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Artistry in Knots

Macramé, an art form made by knotting cords in endless imaginative combinations, is capturing the attention of contemporary artists again. It's hard to believe how these beautiful pieces can be made with a few simple knots and bare hands.

"Macramé" is an Arabic word meaning "fringe", and derives from an early practice of knotting a fringe to a solid fabric, then continuing to make a pattern of knots. Eventually, entire pieces of knotted fabric were made and these had a strong, lovely, lacelike texture used for doilies, altar cloth, and church vestments.

The early history of Macramé is vague. There is some documentation that it was done in fifteenth-century France and Italy. It was most popular among nineteenth-century American and British sailors, who whiled away long shipboard hours tying thousands of Square Knots.

Through the early twentieth-century, belts, purses, leashes, lanyards, bell, light and shade pulls, and other strictly utilitarian objects were knotted in traditional designs and styles. In Portugal, Mexico, and Ecuador, local artisans still produce items such as purses shawls as a native craft.

Among serious artists involved with modern "textile" arts, the potential of Macramé is being explored with unprecedented enthusiasm. Using the knotting technique, they are creating large wall hangings and sculptures, jewelry and some practical items, combining knotting with other media and techniques.