Disco. Mullet hairstyles. Tight, shiny shirts. Some things have stayed in the 1970s, and deservedly so. But macramé is back in a big way, thanks to new materials, boho-loving millennials, and creative artists who think way beyond brown jute owls and plant hangers.
"People like the boho look, with lots of plants and things," says Mandy Morrison. "I think that's why it's popular right now."
Morrison's home isn't exactly a New York loft, but there's one thing that stands out against the white-and-gray color scheme, baskets, and snake plants: macramé. A weaver and macramé artist who sells on Etsy as Paige & Roy, Morrison has living and dining room walls that are almost three-dimensional with textured rope and string, knotted together on artsy driftwood like finely sculpted sand dunes.
"My mom did macramé back in the '70s," says Morrison, who has young children of her own. "I was weaving for about three years and using Instagram a lot for business. I found a lot of other fiber artists using knots and macramé."
So, a year ago, Morrison tried her hand at the knot-based fiber art that many folks older than 40 remember from school craft days. She learned some knots from her mother and studied books and YouTube for the rest, finding online sources for materials and exploring what was possible.
The result hangs on the walls in her home: three-foot-long hangings that drape with layer over layer of loose knots and vertical strings. A hanging from two deer antlers that Morrison found at a thrift shop, with four layers scooping downward like V-necks, combed out at the ends like a beard and combining into an abstract "face." A dreamcatcher on metal rings, loosely woven at the top and ending in a zigzag of knot lines. Delicate plant hangers showcasing glass terrariums.
A portable clothes rack holds Morrison's work-in-progress.
"I used to draw it all out at first, but I change my mind so much now that I just kind of go," says Morrison, about how she comes up with the designs.
In case you were still picturing those thick, prickly macramé hangings from the '70s, millennial macramé is a very different animal. First, the materials: Forget that brown jute that's rough on your hands and sheds thousands of tiny fibers. Morrison uses packing twine for smaller, delicate hangings and three-ply rope for bigger ones. Either way, it's 100 percent cotton, in a calm, creamy ecru that fits with trendy minimalist decor and with the 21st-century passion for the natural, textural, and organic.
Then there are the horizontal supports. Morrison sources smooth, straight driftwood from the beach, but is also exploring such woods as cholla from a recent visit to Joshua Tree, Calif., and out-of-the-box ideas such as the antlers. Others weave or attach feathers, beads, and more driftwood, using colored twine or even dip-dyeing hangings in indigo or tan.
Finally, there are the designs. Macramé can be as small as two strands of string or as big as a room. Modern Macrame, an online company, recently completed an installation for Ralph Lauren that transforms a ceiling into an upside-down forest of textured strands. Other artists such as Miriam Ragan of Newcastle, Australia, use thick rope for chunky, sculptural strands across an entire wall.
One thing that hasn't changed since the '70s is the basic knots.
"The technique is exactly the same," says Morrison. "All the how-to books are from the '70s."
Basic macramé starts by cutting strands of string (Morrison starts with around four feet), looping them in half, then looping them over the horizontal support in a "larks' head" knot (pull the free ends under and through the looped end to the front.) After you've done a few of these, you can start tying them together in square knots. More strands can be looped onto existing strands in the same way to use up scraps. Learn a couple of extra knots (clove hitch, half-hitch) and you're on your way. When you're ready, tie off the strands, unwind the string or rope, and comb out the ends with a basic hair comb.
Morrison stands to work, watching Netflix as she does the hours and hours of looping and knotting.
"Macramé is very meditative for me," explains Morrison. "I not only love the look of finished work, but the process itself is calming. On a bigger scale, I've met so many amazing artists because of macramé, and they are very inspiring."
Want to try your hand at macramé? Take these tips from Paige & Roy artist Mandy Morrison.
Get a cheap portable clothes rack and some S-hooks to support your horizontal branch or dowel.
Start simple. Stick with square knots, which are "the basis for everything," says Morrison.
Stick with one layer at first.
Use three-ply twisted rope. Thicker rope will end up really big, and thin string or twine will take forever to make anything sizable.
Find basic knotting patterns in old books, and contemporary techniques and designs online.