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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Enjoying the Resurgence of Macramé with Propagate

Jun 21, 2017 11:00AM ● By Jordan Venema

Full Circle

July 2017
Story by Jordan Venema
Photos by Ellie Koleen

It’s a form of textile making that dates back to the 13th century, and some debate the origins of the word, whether it comes from the Arabic migramah, which means fringe, or the Turkish makrama, which means napkin or towel. Whatever its origins, the art of macramé spread from the Middle East to Europe, and was even popular among sailors who whiled away their hours on the lonely seas by using their knot-making skills to adorn the hilts of their knives and other tools. The Victorians took to macramé like crafters today have taken to crochet, and the art eventually arrived at the height of its popularity in the ‘70s, when nary a home in America could be found without the textile art hanging from some window or nook. But for macramé, the ‘70s seemed to be the end of the rope of its popularity. 

Despite the ebb and flow of the craft, Chris Mullins is turning the pastime into a profession, and currently enjoying the art’s resurgence.

“Three years ago, my daughter decided to get married and have succulents in her wedding,” says Mullins. “Over the period of a year, we had some succulents donated, and not knowing anything about them, I began learning about them and putting together arrangements. 

“Then, because she’s a wedding photographer, she staged a wedding and wanted to have these macramé plant hangers, which is something that most younger gals didn’t know about,” explains Mullins. “In the 1970s I used to do that, so she asked me if I could make some plant hangers for her.” 

It only took Mullins about 15 minutes to get back in the groove, and the two former trends, succulents and macramé, have proved a natural marriage. For succulents, macramé hangers make artful and practical receptacles for the low-maintenance plant.

“The medium has changed a bit,” Mullins says, and most modern macramé now uses cotton, rope or polished hemp, but “it’s basically the same thing as in the ‘70s – just the tying of knots to form some sort of design. It almost looks like crochet, but it’s not. It’s hand-tied knots, and anybody who has been in the Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts knows how to tie a square knot, and that’s the basic knot of macramé.”

As others began to take interest in macramé, Mullins started Propagate, formerly Propagate, Succulents and Friends, to host separate workshops where she teaches the basics of macramé and caring for succulents. 

“Propagate means to spread and promote an idea, and that’s what I love to do,” she explains. “I love to teach people how to care about plants and do macramé.”

Her macramé workshops, which typically cost $40, teach basic knots and variants of those knot, and attendees “end up going home with a macramé hanger that they’ve designed,” says Mullins. “The workshop includes rope, the hanger, the pot and instructions.”

For her succulent workshops, Mullins says, “gals come over usually in my backyard, and depending on the season, we make succulent-topped pumpkins, wreaths for doors and arrangements.” Caring for a succulent is much different than caring for a houseplant, but still, “they thrive on neglect.”

Crafting macramé and caring for succulents are both straightforward arts, but for Mullins, the real joy comes from getting together with others during her workshops, which she announces through her social media.

“This is my outlet. I just really enjoy doing it,” says Mullins. “I find that I can spend too much time on a macramé, because it can potentially incorporate thousands of knots already, and where there’s a knot, there’s always a variation.”

It might be the variation on a theme that has brought about the resurgence of macramé, or that a DIY generation has appropriated the former trend. Either way, the returned popularity of macramé, as well as succulents, has been a surprise to Mullins.

“I just think it’s something that’s trendy and popular,” she says. “It’s been many years since both have been popular, but whatever goes around comes around.

“I mean, whoever thought? I think it was Martha Stewart who said that if anybody had told me that I’d be having macramé in my magazine, I would have told them they were crazy.”

If what goes around comes around holds true, there’s always the chance macramé again could go out of fashion, but for now Mullins is riding the wave, adding, “I told my husband if I’m not having fun I’m going to quit.”

For now she is having fun, and doesn’t anticipate macramé or succulents to go out of fashion anytime soon, so she’ll continue to propagate their popularity.

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