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Macrame - Knot Your Way To Beautiful Jewelry

Did you know that you can knot your way to lovely jewelry? Macrame Jewelry is done by using several decorative knots often combined with beads. It is very addictive and not difficult at all. I must admit that I spent some time lurking around the technique, a bit unsure about what it was and how it actually was done, but when I decided to give it a try, I was hooked.

There are several other names used when talking about macrame, which can be a bit confusing in the beginning, but if you keep in mind that macramé is decorative knotting, it gets a bit easier and not so important what you actually call it. But terms like Chinese macrame, western macrame, micro macrame and cavandole macramé pop up frequently, and I will explain the differences and similarities in a moment, but let’s first take a look at the history behind this very special jewelry making technique.

A brief history:
Macramé is believed to have originated around the 13th century in the Middle East. Arabic weavers started to use knot work with the fringes at the edge of loomed fabrics. The word macramé is Spanish and derived from the Arabic migramah which is believed to mean striped towel, ornamental fringe or embroidered veil.

Macrame was brought to Spain after the Moorish conquest, hence the Spanish name, and spread from Spain to the rest of Europe. In the late 17th century it was introduced to Queen Mary II of England.

As England and other exploring countries were expanding their empires throughout the world, macramé spread with the ships, as sailors used knot work to pass time on the voyages, but also for functional purposes like tying rope to poles or ring bolts. It therefore said to have found its way into the new world and to China by sailors.

The decorative knot work was originally not used for jewelry, but for functional marine purposes and later for ornamental things, like a knifes handle, knotted around bottles, wall hangings, hammocks and more, and became very popular during the Victorian era where it was used to adorn Victorian homes.

It did again have a boost during the 1970s hippie and grunge crowds, and has since then remained popular, today more than ever. There seem to be two main groups of decorative knotting, the Chinese and the Western, and some confusion about what came first. Let’s start with the Chinese knot work.

Chinese macrame:
Chinese knot work is done with usually only one string. You manipulate it into intricate and beautiful knots, by using a board and lots of pins to hold the folds and loops in place until you pull the knot together.

It is a very ornamental knotting technique and has immense aesthetic value. The knots can be very complicated and have names according to their distinctive shapes, uses and origins. You will therefore have knots called things like Good Luck Knot, Virtue Knot, Clover Leaf Knot and Pan Chang Knot. The Chinese knots are pulled very tight, which heightens the quality of the work.

Chinese knotting was handed down from generation to generation and was originally used purely for decorations. Sadly nothing was written down, so the art of knotting disappeared. Fabrics and cords are not very durable materials, so early ancient examples of Chinese knots are long turned to dust. Some samples have been found though and tell something about this ancient art and decorative knot work reached its height during the Ching dynasty (1644 to 1911 AD)

Despite the claim that macramé did not exist in China before it was brought there by sailors, knotted ropes and belts are known to have existed in China as long ago as 1122 BC. So who actually was the first to use this decorative knot work is a bit blurred, like so many other things regarding our history.

Anyway, knotting regained its popularity in China and at the beginning of the 20th century, it was again widespread and beautiful knot work could be found everywhere. But again the art was lost within a few generations.

In the 1970s several young Chinese artists set forth to try to preserving the ancient knotting art, and succeeded in finding a few old people who still were the keepers of the tradition. The artists were taught by the elders and the artists have since brought it forth to others, written books and published recorded instructions about Chinese knot work, making this beautiful jewelry technique available to you and me.

Western Macrame:
This is the western form of decorative knot work, and the same that originated in the Middle East and was brought to Spain, as mentioned above. The western world’s technique of using decorative knot work involves many strings, not only one like in Chinese knot work. And unlike the Chinese that mainly use silk cord, we use all kinds of stringing materials, depending on what the work will be used for.
Western knot work was, and still is, mainly used for more practical and handy purposes, like hammocks, plant pot holders, wall hangings and bags, only to mention a few.

Micro macrame:
Another term of decorative knot work you will bump into frequently is micro macramé. This is actually exactly the same as western macramé or Chinese macramé, only in miniature format. The stringing material is thin enough to pass through small beads, like seed beads, and the technique is mainly used for jewelry making.

Many see micro macramé as the advanced form of decorative knotting, as everything is very petit and delicate. But like with all forms of decorative knotting, it all depends on which knots you use.

No need for lots of tools:
You do not need a lot of tools to make macrame, as it is made totally without a needle or hooks, although, a needle with a collapsing hole or a bead loom needle may be very useful if you string on small beads. But for the knotting, your only tools are your fingers.

All you need are some stringing material, a cork mat or a piece of cardboard, some pins and if you like, some beads. The cork mat and the pins are used to hold your work in place while you are knotting. They help you getting the knots even and the pattern uniform. Depending on the knots you use, it can be very easy to do or very complicated and challenging.

About the knots:
Many of the knots used by the sailors were purely functional, like Half Hitch, Clove Hitch and Reef knot. Over time the names have changed as they have become more and more decoratively used. The Cow Hitch is now called Lark’s Head Knot, and the Carrick Bend is called the Josephine knot. Some knots have altered slightly turning a Reef Knot with a twist around into macrame’s decorative Granny knot.

The same knots have gotten entirely new names in Chinese knotting as well, and Josephines knot – originally Carrick Bend, is for example called Double Coin Knot. This may be a bit confusing until you know the knots well, but once you know how to do them, the name does not mean that much any longer, as you will recognize how they are done.

Then again, both Chinese and western macrame have their own knots, that have developed independent from each other, which gives you lots of designs to choose from.

Macramè knots
Square knot Half knot Lark's head knot
Overhand knot Alternating half hitch Horizontal double half hitch
Vertical Larks head knot Vertical double half hitch Berry knot
Josephine knot Alternating square knot

Chinese knots
Button knot Double button knot Double button knot with 2 cords
Flat button knot Double coin knot Double connection knot
Cross knot Clover leaf knot Good Luck knot
Prosperity knot Plafond knot Snake knot
Flat knot
Virtue knot Pan Chang knot Round Brocade knot

For both Chinese and Western macrame you can use many types of cords. Anything you can tie can in general be used, like cotton, hemp, silk, yarn, synthetic cord and many more. The most important characteristic of the cord you use is its degree of firmness. It should not be too rigid nor to pliable and using elastic cord is not recommended. Despite that you can pick whatever you like.

You can use round or flat cord and even thin metal wire, cord with one color or several colors, although the patterns may be a bit confusing though if you use too many colors for the same knots.
The cord should be able to hold the knot, not slide or open after you have tied it. Chinese knots often have large loops and need some glue to keep them in their position.

Hemp is very popular with macrame. It is very strong and inexpensive, and you can get it in many colors. What you choose depends on what you want to make. If you want petit and delicate jewelry, embroidery thread may be a good option as you can split it into as many strings you like your thread to consist of, and it comes in a huge variety of colors.

All sorts of beads can be made when you make knotted jewelry, but they must fit the cord. On my first encounter with macramé I didn’t think of this, and had knotted my way far down the bracelet before I wanted to add a bead, only to find that the cord was too thick for the bead.

In western macramé you use several strings, and often your bead must fit three or four strings at a time. Therefore I recommend you to plan your knotted jewelry so that you are sure you have the right size of both beads and cord.

What kinds of beads you choose depend on what you want to make. If you use a soft cord and few strings, a big glass bead or gemstone may be too heavy.

How much cord do you need?
This depends a bit on what you want to make and how many- and what kind of knots you plan to use. A good rule is to cut at least 4 times the length of the finished jewelry. If you plan to make a bracelet which is 16 cm long, each cord should be at least 64 cm long (16x4). To be absolutely sure that you have enough cord, add a little extra.

Working with long cords can be a bit challenging as they often tangle. Waxing the cords helps a bit. You can also use bobbins, one for each cord. Pinning each cord onto the cork mat to get it out of way is very helpful. Combine the three, and you should do fine.

How many strings of cord you use, depends again on what you want to make. Macramé tends to look very thin if you use few strings, and if you use very thin cord, it may look better if you use lots of strings. The knots you plan to use should also be taken into consideration. Most knots are made with two or four strings, so the total amount should be dividable with 2.

Looking for macrame tutorials? Take a look at these:
Macrame Knots - Part 1 - The Basics

Make A Light And Lacy Macrame Bracelet

Make A Pair Of Light And Lacy Macrame Earrings

The jewelry on this page is made by Brian. You can see more of his amazing work here:

BriansGarageSale on etsy

BriansGarageSale on Flikr

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Thank you so much for all the info. I love this type of jewelry.

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