I enjoy finding ways to make teaching simple and effective. Tying knots quickly makes for good competition, but describing knots effectively while tying makes a good learning experience.

Terms

Learning definitions may seem boring, but can simplify memorization of knot-tying into bight-sized portions.

Know your parts

The key to describing how to tie a knot is to believe that a rope has parts. For the longest time I could not get myself passed the fact that the rope is just a continuum of braided fabric. The precision manufacturing has caused my gaze at any particular segment to be indistinguishable from another portion of itself, so I thought surely a rope does not have parts. This flaw did not stop my learning of knots, but it did stop my talking sensibly about them. The parts are there, but only if I choose to see them. The parts come by vision, imagination and choice. If I may impart this vision, and you accept it well, then you may know what I mean.

Running end
End of the rope being tied into a knot
Standing part
Opposite the running end
Eye
The space in the bight or loop
Neck
Where the rope meets itself on the bight or loop
X
Cross
Where the rope meets itself
Spar
Pole
Uniform unbending stick
Grommet
Anything you like, as long as you really like it

I give directions, but without establishing a consistent shared reference I or those who receive my message may transpose instructions arbitrarily. So, by far the most important concept in receiving this communication is that of telling the standing part from the running end. This literally allows us to find agreement on which end is up, down, over, under, left, right, fore or back. Let us always agree that the direction is towards the running end, so when you say the rope runs up, I know that if I run up, I run to the running end. If I say overhand, you know that my hand is holding the running end, and the part closer to the standing part stands under. Understand?

Do a good turn daily

I once thought a loop, a turn, a twist and a wrap were a collection of indistinguishable synonyms. However, now I believe ropes have parts, so also I believe these words have as much distinction as I choose to make of it. Particularly, a turn is a type of loop that holds an object while a twist is a type of loop that holds another rope.

For those who hope to understand me, I hope you put a few turns of your mind onto each definition, until they are neatly wrapped in your head.

Loop
The rope crosses into a circle
Bight
U turn in rope without overlap
Turn
A loop around a spar or grommet, or the circumference
Twist
A loop around another rope
Wrap
A repeated series of half turns placed above and below spars
Frap
A turn across wraps of rope between spars
Roundturn
1.5 turns around a spar

A loop is a circle. A turn encircles. A twist circles as it is circled. Wraps join neighbors by repeated turning. Fraps join wraps likewise.

Knot to be, named

Even before I learned what's in a knot, or the words straight to get my -wards to tell turns properly, I learned the names of basic knots. I also learned what those basic knots do which is enough to make any witless savant like me feel believably smart which is the second most important part of being smart anyways! I forgot the first part. I mean for the most part.

Better still, if I were to make up my own knot, here are some choice words I may include into the knot names.

Hitch
A knot tied to a fixed object or grommet
Loop
A knot tied to secure a loop in the rope
Slip knot
A knot that moves along the standing part to form an adjustable loop
Bend
A knot used to join 2 ropes
Lashing
Joining spars with rope

Are you confused yet! I hope you gather these ideas well if your mind is set to that goal. So you can answer confidently to any fool who asks you Is it a knot or is it not?

Knots

Once you understand how to talk about knots, tying them is greatly simplified. A great knot is easy to tie, stays tied, and is easy to untie, so let's make some knots great.

Square knot
Join ropes bight-in-bight: run right end over left and twist; now left over right and twist
How much to use:
  • 2 ropes of equal width
  • Spare lengths in each rope of a bight and a hand
How to tie:
  1. Run each running end back along the other rope's standing part
  2. Cross the right rope over the left rope
  3. Do a full twist
  4. The right end is now on left (switch hands)
  5. Run each running end back towards one another
  6. Cross the left running end over right
  7. Do a full twist
How to check:
  • Each rope forms a bight
  • Each eye holds the other neck
  • Standing parts twisted together
  • Running ends above
How to loosen:
  1. Grab each neck or grab each end
  2. Push towards the knot
Timber hitch
Drag a large object: Run a loop up around the object; Put a bight up around the rope; 3 twists back down along the loop
How much to use:
  • 1 large bulky object
  • 1 sled or tarp (optional)
  • 1 rope
  • Spare length of rope of 3 twists, a turn and a hand
How to tie:
  1. Run a loop up around the large object
  2. Run a bight around the standing part back up
  3. Run at least 3 twists back down the large loop
How to check:
  • Standing part runs straight
  • Large eye holds the object
  • Small eye holds the standing part
  • The neck of small loop has 3 or more twists
How to loosen:
  1. Grab the small loop
  2. Pull away along the standing part
Clove hitch
Two turns to hitch a spar: Overhand turn; Cross; Underhand turn
How much to use:
  • 1 spar
  • 1 rope
  • Spare length of rope of 2 turns and a hand
How to tie:
  1. Run a turn up around the spar
  2. Up over the standing part
  3. Another turn up around the spar
  4. Run the end up under the X
How to check:
  • The rope does not turn back
  • The ends meet the spar between the loops and under the midpoint
How to loosen:
  1. Grab each end
  2. Push towards the knot
Bowline knot
No-slip hitch: Right overhand loop in left hand; Running end in right hand; Up thru the eye; Around the standing part; Down thru the eye
How much to use:
  • 1 huggable object
  • 1 rope
  • Spare length of rope of a loop, a turn, a bight and a hand
How to tie:
  1. Run a small overhand loop
  2. Run a turn around back (of yourself or the object)
  3. Run up through the small loop
  4. Run out behind the standing part
  5. Run down through the small loop
  6. Pull the standing part out and running end in
How to check:
  • The standing part enters from the top of the knot through a small bight
  • The standing part runs to a small overhand loop below the small bight
  • The small overhand loop holds the neck of the bight
  • A large loop connects the small loop to the bight
  • The bight is at the running end
  • The running end points down into the large loop
How to loosen:
  1. Push the bight up away from the knot
  2. Grab each end
  3. Push towards the knot
Sheet bend
Join 2 ropes of unequal width Overhand bight in big rope; Little rope: Run up the eye; Underhand loop up on the neck
How much to use:
  • 2 ropes
  • Spare length of big rope of a bight and a hand
  • Spare length of little rope of a loop and a hand
How to tie:
  1. Run an overhand bight in the big rope
  2. Run the little rope up through the bight
  3. Run an underhand loop up around the neck of the bight
How to check:
  • Bight in the big rope
  • Loop in the little rope
  • Loop holds the neck of the bight
  • Bight holds the standing part of the little rope
  • Both running ends above their standing parts
  • No running end in the bight
How to loosen:
  1. Grab the bight of the big rope
  2. Grab the standing part of the small rope
  3. Push towards the knot
Two half-hitches
Hitch an object Overhand turn; 1 overhand twist in; Cross; 1 underhand twist out
How much to use:
  • 1 grommet
  • 1 rope
  • Spare length of rope of a turn, 2 twists and a hand
How to tie:
  1. Run a turn around the object
  2. Run an overhand twist in the turn (continue along the turn)
  3. Run an underhand twist out the standing part (finish up through the small loop)
How to check:
  • The standing part continues straight into the turn
  • The running end has a clove hitch around the standing part
  • The running end does not form a cow hitch around the standing part — If so, you have a very similar knot called the double half hitch
How to loosen:
  1. Grasp and slide the knot along the standing part
  2. Push both the running end and that of the turn towards the knot
Taut-line hitch
Hitch an object Overhand turn; 2 twists in; Cross overhand; 1 underhand twist out
How much to use:
  • 1 grommet
  • 1 rope
  • Spare length of rope of a turn, 3 twists and a hand
How to tie:
  1. Run a turn around the object
  2. Run 2 overhand twists in the turn (continue along the turn twice)
  3. Run an underhand twist out the standing part (finish up through the small loop just formed)
How to check:
  • The standing part continues straight into the turn
  • The tension and turn size may be adjusted by slipping the knot
How to loosen:
  1. Grasp and slide the knot along the standing part
  2. Push both the running end and that of the turn towards the knot

Knot relationships:

Tie two half-hitches and observe: Do you see a clove hitch on the standing part?

Tie a bowline and observe: Do you see the sheet bend? Hint: Imagine cutting the rope in the turn away from the bight.

A taut-line hitch is like two half-hitches except it adds another twist in the large loop before the final twist out.

Now, if you feel like you have magically mastered these knots after my tutoring, I am glad. You could call me Harry Potter, but that just feels too sac-rowling-ious. Wouldn't you agree?

Lashings

If tying knots whets your appetite for more rope fun, try tying some lashings. I'll save this tutorial for another day, but if all you want is some quick reminders or some simple ways of talking about knots, please checkout my quick reference.