You’ve probably seen it on Instagram or that hip boutique: knotted patterns that cascade down in a swath of nubby textures. We’re talking about macramé of course! But what is this funky craft and where did it come from?
The Origins of Macramé
Macramé is the art of tying knots to create beautifully patterned textiles. Many believe that the word macramé comes from the Arabic word ‘migramah’, which translates to ‘fringe.’ Back in the 13th century, Arabic weavers used macramé to create decorative fringes on shawls and veils. However, others claim that knot-tying extends back even further, all the way to third-century China. Lanterns, hangings, and ceremonial garments from this era sport elaborate knots, and the famous pan chang knot is considered by some to be an ancient form of macramé.
From Africa to Europe
While the origins of macramé are unclear, it is widely believed that the Moors were responsible for spreading the art. In their travels from North Africa to Europe, the Moors introduced macramé to Spain, who in turn introduced it to France in the 15th century and then Italy in the 16th century. From there, macramé proliferated throughout Europe. Later in the 17th century, Queen Mary II of England took a particular liking to the craft. She even taught it to her ladies-in-waiting.
If Not By Land, Then By Sea
However, the Moors weren’t only propagators of macramé. European sailors, who regularly tied knots in their day-to-day tasks, used it as a way to pass the time during the long months at sea. Traveling all over the world, 19th-century American and British sailors bartered and sold macramé pieces they had fashioned during voyages. Crafting knotted wares like hammocks and belts, they referred to macramé as “square knotting.”
A Homemaker’s Hobby
It was in Victorian England that macramé reached its peak. A hugely popular hobby for women, many young ladies were taught macramé as part of their education for becoming a woman. Magazines and home journals offered instructions on how to craft everything from macramé table linens to macramé curtains. Nearly every fashionable house had some form of macramé adorning its interior.
A 70s Craze
Macramé died down in the 20th century until a sudden resurgence in the 70s made it the go-to fabric for home décor and fashion. Macramé belts, vests, bikinis, plant hangers, and furnishings exploded onto the scene. The New York Times even reported on a macramé Christmas tree in 1976. Unfortunately, the explosion was short-lived: macramé was on its way out by the 1980s.
Made popular through social media, macramé is now back! Used to make wall hangings and plant hangers, it’s currently a must-have for any contemporary or boho space. It’s not only a break from posters, but it adds delicious texture. However, if you’re thinking of throwing together a macramé tree…well, you might be on your own there.