There are various theories for the origin and history of friendship bracelets, tracing the evolution of the simple bracelet making through macramé to the modern practice of making a pair of bracelets and giving one to a friend and wearing one yourself.
Modern friendship bracelets are generally made using macramé techniques, which is a process that uses knotting to make textiles. The use of knots differentiates macramé from knitting or weaving, which interlock different loops of material. Macramé is thought to have originated from Arabia in the thirteenth century, and was used to decorate items- this claim appears to be well supported by linguistics as the Arabic word “migramah” has strong connections with embroidery and decoration.
Also the spread of macramé supports an origination from Arabia, as naval trade was by the far most likely reason for the spread of this craft to other areas of the world such as China and Europe. Sailors would make embroidered items whilst passing time on long voyages, decorating possessions such as knife handles. Indeed the very nature of the knots used in macramé suggests that it was indeed practiced by sailors, as knots such as the half hitch are often used in both macramé and naval work. Whilst this account explains the spread of macramé to Europe and later America, it does not necessarily explain the traditions associated with friendship bracelets.
The modern idea behind a friendship bracelet is that a friend makes two, wears one himself and then gives one to a very close friend. Both friends then wear the bracelets until they fall off, which symbolises the strength of the friendship. Removing the bracelet would be viewed very negatively, as it would show a lack of appreciation for the effort expended by the maker of the bracelets. One theory for the origin of this practice is from Central American tribal traditions, where bracelets would be given between tribe members to symbolise friendship. Whilst jewellery has been an important of Central American Indian culture, there is little in the way of evidence to suggest that this was an early precursor to the modern bracelets of friendship.
Whilst the craft behind friendship bracelets can be relatively well charted, we can only reliably place the introduction of the friendship bracelet in 1960/70’s American culture. However the good news is that bracelets are still alive and popular today, and if anything the introduction of the internet has helped popularise friendship bracelets again, as lots of different guides are available online.