Macrame’s Colorful Past

by Macrame

Macrame’s history is as colorfully rich as the cords and beads it uses. Elevated to an art form, macrame essentially creates numerous possibilities in a project. The finished pieces may be seen as works of art because of the complexity of techniques as well as the wellspring creativity that goes into making them.

TRIVIA: Just what is the origin of Macrame? Macrame is an Arabic word that means fringe and is derived from the early practice of knotting a fringe to a solid fabric in a continuation of knotted patterns.

Eventually, entire pieces of knotted fabrics were created with a texture that was perfect for altar cloths, church vestments, and doilies.

The early history of Macrame is a bit vague.  There is some documentation, which indicates that Macrame was done in France and Italy in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.  France has produced a large amount of Macrame, and historical data shows that it was considered to be an established art.

Macrame was then quite popular in the nineteenth century among British and North American sailors, who spent their long hours aboard ships tying square knots and hitch knots.  Sailors made fringes for wheel and bell covers, as well as netting and screens.  Many of these knotted articles were then used for barter in India and China.

TRIVIA: If you want to see some fine examples of sailor’s Macrame, visit the Seamen’s Church Institute in the city of New York. There you will a collection of the finest pieces these men of the sea have created with their masculine hands.

Macrame is thought to have been introduced to Great Britain in the late 1600’s by Queen Mary, who herself learned the craft in Holland.  During the 1780’s Queen Charlotte, wife to George III, was busy knotting Macrame fringes for court adornments.

Macrame continued to make itself known around the world and many cultures already had some form of knot tying in place that they used for their native art.

Korean maedeup master Kim Hee-jin, 74

TRIVIA: The art of knot tying in Korea is called maedeup. In China, they have traditional decorative knots, which is called in Pinyin as Zhōngguó jié. In Japan, there are many types of crafts, such as Kumihimo and Hanamusubi, which tends to focus on individual knots.





Through the early twentieth century, many functional objects were the focus of Macrame, such as purses, belts, leashes, lanyards, light and shade pulls, and bell pulls.  At the same time, in Portugal, Ecuador, and Mexico, local artists continued to produce shawls and purses as a native craft.

In North America, through the 1960’s and 1970’s, Macrame became a popular craft among the hippie generation and the children of the ‘70s.  In the 1980’s interest in Macrame dwindled, and soon, faded from memory.  Not so today, as Macrame is making a huge comeback among people of all ages.

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