Throwback Month

A Brief History of Macramé, the Popular Craft That’s Been Around for Centuries

published Apr 1, 2022
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Credit: Lauren Kolyn

Go to any home decor store, and you can’t miss it — macramé wall hangings everywhere. This form of textile art crafted with knots comes in many forms. From mass-produced creations at major retailers to gorgeous, handcrafted pieces made by artisans, people can’t get enough of macramé. But you might not know that macramé has been popular for centuries, and the trend has simply come and gone over the years.

Shoshanna Shapiro, owner and principal designer at Sho & Co, recalls her mother making macramé owl wall hangings back in the day, and it’s something she frequently uses in her designs. “When I have a more contemporary project with stark elements that can start to feel cold, I like to introduce art that has texture and movement to help bring some warmth and life into the design,” she says. “These modern macramé pieces incorporate well in many design styles and add that handmade quality in a stylish way.” 

Emily Katz, founder of Modern Macramé and author of “Modern Macramé: 33 Stylish Projects for Your Handmade Home,” believes that macramé has staying power because the actual act of making it appeals to beginners and pros alike. 

“Macramé is a craft where the beginner can excel quickly from never having made macramé at all to making something they are proud of in less than three hours,” she says. “It’s a craft of gathering together, of going slow and taking the time for oneself, for meditation, and for creating beauty with our own hands. It’s empowering to be able to make something out of simple rope that brings joy into one’s life.” 

She adds that macramé has had its moments in the spotlight throughout the decades and continues to shine as more artists find their way to the craft and discover the joys of tying these knots.

Macramé Through the Ages

Historians believe that macramé first started as an art form among 13th-century Arab weavers. Although knot-tying had been around for centuries before that, these weavers from the Middle Ages began making a mix of practical and wearable macramé, from shawls to towels. In fact, the word macramé comes from the Arabic word miqrama.

Macramé then made its way to Europe, namely by sailors traversing the high seas. Nautical history is often connected to the knots that sailors have created over the centuries, so it should come as no surprise that these 18th-century sailors gravitated toward the art form.

While it never disappeared completely, macramé made a comeback in the Victorian era. Lace was popular at the time, and macramé was close to the look and feel of the favored textile. It showed up in both clothing and home decor, with macramé tablecloths and curtains adorning parlors and dining rooms.

Bob Richter, vintage lifestyle expert and author of “Vintage Living,” loves that macramé has its origins not with professional artists but with individuals who were not “classically trained.” Instead, macramé came from everyday people who utilized their skills, time, and creativity. “Those core tenants are at the root of most folk art,” he says.

A Resurgence in the 1970s

Although macramé faded from popular culture between the Victorian era and the mid-20th century, it started to explode again in the late 1960s and became a huge trend in the 1970s. In fact, Richter calls this “the golden age of macramé.” 

Rope, yarn, and cording were much easier to work with than the options that came before, and professional artists began to revive the trend. Often rendered in jute or traditional white string, macramé showed up everywhere during this era. Some items included: owls (likely the most popular form of macramé art from this period), purses, light fixtures, plant hangers, and general wall art.

With a quick Etsy search, you can even purchase a macramé kit from the ’70s so you can try it yourself using vintage materials. 

“Just think of Rhoda from ‘The Mary Tyler Moore’ show,” Richter says. “Both her apartment and her wardrobe had a good amount of macramé elements going on, from wall hangings to shoulder bags. This boho chic look has made a comeback.” 

Continuing Popularity

Richter doesn’t see macramé going anywhere anytime soon — he believes we’re in the middle of another macramé renaissance. In fact, COVID likely catalyzed it even further. “The pandemic saw an uptick in handicrafts as so many people were stuck at home,” he says. “I’m willing to bet some gorgeous pieces of macramé were made over the last two years.” 

Want to score some real-deal vintage macramé of your own? Richter says that while some sites, like 1stDibs, can sell macramé pieces for several thousand dollars (if they’re very collectible and sought-after), you can find budget-friendly pieces with lots of charm on Etsy. There, you can buy vintage or go with a new piece made by a pro. “People are still making those plant hangers and wall decorations that were so popular once upon a time.”

This piece is part of Throwback Month, where we’re revisiting vintage styles, homes, and all kinds of groovy, retro home ideas. Boogie on over here to read more!