Saturday, 1 September 2012

Elephant No. 335: Macramé

I saw some sparkly metallic cord in a shop yesterday and thought it might be interesting to try making some sort of macramé elephant with it. Or maybe this is just a knotted elephant, since it certainly lacks the orderly look of most macramé.

Macrame is thought to have originated among Arab weavers during the thirteenth century. Fabrics produced by these artisans often featured edges knotted in elaborate patterns to produce fringe and other decorative edging.

Following the Moorish conquest of Spain, the art of migramah—an Arab word meaning "ornamental fringe", "embroidered veil" or "striped towel"—spread throughout Europe. Given the name "macramé" by the Spanish, this knotting technique was introduced to England during the late seventeenth century.

Sailors were actually the most avid proponents of macramé, often making macramé objects during long hours at sea. This, in turn, introduced the art to the Far East and the Americas. British and American sailors often called the work "square-knotting" for the knot they used most often.

Macramé owls by Monika, 2009.

Macramé was particularly popular during the Victorian period. Women made trims for clothing, as well as fringes and edging for household linens. In the early part of the twentieth century, macramé fell out of favour, but was revived during the 1970s, when it was used to make wall hangings, plant hangers, draperies, clothing and even furniture. Macramé has also remained popular in jewellery-making, and is often used to produce bracelets and necklaces with beads knotted into the work.

Macramé necklace with blue opals by Isha Elafi.

The most common knots in macramé are the square knot, full hitch and half hitch, as well as more exotic knots such as the lark's head and the wrapped knot. Skilled macramé artists combine these to produce elaborate works which can range from exquisite wall hangings to three-dimensional objects. Although some artists work freehand, many work on boards or knot their work over dowels and other forms.

Award-winning macramé chair by Marcel Wanders, 1996.

I apologize in advance for the chaos of my own macramé. I took a workshop when I was about ten years old. I think I made an owl, but never tried it again. Knots are not my forte.

I bought two small spools of metallic cord, with no real idea about what kind of elephant I could produce. As with some of my crochet projects, I decided I would just wing it. The only notion I had was that I wanted to make small elephants.

Outside of instructions on tying knots and making elaborate creations such as owls and vases, I couldn't find a basic online guide to making macrame. So this was definitely an adventure.

I started by making a series of tightly spaced knots to form a trunk.

I didn't really know what to do next, so I made a series of knots to form a loop for the head. I had no idea how I was going to attach an ear, but I assumed I could figure that out later.

I know there are many knots I could have used to help me in this activity, but I don't actually know a lot of different knots, and I didn't have time to train myself today. So I simply kept on making a string of knots, with the idea that I would eventually form some kind of outline of body and legs. My plan after that was to knot in a random pattern across the open area of the body.

Once I had a sort of outline, I began running cord across the empty area, tying it onto the outline here and there. I also left a piece hanging off as a tail.

At this point, it looked pretty disheartening to me, so I played a bit with the green cord, making just an elephant head. Which looks an awful lot like a hairdryer.

I went back to the purple elephant. I took whatever was left of the spool of cord and simply knotted it in a random fashion to fill in the elephant's body a bit, and to add an ear. To finish up, I tied the strand at the neck into a little ball to represent a bell.

This was a somewhat frustrating activity, mostly because I didn't know what I was doing. It was also more time-consuming than I anticipated. This took me about two hours, which I thought was a lot for something that fits in the palm of my hand.

I don't mind the final result, but it's not as sturdy as I'd like, and I'm not entirely sure it won't unravel at some point. That being said, I'm not completely put off macrame. I just need to learn how to tie a few knots and get some good instructions.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Elephants have many ways of punishing those who offend them. If an elephant is greatly offended, or even enraged, it will often destroy the immediate area, including the person who caused the offence in the first place. Sometimes, however, elephants have more gentle ways of making a point.  

In the late nineteenth century, a circus was parading through the streets of London. A man in the crowd, egged on by his friends, grabbed hold of the tail of one of the elephants and yanked it.

This kind of thing might usually result in the elephant swinging around and grabbing the person in its trunk, then tossing the offender as far away as possible. This time, however, the elephant wheeled around, grabbed the man in its trunk, then held him against the iron railings of a nearby building.

Paying absolutely no attention to the howling man, or his friends, the elephant seemed determined to keep the man there forever, if need be. The elephant only released its prisoner following the entreaties of its keeper—dropping the man unceremoniously to the ground and turning back to rejoin the parade.

African elephant.

To Support Elephant Welfare

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