Beginners Guide to Macrame Cord
Let's talk macrame cord types!
So you’ve decided to try macrame? Good choice, I like you. If you’ve found this blog, I’m assuming you’ve gone to buy cord and realised there are like, SO MANY choices. I know, it’s a lot. But fear knot (lol), you’ve got this. Weave got this. Oh yeah, we’re doing fibre art puns.
Okay no, that’s all the puns I’ve got.
So macrame cord. The most important thing to remember is that if you buy the wrong cord, it’ll still be fine. There’s not really such a thing as the wrong cord, unless you buy knitting yarn which I can say from experience is very very wrong. I actually first tried macrame a couple of years before I really got into it - it was such a disaster, I had to let myself completely forget about it before I tried again. I’d bought knitting yarn, which is lovely if you want a jumper that isn’t super stiff and allows you to like, move your arms. But floppy-ness isn’t ideal for macrame. So, I attempted to make a super simple wall hanging but ended up with a misshapen mess that seemed to stretch longer every time I looked at it. The whole experience made me think that I was rubbish at macrame and shouldn’t attempt it any further - little did I know I was just rubbish at choosing cord! Thank god I finally decided to try again! So with that said, as long as you have any type of macrame cord, you’ll be fine.
Think of it like this - you’ve been sent to the shop to get pasta for tea. When you get there, you realise you forgot to ask what kind of pasta you’re having. Now, if you’d been told the evening meal was going to be a bolognese, you’d probably have grabbed spaghetti, right? But really, if you grab a bag of fusilli and it is a bolognese, it’s still gonna be lovely. It doesn’t really matter which type of pasta you get, it just matters that it’s pasta. Macrame cord is basically the same! Except I don’t advise mixing it with bolognese or trying to eat it. It’s the same as pasta metaphorically, not literally. But you knew that, hopefully.
So, let’s get on with it and de-mystify the world of macrame cord.
Macrame cord types
Let's start with their names - get the introductions out of the way. There are three types of macrame cord that you'll see, though sometimes they go by different names - I know, confusing! Those types are:
Braided / Cord
3ply / 3 strand / Twisted / Rope
Single Twist / Twine / String
Whilst cord, rope and string do technically mean specific things, you may see them used interchangeably (for example, I’m saying ‘cord’ as a general term throughout this blog). But generally, if you understand all the terms above, you’ll be able to recognise what you’re looking for. A perfect example is Clover Creations - if you go to their Cotton String drop down, you’ll see it then separated using multiple of the terms above. As a bonus - their cord is SO NICE. It’s super soft and lovely on your fingers when you’re knotting. It’s also some of the most dense cord I’ve ever used which makes it awesome.
I’m sorry, dense cord?
Okay, so all types of cord are made up of lots of tiny strands of cord, the different cord types are just different ways these strands are put together. Some cords use slightly thicker tiny strands which means there are less strands in the cord. Others use super thin strands, meaning there are looooads of strands in the cord. You could get two cords of the same thickness, but if they have a different amount of strands in them, there's a notable difference in quality - the more strands, the more dense the cord looks and the softer it’ll feel. Clover Creations cord is super dense. It’s lovely.
Features of each macrame cord type
Now you know the names of each macrame cord, let's see how they look and how they function.
Braided cord is made up of various strands all, well, braided together. The way it’s braided means it holds its structure even if you have to undo your knots multiple times - perfect for beginners who are still learning their knots. Because it holds its structure so well, it’s also perfect for projects that are going to be getting a lot of wear - for example, I made a tool harness for a lock keeper using a braided cord so that it wouldn’t fray when they used it. The downside of braided cord is that it doesn’t really brush out into a fringe. Technically you can fringe it if you’re willing to unravel it by hand and then brush it, but it takes hours and doesn’t make a great fringe (trust me, I tried)
3-Ply / 3 strand
3 Ply cord is made up of three strands (each strand made up of smaller strands) which are twisted together. In my opinion, this is the most versatile cord type as it’s excellent at holding it’s structure - not quite as well as braided but you can get away with undoing and redoing your knots a couple of times - but it also brushes out easily to make a lovely fringe. Because this cord can still be brushed out well but holds its structure, it’s usually the cord of choice in a lot of ‘modern’ macrame projects that require a structured appearance.
Single twist cord is a bunch of threads all twisted in one twist. Imagine if you grabbed a clump of your hair and then just twirled it a few times so it makes a twist - it’s kinda like that. This cord gives projects a lovely ‘soft’, less structured appearance and is often the choice of cord for more ‘bohemian’ designs. As you’re working with this cord, you might find that it starts to unravel - this isn’t anything you’re doing wrong, it’s just the nature of this cord type. It does mean that if you’re a beginner, you might want to avoid it just so you don’t have another thing to think about. It’s not vital that you avoid it though - I’ve taught plenty of beginners using single twist cord and they’ve created some stunning plant hangers - it’s also the first cord I ever used (aside from knitting yarn, ahem). Single Twist is the nicest cord for brushing out into fringe - it’s super easy to brush and doesn’t tend to have any kinks in it.
When you should use each macrame cord type
The best macrame cord for a beginner
When you're learning the knots for the first time, it makes sense to start with a braided cord - purely because you can knot and unknot everything as many times as you like without it affecting the cord. But personally, I think when you're learning something, it can be discouraging to feel like you're wearing training wheels - I know I almost immediately started using single twist cord because it just looked so soft and dreamy! I put single twist cord in the Terracotta & Twine DIY kits, I also use single twist in my workshops, and the beginners who have bought them all created lovely plant hangers just fine. So - personally I say whatever feels right, just go with that one!
The best macrame cord for a plant hanger
Some Terracotta & Twine plant hangers are made from.3-ply, whilst others are made from Single Twist so I'd say either of these works great - but so would braided! Really, it depends on the types of knots your plant hanger uses. If it's mostly comprised of Square Knots, Half Square Knots and Wrap Knots, with very little 'unknotted' cord showing (like the Cartwright Plant Hanger), you'll be totally fine with a single twist. If your design does have a lot of 'unknotted' cord showing, more like the Chellow Dene Plant Hanger, then you'll be better off with a 3-ply or braided cord, just so everything stays looking uniform and you don't have any unraveling cord to distract from your design.
The best macrame cord for a wall hanging
This entirely depends on the style of your wall hanging. If your wall hanging it going to be mostly knotted at the top with a lot of fringing - single twist or 3-ply is the way to go.. Both of these options will look great and give you the option to brush out the fringe, but single twist gives it a slightly softer 'touchable' appearance. If your wall hanging will have a lot of areas with unknotted cord or a more structured design, I'd recommend 3-ply or braided cord so that everything stays even and uniform throughout. If you're making a wall hanging with lots of knots and very few gaps between them, any of the three types of cord will be great.
The best macrame cord for mini wall hangings
Personally, I find braided cord the easiest to work with for mini wall hangings. Because the cord is so much thinner and everything is a lot more intricate, I find the structure that braided cord provides super helpful. 3-ply would also be a great choice for a mini wall hanging.
The best macrame cord for coasters
Because you'll want to brush out the fringe on a coaster, 3-ply or single twist cord will be best. I make coasters out of both but find that 3-ply is easiest to work with for coasters because of how well it holds its shape - especially important if you're making circular coasters! The 3-ply is stiffer and more rigid, which makes it more consistent as you create the coaster - this consistency means the circular shape is easier to achieve. With the single twist, you have to make sure you keep it from unravelling as you go. If it unravels a little in some areas, the coaster can become a little less rounded in those parts.
Which macrame cord thickness you need
Once you’ve chosen your macrame cord type, you’ll need to figure out what size you need.
If you’re following a pattern, you’ll need to use the cord thickness that’s specified (hopefully it is!), otherwise the dimensions of the project and the lengths of cord you cut will be totally wrong.
The chunkier your macrame cord, the bigger each knot ends up being, which means a knot tied with 6mm cord would use a longer length of cord than the same knot tied with 2mm cord. It would also be a much larger knot. Imagine tying a knot in a piece of sewing cotton and the same knot with a garden hose. That’s an extreme example, but as you can imagine, the knot in the cotton would be significantly smaller than the garden hose. This is the same as with different sizes of macrame cord.
So, all this means is that if you’re wanting to create your macrame piece with a lot of knots and detail, go with a smaller cord. If you want to create a macrame piece that has bigger knots and requires less knots to reach a certain size, go with a bigger cord. What this means in terms of millimetres will depend on the size of your finished project.
As a general rule if you’re really not sure what size you need, you can’t go wrong with a 3mm or 4mm cord. I’d recommend starting your macrame journey with these and then for future projects, you’ll know whether you want to make your knots bigger or smaller than they were with this. When I first started with macrame, I made everything with 4mm cord. Plant hangers, small wall hangings, massive wall hangings - everything. I did once attempt to make a purse with 2mm cord but the knots were tiny and it took far too long, so I gave up and did it with 4mm instead. I prefer to make quick progress!
Do I have to use the cord specified in the macrame pattern I'm using?
Nope! But if you use a macrame cord that's thinner than the one a pattern tells you to use, the final result will be smaller than the one in the pattern. If you use a macrame cord that's thicker, the final result will be larger. Also, if you change the thickness of the cord, you'll need to adjust the length of the cords. If you're using thinner cord than the pattern specifies, you won't need quite as much cord as the pattern suggests. If you're using thicker cord, you'll need longer lengths of cord.
Whilst some cords are better suited to certain macrame projects than others, THERE ARE NO RULES. I'm putting that in capitals because I see a lot of beginners on macrame forums panicking that they don't want to get their cord choice wrong. But seriously, no rules. Any cord can be tied in a knot, some are slightly more suited to certain projects than others, but there's no reason you can't use any cord for any project. So, go forth and tie knots!
If you feel like you need some inspiration, you can buy Terracotta & Twine patterns here.