Tying the Knots: Macramé is Back
Writer Rosie Wolf Williams
We're all familiar with the macramé rage of the '70s — plant hangers, owl-shaped wall hangings and even door drapes. But this ancient art form is experiencing a comeback, thanks in part to the millions who were sequestered in their homes during the pandemic. Along with knitting and crocheting, fiber art in general has emerged as a front runner for quiet at-home recreation. It might also help with dexterity and cognition.
Creative director Sasha Louie began creating macramé in the summer of 2020, due to the pandemic. But knot-tying had already rooted itself deep in her memory.
Macramé was often thought of during the '70s as being linked to the "hippie generation" and the "boho" lifestyle.
"I was taught how to tie knots as a child in one of the summer camps, although I didn't continue with macramé. My partner and I sail, and as I was researching how to tie a particular knot, I discovered the world of macramé," Louie says. "I didn't even remember my childhood experience until my mother pointed it out to me. Perhaps that's why macramé came naturally to me and why I instantly fell in love with it."
Ukraine-born Louie, 51, now lives in San Anselmo, California, and sells some of her work on her Etsy shop, Fibers of Mine. Her first project, a wall hanging, came from watching a YouTube tutorial. But after learning the basic knots, Louie expanded the pattern into her own design. "After that, I threw myself into macramé and weaving head-on," she says.
It's Knot a New Craft
The word macramé may have come about in the 13 century, its name perhaps derived from the Arabic word "migramah" meaning fringe. But knot-tying and the decorative results might be even older. Sailors needed knot-tying skills to sail the seas, and macramé could well have sprung from boredom during long journeys and the sailor's need to keep busy.
Macramé was often thought of during the '70s as being linked to the "hippie generation" and the "boho" lifestyle. Today macramé is experiencing a resurgence as fine art, with new ideas and designs marrying with the cozy décor of the age.
"Modern fiber artists keep finding ways to use this ancient knot-tying technique in more and more ways," says Louie. "The boom of social media, I believe, is another contributing factor to the blossoming of macramé and fiber arts. The desire to produce unique and better content is driving artists to get even more creative than before."
Macramé and the Brain
Macramé can also boost brain health and offer a way for both caregivers and older adults to relieve stress. The Alzheimer's Foundation of America states that stimulating the brain is important for an individual living with Alzheimer's disease, as well as for their caregiver. Engaging in activities like crafting or repetitive tasks can "help improve mood, reduce stress, and avoid caregiver burnout," according to the organization's website.
Using macramé or other creative arts as an activity may not only offer tactile stimulation which can reduce anxiety, but the knot-tying methods of macramé could challenge the brain, improve finger dexterity, and strengthen concentration and cognitive skills. Creating macramé art in a social setting can lower depression, boost wellbeing, and promote social connection among older adults.
Macraweave, a spin-off of macramé, combines macramé with weaving. By adding a variety of fibers and fabrics to a piece, tactile stimulation is increased while encouraging creativity.
"With just a few simple knots you can create so many beautiful things."
"Macraweave pieces are beautiful," says Louie. "You can also use a lot of your scraps and beautiful handspun yarns to create great textures."
An Art Form for All Ages
The art of macramé works for fiber artists of every level. Beginners can create something beautiful and functional by learning to tie basic knots, and those with some experience can add complex knots and include other items such as scrap fabric or beads into the pattern.
"The possibilities for creativity with macramé are endless. With just a few simple knots you can create so many beautiful things," says Louie. "Combine that with weaving and it takes on a completely different aspect. It's also a very meditative experience for me."
Macramé's recent popularity has also prompted craft and fiber arts stores to carry materials for every level of artist, from inexpensive rope to quality fibers and cord of all sizes. Macramé groups have sprung up on Facebook and other social media sites, and books and other resources are readily available. Louis offers lessons on her YouTube channel.
"Practice makes perfect, so keep at it and work on your technique. Don't be afraid of taking on something larger than you think you can handle, because you will learn during the process, and it will become easier as you go," Louie says. "Remember that even though you can see all the imperfections in your work, others will not. Be proud of your work and its imperfections — you are a human being."