The art of knotting

June 20, 2016 - Materialities

To start my inquiry into the life of knots I’m going to make some knots. Sounds obvious huh?


I got a book out of the library called “The Art of Knotting and Splicing” by Cyrus Lawrence Day. It was originally published in 1947 as a follow up to his 1935 book “Sailors’ Knots”.

The book is a treasure trove of knots and has the most wonderful illustrations, including arrows to indicate direction and flow of the rope.


In the intro to the book Day emphasized the ongoing association with knots and magic, mysticism, and folklore. According to Day there is evidence that knots are understood by many cultures as having magical properties:

1. the Latin religio (religion) and religare (to tie or bind).
2. “wizards and witches (or people regarded as such) used to claim the power of tying up the wind with charmed knots”
3. in Homer’s epic: Aeolus (the king of winds) ties up the winds in knots and places them in a leather bag to give to Ulysses
4. knots were considered a superstitious birth control -when two Scandinavian parents wanted to stop having more kids, they would call their last offspring Knut (meaning knot) hoping to prevent conception of another child
5. Knots were believed to be able to cast spells for “marring wedded happiness”, inflicting diseases and breaking bones.
6. But they were also used to cure: “diseases of the groin can be cured by tying 7 or 9 knots in a thread, naming a widow as each knot is tied, and tying the knots to the patients’ groin”.
7. “the love-knot is probably the most familiar magic knot”, and Day quotes passages referencing “love-knots” in literature over the past 500 years.

There is also a very general whip around all the cultures of all of history and their use of knots. I don’t necessarily take Day’s interpretations as the authority on knots, but it his detailed account on the magic associated with knots is a new interpretation for me, and one perhaps to explore further.