|The preparation process for creating a Korean macrame knotting piece is time-consuming and difficult. It usually
starts with making a silk string called kkeunmok. This process typically requires several stages, from reeling off raw
silk from cocoons to dyeing it with natural pigments. One of the earliest stages involves reeling 18 strands of raw silk,
each of which is thinner than hair, onto a bobbin to form a braid at a later stage. Then each group of spooled silk is
placed on a piece of cloth and boiled in soapy water. The artist needs to be very careful at this stage, as well as in the
stages of rinsing, drying, re-reeling and dyeing, to keep the silk threads, which are as fine as a spider web, from
getting tangled. The entire procedure needs the tremendously careful hands of a mother who takes care of her
After the threads are fully dried, they must be dyed. While traditional Korean macrame artists use five colors:
yellow, indigo, crimson, pink and purple, Choe introduced new, pastel-tone colors. She says that dyeing has always
been the most difficult stage, adding that after repeated failures she has created more than 40 ‘mid-hue’ colors
without using any artificial pigments. To get such a variety of natural colors, she uses common garden plants and
fruits and vegetables such as cucumber, the young leaves of pumpkin plants, onion skins, pickled radish and
grapes. She is proud of the beautiful natural dyes she has created, especially after so many disappointments. Once
the dyeing is completed, she re-reels the threads onto a bobbin, and then divides them into eight groups by winding
them onto eight spools. Finally, she makes a braided string by twisting threads from each spool, thus completing the
first preparation step for macrame knotting.
The macrame knotting process begins by bending the middle of a string to divide it into two parts of the same length,
tying knots with both parts of the string to form a symmetrical pattern. When the macrame knotting is completed, the artist
must tighten the macrame knots to keep them from loosening. Traditionally, there are 33 basic macrame knots in Korea
although the number can grow immeasurably if one considers regional varieties. Most of the patterns produced by
Korean macrame knots are copied from both natural and household objects, as well as animals and insects such
as butterflies, dragonflies, cicadas, bees, lotus blossoms, chrysanthemums, maehwa (Korean apricot blossoms),
Tang grass (arabesque), strawberries, railings, buttons, cushions, beans, rings, and geometric patterns.
The art of Korean decorative macrame knotting often entails incredibly complex skills and
techniques, which makes it nearly impossible to explain in words. Because it requires perfection
that does not allow the slightest mistake, a moment’s distraction may lead to missing a step and
eventually ruining the entire piece. Korean macrame art often calls for almost superhuman
concentration from the creator. The intricate movements made by adept and nimble hands can
sometimes be seen as meaningless to onlookers, but what gradually emerges from the busily
moving fingers is an incredibly fascinating macrame pattern.
The same strict order and rules apply to the making of the tassel (sul), which forms an
essential part of the Korean macrame art. Again, concentration is imperative and the briefest
diversion, even by an experienced artist, is not permissible. A Korean macrame artist must
endure long periods of near-superhuman patience and strain during the entire process from
dyeing to making a tassel. In fact, there are a wide variety of tassels in Korean macrame,
including Ttalgisul (‘strawberry tassel’), used largely as an ornament for fans or ‘robe belts;’
Jansul (‘fine tassel) for pouches or headgear; Bangmangisul (‘club tassel’) for musical
instruments or biers; Nakjibalsul (‘octopus-leg tassel’) for trinkets or royal palanquins;
Bangulsul (‘bell tassel’) for fans or baby trinkets; and Bongsul (‘flower-bud tassel’), which is
widely used for objects such as trinkets, fans, belts and palanquins.
Also made of braided silk macrame cords, a traditional Korean tassel is usually made by
using a tool called sulteul (‘tassel maker’), a device designed to help arrange the cords
neatly in uniform length. The braided macrame cords on the tool are then steamed for
about 10 minutes and dried for two days in a shaded area to give them proper volume and
softness. Afterwards, the macrame cords are carefully removed from the sulteul and bound
with golden threads to form the head. The highlight of this process, which creates another
distinctive and elaborate feature of Korean tassel making, is weaving the design of
auspicious Chinese characters, such as Su (‘Long Life’) and Bok (‘Fortune’), into the
head with golden cords. The bottom end of each macrame cord freely hanging down also
displays a special finishing touch: all the cords’ ends are twisted, rather than cut, so that
they are round, thus, embodying additional volume and beauty.
A completed Korean macrame knotting piece finally brought forth after a long, difficult process, displays the perfect
harmony of strings, patterned knots and a tassel. The Korean macrame knotting work becomes a luxurious personal
ornament, especially when it bears a jewelry of corresponding colors, such as jade, nephrite, or silver. With the
fascinating patterns intricately knotted from just one silk string through the numerous movements of nimble fingers,
such a work exhibits the very essence of the decorative macrame knotting art developed by Korean women.
Choe Eun-sun says that whenever she feels restless, she holds silk strings in her hand and attains peace of mind.
She doesn’t follow any existing theories or techniques, but chooses macrame patterns and colors from her heart.
As the string freely flows, following the movements of her fingertips, so does her soul from a macrame work of art.
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