Updated: Feb 21
I have been producing step by step guides for my macrame designs since 2021 and have received some wonderful feedback about how fun and easy the guides are to follow. Occasionally I get questions or suggestions that allow me to better understand the experience from the customer's point of view. Sometimes the feedback is specific to a pattern, like a step that could be described more clearly. This feedback is really valuable and gives me the chance to tweak my guides and make them even better. But mostly the queries I get are general to the craft of macrame, and so in this blog I will discuss some of those more general questions and suggest some answers.
I don't think my ideas are the only solutions. I am largely self taught and so I have resolved some of these issues through trial and error. But I would love to here from you, if you have considered the same issues and how you solved them. Please comment on these posts and we can make them even more useful to others.
Today's question is a common one, and well worth discussing:
How do I work out how much cord I need to complete a piece of macrame?
Of course if you are following my patterns, I have done this calculation for you, but sometimes you might want to customise the design to suit your needs, For example; to extend a table runner pattern to match the length of your own table, or have a long fringe below your wall hanging. There is no precise calculation to work out how much cord you will need, but you can estimate and then add a little more just in case. To estimate I would recommend starting with a 3.5 : 1 ratio of cord : macrame and then adjust for the factors discussed below. This means you should use 3.5m of cord for every 1m of macrame produced. Of course we are only considering length here, the number of cords you need also depends on your pattern, so for example, 1m of square knots would require 4 x 3.5m cords as a square knot is usually made from 4 cords.
What type of macrame piece are you making?
Different types of macrame pieces consume cord at different rates. For example when knotting a single strand of spiral or square knots for a plant hanger the filler cords in the middle are not knotted at all and pass straight through, but for a similar length of alternating square knots for a wall hanging like the Christmas tree design below all the cords are consumed at the same rate. So my first modification of the 3.5 : 1 ratio is for which type of piece you are planning. Averaging across 23 of my designs the overall average ratio is 3.5, but plant hangers need less and table runners need more.
I would not recommend working out the route of every cord through your design, but sometimes you can make an adjustment based on design features. For example, wall hangings are often denser and/or longer in the middle compared to the edges. In fact sometimes the very outside cords are only knotted a few times or not at all. This is shown clearly in my Christmas tree design here. So you can make separate calculations of length for the different sections in your design as I have done below, this helps to reduce the waste you would get from cutting all cords the same length.
Unknotted areas or long tassels
The 3.5 : 1 ratio takes into account most small areas where the cord is unknotted as it is an average ratio. However you can refine your measurements where you have large areas unknotted. For example for a hanger, if you want a long drop of straight cords below the knotted part then you can add this in a ratio of 1:1. So for a 2m hanger where 1m is knotted and 1m hangs down unknotted below, then you could use 3.5m for the knotted part using the 3.5 : 1 ratio and 1m for the fringe using a 1:1 ratio. So a total of only 4.5m is needed. See the long drop of unknotted cords below my plant pod opposite.
My ButOneString designs tend to be quite dense, with lots of knots per inch and not many areas where the cord is not knotted. So some of my designs are closer to 4.5 : 1 than 3.5 : 1. Or even more; here is my Nectar table runner, the knots are very dense and I used 5m of cord for 1m of runner (a 5:1 ratio!).
Thick cord tends to need a little more as the ratio than thinner cord, and 3 ply rope a little more than single twist. So if we say 3.5:1 ratio for 3mm cord, then maybe 4:1 ratio for 5mm cord and 3:1 ratio for 2mm cord.
Working cord vs Filler cord consumption
This is not really a factor for adjusting the ratio but more a reminder if you are calculating your cord lengths from scratch. Working cords are consumed much faster than filler cords. Depending on the knots used the filler cord may just pass through the piece as if hanging straight down unknotted and the working cords do all the work. So as the 3.5 : 1 ratio is an average, the actual consumption for a simple length of repeated knots is more like 6:1 for the working cords and 1:1 for the filler cords. To take account of this feature, in my classic plant hanger design (opposite), I swap working and filler cords when I add the beads. This helps balance the consumption of the cords and means I can start will all cords the same length and reduce waste.
Don't forget to double it before you cut
This is a common mistake. We have been talking so far about calculating the length of cord needed to complete your macrame pieces. What we mean by this is the length of the cords hanging down in front of you that you can work with. Often in macrame pieces you start by hanging your cords from a piece of wood using lark's head knots, or from a wooden ring, or you can even make the ring from cord. This is the case for the typical plant hanger above. However in all these cases you attach the cord in the middle of the length of cord you have cut. So that from each cut cord there are 2 cords hanging down for you to work with. These hanging cords need to be your desired/calculated lengths. Therefore you need to actually cut the cord twice as long, and produce 2 hanging cords. Don't make the common mistake and cut just the calculated lengths, only to then notice that you needed cords twice as long to hang them.
So there you have it, my top tips for estimating the length of cord needed to produce macrame. Do you have a trick that you use? Please share, and feel free to challenge my ideas. Is 3.5 : 1 right for you? or do you have a different ratio in mind? Please join the discussion and post a reply.
Also if you think doing all these calculations is too much like hard work, you are absolutely right. Forget your calculator and choose one of my patterns or kits where I have done the hard bit for you and you can jump right in and get knotting.
In future posts I will answer more questions, including choosing cord types, making unwanted cords disappear and upcycling waste cords, so remember to register on this website and follow me on Instagram @ButOneString to get updates.