How to start macrame as a total beginner
I've mentioned this before in the last blog, but my first attempt at macrame was an absolute disaster. I used knitting yarn instead of a less stretchy macrame cord, the whole thing ended up suuuper misshapen and I gave up. I looked longingly at big intricate macrame pieces on Pinterest and thought "well, I'm never gonna be able to do that!" for way longer than I'd like to admit. I even had specific like, macrame dream boards on there of things I wished I could make from this craft that I thought I totally sucked at.
Thankfully, I tried again with the right cord and realised that I actually didn't suck and super enjoyed macrame. But I missed out on like, two whole years where I could have been doing macrame and wasn't because I'd got intimidated. So hopefully this blog will help you have a smoother introduction to macrame and fall in love with the things you create immediately.
I figured I'd do it like, as steps, but the order isn't set in stone or anything. Feel free to jump around between these steps but I'm pretty confident that if you hit all of them before jumping into a giant intricate project, you'll have a super smooth slide to success (points for alliteration, please)
Step 1 - Practice your knots
If you're wondering wether you'll be able to do macrame at all, start with individual knots before you jump right in with a pattern. There's no need to get any specific cord for this - you could even use a simple pair of shoelaces if that's all you've got on hand. You're not looking to create something here, you're just learning the foundation. Kinda like learning to roast veg one day, make Yorkshire puddings another day, roast potatoes another day etc. instead of jumping straight into cooking a Sunday dinner for 6 people without any practice.
I've got a page of knot tutorials here, which will show you all the basic knots and gives you written instructions, step-by-step illustrations and videos where I make each knot. Not to toot my own horn or anything (totally am, oh well) but I think these are super helpful. I tried to make sure that however you learn, I've provided instructions that you'll find helpful - I know sometimes I watch videos to learn how to do something and I'm just wishing that there was a picture I could copy, or I'm reading instructions and wish there was a video because I don't understand the context...so yeah. I've provided every method I could think of to help you learn these knots. If there's any other way you think would be helpful - feel free to send me an email and I'll look into it.
Starting with the individual knots can be somewhat unsatisfying because you don't actually have an 'end result', I know, but it's a great way to build confidence before diving into a pattern. It'll also allow you to recognise what each knot looks like, so that when you're choosing a pattern you'll be able to see roughly which knots the pattern will be using.
Step 2 - Choose a pattern
For your first pattern, I recommend something small. I know it can be tempting to dive right in and start with a massive wall hanging because that's your end goal. But to go back to the Sunday dinner analogy: if you jump into cooking Sunday dinner for 6 people without having practiced any of it first, chances are some stuff's gonna burn, you might realise that actually there's a certain step that you just don't get on the first attempt, you might realise it all takes way longer than you expected and your guests have resorted to ordering a pizza because they're starving. Macrame can be the same. Except instead of getting a pizza, there's a chance it'll end up stuffed in a cupboard in frustration and never taken out again. Is this analogy working? I hope so. Basically: jumping into the super exciting, complex stuff might actually lead to disappointment and quitting. And probably not pizza.
Even if you're like me and well, you like to dive right in the deep end, I super super recommend doing at least one simple and small pattern before you go for the complicated stuff. Something like the Eccleshill Bookmark Pattern, or this free Mini Wall Hanging Pattern would be perfect. Completing one of these simple macrame patterns will teach you some basic knots that are the basis of a lot of more complex macrame patterns - for example, you can create a clutch bag using the exact same knots and method as the free mini wall hanging. The clutch bag just requires...more cord and more knots. So if you've done the mini wall hanging first, getting to do a clutch bag will have you going "pfft, no worries, I'm a macrame genius at this point, I got this". Whereas diving into making a clutch bag with no prior experience will probably result in "is this right? Have I messed this up? It's been 6 hours now, I better not have messed it up". Or maybe that's just me.
If you do want something slightly larger, the Cartwright Plant Hanger Pattern was created specifically with beginners in mind - as you work your way through it, you build on the previous knot you learned and you build skills as you go. This pattern was one of the first ones I wrote and I got my partner, Josh, to be my 'pattern tester'. He'd never done macrame before and I wanted his end product to rely only on following the pattern, so I didn't even show him a picture of the finished product before he started. I gave him a roll of cord, along with the pattern, and he created a perfect plant hanger. So, if Josh can do it - you can too!
If you're using a pattern from somewhere else, see if they mention how many types of knots you'll be using in the pattern. I recommend starting with a maximum of three knots in your first pattern so that you don't overload and you have chance to actually absorb what you've learned.
Step 3 - Choose your cord
Terracotta & Twine macrame patterns generally advise what type of cord you should use in the listing, however this is not the case with all macrame patterns.
If you want to use a different type of cord to the one recommended or if your pattern doesn't specify a specific type, you can read my blog post on choosing a cord here.
As I keep banging on about - when I first learned to macrame, I tried to use a yarn that was intended for knitting - this is basically the only thing I advise you to not use. It's too stretchy and your finished product will end up stretching out of shape and it's a very unsatisfactory experience. But, if you wanted to use it just to practice knots in step 1 - go ahead.
A summary of the aforementioned macrame cord blog is: any cord made for macrame will be fine, because, well, they're made for macrame and you're doing macrame. But, certain cords are a little better for certain things.
Summary of my macrame cord blog:
Braided cord can be knotted and unknotted basically an unlimited amount of times and it will still look like a perfect piece of cord. However, it can't be brushed out into a fringe without a lot of effort and even then, it doesn't create a particularly great fringe.
3-ply cord is a great option if you want to be able to knot and unknot quite a few times without the cord looking messy - it's not quite as hardy as braided cord, but it's close. It also brushes out into a fairly lovely fringe.
Single twist cord can be a little finicky in that it tends to untwist as you use it. This isn't anything you're doing wrong, but it can mean that if you knot and unknot too many times, it starts to look a little scraggly. It does however, look super soft when you use it and brushes out into lovely fringe.
Even as a beginner, you should be fine with any of the cord types. They just produce different looking results. If you want a less uniform, softer looking result, use single twist. If you want something with more structure, use a 3-ply. I actually find braided cord to provide less structure because it tends to be a little squishy somehow, so I generally just use it for pieces that need to be resilient - like the tool holder I made for a lock-keeper.
Step 4 - Feel free to ignore me
Honestly, you know yourself best. This blog post should be used as a guide if you're still stuck in the 'staring at things on Pinterest but don't dare try it yourself' stage (no judgement, I spent 2 years there). But, if you do tend to have a better success rate with things when you just dive right into the tricky stuff - do that! I know that on certain projects, I find that if I try and start with learning the basics, I get bored. And that's fine too - sometimes you just wanna try the hard stuff and work backwards to figure out what went wrong when and as it happens. If that's how you learn best, that's totally valid and you should stick to your method.
There's totally no 'set in stone' way to learn any new craft. I once decided I wanted to make cement plant pots until I went down a massive rabbit hole reading about how bad cement is for the environment. I then ended up being too guilty about it to clean out my buckets because I didn't wanna pollute the water, or the ground or anything. So I stopped doing cement stuff. But anyway, I wanted to make cement plant pots without any prior experience with mixing or using cement. I dove straight in, bought a massive bag of cement, collected empty cartons and bottles to turn into moulds and just...started making stuff. I did zero research. Turns out there's actually a bit of a science to making cement, but I preferred the process of finding my pots all crumbly and then figuring out why cement goes crumbly. And so on. I guess sometimes my take on things is "I wanna be able to do this thing AND explain to people why the correct process is correct, so I need to understand what happens when the correct process isn't followed. So I stubbornly just...attempt things knowing that I'm probably doing it wrong.
I didn't totally suck at it, sometimes. A lot of the time I did, but there were some that turned out well:
And it's all okay. Except when it results in a LOT of wasted cement. That's less okay. But it will be okay because we're eventually going to smash all my failure plant pots and turn them into gravel to go under the patio. But ANYWAY.
Macrame can be super relaxing and a little meditative as you just tune out and repeat the process of tying knots, so figure out which method of learning is gonna make you the least stressed and stick with that. If you're less stressed out when you're just throwing yourself right into something, you do you. If you're less stressed out when you have a defined learning path to follow, you do you too.
If you follow each of these steps, you should end up with a great understanding of the available cords, recognise most basic macrame cords and be looking at massive wall hangings on Pinterest thinking "I recognise all these knots - I can totally do this!". And I mean...I know I used a Sunday dinner analogy like, a lot, throughout this but actually I'm a really terrible cook and I cannot cook a Sunday dinner at all. So, if you can then you're clearly a super talented wizard type person and 100% can do macrame.
So, go forth and knot!