An Introduction to Macrame Knotting

Updated on February 2, 2018
Elderberry Arts profile image

Claire has been creating handmade jewellery since 2002 and teaching jewellery making through online tutorials and courses since 2010.

Macramé bracelet made using embroidery threads.
Macramé bracelet made using embroidery threads. | Source

Macramé is a method of creating textiles that uses knots rather than weaving or knitting techniques. Macramé was often used by sailors to decorate items or their ships and is also used to create jewellery, bags, mats, plant hangers and wall hangings. Sometimes leather and suede are used to create macramé belts and the friendship bracelets made by many children are created using macramé.

There is a large range of knots and knot combinations used in macramé including the square knot, half knot, half hitch, larks head knot and coil knot. Depending on the knots used and whether they are used alone or combined with others many different designs can be achieved.

Knotting materials

There is a huge choice of colours, textures and types of cords available to use in macramé, some natural and some synthetic. In fact almost anything that you can tie knots in will be suitable and materials can be found in many places such as: craft, hardware, DIY, needlework and sewing shops. In some cases the material used will be dictated by what is being created but in others it may be possible to experiment with your own choices and although there are cords that are commonly used in certain projects, this does not mean that others will not work just as well.

Some examples of cords that can be used in macramé include:

  • Rayon
  • Nylon
  • Silk
  • Waxed cotton
  • Hemp
  • Plastic
  • Polypropylene
  • Rattail
  • Leather
  • Suede
  • Wool
  • Embroidery thread
  • Crochet thread

When choosing which material to use for a project it is important to thinking about what the finished item is and how it will be used as some will be more practical or suitable than others. Often stiff thick cords are not the best choice for making jewellery but they could be ideal for a shopping bag that will need to carry some weight and not fray or wear easily. If several types of cord would be suitable for a project they may result in quite different finished items. A bracelet design made using fine cotton cord will be softer, lighter and more discrete that the same piece made using a thicker leather cord for example. Another thing to consider in relation to the thickness of cords is how easy they will be to use. Thicker cords can be easier but some types are difficult to keep the knots in place when they are thick. Thin cords can be fiddly and slow to work with but the finished results can be stunning and very detailed.

Macramé owl wall hangings.
Macramé owl wall hangings. | Source

Embellishments and functional additions

Beads are often added to embellish items made using macramé. Again the ones you chose will need to be suitable for the cord being used and also fit the function of the finished piece. Wooden beads are a common choice but there is no reason why any other type that has a hole large enough to accommodate cords shouldn’t be used. Other items such as buttons, sequins and charms can also be used.

When making many types of items findings or other items may be needed in order to complete the design and enable them to be used. Examples of items that you may use are ear wires, clasps, buckles, snap hooks, split rings, bamboo rings and buttons.

Macramé jewellery can be embellished with beads.
Macramé jewellery can be embellished with beads. | Source

Terms used in macramé

Like most crafts and hobbies macramé has some terms, abbreviations and methods that are used in patterns and other instructions.

Abbreviations - Some commonly used abbreviations are the knot names. These make reading the instructions easier and shorter and also less repetitive to write and read. Generally the first time a knot is used the full name will be written with the abbreviation in brackets. From then on every time the knot is used then just the abbreviation is written. Some patterns and books also include a key of featured abbreviations that you can refer to at any time.

Fibres - Different writers and projects will use different words to describe the knotting material, such as threads, cords, ropes or strands. Again this is to prevent the writing and reading of the project becoming very repetitive but all mean the same thing: the length of fibre you are using.

Active and inactive - When following macramé projects you may find the terms active and inactive cord being used. Active cord refers to the cords that are being used to tie knots and inactive are those that are not. Whether a cord is active or not changes during creating a design.

Regrouping - In many macramé projects groups of two, three or four cords are used. Regrouping is a term that is used to describe the process of joining cords from two adjacent groups. For example if two groups of two cords are being used, the joining of the middle two cords.

Alternating – Alternating is a process of typing several rows of knots that are alternately spaced in the design. Alternating can be used to join many groups of cords while still leaving gaps and spacing between the knots instead of creating one solid piece of fabric.

Anchoring – Macramé knots are much easier to tie, particularly at the start of a piece if they are taut. This can be accomplished by mounting the threads in some way. A slipknot is often used to attach threads to a solid surface as it is an easy knot to undo once the project has been completed. Another method is to use pins to secure cords to a knotting board.

Sennit – A sennit is a length of two or more of a single type of knot. For example: if a pattern states that you should tie a sennit of five square knots, it means that you should tie five square knots one after the other. Sennit is also sometimes spelt as sinnet.

Knotting boards

Macramé knotting boards can be bought or made in several ways. A simple board can be made using a normal clipboard; the cords are secured under the large clip. Another way to create a simple board is to use a cork notice board and pins. Thick cork tiles could also be used in the same way. Some commercially available boards have measurements marked on them which are a useful feature. If you decide to make your own board you can easily add these using a ruler and permanent marker. Using a macramé board creates a place to anchor your cords while working and also makes storing and transporting projects easier. The board can be slipped into a bag and carried easily.

Managing cord lengths

Macramé projects often involve the use of many long lengths of cords, which during working can become knotted and tangled in each other. To avoid this, cords can be bundled up or wound around themselves and loosely knotted to create a manageable length. As you work through the project the knot can be untied and more cord released before retying it. The cords can also be secured using rubber bands rather than knots.

Another method of making long cord lengths more manageable is to use small spools known as bobbins. These can be bought online quite easily by the names ‘macramé bobbin’ or ‘Kumihimo bobbins’. Cords are wrapped around these and secured leaving a length to work with. As this length is used more cord can easily be released from the bobbin.

Macramé window decoration.
Macramé window decoration. | Source

Project difficulty and sizing

The exact dimensions of any finished project can vary depending on the cords used and now tightly or loosely the knots are tied. Each person will knot with a different tension and the majority of macramé projects allow for this by being generous with the cord required. This difference in knotting can also lead to variations in the size of the finished project. Measure your piece as you work and if needed adjust the number of knots or try to tie them tighter or less tight.

Several factors can influence how difficult a macramé project will be to complete. The size of a finished project can make them more difficult but this is not always true. Some large projects such as plant holders and bags maybe be large but be made using only a few or basic knots. The number or type of knots may cause a design to be more complicated to complete especially if there are a lot of design changes or switching between knot types. Another factor to consider related to difficulty is the thickness of the cords used. Thinner cord diameters can be harder to knot with, tend to used longer lengths of cord (as smaller knots are produced each time) and are more time consuming.

Questions & Answers

© 2013 Claire


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    • Elderberry Arts profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lincolnshire, UK

      Thank you all for your kind comments. I'm really pleased to get HOTD and glad you all liked the hub too.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Congratulations on your HOTD award. I did macrame as a young girl. Thanks for the memory and the opportunity to reference this article if I become interested again.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      4 years ago from North Central Florida

      Wow...this takes me back. When I lived in Japan our art teacher on Yokota Air Base was a talented and gifted artisans.She taught macrame classes for any of us who wanted to take them....I do not think I could tie anything now...I must relearn.

      Gorgeous bracelets ...

      Congrats on HOTD....Angels are on the way this evening ps

    • MelRootsNWrites profile image

      Melody Lassalle 

      4 years ago from California

      Congratulations on HOTD! I'm glad to see macrame coming back. We did a lot of it in the 70s and it was a good way to be creative and de-stress.

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 

      4 years ago from Norfolk

      Congrats on your well deserved HOTD

    • Elderberry Arts profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lincolnshire, UK

      Thank you everyone :) I have only made jewellery and a belt using macrame before but have seen some really beautiful larger pieces. I remember when I was a child macrame flower pot hangers where popular.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 

      4 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Interesting and informative article. My mother-in-law was expert in these things and from her, my wife also learnt and prepared a window curtain with this skill. Another TV cover was made half and lost while shifting.

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 

      4 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Ah, I feel 18 again. I've tied many a macrame knot, but none in the last several decades. Nice to be introduced to the craft again. Congratulations on Hub of the Day honors!

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      4 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Claire, this is pretty awesome and great for holiday and birthday ideas. I believe my mother had something like this, way back when. It sure looks like fun. Congrats on HOTD for this nifty craft idea for a hub!

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      4 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Congratulations for HOTD!

      Very creative hub and I enjoyed going through your designs. Would love to make some myself. Thanks for sharing the detailed instructions and helpful pictures.

    • Elderberry Arts profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Lincolnshire, UK

      You're welcome. I write a lot of macramé jewellery making tutorial on another site and they are really popular.

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 

      6 years ago from Norfolk

      So nice to see that Macrame appears to be making a come-back - I can remember doing this as a young girl. Great to see new materials being used as well. Really interesting, thanks for sharing.


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