Scanning Around With Gene: Groovy Macramé


I spent my coming-of-age years in the Seventies, so my memories of that time are bittersweet, especially in retrospect. But of all the decades I’ve experienced, the Seventies feel most like a time that had its own distinct identity. We had war, an energy crisis, the first Earth Day, disco, inflation, bad typefaces and even worse fashion. One movement that seems very distinct to the era was the popularity of macramé, a craft form that used rope, string and yarn to weave various patterns. Some patterns were used to create specific functional items, and others were simply art for art’s sake.

I’m not sure why macramé so personifies the Seventies, but it surely does. This was a time when “hippy” sensibilities had become more mainstream, where a return to nature was being advocated on various fronts, and the term “organic” described an art style, not a food movement. All of today’s images come from about a half-dozen how-to macramé books I found at a garage sale. They are dated from 1971 to 1978, which seems to have been the pinnacle of the macramé craze. I’m sure the craft was around a lot longer than that, but it’s role as pop culture was fairly short lived. Click on any image for a larger version.

I’m not sure why, but it seems as though macramé and bad Seventies typefaces go together. Here are a number of examples I find particularly interesting when designers or typesetters could not figure out how to do an accent over the “e,” so they simply used an apostrophe instead.

But of course macramé was not about the typestyles – it was a free-form expression that could take many forms. Some, like these wall hangings, were completely impractical and existed simply as art.

Other macramé styles were used to create functional items, though they typically grew much larger than necessary for the task at hand. Here’s a simple key holder, an umbrella holder and a colorful rainbow hammock. And many things in rings.

And this is one of my favorite images from the Seventies – a pair of stereo speakers, suspended by macramé hangers, next to a hot tub. It doesn’t get any more Seventies than this, though the hanging candle-holders come in a close second.

It wouldn’t be the Seventies without some sort of fashion component. Macramé became a vehicle for clothing design, as well, for both men and women. I often wondered how people managed to keep these articles of clothing clean.

Perhaps even more popular than macramé in the Seventies, were house plants, particularly ferns. So the most common place you tended to see macramé projects was in the form of plant hangers.

I made a small attempt one time to do macramé and found it quite difficult. There were a lot of different knots you had to learn and either you had to follow a specific pattern or have a very good imagination to get anything that looked like it was planned.

These days I still see an occasional macramé piece, though rarely. But at one time they were very common. I suspect the owners of macramé discovered the most important question there was about the art form: Who’s going to dust it?

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