Textiles is the all encompassing term used for any product or process
that involves fiber.  Macramé is a textile-making technique that uses
cords of either natural or man-made material tied in continuous or
intertwining knots to construct either a functional or non-functional
end product.  While sometimes used to make an article of clothing like
a purse, belt or piece of jewelry, Macramé is not generally useful or
versatile as a method of making fabric like knitting or crocheting is for
making a sweater, coat or even a blanket.  Macramé is comparatively
less functional and more of a decorative textile art.
Macramé has had several periods of popularity throughout its 2000
year history and enjoys a resurgence every now and again but at
this time macramé is in one of its “out” or obsolete periods and
finding even a simple macraméd plant hanger at your local store is
difficult.  Considering the current scarcity, why not let necessity
become your motivation and try macraming yourself?  By learning a
few
basic knots you can make anything from simple plant hangers
to fabulous wall hangings.  
  
The two tiered lit plant hanger shown here was made back in 1976
and one of the very few of my many macramé projects that is still
accessible for photographing.  This hanger was made for an
apartment with 10 foot ceilings so when first completed was 9 feet
from the top of its hanging ring to the bottom of its tassel.  Later,
when it was moved to a living space with regular height ceilings, it
had to be shortened.  This was done by taking up the lower basket
with loops and tucking the tassel up into the lower part of the
hanger and even with those adjustments it is only 3 inches off the
floor.  
Making a 9ft hanging planter was somewhat challenging.  Many
macraméists work on a flat surface with each section of cords
fastened to a work board by T pins.  This project, however, was
constructed in its hanging position in a stairwell which was the only
place I could find to accommodate its length.  Several design
elements and patterns were combined and modified to reach this
result and a light was incorporated to add to its dramatic effect.
  
The light is made from an inverted 9” clay pot wired with a pull chain
socket for a bare incandescent bulb.  A clay pot was selected
because of its heat tolerance.  If I were executing the project today
I would have chosen thick plastic for the lamp and shade now that
low heat compact florescent bulbs are available.  This would have
cut down on the finished weight of the project which was a major
concern from the beginning.  The 9” pot was not deep enough to
cover the bulb entirely so I extended the length or depth of the
lamp by creating a type of shade to keep the bulb from being seen.  
I accomplished this by cutting a circle out of the bottom of a
compressed fiber planter with a utility knife and slipping it over the
pot so it rested on the pot’s rim.  I used the same type of brown
compressed paper planters for the lampshade and the two plant
tiers.  These half spheres used to be available at most garden
centers for a nominal sum and were light as air and usually came
with a steel wire basket from which they hung.  They were intended
for outside use and obviously meant for only one season’s use as
they degrade quickly with exposure to weather and water.  I have
looked at on-line garden sites and can not find a similar product.  
Now all the basket liners I can find are made from a flexible fiber
that needs the wire baskets for support.
 
No matter though... because of their lack of stability and durability I
used the apparently obsolete fiber pots only as trays or holders for
plastic potted plants.  This way live plants could be easily removed
for tending or replacing.  Using the compressed fiber liners as trays
rather than actually putting dirt in them also kept down the weight
of the finished product.  I did not, after all, want to risk pulling huge
parts of the ceiling down with the weight of the finished planter.  
Today there are plenty of light weight plastic pots that could be
used as an alternative to the compressed paper ones I used.  Now,
37 years later, there are also a good selection of very realistic and
beautiful artificial plants that would have answered a lot of my
weight concerns had they been available and the person who
commissioned the planter been willing to go to "fake".   I  just
recently put "fake" in the planter (shown in the picture at the left)
over my mother's protest to save her the trouble of constantly
moving the live ones to achieve adequate light.  The live plants she
used can be seen in the top picture and they were thin and spindly
despite her efforts.    
A sinnet is a braid or continuous series of knots tied with the same
group of cords.  In this hanger each tier hangs from 6 sinnets, for a
total of 12 and each sinnet contains 4 individual cords - 2 working
cords and 2 core cords.  For this 9 ft hanger 24 cords of jute of 90 ft
needed to be cut.  The rule I learned was that the cords need to be
cut 4 – 5 times the proposed finished length of the project.  I used
the 5 figure since I'd rather be wasteful than come up short.  The 15
ft electric cord was also covered by a jute spiral sinnet so an
additional 150 ft working cord and a 35 ft core cord had to be cut for
that purpose.  

The twenty four 90 ft cords were gathered together and at 45 feet,
or the half way point, all cords were bunched together using a 6
inch square knot sinnet.  Once the lamp was attached to the 3 inch
hanging ring the cords were threaded through the ring to the half
way sinnet and folded over the ring in the middle of the sinnet so
that there were twenty four 45ft cords on either side of the knot
bearing or hanging ring for a total of forty eight 45 ft cords.  The
folded sinnet of gathered jute twine, the lamp parts and the end of
the electrical cord were then all wrapped to a length of 5 or 6
inches.  
It was then hung from a hook in the ceiling and the hanging cords
were divided and bundled into 12 groups of 4 cords and the
knotting began.  Once you get set up and ready the actual knotting
goes quickly and easily.  As you can imagine it was hard to work
above my head for the first three or so feet of hanger but after that I
could work at waist level until the project was completed by
continuing to step to the next lower stair.  While I never have used
a work board with any of my macramé creations, I did use a ruler,
tape measure or yard stick on every sinnet, or counted the knots, to
make sure each section was the same length.   As you can see,  
besides the addition of the lamp and a foot or so in length I pretty
much followed the original design (top picture on right) throughout.
I’m sure this hanger must look to a novice like an intricate and
complicated venture.  I assure you this is not so.  It only takes a
few minutes to learn the
basic knots and if you can get by the
somewhat daunting amount of cord and keep them well organized
in bundles, the Macraméing itself is a breeze.  

If there was a tricky part to this hanger it was the upper crown at
the top of the lamp.  Here one core cord from each group of 4 is
attached to the 7" hoop like spokes of a wheel and a 7" spiral
sinnet is made from the remaining 3 cords and are then attached to
the hoop each forming a little arch that make the crown.  
This particular design used 2 hoops and no beads.  Hoops can be
purchased or you can make them but be sure in either case that
the wire is of heavy enough gage to keep from warping or bending
under the weight of the jute.  

I want to say a word about beads here too.  Many macraméists
incorporate beads into their designs for added interest.  I myself
have used wood beads that I purchased and clay beads that I made
for the purpose.  After experimenting with both I believe them to
be more trouble than any interest they bring to the work.  The holes
in the wood beads were never uniform and never seemed to be big
enough to be easily threaded and I found that I often had to drill
the holes bigger which is a difficult and dangerous chore.  Also I
found that when using jute, the beads seemed to detract from the
natural rough appearance of the material and appeared somehow
out of context.  
Whether a plant hanger or wall hanging once you’ve made your
Macramé creation it should only be used indoors.  This hanger
made it to 36 years of age in this condition because it has never
spent a day outdoors.

Many years back I completed a sundial like the one pictured here.  It
turned out quite nicely and adorned the walls in several
apartments.  Then one year I decided it would look nice out on my
sun porch.  Since my porch is only open on one side and faces
south I felt it would be pretty well protected from the elements.  I
fixed my porch up with my house plants, flowers, birdhouses, wind
chimes and hung the sun dial which drew everything together and
the whole porch looked lovely.  Only a few days later, before I even
noticed, my sun dial was gone… ripped to shreds by the birds who
thought jute made excellent nesting material and apparently
concluded that I had put it out just for them and that purpose.  
I still have fond and funny memories of making that sun dial.  I had
a wonderful friend who used to help me with many of my projects.  
He was a NASA engineer and one of the greatest tinkerers I’ve
ever known.  In the list of materials required for this project was a
10”, a 19” and a 27” metal ring.  I knew he’d have the right gauge
wire in his wonderful workshop.  When I got there he was busy with
one of his own projects and showed me the wire and told me to
take what I needed.  It was my fault for asking an engineer how
much wire I needed to make a 27” circle.  He answered back that
circumference equals 2 times pi times radius or some such
nonsense.  Now I do many things pretty well but math is not even
close to being one of those things.  He looked at the blank look on
my face and stopped what he was doing and got out his chalk
board and we had a 30 minute lesson on pi (3.1416).  After he made
me suffer through all the figures we finally meticulously measured
out and cut the wire using the figure we had arrived at and put the
ends together so he could spot weld it and then measured what
was supposed to be our perfect 27” ring.  Well I don’t know what
happened but after all that we did not make a 27” circle which made
my friend, an actual rocket scientist mind you, absolutely crazy
.   
Here is a picture of a lamp shade I made for a family member’s
apartment.  I don’t know if it is just me or if every artist and/or
tinkerer finds that a good many of their projects are made for or  
given to family and friends.  Many of these projects were made back
when they were trying to furnish first apartments.  I wonder now, all
these years later, how much of any of my art survived the years or
was ever really appreciated back when.  Of course you can’t keep it
all.  When you are working and living in limited space all tinkerers
must, before embarking on any new project, hobby or activity, ask
himself where it will go when finished.  Do I have the space needed
to either use and enjoy it or even display it?

This shade, made from plain white string, was a fun project and was
useful in its time.  Its owner had a rather plain swag hanging light
which was simply a wired chain that led to a bulb socket with a white
glass globe covering an incandescent bulb.  This shade made that
basic light into a unique show piece with a lacy, Victorian look about
it that went well with the existing antique furnishings.
Earlier I said that Macramé is not all that useful or versatile and I
stand by that in the case of clothes, but the knowledge has come in
handy.  Besides making a quick plant hanger to fit an unusual sized
pot, or high ceiling, I’ve used the acquired skill to make interesting
skirts for large, otherwise unattractive pots or to make a curtains to
hide an open and ugly storage cabinet or space.  Once you’ve
learned the
basic knots and completed one or two simple projects
you can make your own designs that fits your needs.  The rest of the
projects pictured here I have completed or used as guides and
inspiration for my own designs.  

While Macramé may be a fad of time past, nothing as interesting or
as impressive or I believe as beautiful has come along to take its
place.  
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