From the pages of
The Zine About Thrifting
Issue 8, Party Like It's 1976!
Bicentennial 20th Anniversary Special!
(P.O. Box 90282, Pittsburgh, PA 15224; $5 for five issues, cash or checks made out to Al Hoff) TIE ME UP...TIE ME DOWN
MAKING ART WITH STRING AND OTHER "NATURAL" THINGS
In the summertime, people's thoughts tend to turn to plants. And who can think of plants without conjuring up macrame? Every thrift has several of those gargantuan macrame plant holders. After grumbling about them for years, I've become semi-fascinated with the piles of macrame at the thrifts.
During the 70s, the ultimate way to display your plants was to suspend the pots in elaborate macrame hangers. What possessed thousands of men and women to spend hours knotting rough cord till their fingers bled? Perhaps the attraction of doing a handicraft yourself--there must have been quite the sense of accomplishment when you'd done the last of 6,000 knots. Macrame had an authentic "rough" look that was popular in some 70s homes--this was no mass-produced shiny piece of imported plastic. And let's not forget the plants. Plants were given primary status in the 70s--they had feelings; you were meant to talk to them and carefully tend to their specific needs. A big fuzzy knotted mass of jute is a much more natural environment for your sensitive plant to hang in. No shortage of these dumped in the thrifts. Besides your traditional string macrame, you'll also find plant hangers made from beads, shells, drapery cord, and synthetic rope.
Maybe you'll be inspired to whip up your own plant hanger--grab one of the zillions of leftover macrame instructional books. I was flipping through some thrifted macrame guides wondering why on earth macrame had been so popular when I stumbled across a possible answer: "A friend taught me three basic knots and I just went berserk." (Macrame Boutique, 1976.) I guess it's kind of like drugs--a "friend" gives you a little taste and soon you're out of your mind, knotting up six-foot-long plant holders. The books all say easy and fun--but after looking at some of the schematics, I think it'd be faster to build a rocket ship from scratch.
There's actually a whole subcategory of amateur art that involves the use of "natural" products artfully arranged. Of course, macrame is the most popular one. Turning a ball of twine into an elaborately knotted pot holder is some kind of artistic gift. But macrame art also includes those odd rope and twine wall hangings. Most come in one of two designs: the abstract mass which often resembles a doormat hung on its side or the owl. It's always owls. I never see any other wildlife represented! To maximize naturalness, these works of art should be hanging from a real-life stick or, ideally, a piece of driftwood. Hmmm...a wall packed with macrame owls suddenly seems intriguing...
But the use of natural media hardly stops at string! There's clever mosaics made with beans, rice, dyed rice, pasta, twigs, and sand. (By "sand," I mean real sand--not that fake colored stuff you find in sand-painting kits.) I have a quite marvelous four-color map of the United States executed in colored rice. Art needn't be flat. Chunky 3-D bits of nature like pinecones, seashells, driftwood, rocks, pebbles, and cypress knees can all be turned into adorable sculpture--sometimes abstract, sometimes cute like a frog made from pebbles. Though technically trash or household sculpture, popsicle-stick and toothpick art also has a certain natural charm.
Don't have time to learn a craft? Pick one up in a box! Unused craft sets--often given as gifts--clutter up the thrifts. Your artistic genius is just pennies away. There's sand painting, paint-by-numbers, fake fur flowers, string-and-nail art, and bead kits. If you're more adventurous, wander over to the book section and pick up a booklet on creating crafts from tissue paper, aluminum foil, macaroni, string, or associated refuse like paper-towel rolls and juice cans. Alas, if you find the coveted pop-top craft book, all you can do is dream of art that might have been.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Thrift Score cover.