June 11, 2020

Fancy Knotwork (continued!)

Following up on our tutorial to tie your own bracelet, explore some other decorative knots that were a wildly popular way for sailors to pass the time onboard.

What is Macramé?

The word macramé derives from Arabic and Turkish words for textiles, some of which had knotted fringes or borders. To some people today, "macramé" evokes 1970's wall hangings and planters, while to others it brings to mind more recent "viral" tutorials for water bottle holders. But the craft is probably much older even than the word's ancient Middle Eastern origins. The basic knots that are the building block for macramé crafts are the square knot (sometimes called "reef knot") and half-hitches. These knots are so simple and universal that some form of the craft has probably existed around the world for as long as humans have had string and a little imagination, and it's popularity as a stand-alone craft has ebbed and flowed around the world for centuries. According to Ashley's Book of Knots, macramé became especially popular among sailors in the American and British navies in the mid 19th century because it took up little space and was easy to stow. Understandably, sailors often looked for small diversions on long voyages so this knotting technique came to be used for all kinds of decorative and/or functional elements aboard ships. Though the building blocks are quite simple, they can be combined to make extremely elaborate pieces - everything from bracelets, belts and lanyards to fancy bottle covers, fringed hammocks, handbags, or even bathing suits! (Not that we'd necessarily recommend that...). If you scale the knot combinations down with much thinner threads, the basic structure of macramé is fundamentally related to tatting and lace making. In our collection at HMM, we have a number of macramé covered bottles that were made as commemorative items by crew members on America's Cup boats in the 1930s.

Macramé bottle made by crew member Stanislaw Supricick aboard America's Cup Defender RANGER, 1937. You can explore the rest of the crew list from 1937 by searching our America's Cup Database. This is one of several similarly decorated bottles in the HMM collection from America's Cup crew members.

Supplies: cotton string or cord, scissors, masking tape, a small weight or clipboard (optional for holding ends down).

Instructions: Follow the basic steps below to learn how to tie "bars." Start out with a tester piece to get the hang of the knots, and then check out some of the linked tutorials below to see how you can take these basic building blocks and scale them up. The possibilities are endless!

Click the images below to view them larger or click here to download as a pdf.

Can you recognize the bars and spirals here? This whole piece is made with simple half hitches plus the square knots you just learned above.

These projects can take up quite a bit of string depending how elaborate they are so make sure you have the recommended yardage if you are following one of the tutorials below before you start cutting! You can also experiment with different color combinations for each strand as long as they are about the same diameter/weight string. We especially love Sylvia's Book of Macramé Lace from 1882 for project inspiration and illustrations, but the videos below might be a bit easier to follow.

If you enjoy knot tying want to try another similar project, check out our previous At Home Activity post on making sailors bracelets. As with all our At Home Activities we would love to hear what you thought of this project! Share your photos with us by emailing us at lima@herreshoff.org, posting on our Facebook page or tagging us on Instagram @herreshoff #HerreshoffFromHome.

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