Monday, May 17, 2010

DIY Gifting- Macrame for the 21st Century

Recently I told my hubby that we needed more deer in our freezer- relying on the generosity of others is a lousy way of getting what we need. I told him he needed to take up hunting and fill the freezer himself. "I'll need a rifle" he said, happily thinking that this was either the perfect way to get out of getting up mindnumbingly early and going hunting, or the perfect way to get a new toy. "Of course you will" I told him. And our "romantic" Valentine's weekend was spent comparison shopping rifles at various gun shops in town. I guess we're not an average couple :P D's pretty darned happy that his wife will buy him a rifle for his birthday. His best friend is pleased beyond words that D will finally, after many years of pleading, be joining him in the predawn hours to stalk deer. I'm happy that we might soon have deer in the freezer for me to cook.

Once he had the rifle, he needed a sling. We looked at various types, and then I happened to stumble onto an interesting tidbit on the internet. There's a company that makes "survival" bracelets- the basic theory being that they use 550 cord (military spec parachute cord) and knot it into various things (bracelets, dog collars, belts, and *rifle slings*) and then if/when the buyer gets into a survival situation, (s)he has at their disposal about a foot of 550 cord per inch of "thing". So if they have an 8 inch bracelet, they have about 8 feet of cord; a 30 inch belt= 30 feet of cord- and so forth. Their hook is that if you use one of their products in a survival situation, you just send your bits of unraveled cord and your survival story to them and they will send you a new one for free. I thought it a brilliant idea, and when I looked at them closer I noticed immediately that they used the EXACT same knots as I had used in the 4th grade to make my mom a macrame plant holder. How convenient! I could make one!

You can use this same knot and technique to make, obviously, a rifle sling or a plant holder, but you can also use it to make bracelets, keyrings, belts, luggage straps, purse handles, pretty much anything that you need a durable, flat bit of "strap" for. You can also use just about any material- from the nylon rope I've used here, to twine (for a plant hanger) to embroidery floss (for bracelets)- It's very versatile. I've made a bunch of keyrings, and now that the sling is done, I plan to make D a belt as well since he tears his up so fast he gets new ones every 6 months, and the dog needs a new collar too. You can use knots for closures (a large knot like a "monkeyfist" and loop will hold a bracelet closed), for the belt I plan to use a plastic 2 part buckle. I can't remember what they are called, but I've included a picture. For the rifle sling, I knotted the strap directly onto the rifle swivels.

Basically, if you can tie a knot, you can macrame. There are a number of knots that are commonly used, and the one I've chosen has got to be one of the easiest. This particular knot is called a sinnet knot and it's kind of a series of overhand knots. You will need 2 central cords (which are the length of your finished item) and then a left and a right "knotting" cord. It's easier to work the piece if you anchor the center cords. I used a safety pin to affix it to the knee of my pantsleg or to a pillow I'd hold in my lap. And since my knotting cords were stupid long, I bundled them up and secured them with rubber bands, so I was working with sort of shuttles, instead of LOOONG cords. You first make a "4" with the left cord OVER the central cords, and a backwards "4" with the right one, going under the cords. Bring the tails through the opening (like a pretzel) and pull snug. You don't need to pull it impossibly tight- just snug. Snug will result in an attractive and strong knot. Tight will result in a weird bunchy knot that is no less durable in the final product, but is a lot less flexible. So snug is really better. Your next knot will be a "4" with the left cord UNDER the cords, and backwards 4 over the cords with the right. If you always go over with the left and under with the right, your final product will spiral. Repeat, ad infinitum, ad nauseam, until you've either completed the length of knot work you wanted, or filled your center cords. If you have trouble with my tutorial, there are about a dozen videos on the internet you can look up and watch.

If you're double knotting, at this point you flip your work so that your knotting cords are now at the top, secure the new "top" and then use the part you've already knotted as your "center cord" and just knot over that til you've reached the other end.

When you've finished as much knotting as you like, the handy part about using parachute cord is that it's nylon, so you can work the ends into the last few knots, then cut them, melt them and press them into the knots to secure them. And presto! You're done!

For D's rifle sling, I wanted to make it double knotted, so I calculated 2 feet per inch (which is what all of the information I could find on the internet said to use- unfortunately it wasn't quite enough- next time I'll just measure out 100 feet and use what I need. In truth, I think the calculation for double sinnets should be more like 2.5 feet per inch of finished project, plus the length of the central cords, plus a couple of inches for the knots to hold it onto the swivel). I measured the sling mounts on his gun and his chest and we agreed he needed a 37 inch sling, so that's what I made (nice that I could give him a rifle sling that is custom fit to him!) But that gives you an idea of how to measure.

I'm sure that rifle slings are not everyone's cup of tea, but the reason I shared the technique and instructions is because macrame is an easy, EXCELLENT handmade craft for gifting. Anyone of any age can do it. A plant hanger is just twine knotted into 3 macrame sections that are worked on a ring (that you will use to hang the plant), then knotted at the bottom to hold a potted plant. I made that at about age 8 or 9; a little older I used this knotting technique to make bracelets as gifts for my friends. You can do two tone knots too. This is a great activity for adults if you're looking for a durable, unique handcraft. It's a fantastic activity for groups of kids (like art classes, scouting or birthday parties). Sure, it takes some time. A LOT of time in the case of the rifle sling (which took me probably about 20 hours or so to finish). But if you're looking for a simple yet beautiful handmade craft (especially if you're not wanting to deal with any mess, or if you've got limited space), this one is hard to beat. Even non-artistic types can make gifts with macrame. Sure, we all remember the 1970's when everyone's grandmother had every potted plant in her house dressed up with some sort of macrame'd tasseled nightmare of yarn- but macrame itself isn't dated and is easy to "modernize" and use to create great crafts for today.

A bracelet I made for D using a monkeyfist knot as a closure, and a cobra knot. He wanted this something fierce, since the knotwork really looks snakelike and is pretty cool, but it's too round to be comfortable to wear- it makes a great keyring though since he can tuck the knot through his beltloop and the keys drop in his pocket and it's almost impossible for him to lose them. A keyring I made with "leftovers" from the above bracelet. The keyring is also the cobra knot, simply made with 4 cords instead of 2 as I did with the bracelet. Keyrings are an excellent way to practice new knots, use up odd bits of cord, and also make fantastic little "extra" gifts- whether tied onto a package as a useful decoration, to enhance another item (see the top picture, where the ring of a drinking bottle has a knotted handle) or just as a "little something".

I'll try to keep this thread updated with photos of other macrame and knotwork items I make. There are literally hundreds of other knots and patterns you can learn and use, and it's actually a lot of fun to learn knots. I wish I'd have paid more attention to lanyard making in scouts, but the info is easy to find and with a little practice, the knots are easy to make too. In addition to the belt and collar I mentioned above as being on my "to do list", I also plan to make a net to carry my aluminum drinking bottle, and I may look into making a knotted reusable grocery sack instead of crocheting one. Look around for ideas and most of all: Have fun with it!

1 comment:

  1. Gosh, need some new pix on this entry...sorry all! I'll fix them post haste!