Aug 21, 2019

A life in knots



At a time when “normal” girls were anticipating proms and flirting with high school quarterbacks, I was in the Boy Scouts, learning how to tie exotically named knots like these.

Though I may never be called upon to tie an emergency figure eight on a bight, I’ve often been astonished at just how handy unusual knots can be.

My hoodies’ drawstrings never slip out any more because I’ve tied stevedore knots on the ends.
Stevedores are a little bigger and bulkier than a regular overhand knot (the knot everyone knows how to tie).

Any time my mother fixes one of those fancy dinners that requires slicing a chicken breast in half and tying it back together again, she asks me to handle the string.

I use a marlin hitch, a sailing knot from my Sea Scout days.

It alternates pressure from side to side so the string won’t slip on the slimy, uncooked chicken — or on a seawater-drenched mast.

Just this weekend, I helped a friend move to San Luis Obispo. At 7:30 a.m., I was on the phone with my father, the Scoutmaster extraordinare, asking him to walk me through the steps of a trucker’s hitch, since I’d forgotten.

That hitch held my friend’s desk, cabinet and chairs securely the entire way.

It also held a new mattress and box spring when we picked those up later in the day.

When tying my horse, I use a clove hitch, a hitch that will give a little if he panicks but won’t come undone.

And any time I need a loop (which is more often than you’d think), I use a bowline, also known as “the king of all knots.”

In the interests of perpetuating this bizarrely useful knowledge, here are two of the handiest knots I know.

Because it’s knots like these that, oxymoronically, help untangle some of my life’s everyday snarls.


A hitch is different from a knot in that a hitch is only tight when pressure is applied. So hitches must always be tied around things.

This comes in handy when moving things in trucks or when tying your dog’s leash to a park bench when you have to stop and tie a square knot in your broken shoelace.

Wrap the line (or leash) around an immovable object. The short end of the line, called the working end, should be on your right.

The load-bearing end should be on your left for this demonstration. Make sure to keep tension on the load-bearing end while tying the hitch.

Cross the working end under the load-bearing end, forming a loop. Tuck the working end into the loop, forming a loop around the load-bearing end.

Pull the working end parallel to the load-bearing one. Slip the working end under the load-bearing end and pinch the junction of the lines, forming a third loop.

Tuck the working end through this third loop and release your pinch. Now you should have something resembling Mickey Mouse ears tied around the load-bearing end.

While putting tension on both ends, slide the “ears” towards the immovable object until the hitch is tight.


If knot-tying were a currency, the square knot would be the basic unit.

It can be used to join two lines, which you might find useful with a broken shoelace, or to form a stopper knot like the stevedore I mentioned earlier.

To begin, hold one line in each hand. Cross them to form an X, the end in your left hand going behind the end in your right.

Fold the hindmost one over the line in front, and tuck the end under and pull up.

Take the end on the left and lay it over the end on the right, making a small loop.

Tuck the end on the right through this loop and pull on all four attached ends.

Another way to remember this is the phrase “right over left; left over right.”

Heather Billings is a senior at Fresno State majoring in mass communication and journalism with emphases in print journalism and digital media. Maybe not surprisingly, she was also one of the highest ranked Boy Scouts in the Sequoia Council.

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