AT WORK: Leigha Mitchell sets to work on a medium-sized wall-hanging.

MACRAME, the quintessential 1970s trend that had houses everywhere adorned with hanging jute pot-plant holders, owl wall-hangings and knotted lampshades, has made a comeback.

After a long hiatus, the craft is undergoing a resurgence in New Zealand, Australia and throughout North America. Social media platforms are brimming with patterns, fibres and concepts along with images of completed items – many of which bear little in common with their forebears.

While the principle of macrame remains the same – cord is knotted in a series of patterns to make decorative articles – the end results appear to be oh so different from those of 40 years ago.

Gone, but not forgotten are the almost sole use of jute, and the coloured chunky wooden beads that featured in, well, almost everything. The craft appears to have been elevated by a new level of creativity, reincarnated as a higher artform, and the resulting style is capturing the attention of a generation drawn by its bohemian appeal.

Whakatane woman Leigha Mitchell knows all about it. Drawn to the concept herself – having bought an item from its Tauranga maker because she “just loved it” – Leigha had been inspired to try her own hand at the craft.

Young enough to not have been around in the ‘70s, she says she bought a book and set about learning to form the knots. Artistic by nature, she began experimenting, exploring the possibilities, and developing her own patterns to create the items she envisaged.

The result was a highly appealing range of intricate and whimsical items that quickly gathered attention, leading to the development of Leigha’s online store, Stella Lace.

Leigha is no stranger to creativity – she has had a long affinity with art, producing accomplished pen drawn images and exploring a number of crafts and art mediums. And, as a lover of flowers and plants, for the past two years she has also been setting about fulfilling a long-held dream of becoming a florist, a dream that is currently eventuating in a bigger way than she had imagined.

Working for the past two years at Honeybee Wild Flowers on The Strand, Whakatane, Leigha has just taken up an opportunity to purchase the business – its current owner choosing to focus solely on weddings and events.

With plans to rename the floristry Stella Lace & Flora, Leigha will also use the premises to showcase her macrame. “I’m so excited,” says the mother of two. “I have always wanted to be a florist, it’s just taken a while to get there.”

Having earlier started off making simpler macrame items, Leigha had soon turned her new-found skill to creating more complex pieces; bridal hair pieces and wraps for flowers, special occasion bridles for horses, and large, multi-layered wall hangings. Commissions since have included a backdrop to hang from a wedding arch and a large piece to adorn an oxcart.

While experimenting with many different fibres earlier on, Leigha says she only uses one type of cord now. “It’s expensive to get here,” she says of the cotton cord she imports from Lithuania and Australia. “It’s not light so the shipping costs mount up, but it’s the only cord that produces the results I’m after.”

Leigha says her long-time love of flowers, as well as indoor pot plants – another thing reportedly making a comeback – was one of the motivations for her to learn macrame in the first place. “I wanted to create new ways to present fresh flowers, and new ideas for holding pot plants”.

Displaying a few smaller macrame items at Honeybee Wild Flowers had been her first foray into gauging interest in her work. The items quickly sold and, soon after, Stella Lace had been born with the creation of Facebook page, @stella lace macrame, and Instagram, stella.lacenz.

Things have moved quickly for Leigha since then. Though sales are still arriving mostly through her online store, she says it is commissions that are now also keeping her busy.

“People contact me with an idea of what they want, or what they want it for, and I go from there”.

Stella lace seems to have provided a perfect wave for Leigha – her passion and considerable artistic skill is meeting with a desire for personalised handcrafted intricacy.

“It’s a good thing I’m able to sell my pieces because actually, I can’t stop making them. Macrame is very addictive.”

BY Lorraine Wilson