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The Ties That Bind

Chinese people have known how to tie knots with cord ever since they began tying animal pelts to their bodies to keep out the cold thousands of years ago. With the advance of civilization, Chinese people used knots for more than just fastening and wrapping. Knots were also used to record events, and some knots had purely ornamental functions. In 1980, some dedicated connoisseurs collected an arranged the decorative yet practical knots that have been passed down through the centuries in China. After studying the structures of these knots, the devotees set about creating new variations and increasing the decorative value of the knots. These exquisitely symmetrical knots which come in so many forms are as profound as the great cultural heritage of the Chinese people. The knots have thus been collectively named Chinese Macrame.

Chinese Macrame is based on over a dozen basic knots that are named according to their distinctive shapes, usages, or origins. The Two Coins Knot, for example, is so named because it is shaped like two overlapping coins of the kind once used in ancient China. The Button Knot can actually function as a button, and the Reversed Swastika Knot is derived from the Buddhist symbol , which was commonly seen on the streamers hanging down from the waistband of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. Similarly, the basic form of the Pan-ch'ang Knot, which is actually a series of continuous loops, symbolizes the Buddhist conception of continuity and the origin of all things. Indeed, the Pan-ch'ang Knot is the primary knot of Chinese Macrame upon which an endless number of variations can be made.

Chinese Macrame, like Chinese calligraphy, painting, sculpture, porcelain, and even Chinese cooking, is easily recognizable to Sinophiles. This is because the basic structures of Chinese Macrame cause it to differ greatly from Western or Japanese Macrame in shape and function.

The knots of Chinese Macrame are pulled quite tightly. They do not easily come undone when used to bind or wrap something, so they are very practical. Furthermore, the complicated structure of Chinese Macrame allows for all kinds of variations and enhances its decorative value. Almost all the basic knots of Chinese Macrame are symmetry has set certain technical limitations on the design and creation of new patterns and themes, symmetry is consistent with time-honored ornamental and aesthetic standards in China. Visually, the symmetrical designs are more easily accepted and appreciated by Chinese people.

Except for the Two Coins Knot, Chinese Macrame is three dimensional in structure. It is comprised of two planes which are tied together to leave a hollow center. Such a structure lends rigidity to the work as a whole and keeps its shape when hung on the wall. The hollow center also allows for the addition of precious stones.

Crafting Chinese Macrame is a three-step process of tying knots, tightening them, and then adding finishing touches. Knot tying methods are fixed, but the tightening can determine the degree of tension in a knot, the length of any loops (which are called ``ears'' in Chinese), and the smoothness and orderliness of lines. Thus, how well a piece of Chinese Macrame has been tightened can demonstrate the skill and artistic merit of a Macrame artist. To finish a knot means inlaying pearls or other precious stones, starching the knot into certain patterns, or adding any other final touches.

Since ancient times, Chinese Macrame has decorated both the fixtures of palace halls and the daily implements of countryside households. Chinese Macrame has appeared also in paintings, sculptures, and other pieces of folk art. For instance, Chinese Macrame was used to decorate the chairs used by the emperor and empress, the corners of sedans, the edges of parasols, the streamers attached to the waistbands of lady's dresses, as well as all manner of seals, mirrors, pouches, sachets, eyeglass cases, fans, and Buddhist rosaries.

Traditional handicrafts are flourishing under the stability and prosperity of modern Taiwan. With the support of the government and dedicated private citizens in the Republic of China, the universal popularity of Chinese Macrame has now surpassed that of previous eras. The endless variations and elegant patterns of Chinese Macrame, as well as the multitude of different materials that can be used (cotton, flax, silk, nylon, leather, and precious metals such as gold and silver, to name a few) have expanded the functions and widened the applications of Chinese Macrame. Jewelry, clothes, gift-wrapping, and furniture can be accentuated with unique Chinese Macrame creations. Large wall-hangings made of Chinese Macrame have the same decorative value as fine paintings or photographs and are perfectly suited for decorating a parlor or study.

Chinese Macrame, with its classic elegance and ever-changing variations, is both practical and ornamental and fully reflects and grace and profundity of Chinese culture.

A wall-hanging with a pattern
that symbolizes being doubly blessed with
happiness and wealth


Cultural Division, Taipei Economic & Cultural Office in Houston
11 Greenway Plaza, Suite 2910
Houston, Texas, 77046
Tel: (713) 871-0851, Fax: (713) 871-0854, E-mail: houcul@houstoncul.org