How the Old Craft of Macramé Has Been Renewed by Contemporary Designers

Words by The Folklore Team

“I’ve always loved macramé. A good friend of mine does macrame in Australia but we have some artisans who do macrame here in Lagos. I was actually shocked by that because I didn’t realize that, but it’s a craft that can be learnt online, so a lot of people have picked that up here – not many but there’s a handful,” says Shekudo founder and designer Akudo Iheakanwa. When she wanted to experiment and include a new textural element to her SS21 “Odo mmiri ya” collection, she decided to go for the age-old craft. The result was the yellow Thandi tote bag, a standout accessory from the collection.

Macramé has recently seen a resurgence, after enjoying some popularity in the 1970s, used across interior design for home accessories and craft projects. Originating as decorative finishes to garment hems, attributed to Arabic and Chinese cultures, macramé is a form of ornamental knotting that dates back to 15th century AD. The art of macramé is practiced by many people around the world, including in Africa. It has enjoyed popularity across many periods in history, from the Victorian Era, the 1970s, and today.

It’s one of many handicraft skills that have been embraced by young African designers, bringing old manufacturing techniques into a contemporary era. Today, brands such as Shekudo, Orange Culture and Fruché employ local artisans who weave colorful pieces of cord by hand into tote bags, tops, accessories and more.

Inspired by the fishing nets that are frequently seen along the Nigerian coast, Fruché’s AW22 “See Finish” collection includes pieces that have been handcrafted from start to finish using cotton poly rope, which provides a soft and lightweight handle. The free-form nature of the craft means it can be easily used to create custom styles in a variety of patterns and colors.

While the craft of macramé is steadily growing in popularity, it is practiced by only a handful of artisans in Nigeria. One of them is Omonigho, a Lagos-based studio that specializes in macramé craft. Because it is done completely by hand, each woven piece ends up being unique, which is part of the appeal for young designers today.

It’s also another way to support local artisans who don’t make a lot of money from their handiwork. Indigenous craft, such as macramé weaving, aso oke, and adiré dyeing are usually practiced by women, which means they are considered low-skilled work and don’t bring in much revenue. But when local weavers are employed to create unique designs for fashion collections, the influx of steady work contributes to a collaborative and sustainable ecosystem that drives the local economy.

Macramé has also proven to be a sustainable solution to the waste generated from the fashion and creative industry. The artisans at Omonigho frequently use leftover rope from other projects to create one-off pieces.

While the craft of macramé is easy to learn, thanks to books and YouTube videos, Mrs Juliet at Omonigho Studio has recently partnered with Orange Mentorship, the education initiative for young entrepreneurs by Orange Culture founder Adebayo Oke-Lawal, to conduct teaching sessions in the craft. The program’s Macramé 101 session provides valuable skills that cannot be gleaned from a page or a screen.

But the most valuable thing about macramé, beyond the talented people who produce it, is how the simplicity of an often overlooked craft can create a statement piece that embodies both ethical and sustainable practice. “There are so many ways to make a statement but for me, one thing I can do is create beautiful pieces that women can wear and be like, Yeah, this item is made in Nigeria, it’s really fun, it’s vibrant, and it’s a weaving tradition that is over 600 years old,” Iheankanwa says.

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