As part of a series on the creative talents behind original Maldivian products, the Maldives Independent spoke to Maimoonath Abdullah, the creator of Knots by Mai.
Macramé – I didn’t even know the word existed. Four years ago my younger sister gave me a bag. I was fascinated with it and kept trying to figure out how it was made. I went online to get more information. Since I didn’t know the word for the handiwork on the bag, it took me ages to figure out what it was. Then I came across macramé, and the handiwork was so pretty. I taught myself how to do macramé by watching what was available at that time.
I wanted to do macramé that could be useful in the house, so I started doing wall and plant hangers. My friends were my first clients, and of course I still have that bag which set me off this path.
Knots are integral to macramé. Unlike knitting where we weave cords into one another, in macramé we use different type of knots combined to create designs. While in weaving you start from the bottom towards the top, in macramé we do top down.
Participating in Katti Hivvaru – was a turning point for me. It’s an annual youth festival held to celebrate creative arts. My work was appreciated and I also met lots of fellow handicraft artists. Then Fathimath Salah asked me if I could create macramé products for her Island Bazaar shop. I got a lot of exposure when I stocked my products there and also via the Instagram page I created. Lots of clients contact me via Instagram and last year I registered my business Knots by Mai.
Customisation is the key; most clients want something unique. They commission me to make plant hangers, wall hangers, pillow cases. I also had a client who asked me to do a macramé headboard for her bed. The biggest macramé I did was an 8 by 8 feet backdrop for a wedding. Most of my clients are young Maldivians. I also get a lot of repeat customers who like to gift macramé pieces to their friends. I refrain from doing exact copies of things, so when my clients show me photos they like, I ask them if they like the pattern, geometric or otherwise, and do something in the style they like. Guest houses and resorts also commission me to do decorative pieces.
On an average I can do a small plant hanger in an hour but a wall hanger might take 2 to 3 days depending on the size. I work alone so I have to juggle work with that of school runs, and extracurricular activities of my two kids.
Pricing is an issue, as the cotton ropes I use are expensive and have to be imported. On top of that we pay import duty. The new government has slashed the import duty for small artisans, but it still remains expensive. Macrame is expensive abroad, but I dare not sell it at its correct value locally as even now its fairly expensive. I would like to eventually sell Knots by Mai abroad at a good price, but due to difficulties with receiving payment I cannot sell on a platform like Etsy. Paypal allows us to pay for things from the Maldives, but we cannot receive payment into Maldives.
I tried experimenting with hau (reeds) from Fiyoari in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll as I wanted to try a natural material. Unfortunately, the reeds didn’t hold up the knots, so I dropped the idea. Now I am in touch with a girl from Baa atoll who weaves rope as a hobby. I have asked her if she can weave very thin ropes for me, I will try to see if I can do macramé with that.
Its amazing how supportive fellow artists and followers are on Instagram. People send messages of appreciation and encouragement. A lot of them even send random links of other macramé or designs they like, and ask me if I have thought of incorporating that in my work. There are a few others who have taken up doing macramé products. Maldivians are so talented, especially the younger generation. With the right environment, artisans here can really achieve a lot.