I was in grade school when I learned about the ancient art of macrame. It was the mid-1970s, and my mother’s best friend was the only person I knew who ate yogurt, grew bean sprouts and dried her own fruit. She was also a weaver and a master macrameer.
I spent hours at her house learning to tie jute or cotton rope into square knots to make decorative wall art and hanging plant holders. None of my creations ever made it into my family’s traditionally decorated home, but that didn’t take away the satisfaction I had in making substantial and somewhat useful (if a plant hanger is considered useful!) objects.
Although macrame experienced its 20th-century heyday during those free-spirited years (a century earlier, it had been a popular Victorian technique for making bedspreads, curtains and tablecloths), by the time I was in high school in the ’80s, the hippie-looking creations had all but disappeared from the decorating world; they didn’t fit into the sleek modern or chintz-filled English country rooms of the new decade.
However, like so many design trends, macrame is experiencing a renaissance. Perhaps its resurgence in the home has been prompted by the parallel reappearance in the fashion world of fringe, crochet knits, cutoff denim and flower crowns. (It’s called "festival fashion," as in the Woodstock festival of 1969 and contemporary festivals such as Coachella, where it is the dress code of choice.) Or maybe macrame is back out of necessity; in the absence of a back yard, trendy urban gardeners need a secure and attractive way to hang plants in their cityscape-view windows. Whatever the reason, the sight of macrame plant hangers in the window of CB2 and macrame curtains at Anthropologie warms my heart and takes me back to my childhood the same way graham crackers, finger paints and dandelion chains do.
Such nostalgic thoughts are not enough to spur me to entirely embrace the ’70s bohemian look, but I am inspired to add a bit of macrame to my rooms. After all, I always prefer eclectically decorated rooms that have a mix of items from many periods, and it’s time I added a touch of the ’70s. And macrame does something we designers always recommend: It adds texture. Natural woven jute, braided cord and fringe give rooms warmth and visual interest, and they are the perfect neutral foil to patterns, stripes and more formal fabrics such as velvets and silks.
Macrame is not only versatile but also a fairly easy technique to master – all knots, no sewing – which is why as a kid I took to it so easily. It’s really just a bigger form of lanyard-making.
But if you are not a do-it-yourselfer and want to incorporate a macrame piece or two into your home, check out Etsy, where you will find over 75,000 macrame entries including curtains, table runners, earrings and bracelets.
Ready-made macrame items are also available from mainstream retailers. Both Nordstom and Target have reasonably priced macrame-covered throw pillows that could work on any sofa, chair or bed. Woven-jute macrame hanging light fixtures from Layla Grayce and Shades of Light give a room a warm, bohemian glow. Juliska’s (available at Bloomingdale’s) braided and looped abacá place mats are neutral enough to pair with almost any china or napkin. And Serena & Lily’s hand-woven wool rug was inspired by macrame patterns and designs.
For bespoke works, you can commission California-based artist Sally England to create one of her unique macrame-inspired wall hangings. She often works in nontraditional materials, thereby bringing macrame into the 21st century. For example, her wall hanging made from electrical wire looks like a lacy room divider by day but lights up by night.
Elizabeth Mayhew, a "Today" show style expert and former magazine editor, is the author of "Flip! for Decorating."