06 Aug Macrame, a Knotting Technique with a Long History and Great Appeal
In 2019 we did a lot of research and development in hand knitting, knotting, smocking, and bead-making techniques. We worked with a group of women artisans in the villages of Western Uttar Pradesh in India. Before making the trip to these villages and meeting these women, I was under the impression that these techniques are almost similar to each other and created similar looks. However, once we worked with these masters, we learned about the nuances of different techniques and various design possibilities associated with them. Together with the artisans, we co-created beautiful and chic panels.
During a trade show (Premiere Vision) in New York this past week, we showed these gorgeous handmade Macrame, crochet, and smocking panels from our library to many designers. The response we received to these beautiful cocreations so humbles us. The response included appreciation of the stories behind these skills and the commercial success of these techniques.
I want to share some fun information on the knitting techniques of Macrame in today’s article.
Let me start with the story of the Macrame artisans in our Network
Our Network of women macrame artisans started practicing the macrame technique almost 15 years ago when a young village design entrepreneur with a few macrame samples approached two women who were already deft in other handicrafts. The designer and artisans started by cautiously unraveling and reknotting the macrame panels to understand the technique. In a few months, these two women became masters. They practiced themselves and taught so many other women around them until now 15 years later, leading many women macrame artisans in different villages.
HISTORY OF MACRAME
There are two stories regarding the roots of the word Macrame. Some people believe that it came from the Arabic word ‘Macramia.’ And others think it came from the Turkish word ‘makrama,’ which is also how the artisans in our Network pronounce it. In both cases, the meaning and the story are the same. The meaning is ‘decorative fringes .’ The story is that the weavers knotted excess thread along the edges of hand-loomed fabrics such as towels, shawls, and veils into decorative trims.
As per the earliest recorded history, macramé-style knots appeared in the carvings of the Babylonians and Assyrians. We can only imagine how the idea of creating patterns using knots was conceived at the start of civilization. Many years later, it resurfaced around the world. It is believed that sailors on the voyage with a lot of extra time on their hands would knot ropes or cords into beautiful patterns that they would sell off or barter off at the shore. Thus the sailors played a substantial role in making this historical craft global -taking it from land to land. The craft kept evolving with time and kept coming back every few years as a different innovative style statement such as objects for the home, clothing, jewelry, or wall art. It is exciting that this technique is making waves again.
A variety of cords (cotton, jute, hemp, silk, polyester, novelty, etc.) that have good strength and do not break on knotting or post knotting are best for Macrame. The cords should be pliable to give a nice clean look on knotting. The cords can be used in different widths or sometimes plied together, depending on the product to be developed. A macrame jewelry cord will be way thinner than the macrame wall art cords.
Our Macrame Innovations
At Marasim, we have developed Macrame by recycling post-consumer polyester cords made initially for line drying. We tried mixing yarns in a variety of colors in the same panel. We tried playing with threads created by plying many yarns together. We have attempted to develop Macrame in various widths and patterns using yarn dyeing and macrame panel dyeing techniques. In addition to that, we are also exploring the idea of embellishing our macrame panels with materials like beads or shapes like circles.
Macrame as Art
Many artists are using the Macrame technique as the medium of their artistic expression. It has also served as an excellent tool for mindfulness and meditation for many artists. I am sharing the work of some fantastic Macrame artists below.
In the end, I would like to say that crafts are a great way to stay connected to ourselves and our roots. We need to work collectively and push the envelope to help them flourish.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nidhi Garg Allen is an alumnus of Parsons School of Design and Adjunct Professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She is a technologist turned artisan entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of Marasim. Marasim based in NYC is committed to preserving artisanal textiles that make use of regional techniques without uprooting craftspeople from their native communities.