The macramé is a typical lace from Liguria: yarns are woven and knotted by hand, creating beautiful patterns.
The special technique originated from the region’s seafaring tradition in the 11th century.
During their mercantile expeditions, the Ligurian sailors noticed this knotting method in the Arab countries. On their way back home, the sailors started to kill till time by knotting rope threads on board.
Once they disembarked in Genoa, they sold whatever they had been able to create, such as hammocks, bags and belts.
There are different theories on the origin of the name Macramé.
The most accredited one is that it comes from the Arabic “miqramah”, which refers to a decorated piece of fabric, and from the Turkish-Ottoman “makrama”, meaning handkerchief or towel.
Today, there are very few people that create macramé in a professional way.
One of them is our macramé expert, Cristina. She is one of the local characters that we like our guests to meet so that they can get in touch with the most authentic soul of Genoa.
We had the pleasure of interviewing her.
Hello Cristina, tell us a bit about yourself. What led you to approach the ancient art of Macramé?
One day I saw my mother weaving knots with her hands. I asked her what she was doing, and she explained that she had joined a course to learn Macramé, an activity that belonged to the ancient traditions of Liguria.
I was immediately fascinated, especially by the fact that there was no tool – unlike crochet or knitting, which I knew how to do.
In fact, macramé is all about how you weave threads with your hands, and it’s amazing to realize the variety of designs and patterns that you can create with the knots.
Once I started, I never stopped. I was captivated by this type of decorative art… what starts as a bit of thread ends up as a work of art. It’s an artwork that reflects who you are.
For example, your personality can show through your knotting style (how compact or light it is) or through your patterns and how colorful, geometric or imaginative they are.
Why is it important to enhance this type of craftsmanship in 2021?
Because it is a knowledge that has its roots in the history, customs and traditions of my people, of my region. Just like we must not lose history in general, we must not lose these precious, ancient techniques that are part of our past.
It also means passing down the trade in a certain way.
I always say this to my students: if I show you how to do the knot, you will learn it immediately; if I must explain it in writing, it takes me at least 10 lines of description. Learning from a book is very different from seeing an expert artisan in action.
Just think of the fil rouge that runs through the collections of Dolce & Gabbana: they consult artisans and have them work in various regions of our country!
And this is also where the Made in Italy brand comes in, it’s important, we are copied all over the world for our artisan knowledge.
In my opinion, you can also enhance this type of craftsmanship by modernizing it.
I have applied macramé to bags, clothing, wedding favors… In fact, another thing that I love about macramé is that it’s very versatile, so it can help the traditions stay alive while embracing modernity.
For example, the towels of the ancient tradition are made with a precious fabric, and the macramé is then made on their edges.
Some people snob them today, because these traditional towels need quite a lot of maintenance… you need to know how to wash and dry them properly.
But I found a way to apply macramé to the normal, modern-day towels, so it’s possible to have a practical and easy-to-wash towel that is still unique, with a fringe that is handmade according to our tradition.
You are a macramé teacher. Is there a question that your students ask more frequently?
They always ask me about the origins of macramé, and I am always happy to dedicate some time to explain its history.
After all, the fact that this technique was first learned by men is very unique. They made very simple knots, then it was the women who refined it and turned it into the precious form of art that we can still appreciate today.
I like to explain the relationship between macramé and the sea, and how the technique developed in Liguria.
If you pay attention to some paintings, you will notice that the macramé appears here and there.
For example, the turban worn by people who serve the palaces in the paintings of the XVII century is usually a macramé towel.
And if you look at the painting of the “Madonna and Child with St. Giovannino” by Bernardo Strozzi, on the floor you will notice a basket with towels ready to be worked with the macramé technique that I mentioned earlier.
Any curiosity you would like to share with BeautifuLiguria’s readers?
As a technique, the macramé is known and used here and there around the world.
For example, I have seen how the Russian ladies create colorful and beautiful purses and jewels with macramé, using thicker yarns than the ones we use in Liguria.
The Americans also know about macramé, but perhaps applied to modern things and not necessarily the handmade work on traditional objects. But imagine that not all Italians know about it.
Once I went to do an exhibition in the Marche region (central Italy), in a street market with a painter friend of mine… and nobody knew what I was doing!
Many people stopped to ask me about the knots and the art form.
So, if your readers visit Liguria – no matter where they are from – I will make sure to show them the original, Genoa-style macramé, for example the “asciugamano della nonna” (old style towel) with very thin designs!
Plan your authentic trip in Liguria
At BeautifuLiguria, our trips are not only about places to see, but also about meeting local people that keep our region’s traditions alive.
Plan a visit to Genoa to meet Cristina and other incredible artisans and ancient shops.
This is a city that deserves to be discovered, featuring the largest medieval historic center in Europe after Venice, and amazing food experiences like cooking lessons and visits to the basil greenhouses.