Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us



Talking With the President of the International Guild of Knot Tyers

• August 28, 2013 • 12:00 PM


Noah Davis spoke to Colin Byfleet about knots and tying up Harry Houdini.

In addition to having an incredible name, Colin Byfleet boasts an impressive title: President of the International Guide of Knot Tyers. He oversees an organization that boasts roughly 1,300 members worldwide, its members tying Flemish Bends in France, Ground-line Hitches in Germany, and Spanish bowlines in Sweden. There are also regular meet-ups in the United States and the United Kingdom. I emailed with Byfleet to ask about guilds, knot guides, and how one might tie up Houdini.

How did you get into knot tying?
Initially as a Boy Scout (our Troop had a copy of The Ashley Book of Knots in the 1950s) and then as a small-boat sailor. After a longish lapse, my wife and I met with members of a U.K. branch of the Guild demonstrating knotting at the quadrennial boat festival in Brest, France, in 2004. We joined the Guild later that year and attended our first AGM (Annual General Meeting) in 2005 in the U.K and were made extremely welcome. Then, we moved to work at Florida State University in Tallahassee in Aug 2005. Traveling between the U.S. and U.K. made us miss most meetings for a while except for one in Charleston, South Carolina. On return to U.K. in 2009, I volunteered to help with the sales of Guild books and other merchandise.

How does one become the president?
By election at the AGM. I was there and didn’t duck fast enough in 2011.

“If you want him to die, tie his arms to his ankles behind his back, making sure the secure knots are out of reach of his fingers and toes.”

How many active members do you have?
About 1,300 in over 30 countries. About 400 each in the U.K. and U.S., significant numbers in France, Germany, and Sweden, who have their own branches. There are three branches in the U.S.

What’s a meet-up like?
Very sociable with business kept to a minimum! Last AGM was in the U.S. (on the Queen Mary at Long Beach, California) and in the U.K. (at Henley-on-Thames near London) simultaneously. The next get-together is in Flensburg, Germany, in October.

Is there any entry requirement to the IGKT in terms of skill or talent?
None whatsoever. Just an interest in making things or tying knots in twine, cord, or rope.

How would you suggest a beginning knot tyer learn? What are some simple-to-learn, fun, beginner knots?
There are many good, simple books available and also much information online. Suggest a few useful knots to start—Bowline, Constrictor, Round Turn and Two Half Hitches, Sheet Bend. Maybe some simple Plaits (also called Sennits) and Turks Heads. Our IGKT logo is a 3Lx4B flattened Turks Head, as is the Scouts’ Woggle. They are circular knots with a three-fold plait (three leads) interwoven to give four loops on each edge (four bights).

What are some important traits to being a good knot tyer? Nimble fingers? Patience?
Patience certainly and a willingness to practice and inquisitiveness. Many very large people do the most delicate of work.

Are new knots being invented? If so, what are some recent discoveries/creations?
The simple answer is yes, but it is not easy to be precise—there’s always a lot of discussion about this. For example. see the Wikipedia articles on Hunter’s Bend or the Simple Simon Under Bend. Dr. Harry Asher, the inventor of this latter knot (in the mid 1990s), was one of the most original knot designers.

With regard to more complex knots, there is an infinite number of Turks Heads other three-dimensional arrangements (e.g. Globe Knots). Many new recipes for these have been published by Don Burrhus, an IGKT member in Florida. Macrame, lace, and knitting are also complex knots with infinite variety.

What’s your favorite knot? Why?
Probably the Turks Head because it comes in an infinite set of shapes and always looks good.

There seem to be a lot of chapters in England. Why? Does the country have a great knot-tying tradition?
Many knot tyers have become interested in knots from a sailing background. Britain is surrounded by water! The Guild started in 1982 because some people in the U.K. were very concerned about what seemed then to be a dying art. Since then a whole raft of books have been published by many Guild members, perhaps the most prominent in the U.K. being Geoffrey Budworth and Des Pawson, two current and founding members. They were very concerned from the start that interest should be international and we try to keep that at the forefront of what we do.

You mentioned knot tying was seen as a dying art. Is it experiencing something of a renaissance? There is, generally, a fascination with the past, I think.
It is a dying art as far as its major historical use in shipping/carting/etc. It is a lively field for knots needing to be tied in slippery modern ropes, especially amongst climbers and cavers. The IGKT’s formation has catalyzed the production of many good books on knots in the last three decades.

You’re trying to tie up Harry Houdini. What’s the strategy?
If you want him to live, make sure he tenses his muscles to leave some slack when he relaxes. Don’t use knots that jam.

If you want him to die, tie his arms to his ankles behind his back, making sure the secure knots are out of reach of his fingers and toes.

Who’s the best knot tyer?
Not a relevant question. How do you compare chalk with cheese? Most people are very good at some aspect of knotting, but we’re cooperative and not competitive.

Noah Davis

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 24 • 4:00 PM

We Need to Normalize Drug Use in Our Society

After the disastrous misconceptions of the 20th century, we’re returning to the idea that drugs are an ordinary part of life experience and no more cause addiction than do other behaviors. This is rational and welcome.

October 24 • 2:00 PM

A Letter to the Next Attorney General: Fix Presidential Pardons

More than two years ago, a series showed that white applicants were far more likely to receive clemency than comparable applicants who were black. Since then, the government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a study, but the pardons system remains unchanged.

October 24 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, Middle School Math Teacher?

Noah Davis talks to Vern Williams about what makes middle school—yes, middle school—so great.

October 24 • 10:00 AM

Why DNA Is One of Humanity’s Greatest Inventions

How we’ve co-opted our genetic material to change our world.

October 24 • 8:00 AM

What Do Clowns Think of Clowns?

Three major players weigh in on the current state of the clown.

October 24 • 7:13 AM

There Is No Surge in Illegal Immigration

The overall rate of illegal immigration has actually decreased significantly in the last 10 years. The time is ripe for immigration reform.

October 24 • 6:15 AM

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

October 24 • 5:00 AM

Why We Gossip: It’s Really All About Ourselves

New research from the Netherlands finds stories we hear about others help us determine how we’re doing.

October 24 • 2:00 AM

Congratulations, Your City Is Dying!

Don’t take population numbers at face value.

October 23 • 4:00 PM

Of Course Marijuana Addiction Exists

The polarized legalization debate leads to exaggerated claims and denials about pot’s potential harms. The truth lies somewhere in between.

October 23 • 2:00 PM

American Companies Are Getting Way Too Cozy With the National Security Agency

Newly released documents describe “contractual relationships” between the NSA and U.S. companies, as well as undercover operatives.

October 23 • 12:00 PM

The Man Who’s Quantifying New York City

Noah Davis talks to the proprietor of I Quant NY. His methodology: a little something called “addition.”

October 23 • 11:02 AM

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.

October 23 • 10:00 AM

The Psychology of Bribery and Corruption

An FBI agent offered up confidential information about a political operative’s enemy in exchange for cash—and they both got caught. What were they thinking?

October 23 • 8:00 AM

Ebola News Gives Me a Guilty Thrill. Am I Crazy?

What it means to feel a little excited about the prospect of a horrific event.

October 23 • 7:04 AM

Why Don’t Men Read Romance Novels?

A lot of men just don’t read fiction, and if they do, structural misogyny drives them away from the genre.

October 23 • 6:00 AM

Why Do Americans Pray?

It depends on how you ask.

October 23 • 4:00 AM

Musicians Are Better Multitaskers

New research from Canada finds trained musicians more efficiently switch from one mental task to another.

October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?

October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.

October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.

October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.

October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.

October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.

Follow us

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.