When Venus Williams donned a tuxedo-inspired suit and corset top designed by Gabriela Hearst for Chloé to attend the 2022 Met Gala in New York, even she was surprised at the effect of the macramé inserts on the garments.
“I feel like a total boss in this look!” she said, according to Vanity Fair. “It’s a work of art in itself.”
Little wonder that macramé, a textile created by tying knots into decorative patterns, has been making a comeback this spring.
According to David Koma, a London-based designer who experimented with the fisherman’s knot for his ocean-inspired spring 2023 collection, the handmade aspect of macramé “gives a couture feel to the wearer.”
And the appeal of such labor-intensive fashion — what some would call slow fashion — is driving macramé’s resurgence, said Frank Aghuno, 28, founder and creative director of the fashion label Fruché, based in Lagos, Nigeria. (An off-white macramé vest dress accented with cowrie shells was the final look in his show at the Guaranty Trust Fashion Weekend in Lagos in November.)
After all, he said, “macramé is one of the slowest processes I can think of.”
Yet Hannah Lewis, fashion director at Threads Styling, a personalized luxury shopping and styling service, said that “macramé has been done in a more elevated way” for spring.
Cases in point: Wales Bonner’s Java macramé dress made of waxed cotton with Ghanaian wood and glass beads at MatchesFashion ($2,243), and from Bruno Sialelli’s spring 2023 collection for Lanvin, a piece that the brand’s Instagram post described as a macramé bra top “in fine silk soutache and embroidery.”
Macramé also was seen in the fall 2023 shows, which ended earlier this month: on dresses, scarves, bags and more at Simone Rocha in London; as fringe on a stole and a shawl at Giorgio Armani in Milan; and layered on other designs at Noir Kei Ninomiya in Paris.
Ms. Lewis noted that styling macramé can be challenging. “Pare everything else back and that’s down to accessories as well,” she said. For “once you start adding in other textures, if it’s a crochet bag or pleated trouser or something with another texture, I think it then gets quite busy.”
Origins of the Craft
The simplicity of the technique belies its history, which — from the decorative macramé-style knots that appear in Babylonian and Assyrian carvings — stretch back to ancient times. But Arab weavers in the 13th century are believed to have originated the craft, knotting the excess material or fringes on woven veils and shawls.
The word macramé is said to stem from the Arabic migramah, which means fringe, or the Turkish word makrama, meaning towel.
The Moors are credited with introducing macramé to Spain in the 15th century. It then spread to France, Italy and England, becoming a popular hobby for women in the Victorian era. In the 1960s and ’70s, macramé was a widespread craft technique across America as well as Europe, often seen in wall hangings, plant hangers and more.
Other cultures have their own knotting traditions, too. Consider China, where knot craft dates from the Zhou dynasty (1050-221 B.C.), and decorative knots were a form of folk art in the Tang (A.D. 618-907) and Song (A.D. 960-1279) dynasties.
Around the World
Tying a knot may seem simple, but macramé can involve a wide variety of materials and techniques from many cultures.
Mr. Aghuno’s vest dress, for example, was made from off-white rope bought at the local market and four types of knots executed by Juliet Okoruwa, 67, who has specialized in macramé since 2018 and founded Omonigho Studio in Lagos the next year.
Consider the square knots at the shoulders or the double half-hitch knot that created the hem, Ms. Okoruwa said. She knotted the dress from the top down, she said, “to make it neater,” reducing the size of the knots at the hem to create a scalloped edge.
Cowrie shells once were used as currency; adorning the dress with them, Mr. Aghuno said, was his new cultural take on macramé. He bought the shells, fresh from the seashore, at the Moshalashi Alhaja market in Lagos — and “they come really dirty,” he said. So they were soaked in hot water with a little bleach, and then “we scrub, scrub, scrub them with a toothbrush,” he said, to get their color to match the rope.
Mr. Aghuno then had holes drilled into the shells at a nearby sawmill so they could be tied into the macramé rather than sewn on. “We take the fringe of the macramé and literally tie through the loop,” he said.
Ukraine also has a long macramé tradition, stemming from its rushnyk, or towel, used for decorative purposes and at ceremonies, including weddings.
The Ukrainian fashion designer Lilia Litkovska, 41, adapted the rushnyk’s traditional knotted fringe, done in a diamond-lattice pattern, for six pieces in her spring 2023 collection — including a leather jacket.
She designed the macramé in her Paris studio, but it was executed by Oleg Forostianyi, a member of her team, in Kyiv. He now works for her two days a week, focusing on embroidery, and spends the rest of the workweek cutting out military garments, she said, as her assistant translated.
In London, Mr. Koma, 37, also experimented with a new approach to macramé, using “metallic fibers like a nylon cord in interesting colors like Yves Klein blue, graphite black and lilac” for his fisherman’s knots and, he said, applying feathers — machine-stitched to fabric that, in turn, was machine-stitched to the macramé — “to mimic underwater movement.”
Like many people who learn about macramé from online guides and YouTube tutorials, Mr. Koma said he printed out instructions on how to make basic knots, “pinned it on the dummy and next to it started to layer and measure the ropes in a correct length.”
It was difficult, he noted, to get “the right proportion and the right measurement in between one knot to another in order to get the right shape at the end.”
Mr. Koma said he just repeated the work over and over “until it felt correct” and he was able to complete the piece.
As to the future, Mr. Aghuno plans to mix rope with adire, an African tie-dye fabric, while Mr. Koma aims to add knitwear to his macramé portfolio.
After all, he said, macramé is “quite fun, and the more you do, the better you get at it.”