Macramé is an art that has a nautical history. Sailors whiled away hours at sea turning excess rope into “fancywork,” or elaborate macramé accessories, from lanyards to shoes. When they sold their handiwork in various ports, they spread the craft throughout Europe. The Moors taught it to the Spanish in the 1300s. By the 19th century, macramé had become a favorite pastime of Victorian ladies. It fell out of favor by the 1920s, had a brief resurgence in the 1960s and 1970s, and is just now regaining popularity.
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Choose cording that feels good in your hand and appeals to you visually. Most people think of hemp when they think macramé, and while this is still a good choice for jewelry making, use your imagination when choosing materials. You can create macramé out of almost any long strand that is flexible enough to knot, from embroidery floss to wire. Avoid using yarn or other extremely soft materials that won’t make distinct knots.
Before you begin knotting, you will need to prepare your materials and work surface. When you cut the cords you will be working, measure them approximately eight times the desired finished length. When you cut some types of cording, you will need to sear the ends to prevent them from unraveling. You will either need to work against a solid cylinder off which the finished project can be slid, such as a pencil or a broom handle, depending on the scale at which you are working—or you will need to pin a holding cord taught against a portable lightweight surface. You can buy a board specifically to hold your macramé, or you can make one out of foamcore, foam rubber, cork board or even an old ceiling tile.
To avoid frustration, practice your knots using a spare piece of the cording material you have planned for the finished project. There are a few basic knots you will use over and over again. You’ll use a lark’s head wrapped around the holding cord to start each strand of your work. Variations on this knot can be used to intertwine two colors in a running pattern. The half knot and the square knot create a tight pattern, and the square can be tied around multiple anchor chords. The half-hitch and the double half-hitch allow you to add spirals and curves to your work. Master these five knots, and you can complete most macramé projects, but to add variation, also learn the overhand knot (used for openwork, such as bags and hammocks) the coil knot (to add texture) and the Josephine knot (which is very pretty).
Macramé often incorporates beads (think the huge eyes on those old macramé wall hangings). Unlike some other crafts where beads must all be added at the beginning, beads in macramé are simply strung onto the cord as they are needed and then secured with another knot. The cord can be waxed if necessary to help the bead move along it, and if you are still having trouble, use an appropriately-sized needle to pull the cord through the bead. Beads and other embellishments can also be sewn on or suspended using jewelry findings after the knotting of the project is completed.