Ropework is something of a lost art in the modern world. This is understandable: modern materials and manufacturing processes have made ingenious devices that we use instead. Ropes and straps are now made out of cheap and strong synthetics like nylon and polypropylene instead of natrual fibers like hemp or sisal. The synthetics are, although much more durable and often stronger, usually slipperier than their natural counterparts and as such don't hold knots as well, so we attach hooks permanently to the end of straps and use ratchets to roll up extra length.
Unfortunately, decorative ropework faded along with its functional counterpart. A simple search on flickr turns up a wide variety of decorative knots and a similar Google search finds even more. For this instructable I will show you how to tie a very simple rope mat that can be used as a trivet, how to work it into shape, and two ways of tying off the ends of the mat to prevent it from coming undone.
From there I have a number of photos of other knots that I've used for trivets and links to web pages that describe how to tie them and others.
The end of the instructable holds some considerations about what kind of rope you might want to use for your mats and references to sources of further knowledge so you can learn how to do other things, both useful and decorative, with rope.
Please enjoy this insturctable; I sincerely enjoy working with rope and am delighted to be able to share something with you that is rarely seen today.
Step 1: Tying a Carrick Bend.
To begin, take your first rope (I'm using two ropes with different colors in the pictures below) and fold one end back on itself. This is called a bight. We actually want a crossing turn, so tuck the end back under itself as shown in the second picture below.
Next, place the end of your second rope over the top of the your crossing turn and weave it under and over the two ends sticking out (technically called the working end and the standing part) like in the third picture.
Take your end under the next section of the crossing turn, over its own standing part and back under the last part of the crossing turn as shown in the first picture. Congratulations! You now know how to tie a Carrick bend!
Actually, if you're interested in the details, the true Carrick bend is fully interwoven (meaning that the lines alternate over and under at each crossing) like ours but is also diagonally opposed, which means that the two ends come out on opposite sides of the knot. This variation, according to Wikipedia, is known as the Josephine Knot in macramé, the double coin knot in Chinese knotting, and Wake knot in heraldry. I told you it was popular.
*edit: as I was writing Step 8 I flipped through The Book of Knots and Ropework (Practical and Decorative) and discovered that Mr. Fry suggested tying the carrick bend as a mat and actually has quite an extensive section on different rope mats. I highly recommend his book if you're looking to learn more ropework.
Step 2: Turning the Carrick Bend Into a Mat
Once you've made your knot you'll have something like a 3 leaf clover with two stems. Bring one of the stems in towards the other and follow it along backwards through the knot. Do the same with the second stem. This is shown in the third picture.
You should definitely keep your mat very loose right now; you'll be looping the ends around and around until you have three passes so everywhere that there is a rope now you need to have room for three to go in that same spot. It's much easier to make the knot big when you only have a single pass than when your mat is doubled or tripled, so do yourself a huge favor and loosen it now.
Take your two ends and just follow the strand they're next to through the knot until you run out of rope or get a result you like. For most of my mats I take three passes as shown in the first picture.
At this point you can untie your mat if you need to or adjust how tight it is, although changing the tightness of the whole mat at this point is a pain! When I make these mats I actually spend most of my time on this part of the process If I don't leave enough room to begin with.
Ideally, you want all the passes to lie right alongside each other without any gaps, and you want the overall knot loose enough that it's not super stiff and bumpy -- we want to put hot pans on this so we should really do our best to make it flat. Work slack in and out of the knot from the ends as needed. It's something of an arduous process but when you're done you'll be rewarded with a nice even mat like in the first picture.
Congratulations on making your first Carrick mat! If you stop now you have two loose ends coming out of different parts of your mat. The next two steps will suggest two different ways to finish your mat so that it won't come untied.
Step 3: Securing the Ends Option 1: Seizing
Whew...got sidetracked there. To make a seizing you actually have two options for starting; you can start with a constrictor knot or stitches. I got myself a sailmaker's palm and needle for these so I stitch mine. You'll need some kind of heavy-duty thread or very thin twine to do a seizing. I use a waxed whipping twine that can handle quite a lot of pull as I tighten my seizings. For a seizing on 1/4" rope you'll want about a yard of twine. The second picture shows my palm, needle, and twine.
Instructions on tying a constrictor knot may be found by following the link above. To start by stitching, push your threaded needle through the two pieces of rope to be seized together. Pull all your twine through except for a short tail -- maybe half an inch or so. Stitch back through, exiting next to the tail, and then through once again next to the second stitch. The three stitches should be in a line and you'll want to trap the tail you left inside the loop made between the second and third stitches. The third picture shows this stage.
Now begin your wrapping turns. Wrap the twine very tightly around both ropes going back over the stitches to protect them. It's important to make these very tight and very even because these are what push the two ropes together to create the friction that makes the seizing work. You can skimp on the wrapping turns on these mats for aesthetics if you feel like it, but a load-bearing seizing should be three times as long as the diameter of your rope. A completed set of wrapping turns is shown in the fourth picture.
The next step are the two frapping turns. If you're familiar with lashing at all, you'll notice that we have made a tiny sheer lashing. To make the frapping turns, bring the twine between the two ropes at the end of your wraps and make two turns between the ropes along the length of the seizing as shown in the fifth picture. Make these turns as tight as possible without breaking your twine. the wraps hold the ropes together, but the frapping is what really cinches the whole thing together and makes it rock-solid.
The fifth picture also shows me finishing off the seizing with another stitch. I usually finish these by putting one or two half-hitches around one of the ropes and then stitching through the pair again right at the end of the seizing.
The seizings used to secure the ends of our rope mats won't actually have much load on them, so they don't have to be perfect or terribly strong, but you should take care to make them look nice so they don't ruin the aesthetics of the whole mat. When you get ready to tie off your mat, keep in mind that you won't be able to adjust it at all after you're done, so make sure that it's nice and even and you like it before you do this. Don't worry too much about messing up the tension while tying the seizing, either; just put the end along the pass next to it where you want it to end up and start your seizing. Once you've started you can always get back to where you were because those two passed don't move relative to one another. The sixth picture shows a seizing in the context of one of our mats.
Step 4: Securing the Ends Option 2: Splicing
Although the idea behind most splices is about the same, what we'll be doing is closest to an eye-splice. To begin an eye-splice, fold the end of your rope around on itself (to form a bight) and un-lay the first three inches of rope from the end. This is shown in the second picture.
Take one of the unlaid strands and tuck it underneath one strand of the standing part (you may need to twist the standing part against the lay to spread the strands apart so you can do this). Tuck the other two unlaid strands underneath the remaining two strands of the standing part. At this point you should have the three strands of your working end sticking out from between the three strands of the standing part as shown in the third picture.
From here out the rest of the splice is easy. Working against the lay of the standing part, bring each strand of your working end over the next strand of the standing part and then tuck it under the following. Once you have taken three or four tucks you should be fine (you'll have two or three inches of splice if you're working with a 1/4" rope) and you can trim the ends. A completed eye-splice is shown in the first picture.
If don't like the abrupt thickening of the splice you can taper it easily by taking an extra tuck with two of your strands and then a second extra tuck with one of them and trimming appropriately. This is shown in the fourth picture.
I tried splicing the ends of one of my mats on a whim and I was surprised by how much I liked the results. The seizing gives it a slightly more nautical aesthetic, if that's what your going for, but the splicing does a great job hiding the ends of the mat if you'd prefer that look. The advice for splicing the mat is pretty much the same as for seizing...don't do it until you have the shape of the mat all worked out and then don't worry about pulling it out of shape as long as you keep the end at the right location on the pass next to it when you begin the splice.
Step 5: Classic Rope Mats
More traditional rope mats include the Ocean Plait mat and the Oval mat. The Ocean Plait mat is the most recognizable of the rope mats and you can see it in the first picture below. That one is made of slightly thicker rope (3/8" instead of 1/4") than I used for most of these and I took four passes instead of three. Four passes gives an excellent fullness to the finished mat, but with the thicker rope it was a bit too big for a trivet...I use it as a doormat.
The oval mat (second picture) makes an excellent trivet but it can be a bit difficult to work into an even shape. It works extremely well because it's quite large compared to the diameter of the rope used and it's distributed evenly...there are no big holes anywhere. It's also one of two knots that I consistently have to attempt more than two times to get right, so make sure you find a good guide for it and bring along a second helping of patience.
You can find detailed instructions for how to tie these mats in the books I list at the end of this instructable or in many places online.
Step 6: Turk's Heads
Tying a turk's head turns your rope into a decorative ring...you can use them to make bracelets or grips on tool handles, for instance, but you can also flatten them out and make rope mats out of them. The most common turk's head, the "3-lead 4-bight" turk's head (shown in the first picture below), can be flattened out and actually turns into exactly the same mat I showed you earlier created from a Carrick bend.
Other turk's heads I've turned into mats are the 4-lead 5-bight turk's head (second image) and the 5-lead 4-bight turk's head (third image). The 5-lead 4-bight turk's head turned out to make a very poor mat; it didn't have nearly enough structure to hold itself together around the outside...the outer bights were too long and unsupported and got very floppy. The 4-lead 5-bight turk's head, though, makes an excellent rope mat. It's perfect for a trivet and was my favorite of all the mats that I experimented with. It's also the other knot that I routinely take several tries to get right, even while staring at a book.
A great resource for tying arbitrarily large turk's heads can be found here. That site has a really neat grid diagram that you can print out, cut to size, and wrap around whatever you want to tie your turk's head around. It also points out that in addition to flattening turk's heads you can also tighten them down into balls similar to monkey's fists. Small ones make good key fobs or zipper pulls and larger ones make truly amazing burn heads for fire spinning if tied out of kevlar wick.
Step 7: What Kind of Rope to Use
Most of the time when using rope for a "practical" purpose your choice of rope doesn't really matter that much. Certain specialty applications like climbing and sailing require special consideration to be put into choosing your rope, but when you're just tying down your tent or strapping a load of furniture to the bed of a pickup truck it really doesn't matter much.
When you need to make an aesthetic choice, however, you have an incredible breadth of appearances to choose from. You can choose many combinations of material, construction and size; each aspect changes how the rope behaves and how your finished product will look.
The first choice to make is whether to use a rope made of natural fibers or synthetic fibers. Natural ropes are generally softer and more pliable than synthetic ropes and often more aesthetically pleasing. They hold knots very well but wear out much faster than synthetic ropes. They are usually constructed as laid ropes but cotton can be found in a braided line.
Synthetic ropes come in a wide variety of sizes, colors and constructions, so you can easily find one to suit your needs. They are strength-rated so you can tell how much load they can take before breaking. Many synthetic ropes are very slippery and have trouble holding knots, and they are usually stiffer and have more "memory" than natural ropes.
Natural fibers commonly used to make rope include:
You're familiar with this...you can buy it just about anywhere as clothesline. Cotton rope is soft, flexible and stretchy and usually comes in a warm off-white color.
Sisal is bristly and splintery but immensely cheap...you can find 50 and 100 foot rolls of it at just about any hardware store for <$10, I think. It's a pale tan color and good for parctical purposes. The hairiness makes it generally unsuitable for purposes that will put it in contact with skin, like a bellpull or something. It is also pretty stiff and has a lot of "memory" so it holds onto kinks with irritating tenacity.
Manila is not quite as bristly as sisal and has less memory. It's darker than sisal and nearly as strong as hemp. In the WWII era is was very common but it's become harder to find these days. I've had good luck finding it at hardware stores.
Hemp was the most common ropemaking material all over the world for a very long time. It makes the strongest natural ropes with decent stretch and is quite soft and pliable. It takes dye well, so you can get it in just about any color. Hemp rope tends to decay quite quickly so it's not as suitable for outdoor tasks as sisal or synthetic ropes.
Jute was a very common material for making ropes in Japan. It is difficult to find today (at least in the US) and I know very little about it. I've heard that it is similar to both hemp and manila.
Coir is another rope that I have never come across. It is made out of the fibers from coconut husks and is very weak, but it floats. Needless to say it is remarkably uncommon and, honestly, doesn't have much recommending it unless you live on an island where you can't get much else cheaply or easily.
Synthetic fibers include:
- Nylon Nylon was the first synthetic fiber used to make ropes and is one of my favorites. It is stretchy, pliable, and strong with fairly low memory and decent knot-holding abilities. You can get it in just about any construction imaginable.
Similar to nylon. PE rope is almost as strong, but not quite as stretchy as nylong. While nylon gets a fair amount weaker when wet, PE retains most of its strength.
I've got something against polypropylene. I hate it. It floats, it's cheap and it won't biodegrade, so I accept that has its merits for some water-related purposes (rescue lines are a good one). It is usually extremely stiff, though, with very high memory. Even though it doesn't biodegrade, it does photodegrade -- water won't kill it but prolonged sunlight will. After it's started deteriorating it becomes quite bristly and splintery (much like sisal but plastic...eew). It's generally a pain to work with and you should try to avoid it for almost all projects.
- Fancy Stuff
There are a variety of new, fancy fibers that are used to make ropes with special purposes. Aramid, High-Modulus Polyethylene, and Liquid Crystal Polymer are a few. They make ropes with extremely high strength, heat resistance or chemical resistance, or very low friction (high slipperiness).
Until the mid 20th century all rope was laid, meaning the fibers were twisted into yarns which were then twisted into strands, which were finally twisted into rope. The vast majority of laid rope is of three-strand construction, but I've also seen some 4-strand rope before.
Almost all natural rope is laid (I've seen cotton braided before, but that's it). Laid rope is flexible and stretchy and you can do all kinds of fun things by unlaying it and playing with the individual strands (splices and stopper knots, mostly).
An interesting (and mostly unimportant) note to make about laid rope is the direction in which it is laid...when you hold the rope vertically the strands will either wrap from the right to the left as they travel down (like the middle part of a Z) or from the left to the right (like the middle section of an S). Thus these constructions are called S-laid and Z-laid rope. The vast majority of laid rope today is Z-laid.
Synthetic ropes can be laid or braided. There are many different kinds of braid out there and they all behave differently. Some different braids include multibraid and hollow braid. Multibraid rope is a solid braid, usually with four strands. Hollow braid rope is small (usually only up to 1/4") and extremely flexible, but not remarkably strong. It's fun to play with because it behaves a lot like a chinese finger-trap toy.
Finally, kern-mantle ropes consist of a braided sheath (or mantle) that protects a very strong core. The core can be a solid braid or it can be made from parallel or gently twisting yarns. These ropes are very strong with low stretch and are used for applications like climbing where your life depends on your rope.
I've been dealing with 1/4" and 3/8" rope for this instructable. Those are the most common sizes of rope available and the most suited for trivets. The smaller a rope is, the more flexible it becomes, but the weaker it gets. Decorative ropework often benefits from large-diameter ropes because they are less- prone to collapse a knot down on itself like more flexible rope would.
The picture below shows a variety of rope in different constructions, materials, and sizes.
Step 8: Further Sources of Information
Some books that I recommend are:
- Handbook of Knots, Des Pawson. Expanded Edition.
One of my favorite knot books of all time, the Expanded Edition of the Handbook of Knots describes in-depth how to tie many knots and also mentions uses and variations for many of the knots. Des Pawson is co-founder of the International Guild of Knot Tyers.
- Knots Useful & Ornamental, George Russel Shaw.
This is an excellent book containing basic instructions on how to tie a vast array of knots both practical and decorative. Its hand-drawn diagrams are fairly easy to follow, although the hand-written text is sometimes difficult to read.
- Boy Scout Handbook
The Boy Scouts teach and learn a solid core of practical knots and lashings. Definitely a must-have for anyone looking to learn practical knotwork.
- The Book of Knots and Ropework (Practical and Decorative), Eric C. Fry
This book contains descriptions and photographic instructions for 93 knots, plaits, splices, mats and toggles including splices for wire cables. It shows more rope mats than other general-purpose rope books I've seen. It also has a comprehensive glossary of terms.
The internet is a vast resource and often provides decent instruction on how to tie any given knot, but it can be quite difficult to learn about new knots from the internet and, as with anything online, there is plenty of misinformation out there so be careful!
If you have more questions about where to go from here, or if any of this instructable was unclear please send me a message and I'll be happy to help you!