Circa 2006, when I was planning on redoing a couple of old lawn chairs, a Google search for instructions on how to work macramé lawn chairs led me into exploring the craft of macramé itself, which in turn left me shaken and scarred. Every click seemed to reveal some fresh new horror. I couldn't seem to find a single attractive use of this craft. There was nothing but bad jewelry, terrible home décor items, tacky lawn chairs, Elvis-style belts, wretched Christmas decorations, and really bloody awful owls.
Remember these plant hangers? They were ubiquitous in the seventies. Although fortunately back then it didn't generally occur to people to make their plant hangers do double duty as a wine rack.
And then there were the macramé owls. So many owls. For some reason people who did macramé had a real fetish for owls. There were macramé owl earrings, macramé owl key chains, and especially macramé wall hangings. If you have the fortitude you can peruse seven freaking pages of macramé owls here.
Eventually, defeated and demoralized, I just printed off some instructions and did my chairs in the "I heart Bingo" pattern above.
I kid. I actually worked them in a plain pattern using cream-coloured cord. And they turned out fine, but to this day that's my only foray into macramé.
Then a little while ago it occurred to me that I ought to write a post on macramé for this site as I've done for a number of other crafts that are akin to knitting. This time my image googling results were more mixed. Some of the same traumatizing crafts were still popping up (go ahead and google "macramé lingerie" if you dare), but there were also a number of very attractive items. I've since learned that macramé is also known as Canvandoli and knotted fiber art, which helped me uncover some of the better examples of macramé. As of course exist. There are bad crafts out there, but there's really no such thing as a bad crafting technique. When crafting goes wrong as it often does, the fault lies in the design and/or the execution, not in the medium itself. Every tree produces some bad apples.
So yes, macramé has loads of potential as a craft. If anything, it's underexplored as a medium. I do think it's fair to say that macramé is more limited than knitting. It isn't well suited to making clothing. Loosely knotted macramé will be too open weave to be wearable (unless one is, say, J.Lo), and knotting it more closely will make it too stiff and heavy for clothing.
Macramé does have some limited use as overlays and embellishments for clothing, as is the case with this hammered silk crepe and jersey macramé dress from the Spring/Summer 2010 Ready-to-Wear Collection by Tadashi Shoji.
Macramé can also be used to make straps or halter back detail for a garment. It could also be used to make a shawl.
The stiffness and sturdiness of closely knotted macramé makes it a good technique for purses and handbags, as in the case of this clutch and shoulder bag from Banana Republic.
Macramé can make some quite striking jewelry, in which the crafter can incorporate beads and stones and other findings.
If you've got a simple wooden or metal chair frame about, you can make a quite comfortable and attractive macramé chair that will be suitable for indoor or outdoor use.
Macrame can also be used to make pillows, as in the case of these from Amenity, though you will want to line them.
And I don't see anything objectionable in a simple macramé plant hanger, like these ones, the pattern for which is available for free on the Lion Brand site (I can't link directly to the pattern as anyone who wants to access it must register first). But please, no plant hangers with tassels hanging nearly to the floor, and no sticking wine bottles into your plant hanger, because that's just wrong.
If you wish to give macramé a go, there is Free-Macrame-Patterns.com, which offers some patterns (of varying quality, but that's to be expected given the price) and, more importantly, instructions on the basics and more advanced techniques of the craft. There's also Macrame School on Youtube, which offers a number of instructional videos, and for inspiration, there are quite a few macramé boards on Pinterest.
But it doesn't seem that macramé will ever distance itself from the owl. If anything, macramists seem determined to embrace the owl, as artist Andy Harman has done with this owl installation. There is, in fact, Macramé Owl, an "organisation [that] is dedicated to saving, rehabilitating and reviving the Macramé Owl".
I couldn't make this stuff up.
STOP STARING AT ME.