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. And the trend that’s been growing from Portland to Sydney is finally hitting the South Sound.
“People like the boho look, with lots of plants and things,” says Mandy Morrison. “I think that’s why it’s popular right now.”
People like the boho look, with lots of plants and things. I think that’s why macrame’s popular right now.
Mandy Morrison, artist
Morrison’s Gig Harbor 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’s living and dining room walls 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 over 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 and in the Tacoma homewares shop Evolve on North 21st Street. Three-foot-long hangings that drape with layer over layer of loose knots and vertical strings. Tiny hangings of tight square knots that clip to purses. 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.” Inverted Christmas-trees made of knotted string. A dreamcatcher on metal rings, loosely woven at the top and ending in a zigzag of knot lines. Delicate plant hangers showcase glass terrariums.
And offset perfectly on a deep teal wall, a 4-by-4-foot hanging that’s as much art as macramé: a patterned “Buddhist mesh” of square knots, draping loops of tight clove hitches outlining texture fields of mesh, verticals or loose weave, and occasional outbursts of fringe, like some kind of exotic shaggy pet.
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.
Macramé is very meditative for me. It’s calming.
Mandy Morrison, artist
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 décor 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 woods like cholla from a recent visit to Joshua Tree, California, and out-of-the-box ideas like 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. Macrame can be as small as two strands of string or as big as a room. Modern Macrame, an online Portland 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.
In Tacoma, Evolve pairs Morrison’s hangings with a gray wall and a plant-filled interior. Proctor shop Compass Rose recently showcased elaborate macramé lanterns, some 4 feet long, with a window display of twine diagonals from floor to ceiling interwoven with branches for a wintry look. Satori and Urban Exchange, both on Pacific Avenue, stock and display weavings and macramé, including vintage ’70s hangings.
“The boho-’70s trend is making a huge comeback,” says Evolve store manager Cindy Hickly, who first noticed Morrison’s work on Instagram last fall.
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 4 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 making 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. Really 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 sizeable.
▪ Find basic knotting patterns in old books, and contemporary techniques and designs online.
▪ Or buy a kit, such as those sold by modernmacrame.com.
Twine: Cotton twine comes in $15 cones (Morrison uses 24 ply) from uline.com.
Rope: Three-ply (strand) 3/16-inch cotton rope comes in $72 spools from knotandrope.com.
Horizontal supports: You can use 1- to 2-inch dowels, but you get a more unusual look from driftwood or bare tree branches. Winter is a good time to find both. Make sure they’re dry and sanded.
Evolve: 2624 N. 21st St., Tacoma; 253-759-4748, facebook.com/evolvehometacoma.
Compass Rose: 3815 N. 26th St., Tacoma, 253-759-0077, and 416 Capitol Way S., Olympia, 360-236-0788; compassroseshop.com.
Satori: 1734 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; 253-272-0910, satori-boutique.com.
Urban Xchange: 1932 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; 253-572-2280, uxctacoma.com.