A step-by-step narrative addressing how to use macramÃ© -- the ancient art of tying decorative knots in cord -- to create handcrafted jewelry pieces.
I learned to macramé -- the ancient art of tying decorative knots in cord -- back in junior high school. My sister and I took a lunch period club together and made a number of planters that used to hang in our house. It recently occurred to me that the same technique could be used on a much smaller scale to create pieces of handcrafted jewelry. Even only knowing three or four basic knots, you can create unusual pieces that stand out.
Determining the Length of Cord Required
The length of cord needed will obviously depend on your project. If making earrings, think about how long you want them to hang from the ear. Say, for example, you want them to dangle two inches below the ear wire. In that case, for each earring you would want at least twice that length of cord for each strand, since you will be working with them folded in half. Allow a little extra space for a loop at the top…so maybe add a half-inch or an inch – depending on how large of a loop you want to serve your design. This strategy would also apply to making a pendant.
As for a bracelet or necklace, determine the size you want in inches – for example, a 7-1/2” bracelet or a 20” necklace. Allow at least twice the amount desired, and add a few extra inches to finish each end. Depending on your project design, as little as two inches on each end may be required. If you want to add more flourishes, such as dangles or fringe, that will require pieces of cord a bit longer. It’s always better to err on the side of caution because you can cut excess cord off when you’re finished. If you run out of cord in the middle of your piece, you cannot seamlessly add more in macramé…unless you can incorporate it somehow into your design. When in doubt, longer is better. J
Take two pieces of your string material of choice. Just to get started, pull them through a jump ring, so they are secure while you work. You want four pieces dangling from the ring in a side by side in a row, so you’re basically folding the cord in half and pulling it through the jump ring to secure it. You can remove the jump ring later, if you wish, or keep it to attach to a clasp, bail or ear wire when you’re finished.
If your two pieces are not the same length, that’s okay because the two inside pieces are used as a base and are not being tied. Therefore, arrange the cord so that the shorter pieces are in the middle of the two longer pieces. Try to make the dangling ends on the inside as even as possible, as well as the ones on the outside. If you’re working with equal lengths from the start, all four should be approximately the same length after tying them around the ring. I was making an earring in this example, so the inside strands are relatively short. This will determine the maximum length of the earrings, since I will have to stop when I get close to the end of the “base” strands.
The Half Knot
· Start with placing the strand on the left side across the other three strands.
· Pull the strand on the right out so it is lying on top of the crossover strand.
· Now, wrap the right strand around the back of the two middle strands.
· Bring the right strand (now on the left) through the loop created by the left strand.
· Pull the two ends away from each other, which will make the loops smaller. Push them up toward the top of the piece as they get smaller. Also pull the two middle strands to help them slide up to the jump ring.
· Up to this point, we have created a half knot.
The Square Knot
I recommend starting and ending the piece with a few square knots. This will make attaching jewelry findings easier because it will create a flat, even section of cord…rather than trying to attach findings to a spiral, which may twist the finding and create an odd and/or awkward angle.
· Make a half knot as instructed above, starting from the left. This is the first part of a square knot. The second part if the same, only done in reverse.
· Take the strand that is now on the right and lay it across the other three. Move the left strand so that it is lying on top of the crossover strand.
· Fold the left strand so that it is going behind the two middle strands.
· Pull the end through the loop created by the right strand.
· Pull the ends apart to tighten the loops, sliding it up to rest beneath the first half knot. Be sure to pull all four strands tight to make a secure knot. See the square?
· To make a series of square knots, repeat the process from the left, alternating between the left and the right for each square.
Adding a Bead
Any time you want to add a bead to the piece, simply slide the bead up the two center strands. Be sure the beads you choose have holes large enough to fit two strands of your cord through them!
Generally, the easiest way to secure a bead in place is to make a square knot, straightening out the piece above the bead, and then make another square knot beneath the bead to hold it in place. The two side strands will be on either side of the bead when it is secured.
An alternative is to string a bead on only one center strand. The remaining strand will have to be arranged next to the bead alongside the outer strand that wraps around the bead.
Make sure the center strand is moved back to the center when securing the bead from underneath.
The Spiral Stitch
If you make a series of half knots, always starting from the same direction -- it can be either the left or the right – you will create a spiral. The side you start with will determine the direction of the spiral. Starting from the left will create a clockwise spiral, and starting from the right will create a counter-clockwise spiral.
The Spiral Stitch with Direction Change
In order to create a spiral that changes direction mid-way, start from one direction, and then switch starting sides at the point you want to change the direction of the spiral.
Nothing is irreparable -- except maybe running out of cord before you’ve reached the desired length for your project! As I was making a bracelet recently, I decided to see what would happen if I switched the inside strands with the outside strands, since the outside ones were getting pretty short. You can tell where I made the change, since the stitching looks a little sloppy. However, since I was nearing the end of my bracelet and was changing from a spiral stitch to a series of square knots leading to the clasp, I didn’t think it would stand out too much. The best time to do something like that is when the nature of the design hides the “fix.”
The best part of macramé is if you make a mistake or don’t like the way something looks, you’ll see it almost immediately – usually within one half knot or full stitch – because the piece won’t be “laying right.” You can simply untie the strands and make the correction.
Once you see the working ends are getting short, it’s time to end the piece. As with starting out, your best bet is to add one or a few square knots to straighten the piece out. This is not required, and you can experiment with different stitches to see what ending you like or what works best for a given piece.
For Earrings and Pendants
A simple, decorative ending for a pendant or earrings is to create beaded dangles on the ends. You can leave the ends as they are coming out of a knot, or knot them all together before creating the dangles. Simply string a bead at the bottom of each strand and secure it with a regular knot.
As an added flourish, you can unravel the cord beneath the knot to create a tassel look. Trim the tips to make the look neater, or keep them “raw” for a more ragged, natural look if you prefer.
Be sure not to leave the ends too short if you want to use this technique, as you need room to knot the ends to sure the bead stays in place! In the worst-case scenario, I had to untie the last two half knots to have enough space at the end beneath a small bead on a pair of earrings.
When making earrings, try to use the same lengths of cord for both earrings if you can. Minor differences will not really be noticed because the wearer’s head is between the two earrings. However, do count the knots you’ve used in the first one, and use the same number and the same knots – you can switch directions if you wish to create a “mirror” image of the original – in the second one, or they will be noticeably out of balance.
For Bracelets and Necklaces
The easiest way to end a necklace or a bracelet is to simply create a loop at one end, tying it off with a traditional knot. On the other end, place an elongated bead that will fit through the loop on the other end when held long ways, but it will not slip through when laid across the loop. Tie the bead so that it makes a “T” with the end of the cord using a traditional knot. This is a toggle clasp. When closing the toggle clasp, hold the bead so that it rests alongside the cord and can be slipped through the loop on the other end. Once the bead has been threaded through the loop, straighten it out so it is perpendicular to the loop, blocking the hole to keep the piece in place.
A more complicated – and more decorative – ending is to create a toggle bar with a bead by sliding it onto one of the two inside strands at the end of your square or half knots. Secure it in place with a couple of square knots. You can add dangles to the stray ends or knot them and cut them off.
For the opposite end, create a string of square knots, and then form them into a loop. You can make it with new cords, then affix the competed loop to the loop at the end where you started your piece…or the jump ring, if you prefer to leave it on the piece. I attached this one by wrapping the loose ends around the bottom of the square stitch loop and creating a multi-strand knot. I then moved lowed down the end of the bracelet and created two more multi-strand knots. This will ensure that it is secure, and also hide the segment where the loop is attached to the bracelet.
In the reverse, you can create the square knotted loop as the finish to your piece – just continuing on from where your design ends and wrapping it over to form the loop. After that, you can affix a bead on the opposite end with a separate strand and a traditional knot.
If you wish to receive these and other step-by-step instructions in PDF format, complete with photos illustrating each step, feel free to email me at email@example.com and put “Factoidz - Macramé” in the subject line. Have fun!