Artifacts: Tune In, Turn On, Tie Knots. This is Macrame.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking…plant hangers and googly eyed owls…haha. Make fun all you want, but you’ll be overlooking one of the most sustainable, inexpensive, and meditative craft techniques out there.

I’ve tried crochet and knitting, but nothing quite does it for me like macramé. The obsession began at age 9 with embroidery floss friendship bracelets. During my teenage years in the 90’s, hippie hemp jewelry was all the rage, and I found myself once again knotting away at lengths of string safety pinned to my pants. The practice became a victim of trend, and fell out of favor as the modern craft movement emerged.

A few years ago, I was surprised to discover The New Macramé: Contemporary Knotted Jewelry and Accessories by Katie DuMont at the bookstore among a sea of punk themed knitting manuals. If you enjoy throwing preconceived notions out the window, this book provides adequate history and instructions to inspire an alternate perspective.

There are 30 amazing projects which range from wire earrings, to a dog collar and leash, bags, belts, pouches, and intricate necklaces. I have made and adapted many of them, but my favorite is the “Magical Mystery Market Bag” pictured here.

Imagine cutting, then arranging thirty two 12ft lengths of hemp cord in front of you. As you begin to follow the pattern of knots, it becomes familiar and rhythmic. Much like a knitting groove, only more exotic. Your arms gracefully fling from side to side as they pull the knots through, while your fingers flutter about the strings. It’s like ballet dancing and playing the cello all at once from the waist up. I prefer to sit Indian style, and on the ground if possible. In the right setting this craft can be an introspective alternative to fidgety meditation. (Hey, yoga is not an option for people who drink as much coffee as me.)

It’s not hard to see why macramé is one of the most environmentally friendly crafts out there too. Your tools are your hands, and most projects can be made using hemp or jute cord, both renewable resources. Some stiffer yarns like cotton or linen will work too.

I really like DMC’s natural linen embroidery thread for small jewelry projects. All hemp is not created equal. I prefer a brand called Ecolution. Not only are they a green company, but their twines are richly colored, and have a soft texture that is pleasant to work with. My local yarn store carries them, but you can purchase just about all the varieties at as well. Finding beads with larger holes can be tricky, but not impossible, and most times you only need a few.

Don’t underestimate the beauty of knots and string colors as a focal point for any given project. Some items, like bags, will require you to create specific sized work boards, which can be easily made from leftover cardboard boxes. Throw in a few safety pins, T-pins, maybe a binder clip, and you’re set. You’ll find most projects to be satisfyingly quick to complete, as well as highly portable. Finished objects are practically indestructible.

I wish I could back up all these claims with lots of fab online tutorials, but they are scarce…save for this one awesome iPod cozy project on CRAFT’s site. Whether you are a newbie, or just need a refresher course, acquiring a book is your best bet. Here are some good alternatives or additions to the one I mentioned above:

Go forth, make plant hangers. Put plants in them. Now that’s crafting a green world.

Written by Autumn Wiggins

This 2008 interview pretty much sums it up:

1. How would you describe yourself?
An oddly situated performer of thought experiments

2. Do you have any anecdotes about your work (how you got started, frustrating moments, or funny stories)?
At this year's Maker Faire in San Mateo, I gave a presentation on how the trend of green crafting can ultimately address the problem of consumption and waste. Dale Dougherty,the publisher of Make and Craft, later had a gift delivered to me, a staple bound book of poetry: Music Like Dirt by Frank Bidart. This is the last thing one would expect to take home from an event so focused on renegade technology. To my surprise, it was an existential reflection on the human need to make things that I now find myself going back to whenever I need some inspiration to look beyond the materials and processes of crafting.

3. What kinds of things do you do for fun?
In my spare time I enjoy amateur astronomy, outdoor adventures, collecting domain names, and hanging out at coffee shops.

4. What interesting projects are you working on right now?
I'm working to organize community involvement in upcycling, and have a few top-secret website projects up my sleeves!

5. Where do you live? Kids, pets, spouse, occupation?
O'Fallon, IL, a suburb (and I mean a totally typical suburb) of St. Louis, MO. Rather than moving to the more culture friendly urban environment, I am staying put and annoying the heck out of Wal-Mart by throwing a massive indie craft show(Strange Folk) in their backyard. I have a husband, Doug, and two sons: a 7 year old mad scientist named Jack, and 6 year old Max, who we think is an aspiring tattoo artist since he's so fond of drawing all over himself with markers. To pay the bills, I do freelance writing, mural painting, and website design, sell my handmade crafts, teach art classes for kids, and work part -time at a local coffee shop.

6. What new idea (in or outside of your field) has excited you most recently?
The concept known as "Cradle-to-Cradle" is a blueprint for sustainability that states everything we manufacture should be either biodegrable, infinitely recyclable, or intended to be upcycled. This is the basis for many of my ideas of how the crafting community can be more widely involved in solving the environmental crisis.

7. What is your favorite food/color/tool?
granola/green/sewing machine!


Leave a Reply
  1. It’s great to find other macrame entusiasts. Isn’t it funny how pre-conceived notions can limit possibilities for people?
    One of the things I love so much about macrame is how adaptable it is. I love experimenting with differnt colors and materials.
    I saw the book you mentioned in the bookstore the other day. I think I might have to pick it up now. 🙂

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