Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Micro-Macramé - New Again - 50 Years Later


If you're around my age, the word "macramé" conjures up a host of crazy, knotted memories from the late 1960s and early 1070s - Although the pieces shown below were not made by me, I certainly did some very similar work. Sadly, it's all gone and I have no pictures of it...

It started with one ball of string and a few plant holders,

which got bigger and fancier as we got hooked on knotting.

Belts and

purses were next for me,
followed by bottles!

We graduated to more and bigger balls of string
as we started making whole room dividers and curtains!

But after a year or two,
we grew tired of wooden beads, plain string and cramping fingers.
We moved along to something else, never looking back...
until now!

Introducing... ta-dah...


This is a necklace designed and knotted by Joan Babcock, one of today's most talented and prolific macramé artists. I've been smitten with her work ever since a friend gave me a link to her website. This particular piece is an example of a type of macramé called Cavandoli knotting.

Needless to say, after seeing Joan's micro-macramé jewelry and sculptural pieces on her website, my interest in knotting was re-kindled! Thus I hounded the program chairman of our local textile guild until she booked Joan to come teach for us. A couple of weeks ago, she arrived, fresh and genuine from Santa Fe, ready to share her techniques, design process, and art with us for two days of class and a slide lecture.

The first day, we knotted this bracelet, using diagonal double half hitches and square knots. I found the knotting came back quickly, some sort of kin-esthetic finger memory from 50 years ago surfacing almost immediately!

The second day, we learned Cavandoli knotting,  a combination of horizontal and vertical double half hitches, and made this pendant. The cord is #18 nylon, sold in bead shops as S-lon or micro-macramé cord, available in more than 50 colors, a long way from plain old white cotton string we used half a century earlier. Cavandoli knotting results in a solid piece, with the colors variable. It reminds me both of fair isle knitting (where the non-active color of yarn is carried behind the work), and of needle point (where each stitch is distinct). The pendant is only an inch square, and there are 680 knots if you count each double half-hitch as two knots. Obviously, you have to like "small" to want to do this work, as the knots are each about as small as a size-15 seed bead, maybe a bit smaller.

If you know me, you know I like small. I am so hooked! Fortunately I have a stash of the cord in various colors (because it's what I use for finger weaving) and a few (LOL) beads. Because Joan's teaching and books are fabulous, clear, step-by-step, and enabling, I had no trouble at all getting started. Here's what I've made in the past two weeks...

First I made a couple pair of earrings to go with my corduroy "big shirts."
These took about 1.5 hours per earring to make.

Then, copying the design idea from a bracelet Joan was wearing while teaching, I started this bracelet to match the second pair of earrings. I ran out of the crystals along the outside two arcs before finishing it, and am waiting now for my order to arrive from Fusion Beads.

Three days before departing for this year's quilt camp, where we are supposed to wear name tags,
I got the idea of trying my hand at Cavandoli knotting to make a pin with my name done in knots.
At 6 AM the next morning, I was still knotting.
Yikes, talk about sore shoulders and fingers.
But the next day, I finished it! Ta-dah:

The knotted part of his one is 1.75 x 1.5 inches, a total of 1,536 knots! 

 I've sewn a piece of Ultrasuede to the back of the knotting, hiding the cord ends,
which are folded and stitched to the knotting.

The final step was to sew a bar pin to the back, by stitching to the front side between rows of knotting, invisible from the front, but secure. The bar pin is one I had in my stash for a long time. Unfortunately it broke immediately when I put on the pin at quilt camp. I had to temporarily sew a safety pin to the back in order to wear it.

Which brings me to the final point of this post....

Where can I find GOOD QUALITY bar pins?

They all seem so terribly cheap, all looking like the one I used,
all wanting to fall apart at the first touch.
Please comment with your recommendations!

Thank you, Joan! Your workshops, slide lecture, and books have inspired and pleased me beyond measure!

If you like what you see here, I recommend Joan's books and DVD. You can learn it from her even if you never got hooked in the 60s. Her kits are great too, wonderful for those who don't have a stash of beads/cords, and want to get started, to see if you like doing the knotting! Her kits are listed on her website on the same page as the books and DVD.  And, good news, she's working on her next book and more kits!


  1. Wow! I don't remember macramé looking like that! Nice!

    1. Actually I think some of the 60s-70s macrame was really lovely. And looking at the history of macrame, knotting often practiced by sailors while at sea and used to decorate lockers and such, some of it is really amazing. But with the addition "color" and "small," as you say, it's a whole new and beautiful thing!

  2. Love small, love this!

    In the late 70's my husband made me a beautiful macrame wall tapestry. It was a sampler design, with the middle part of the panel made up of twenty different 4" x 6" rectangles of different knots, with hanging tassels on each side of the whole thing, one ending in "monkey's fists". It's still on my wall to this day!

    I love looking at intricate macrame, but never had the patience for all those cords... for me, they ended up in exasperating knots. He, however, seemed to enjoy it. Hmmm... come to think of it, he was in the Navy, so maybe it has to do with being a sailor at heart, ha ha.

    I look forward to seeing what you create in this new direction.

    1. It's good to know yourself like that, Retta.... Would you like me to make you a pair of earrings? It would please me to gift you with a pair, as thanks for all the support you've given me. Let me know what color you like. Is the style of this pair suitable for you? They are about 3" long.

    2. Oh wow! I would honored to wear something you created. I've long admired your talent. These are lovely earrings, and anything you think would go with denim would be fabulous. Thank you so much. :-)

    3. OK, Retta... I have the perfect beads and will order the cord when I place an order soon. I don't guarantee them before Christmas, but I'll try.

  3. What a coincidence I was at a bead fair at the weekend and very taken by one of the smallest stands which had a range of beautiful coloured thread for micro macrame. So I bought one violet spool and decided to have a go at rekindling my macrame skills again. Yes I too had an array of string bags, plant holders for spider plants and bottles and some are even tucked in a cupboard . Looking forward to having a go at the weekend :)

    1. Fabulous, Evanna! I'm looking forward to seeing what you make!

  4. I had a macrame disaster back in the early 70's and swore I'd never try it again, but I couldn't resist the micro-macrame! I love Joan's work, and have both her book and the instructional DVD. I've made several pairs of earrings and they're just beautiful.

    1. Oooh, I'm curious about the disaster... what was it? Glad to hear you've gone around a corner about it so you could make some beautiful earrings!

  5. Wonderful. I too have done your journey and am now doing micro macramé thanks to a young macramé artist who is publishing a book with Kalmbach next year. Going back to macramé was like riding a bike. I was shocked with all that I remembered.
    Thank you for this wonderful blog!!!

    1. Yes! Like riding a bike... I had that thought too! Isn't it wonderful when we discover an old passion and don't have to re-invent the wheel? Yay!

  6. I did so much macrame in the seventies. What memories. I love it that the craze is catching on again. You are so lucky to be able to take classes with Joan. Your work is beautiful. Old Dogs...old tricks never die. ~lol~

    1. Thanks, Carol! Yes, I'm especially lucky because Joan won't be teaching so much in the year ahead. She wants more time for her own work and to write her next book. She's a great teacher in person AND through her books/DVD.

  7. I never did get into macrame, but still managed to purchase some very intricate plant holders in the 70's. Your work is beautiful and as much as I covet the look, I think that my fingers do not intend to learn one more technique

  8. Hey Robin, come join us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/micromacrame/

    Joan often posts there, too!

    Annika deGroot, author of "Micro-Macrame: 30 Beaded Designs for Jewelry Using Crystals and Cords"

    1. I have to get your book, Annika! Thanks for the invite to join the FB group... I did, and it's really fun to see the beautiful work being done by the participants!

  9. Happy to read your love affair with macrame has been rekindled. Joan Babcock's work is amazing! My husband, Coco Paniora Salinas, is a micro-macrame jewelry artist as well. He is originally from Peru, where the macrame tradition never went out of style. ;-)

    1. Melanie, now that I'm in the micro-macrame group on Facebook, I can see that there are many artists from South America doing beautiful macrame work!

  10. Thank you for giving us all that eye-candy! And, good job you kept on about the micro-macrame class until it really happened. Your pieces are wonderful.
    Yes, indeed, your post does recall memories of happy knotting times, even earlier than the 60s: One of my school teachers must have been quite avant-garde, because we made macrame onion-nets in school, and mine was used in our family's household for many years.
    I revert to the technique every now and again (nothing spectacular), and it really is amazing how one's fingers remember what to do. Plus, it is fun!

  11. Anonymous11:41 PM

    What gorgeous work you've been doing! Who would have though that such a big and chunky medium could be scaled down into such exquisite results!

    1. Yes, that's for sure... who would have thought!


Thanks you for joining the discussion on this post today!