The Origin of Macrame: The Journey To The New World

by Macrame

Monk making macrame vestments using a wooden contraption

Monk making macrame vestments using a wooden contraption

Although most texts say macrame began with Arab weavers in the 13th century, the art of knotting probably dates far back in China during the Warring States period (481 to 221 BCE) or farther back during the Northern Dynasties period (581 to 317 BCE). Like the Arabs, the Chinese used decorative knots on ceremonial costumes, silk paintings, lanterns and decorative wall hangings.

However, the Arabs were the reason for the propagation of macrame in Europe. They traveled throughout most of the continent from the deserts in the Middle East to towns near Asia and Africa. Eventually, sailors picked up the techniques and integrated it with their own knot tying methods.

The sailors already use the reef knot, or the square knot, for rope tying. Soon, the sailors combined the square knot with other types of knots to make beautiful patterns in their works. They made useful items, like bell pulls, lanyards, rope ladders and steering wheel covers, as well as adornments like hats and belts. They sold their works at each port they stopped, bringing the art of macrame to people in different countries.

At the same time, another group of travelers also exposed many countries to macrame. These were the missionaries, whose vestments were decorated with macrame. Nuns and monks made table mats, covers and religious vestments using macrame.

Up to the 15th century, Spain had been under the rule of the Moors. The Spaniards learn the art of macrame from the Moors. This fusion of two cultures helped spread Macrame in France in the 15th to 16th centuries, and in Italy in the 17th to 18th centuries. At the same time, macrame became popular in England in the 16th century.

By the 20th century, macrame gradually dwindled to obscurity. However, this new millennium, the art of knot tying is returning, but in newer and more revolutionary forms, such as fashionable dresses, accessories, jewelry, hats, bags and belts.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Annika deGroot May 12, 2010 at 8:33 am

I do agree that macrame has been around at least 400 years BC, and may in fact be 30,000 years old as a technique.; see the NPR article on it here: http://www.wbur.org/npr/112726804 . But I’m not sure I would assert that macrame’s popularity dwindled completely in the 20th century; in the 1960’s and 70’s it was all the rage in the crafting scene of the US. It had lost popularity as a craft in the United States by the Art Deco period, but it was still going strong in South America and Italy.
The current trend of Micro-Macrame is in one sense a throw back to the Victorian fascination with knotted lace forms, but at the same time an evolution up from the clunky hippy hempy macrame of the 60’s.

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Macrame May 12, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Hi Annika, thank you so much for your comments, I wasn’t aware of how the trend of micro-macrame got started, but that is an interesting angle-it seems so “current” to me, so I would not have realized there was a Victorian influence there.

I LOVE your book and find it very inspiring! For readers that may be new to the art, Annika is THE authority on micro-macrame jewelry and has a stunning book called “Micro-Macrame: 30 Beaded Designs for Jewelry Using Crystals and Cords.” For anyone interested in the jewelry side of macrame, you definitely want to own a copy of her book! Gorgeous, gorgeous work!

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