Sound is a thread, a string, a cord, pulling you along or pulling time out of you. The individual vowels and consonants are knots. Tie them together in this pattern and that and soon you have a recognizable word, a set of words, a pattern of thought expressed, a meaning. Perhaps a memory.

A memory, say, of a house full of plants, and forest-pattern wallpaper, and brown ceramics and bubbling orange and white glass. And hemp, plenty of hemp. Ropes, cords, strings, knotted, hanging, decorated with wooden beads. Plants hanging in pots made of knots. Wall decorations in brown rope and green wooden beads. Perhaps a purse or other bag made of naught but knotted knots in abstract patterns. Maybe a belt or two. A hammock? Perhaps not. Not thin strings knotted, not tatting or knitting, nothing micro; this is macro: macramé.

Yes, it was a thing of its time, macramé. Not that it was a never-before-seen craze in the 1970s and early ’80s. Indeed, it had been big in Victorian times, and has been around much longer than that, on the fringes. But the cord of my memory does not pull nearly so far back. For me, this knotty pattern of four consonants and three vowels speaks clearly of my early adolescence.

And it is a word with a certain mouthfeel. Twice soft on the lips, and in between textured by the /kr/, and afterwards simply gliding away. Somehow it tastes of granola, although at that age I ate Mini-Wheats. Is it macrobiotic? It sounds like macaroon or macaroni, but with that French-like é on the end. I do not get a real Scottish flavour in spite of the mac. Indeed, I sooner taste caramel. Or perhaps a blend of tumeric and cumin?

If this somehow seems Arabic, you have gotten to the spool of this cord. The source is migramah, ‘striped cloth’; it was borrowed to Turkish makrama ‘towel, napkin’. It happens that woven cloths would often have the loose strings knotted into tasselled fringes, and in Italian this knotted fringe came to be called macramè. The knotting craft itself came to be what we called macramé in English, reversing the direction of the written accent to follow our more accustomed practice.

We also called it macramé lace more fully. Sailors did this handicraft, making belts and hammocks, and – through a rearrangement of the knots of this word – sometimes called it McNamara’s lace.

Yes, rough and hardy sailors, so different from my sweet, crafting mother. I’m sure the taste of this word would be different for me if I knew it first from the navy. But that is not where these knots are tied for me. The plant of this memory is suspended from the ceiling of my mind in the macramé planter holder of this word, and the plant is a house, a time, a place, a feel, a mother, and a lot of brown cord, tied and, once tied, not undone.

13 responses to “macramé

  1. It is so nice to see a tribute to the word macrame. Knotting as an art form also has a long history in South America especially in textiles and jewelry.

  2. Lovely evocative piece…. Thanks.

  3. I appreciate the exploration of language. I’m exploring liminality, métissage and bricolage…so macrame fits on the fringe.

  4. Interesting article on the word, macrame. I did my share of that when younger and made many Christmas gifts. I enjoyed it much more than crocheting, knitting, or cross-stitching.

  5. Oh what a fabulous post. Thank you, I love the darting down highways, byways, half hidden paths nature of this. Caramel, sailors and mothers!

  6. Ah, the ties that bind…

  7. Nice to have the time to think about macrame. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Thanks for the lesson!

  9. Cool, thx for the word etymological profile. 🙂

  10. Nicely, and thoroughly, done! 🙂

  11. This is a lovely piece. Most of us take language for granted and easily overlook or dismiss the journey words take to arrive at contemporary usage. I enjoy investigating the evolution. You are a wonderful guide for such a trip.

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