrame is basically a bunch of knots tied together to create patterns on decorative items.

I LOVE macrame.

It literally saved me and my mentality during the COVID lockdown in 2020. It gave me something to do, took my mind off the lockdown while I got completely lost in my pieces whilst creating the wildest patterns with the cord. 

I ordered so much cord and collected so many wooden sticks from the park that I had nowhere to keep them…

I made so many wall hangings, that the walls in our flat could be covered all over and I’d still have enough left for a second layer. 

Which gave me an idea to open up my own Etsy shop – you can check out my pieces here

It allowed me to wake up that creative person inside, that was buried deep. I never thought of myself as a creative person, but macrame really woke me up to a realisation that ACTUALLY anyone can be creative. 

Everyone is creative in their own way, we just need to find that one thing that lights us. 

For me, it’s macrame. 

What Are Macrame Wall Hangings? 

Macrame wall hangings are typically and most well known in beige, made with cotton cord. The cotton cord can vary in size depending on the item – normally, the bigger the wall hanging (or any other type of macrame), the thicker the cord used.

Macrame wall hangings are typically created on a wooden branch – although any type of stick can be used but wooden sticks/branches are the most popular. They can also be created on a piece of cord, but the wooden bench gives it that boho/beach feel that most people love macrame for. 

Although cotton cord is the most popular choice, you can use ANY type of cord… I’m seeing a lot of people getting so creative and using various types of cord, wool, hemp, knitting yarn and many many others, in one piece to create a really interesting structure and design.

One of the main things I love about Macrame is the fringe element – particularly when creating wall hangings, it can completely change the whole look of the piece. I think it gives it a more hippie or boho look, makes it look rustic and free… 

You can make it look messy or neat and the fringe can really change the whole piece, it’s actually my favourite part of macrame and feels like cutting hair… (yes I’m a strange artist and loving it!)

Macrame Knots 

There are 3 basic macrame knots which isn’t a lot at all if you’re thinking about learning the craft but aren’t as patient as me ?

These 3 main knots can create soooo many different patterns and designs and you can make your piece original and unlike anything anyone has created. The 3 basic macrame knots are: 

1. A square knot

macrame square knot

2. A spiral knot

macrame spiral knot

3. A clove hitch knot

clove hitch knot macrame

The clove hitch knot looks the easiest, but it’s the one that took me the longest to learn and I’m not quite sure why! It’s basically wrapping one string around the other… In all fairness, they’re all pretty easy, once you learn them you’ll fly through all macrame projects.

Once you learn these 3 basic knots, it’s just a matter of repeating those knots in a more creative manner and then you can go ahead and start learning other knots which have the basics and similarities of the 3 basic knots. 

There are many video tutorials and great books for beginners on how to get started. I used the Macrame Pattern Book, which includes the basic and creative knots  totalling to over 70 knots, and even patterns for bags, belts, keyrings and coasters.

In fact, if you already know how to braid (if your mom for example taught you how to braid your hair), then you already know one of the knots of macrame and have an idea of how macrame works.

Where Did Macrame Come From? 

It’s difficult to pin down the origin of the craft exactly, but it’s believed that the craft began in Eastern Europe, Western Asia, Middle East and North Africa.

Macrame Origin 

Macrame goes back to thousands of years… Which if you think about it makes a lot of sense. People would use knots and cord to create and decorate many household items. 

They would have to use various types of braiding and tying of knots using cord. They probably wouldn’t have called it Macrame back then, but there is evidence of braiding and knotting dating back to BC civilisations. 

Anything that goes back to the beginnings of our roots is held close to my heart and makes me feel even more connected to the craft. 

When Was Macrame Invented / When Did Macrame Start? 

It is believed that this knotting craft was first seen thousands of years ago among the native people of Japan, who often believed that the craft could bring about fertility and served as a type of talisman or charm of good nature – not used for casting spells or negative spirits, but as positive signs – which again is something very close to me as a I strongly believe in positive energies. 

The word “Macrame” is thought to originate from the Arabic word which means ornamental fringe, knotting crossways or fringed shawl as they were used to create fringes on textiles and cloths. Although the craft was originally intended as a finishing touch to textiles, it became a much loved decorative craft. 

In fact, even sailors used the craft to pass the time at sea, creating belts and hammocks for example and selling them off at land, whilst spreading the craft across the world. 

Macrame was also very popular in Italy. The craft spread in Europe as a decorative element to women’s clothing. In Britain the craft was introduced by the Queen in the 19th century, where ladies in the court were taught the craft. 

In Colonial Europe, the craft spread even further and was known across the globe by then. 

Modern macrame as is used today (for wall hangings, and home decor purposes) has really gotten popular from 1868 and has been known and around since then. 

There was another popularity wave of macrame pieces in the 1970s and the hippie movement, with macrame incorporated into many elements from belts, to lamp shades to bags and bracelets. 

Why is Macrame Important? 

It’s an ancient craft, that just like traditions, should be protected and pursued. Macrame is a great time pass-by and is an addictive hobby for many. Once you learn how to do the main knots, it becomes very addictive and allows time to pass quickly too! 

I found that it helps with mentality and sparking that creative flair, if you don’t consider yourself a creative person, macrame could be for a nice little hobby/craft for you. 

It can take your mind off things if you struggle with controlling your (sometimes negative/damaging) thoughts and it keeps you busy, often for hours! 

Macrame isn’t an expensive hobby, all you need is some cord (normally 3-4mm), scissors, and a wooden stick (which is free from anywhere outside!). You might want to sand down the stick so get some sanding paper and if you’d like a coat/layer on your branch, you can use wood paint or a light varnish. 

You can also incorporate beads to thread through the cord. 

Overall, to start a macrame project, you need: 

  • Any cord (typically 3-4 mm in thickness) 
  • Wooden branch/stick
  • Scissors

* Optional: 

  • Sanding paper
  • Beads
  • Material dye
  • Varnish/paint for the wooden branch 

Why is Macrame So Expensive? 

Macrame is expensive because of the time it takes to complete each project. The bigger the macrame piece, the higher the price, because it took a significant amount of time to create. 

A small macrame wall hanging might only cost $10-30, whereas a giant wall piece that covers half of your wall might be between $100 – $300. That’s because of the time spent on a bigger project – more hours = more dollar. 

Can Macrame Be Done With Wool? 

Yes, absolutely macrame can be done with wool, yarn or any type of cord/string. It will of course vary and depend on the size of your project and what it is going to be. For wall hangings, you can even mix a few different materials and cords to create an interesting structure and add some colour to your macrame piece. 

Can Macrame Get Wet? 

It depends what your macrame is made out of. If it’s made with a natural fibre like cotton cord it’ll take a long time for macrame to dry and as because it absorbs water well, it can slightly change the structure/look of its if the cord expands a little.

Most macrame pieces are made with cotton cord, but if you’re not sure, check with the seller.

If the cotton cord repeatedly gets wet and it doesn’t dry out properly, then it can collect dirt, trap the moisture, and eventually develop mildew.

This can happen particularly if you hang it outside and it keeps raining, without giving your macrame and the cord, a chance to get dry. As a result, it can get mouldy and change the look and colour of your macrame over time. 

If you’re thinking about hanging a macrame piece in a bathroom, you can always take the macrame piece outside into the sunshine or in a warm dry place to dry out, to prevent any mildew from developing.

That’s with natural fibres – so what about synthetic fibres and synthetic cord?

Fibres such as Nylon tend to be more durable due to their strength, and can withstand more dampness and water, drying quicker. If you want your macrame to hang outside and last a bit longer, nylon cord is your best option.

Again, if you’re buying one and aren’t sure, check with the seller they’ll know what cord they used to make the project! 

Can Macrame Be Washed? 

Macrame should not be washed in a washing machine, but it can be hand washed. The cycle of a washing machine can damage the macrame piece, changing its look, feel and structure. The knots can fall apart and the colour can loose its intensity.

The Macrame cord itself however can be washed in a washing machine, although I’d recommend washing it by hand if you have to, but not in a washing machine. The cotton cord can be delicate and fall apart, but you should NOT put a whole macrame piece into the washing machine. 

Small on-spot wash

If you accidentally spill something or get your macrame dirty, you can carefully hand wash it with cold water and some bicarbonate soda or Castile soap – they’re the most effective detergents that have worked for me and I regularly use in my washing, they’re fab!

If it’s only a small stain/spot of dirt, mix the Castile soap/soda with some cold water in a bowl, use a sponge/cloth, and gently rub on the stain to remove it. 

Whole piece wash

If it’s a bigger stain or you want to wash the whole piece (although I’ve never once thought about washing a whole macrame piece so it should be REALLYYYY dirty if you’re thinking about washing the whole thing!) – you can fill a bowl with cold water and again, put some soda/castile soap in it, and wash it in that water. Leave it in the water for 3-5 minutes and then gently wash it with a cloth. 

You can use whatever laundry detergent you want for the macrame hand wash, although make sure it doesn’t contain any bleach as that will damage/change the colour of the cord, especially if it was dyed. 

Big stain

If it’s a persistent dirt/stain, you can soak the whole macrame piece in soda/soap filled cold water for 10-15 minutes, gently rub the stain and then clean in some fresh cold water, rinsing thoroughly afterwards. Be carefully when rinsing, as again, persistent and strong rinsing and twisting can damage the piece (depending on the knots and cord used) so a gentle squeeze of excess water will do!

That’s it! Leave out to dry wherever you can ?

Can Macrame Be Dyed? 

Yes, macrame can be dyed. The best thing to use is a fabric dye, and soaking the piece in the fabric dye. The time of soaking will vary depending on your desired intensity and shade of the colour. You can also try soaking the cord before you use the cord. 

If you’re dyeing a ready-made piece be gentle with it and make sure you have enough space to carry out the dying (which can take between 20-40 minutes) and then a good drying space, where the dye can freely drip. 

Can Macrame Cord Be Dyed?

Yes, macrame cord can be dyed. You can dip dye it or dye certain parts of the cord, or you can dye all of the cord, depending on the effect or look you’re going for. 

Are Macrame Lamp Shades Safe? 

Macrame lamp shades are safe as long as they are completed correctly and fit on your lamp stand safely, you can use the macrame lamp shade. You might want to be careful if you have pets or small children due to the string causing a potential choke hazard.

If you are thinking about making a macrame lamp shade, choose your materials VERY carefully. The materials need to withstand the heat and you want to choose materials that do not lose colour due to intensity of the light, or cause burns. 

You should also be careful when choosing the light bulb, because depending on the wattage, material and light, the whole combination can become a fire hazard.

What Are Macrame Plant Hangers Made Of? 

Macrame plant hangers are typically made out of cotton cord, that varies between 3 – 5 mm in thickness. I tend to use the 3mm although 4mm works great as well. I think the 5mm is great for large projects and they can look bulky on long plant hangers, unless that’s the look you are going for. 

Just writing about macrame now is making me want to get all my strings out! Somebody try and stoop meee…

*shuts laptop and runs with eagerness for string box*

Where To Get Macrame Cord and Which One To Start With? 

I would start with a 3mm cotton cord in beige (or any colour you fancy!). There are many great sellers out there, but I tend to use Etsy. I’ve put together a list of my favourite cords right here, so if you’re new to macrame and thinking about starting, take a look at the options best suited for beginners. 

  • Aggie’s tips: 
    If you want to create the fringe element at the bottom of your macrame, you need to make sure the cord is twisted. It will normally say on the product description or you can usually tell from the photo/by holding it. The reason is that you can then easily untwist the cord at the bottom once you are finished, to then brush it out and create the fringe. Trust me, I bought the wrong type of cord that was plied and filled with some cotton inside it (like a shoe lace) and no fringe was happening on that project! 

    Also, if it says single twisted, that means it was twisted lightly, so the untwisting will be easier but there is a risk of the cord untwisting whilst tying your knots in the process. If you are learning and are a beginner, you’re likely to tie and untie your knots while you get the knots right, so I wouldn’t recommend single twisted cord to start with. 

In Our Humble Conclusion 

There you have it, a magical ancient craft that can save minds and people who thought they weren’t creative. Give it a try, it really isn’t an expensive hobby to have – well, certainly not any more than online shopping! I’m speaking from experience…

And at the end of each completed project, you have something to look at and admire your hard work that looks beautiful on your wall. They can also be used as gifts for people, how fun! Everyone loves a homemade gift. 

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