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Scanning Around With Gene: Groovy Macramé

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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?

Gene Gable

Gene Gable

Gene Gable has spent a lifetime in publishing, editing and the graphic arts and is currently a technology consultant and writer. After a decade in commercial typesetting and design services, he chronicled the desktop-publishing revolution from his post as publisher and president of Publish magazine. With nine international editions, Publish became the leading global resource on the use of digital technology for print and Web production. Gable served on the operational boards of International Data Group's PCWorld, The Web and PC Games magazines and was earlier publisher of Sporting Times magazine. During his tenure at Ziff-Davis Gable was on the executive team responsible for major business events such as Comdex, Networld+Interop and JavaOne. As president of Seybold Seminars and publisher of The Seybold Report, Gable managed a global slate of conferences, trade shows and other graphic-arts educational products. During his leadership Seybold events featured prominent speakers such as Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of the New York Times, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer, Christie Hefner, president of Playboy Enterprises, Bruce Chizen, CEO of Adobe Systems, and Daniel Carp, CEO of Eastman Kodak. Gable has spoken at events around the world and has written extensively on graphic design, intellectual-property rights, and publishing production in books and for magazines such as Print, U&lc, ID, Macworld, Graphic Exchange, AGI, and The Seybold Report. His clients have included A-list brands in technology and financial services. Gable's interest in graphic design history and letterpress printing resulted in his popular columns "Heavy Metal Madness" and "Scanning Around with Gene" here on CreativePro.com. Follow Gene on Twitter
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Posted on: November 23, 2012

Gene Gable

Gene Gable has spent a lifetime in publishing, editing and the graphic arts and is currently a technology consultant and writer. After a decade in commercial typesetting and design services, he chronicled the desktop-publishing revolution from his post as publisher and president of Publish magazine. With nine international editions, Publish became the leading global resource on the use of digital technology for print and Web production. Gable served on the operational boards of International Data Group's PCWorld, The Web and PC Games magazines and was earlier publisher of Sporting Times magazine. During his tenure at Ziff-Davis Gable was on the executive team responsible for major business events such as Comdex, Networld+Interop and JavaOne. As president of Seybold Seminars and publisher of The Seybold Report, Gable managed a global slate of conferences, trade shows and other graphic-arts educational products. During his leadership Seybold events featured prominent speakers such as Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of the New York Times, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer, Christie Hefner, president of Playboy Enterprises, Bruce Chizen, CEO of Adobe Systems, and Daniel Carp, CEO of Eastman Kodak. Gable has spoken at events around the world and has written extensively on graphic design, intellectual-property rights, and publishing production in books and for magazines such as Print, U&lc, ID, Macworld, Graphic Exchange, AGI, and The Seybold Report. His clients have included A-list brands in technology and financial services. Gable's interest in graphic design history and letterpress printing resulted in his popular columns "Heavy Metal Madness" and "Scanning Around with Gene" here on CreativePro.com. Follow Gene on Twitter

6 Comments on Scanning Around With Gene: Groovy Macramé

  1. Thanks for this flash from the past, Gene. I wonder how many of us have a piece of macrame art stashed away in our cupboards?

  2. We have at least two macrame plant hangers in the house made by my own fair hands far more recently than the 70s. Though my efforts tend towards the simple and practical rather than the more baroque hangers on display here.

    It’s also pretty easy, you only really need to learn the one half macrame not, which can be either left or right handed, much of the rest is just how you combine that.

    The scans are eerily familiar however. I originally learnt macrame in the 70s so when I came to make plant hangers in the 90s I picked up some second hand books to jog my memory. The two I have are filled with similarly naff and impractical creations. My favourite is the macrame cotton fringe for your child’s towelling bikini, I’m amazed 70s children didn’t sink instead of swimming.

  3. I admit some of the clothing items may be a bit over the top (especially the shorter vests), but the plant hangers, hammock, wall hangings — those are all quite lovely. Macrame took some patience — I know, I did some! Don’t knock it … it still has a place (even if only in memory).

  4. This was so cool! I really like some of those designs, too bad the ornamental creations eventually all become a huge ornamental dust catchers.

  5. Gene, that sure brought back some memories. It made me think of another fad of the ’70s, Batik clothing. We did this in art class and I actually wore the result. For those who don’t know, here’s a rundown on how it is made: to make a batik, selected areas of the cloth are blocked out by brushing or drawing hot wax over them, and the cloth is then dyed. The parts covered in wax resist the dye and remain the original colour. This process of waxing and dyeing can be repeated to create more elaborate and colourful designs. After the final dyeing the wax is removed and the cloth is ready for wearing or showing.

    Too bad I don’t still have any of these articles of clothing left but I do still have my halter top from that era (with feathers sewn on the front) that I dig out every now and then for a Halloween “hippie” costume.

  6. Though you posted this almost a year ago I am SO glad you did. It’s helped with my research a huge amount, and gave me some great laughs! What a trip down childhood memory lane…

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