Knot Sharing

 I discovered knots through a chance encounter with Tree Climbing. Once I started I was amazed I had let the whole uniformed Boy Scout (There’s a Nazi in the grass with a bullet up his … ) aura around the field put me off for so long. Ropework is great, you can practice your knots in the car at a traffic light (learn the thread that Clove Hitch on the steering wheel), in your futon before lights out (bowlines before bed settle the nerves). Edward Abbey, of all people, thought the Boy Scouts deserved wilderness, now if only the organization could keep the nature elements, drop the uniforms and have Alfie Kohn tell them what to do with the reward badges all the decent aspects of their teachings wouldn’t seem so tacky.

  This knotting hobby  requires minimal investment and it tickles your brain (see 3-D dimensional block quote below) in new ways. It’s thousands of years of people freely sharing, adapting and  refining knowledge all over the world. You can’t help but think of Vandana Shiva on Seeds and Knowledge as a Collective Tradition. Patents would screw all this creative development up..  It’s a shame so much of the rope knotting folklore is tainted with oppressive Empire shipping as in the cat-o-nine tails, keel haul and hangman knots.

Geoffrey Budworth’s Everyday Knots is a great way to ease into the skills and lore, the multi-cultural aspects of the pursuit. He refers to the authoritative classic, the 1944 tome like just about all the other knot books. I finally sat down and leafed through Clifford W. Ashley’s The Ashley Book of Knots and it’s a lot of fun, after you’ve spent a couple dozen hours with more accessible book featuring more modern illustrations. I had been thinking knot tying is a great way to get your brain thinking in 3-D. So the back matter of the Ashley book hit a nerve.

To me the simple act of tying a knot is an adventure in unlimited space. A bit of string affords a dimensional latitude that is unique among the entities. For an uncomplicated strand is a palpable object that, for all practical purposes, possesses one dimension only. If we move a single strand in a plane, interlacing it at will, actual objects of beauty and of utility can result in what is practically two dimensions; and if we choose to direct our strand out of this one plane, another dimension is added which provides opportunity for an excursion that is limited only by the scope of our own imagery and the length of the ropemaker’s coil.

Although Ashley is a bit flippant about thieves’ knots and the Hangman he’s pretty good on leisure and creativity. I wonder if he ever hung out with Bertrand Russel and Basic Income ideas?

Aboard ship knotting had reached its flood early in the nineteenth century, and by mid-century, with the commencement of the Clipper Era, it had begun to ebb. Folk arts flourish best where there are leisure and contentment, and neither of these conditions obtained on clipper ships. After the American Civil War the economic situation in the merchant marine was such that all ships were undermanned; sailors had little or no time to spare from their labors, and knotting was pushed into the background.(p. 2)

And I suppose like anyone who looks back to the ‘Paleolithic’ for knowledge about people like Wes Jackson with ecology, Ashley with his knots might just be a natural, visceral anarchist.

Very little nationalism is evident among knots. One reason for this may be that the merchant sailor has never been too particular about what flag he sailed under, and in the general shifting about, knots soon became common property.(p. 3)

I’ve been looking all over the Ashley book, tried all kinds of key words in the index, but I can’t find the Japanese Man Knot (Otoko Musubi) or Fence Knot (Kakine Musubi) anywhere. It took me a year to figure out how to tie it. I think the breakthrough was this Japanese video but I’m pretty sure playing with Geoffrey Budworth’s Eskimo Bowline and Tricorn Loop made the epiphany possible. Learning knots from books doesn’t really help you get customary hand movements and situations down very well. But then again, it’s hard to learn with somebody’s hands in the way, like in this Japanese Fence Knot video. Don’t be put off by the Man-Knot (Otoko Musubi) name, if it’s the same knot used in the Hakama, it’s more of a Metrosexual knot. I prefer the Japanese Fence Knot (Kakine Musubi) name anyway though. It has a bunch of different names. I’d love to see Geoffrey Budworth and the International Guild of Knot Tyers focus some attention on the Bamboo Fence Knot and see if it would work as a loop, and or bend too. I’m suspicious that it might be a bend or something in disguise. Like the Transom Knot is really just a ‘modified’ double overhand (Everyday Knots, p. 98) formed around crossed sticks, or poles.

Once you get the relationships between the different loops, and bights, the working end and the standing part, trying to follow the hand movements and varied techniques can be fun. Like this bowline and eskimo bowline explanation around a pole.  The mirroring loops and balance relationships in the knots are ingenious and beautiful. You can’t help but think of them as a testament to the accomplishments people naturally attain through the free exchange of information and skills. You don’t see anyone (I don’t think) trying to patent their knots like gif images, or scientific methods and the genetics of living organisms.  Anway ‘it would seem that there’s nothing truly new in knotting’ (Geoffrey Budworth)

Ruth L. Ozeki’s All Over Creation has a positive portrayal of anarchist ‘guerrilla gardeners’ playing games with hand made crotchet balls at a (sort-of) fundamentalist farmers potato field and heirloom variety garden. It made me want to learn crotchet too, haven’t had the patience yet but at least I learned that the proper pronunciation is not ‘crotch it.’ Knots will lead you right into knitting and crochet, and macrame. Apparently macrame was a ‘Navy’s seamen’ specialty with his ‘log line, fish-line, and such small stuff.’ Unlike Merchant sailors with their ‘better provided’  ‘junk’ that they ‘ "work[ed] up" into foxes, nettles and twice-laid rope’ and the ‘whalemen who fared best’ with ‘whale line… that had been broken the whalehunt’ on their ‘heavily overmanned’ ships, the Navy guys had to settle for ‘square knotting,’ a much more manly name than macramae. But did they knit in the midst of tear gas and riot police?

Leave a comment