Knot-tying devotees keeping the art alive

June 6, 2017 6:13 pm Last Updated: June 6, 2017 6:13 pm

J P Davidson / Creative Commons

How many ways are there to tie a knot? Infinite, say some. But if you count the useful ones catalogued over the ages, there are about 3,900.

Most of us can go a whole lifetime having tied just one or two kinds of knots. Although there are some trades still existing today that rely heavily on knotting, the advent of modern technology has pushed this ancient craft into the dusty corners of history.

Luckily, a number of people devoted to the craft are running an international guild to preserve knot-tying and make it more popular with the young generation. The International Guild of Knot Tyers was formed in 1982 by Des Pawson and Geoffrey Budworth. The two met over a shared interest in the Hunter’s Bend, a type of knot which was invented in the 1970s. Knots are classified by their function and the Hunter’s Bend is a reliable way to tie two pieces of string or rope together.

“I became interested in knots when I was young, partly as a boy scout and partly as a sailor,” Colin Byfleet, who is currently serving as the IKTG’s Secretary to the Trustees, told Atlas Obscura. “I’m about 74 now, and as I was coming up on retirement, I was living in France at the time, I met a group of people who were demonstrating knots, and that’s where it all started. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Byfleet enjoys knot craft because of its mathematical implications. But he said that people come to the guild from a variety of backgrounds. One may immediately think of sailors, but the same need for knots is necessary for rigging apparatus for acrobats. Even forensic investigators study knots, because each person has a unique way of making them, serving as a kind of fingerprint. Furthermore, bell-ringers discover knot-tying in their search of a knot that stretches, so that the bell is struck more gently and sound more pleasant.


Shyamal / Public Domain

About 1,000 devoted members from across the globe are currently part of the guild. They organize 100-200 events every year with the goal of preserving the craft and making it more popular. A popular feature of these events is the speed-tying contest, which tend to attract a younger audience.

The definitive book on knots is the Ashley Book of Knots, but if 3,900 knots are too many, you can always learn 5 essential knots from the video below: