You may perceive it as old-fashioned, but there is more to macrame than meets the eye. Not just a 1970s fad, knotting twine together has become a modern thing – especially if done right and with careful attention to aesthetics.
Chinese-American artist Windy Chien gained fame for twisting ropes into beautiful art. Her 2016 book The Year Of Knots, which documented how she learned to tie a new knot every day for 365 days, was a major hit among millennials.
Chien has been covered by Wired, The New York Times and even Martha Stewart Living, with companies like IBM and National Geographic Society commissioning her work for their offices.
Macrame has witnessed a revival within fashion too. With everyone keen on embracing cottagecore (a style trend based around the visual culture of life on a Western farm), the artform is trendy again.
It appeared numerous times as embellishments in the Spring/Summer 2019 New York Fashion Week. Textured netting was seen decorating handbags, covering dresses and cascading off belts.
Stella McCartney unveiled bags with macrame straps back in 2017. Last year, Gabriela Hearst presented luxurious ready-to-wear designs that made good use of twine detailing.
On the local front, we are seeing creative Malaysians using macrame to create stand-out jewellery pieces.
They are proving that such a simple artform can be chic and would not in any way look out of place in a glossy fashion magazine.
A stylish string theory
Charmaine Kamal's macrame creations bridge the gap between art and fashion. What started as a personal crafts project soon turned into a real business for her.
She started Nurtureknots on Instagram in 2017 to share her love for knotworks. Thereafter, she started receiving requests and to purchase her creations, as well as commissions.
“As a proud Malaysian, I am inspired by the cultures from the indigenous tribes of Malaysia, ” says the Kuala Lumpur-born artist. She however believes that knot tying is very much a “universal language”.
“I’ve been making handcrafted artisanal weaving, mostly macrame pieces, available for art collectors and enthusiasts.They also take on various forms, as daily essentials, fashion accessories and interior decoration pieces.”
The jewellery pieces Charmaine designs have an ethnic feel to them. But by playing with bright colours, she has also made them contemporary. Think modern contrast-blocking, which is a perennial trend on runways.
“It takes only a couple of hours to finish a small piece and up to a week or two for a larger one. What’s for sure is that they are all made with love, ” she says of her creative process.
“Using my instincts and perspective, I usually start with a sketch and work with that. But sometimes, ideas would just pop up in mind and I’d just go with the flow and experiment.”
'String art is like a painting'
Charmaine, 31, says that she is lucky to be born into a creative family. Her father is an architect and her mother, a clay artist. She holds a degree in business and has never formally studied design.
“I guess creativity runs in my blood. Both of my parents really inspired me. They have been so supportive of me chasing my passion and doing things that I love, ” she enthuses.
Although macrame can sometimes be seen as dated, Charmaine says there are many facets to it. It is her belief that the craft can exist in various styles – some more innovative than others.
“Just like surface embroidery, quilting and needlework are seeing a bump in popularity, macrame is being transformed from a 70s relic into a hot, trendy artform.”
Charmaine notes that the beauty of macrame works is that each one is unique. Made by hand, no two designs are ever exactly alike. She says her creations are one of a kind, a translation of her nuanced aesthetics.
“I believe string art is like a painting, it has its own essence that you have to give it a try and explore. I’m still learning and understanding the process, while experimenting with different styles and textures.”
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