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
Noah Davis is a writer living in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @noahedavis.

More From Noah Davis

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

Recent Posts

October 20 • 4:00 PM

The Bird Hat Craze That Sparked a Preservation Movement

How a fashion statement at the turn of the 19th century led to the creation of the first Audubon societies.

October 20 • 2:00 PM

The Risk of Getting Killed by the Police If You Are White, and If You Are Black

An analysis of killings by police shows outsize risk for young black males.

October 20 • 12:00 PM

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.

October 20 • 11:00 AM

My Dog Comes First: The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

Dogs and cats have both advantages and disadvantages for street-involved youth.

October 20 • 10:00 AM

Homophobia Is Not a Thing of the Past

Despite growing support for LGBT rights and recent decisions from the Supreme Court regarding the legality of same-sex marriage, the battle for acceptance has not yet been decided.

October 20 • 8:00 AM

Big Boobs Matter Most

Medical mnemonics are often scandalous and sexist, but they help the student to both remember important facts and cope with challenging new experiences.

October 20 • 6:00 AM

When Disease Becomes Political: The Likely Electoral Fallout From Ebola

Will voters blame President Obama—and punish Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections—for a climate of fear?

October 20 • 4:00 AM

Coming Soon: The Anatomy of Ignorance

October 17 • 4:00 PM

What All Military Families Need to Know About High-Cost Lenders

Lessons from over a year on the beat.

October 17 • 2:00 PM

The Majority of Languages Do Not Have Gendered Pronouns

A world without “he.” Or “she.”

October 17 • 11:01 AM

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

October 17 • 10:00 AM

Can Science Fiction Spur Science Innovation?

Without proper funding, the answer might not even matter.

October 17 • 8:00 AM

Seattle, the Incredible Shrinking City

Seattle is leading the way in the micro-housing movement as an affordable alternative to high-cost city living.

October 17 • 6:00 AM

‘Voodoo Death’ and How the Mind Harms the Body

Can an intense belief that you’re about to die actually kill you? Researchers are learning more about “voodoo death” and how it isn’t limited to superstitious, foreign cultures.

October 17 • 4:00 AM

That Arts Degree Is Paying Off

A survey of people who have earned degrees in the arts find they are doing relatively well, although their education didn’t provide much guidance on managing a career.

October 16 • 4:00 PM

How (Some) Economists Are Like Doomsday Cult Members

Cognitive dissonance and clinging to paradigms even in the face of accumulated anomalous facts.

October 16 • 2:00 PM

The Latest—and Most Mysterious—Player in the Nasty Battle Over Net Neutrality

As the FCC considers how to regulate Internet providers, the telecom industry’s stealth campaign for hearts and minds encompasses everything from art installations to LOLcats.

October 16 • 12:00 PM

How Many Ads Is Too Many Ads?

The conundrum of online video advertising.

October 16 • 11:00 AM

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.

October 16 • 10:00 AM

The False Promises of Higher Education

Danielle Henderson spent six years and $60,000 on college and beyond. The effects of that education? Not as advertised.

October 16 • 8:00 AM

Faster Justice, Closer to Home: The Power of Community Courts

Community courts across the country are fighting judicial backlog and lowering re-arrest rates.

October 16 • 6:00 AM

Killing Your Husband to Save Yourself

Without proper legal instruments, women with abusive partners are often forced to make a difficult choice: kill or be killed.

October 16 • 4:00 AM

Personality Traits Linked to Specific Diseases

New research finds neurotic people are more likely to suffer a serious health problem.

October 16 • 2:00 AM

Comparing Apples to the Big Apple: Yes, Washington, D.C., Is More Expensive Than New York City

Why shouldn’t distant locales tied to jobs in the urban core count in a housing expenditure study?

October 15 • 4:00 PM

Why Asian American Parents Are the Least Likely to Spank Their Kids

Highly educated, middle-class parents are less likely to use corporal punishment to discipline their children than less-educated, working-class, and poor parents.

Follow us

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.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.

Advice for Emergency Alert Systems: Don’t Cry Wolf

A survey finds college students don't always take alerts seriously.

Brain’s Reward Center Does More Than Manage Rewards

Nucleus accumbens tracks many different connections in the world, a new rat study suggests.

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.