I came from a family of Scouts and Pioneers (really, my mom’s family came across the great plains in 1830), so we learned a lot of basic skills growing up, my brother and I. My mom was a scout leader for Cub and Brownie, Boy Scout and Girl Scouting till we were in our teens. I had 58 badges! Easy peasy and fun.
But recently, I had a couple of interns and we were making compost tea for the garden, and I told one of them to tie a slip knot on the bag filled with compost. She looked at me like I was from Mars. So, after about half an hour of showing and repeating and having her do it, she got it to the point where she could tie a slip knot on the bag. Two weeks later with the knot all wet from being in the tea, we took out the bags of compost. I had her untie the knot and zing, it came apart easily. This was a revelation. Knots are useful!
I got this link on email today https://survivallife.com/40-essential-knots/?utm_source=sl&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_campaign=slnl20190614 containing a long list of knots and I realized I only knew about 12 of them. I’m sure if I did a survey this would be about 10 more than most people know, but it came to me how much basic tech of living we are loosing.
High tech is wonderful – makes things faster and more convenient as long as all the support of the civilization is in order and running smoothly. We take it for granted until the power shuts down from a bad storm or flooding or something. But even then, most people get by for a day or even a few weeks because the society as a whole is there to support us.
But I’m a 1700’s living historian who studies these old pieces of technology with it in mind to see about current application or survival knowledge. Besides I love it and I love learning things. I’m even one of those people who will sit and watch You Tube of someone building a house with a stone axe. I love skills. But I also love tools.
One year I went up to Black Mountain at Celi, N.C. to a Permaculture Gathering. I went a day early to take a class in forest agriculture from Zev Friedman. One of the things he taught us was how to make cordage from various naturally growing fibers such as the inside bark of various trees and some grasses and such. It was fascinating. Now we are seeing Hemp make a comeback as a fiber in clothing and rope making as it is de-illegalized.
One of the ideas in Permaculture is that each feature or element in a design of a property must have multiple purposes, so one of the things I pay attention to in a design is growing fiber and vine for cordage plants. Here in NE Georgia the woods are full of various kinds of vines which are useful for basket making and cordage. Because before zip ties and Velcro, people needed to keep things together and that requires tying them up with rope or cordage.
OK, long story back to the original thread (pun intended), of knots. Once you know how to use cordage and ropes you can do just about anything from lifting great weights, moving things, holding logs together for building or transportation, holding up sails on a boat for sailing, making supports for plants and tying up vines or branches while growing, making things like shoes and baskets, and the list goes on. All you have to do is spend an hour on the internet to come up with a couple of hundred uses for ropes, cordage and knots. It was a basic skill for most of the history of civilization. One little factoid I came across when studying Native American herbalism was that healers who didn’t have written language would mark their bags of various kinds of healing herbs with a specific knot which was a kind of label. Truckers use knots all the time to tie heavy loads – not all use the nylon wide tape and metal tighteners. Even farmers still use knots to hold together bales of hay, tie up an animal for milking, moving portable fencing around when some of the metal rings break, etc. Knots still are an important skill.
I have an innate love of all things fiber. I spin yarn with a spinning wheel and a drop spindle, hand and machine sew, knit, crochet, embroider, weave, make baskets, shoes, make supports in my garden using branches and cordage, and a dozen other things with fiber arts. So, when I saw that link showing all the knots and their uses, as well as pictures on how to make them, I felt I had gone to my home universe with a smile.
There’s something so aesthetic about a knot well tied. In the great days of sailing, sailors would make elaborate crafts with knots. Sometimes in antique stores you can still find boards decorated with a wide varieties of knots attached in attractive ways as demonstration, much like girls used to sew samplers showing their skills at embroidery.
When I put up my canvas tarp for my booth at Market Fair in the Spring at the living history gathering at Fort Yargo, Ga., I use several knots to tighten the bamboo poles holding up the tarp. Knots hold the rope onto the top of the poles, another several kinds tie the loop which is held to the ground by stakes, in a slip knot kind of double half hitch, which can be adjusted and holds tension. If I didn’t know how to do this, my canopy would fall down, thus no booth at the fair. The wind stretches the rope and after awhile if you can’t adjust the tension, the poles wobble and down comes the whole affair. I love knots.
So, what would a normal person use knots for now days with all the other fasteners that are available? For those who homestead, the uses are probably greater than someone living in a condo in the city. But we would use knots to tie up drying herbs, bale hay, tie up tomatoes along a support, create various kinds of fences to keep out dogs or wild critters, I can think of dozens. In Japan for centuries making bamboo fences by lashing whole or split bamboo is a fine art for enclosing a garden area aesthetically. Lashing is just a fancy word for tying and knotting to hold poles together. Campers can use lashing (using knots to hold together branches to make tables, supports for tarps for temporary shelter, even camp furniture) for quick creations for comfort and usefulness. You can use a square not to tie up your dog while you are at the dog park when you forgot your leash but have a length of paracord or nylon rope. You can use it to hold up your shorts when the button breaks. If you are a handy person, you will always have several kinds of cordage on hand – jute heavy cord, nylon cord, paracord, or other available cords of varying kinds of fiber – man made or natural. The uses are millions.
So, I hope you take a bit of time, get yourself some cotton, nylon or hemp cord, rope, or paracord, and practice some of these knots. You never know when you might need to use the skill. And you can impress your kids that you know some survival skills (knots are fun to teach kids too).
Diann Dirks, Certified Permaculture Designer 6-15-19