Knots and knotwork – nautical, Celtic, Chinese “good luck”, practical and decorative – have always fascinated me.
One Christmas, I gave a handy little book, All The Knots You Need by R.S. Lee (Algrove Publishing, 1999), to the men in my life. I always intended to borrow a copy to teach myself some of the more interesting ones. Besides the overhand, granny and lark’s head knots, the only other practical type of knot I knew was the one we use to tie up our boat (known variously as the chain sinnet, daisy chain, monkey braid, etc.). Then I discovered paracord.
One of the most popular uses for 550 paracord is keychains and fobs. A variety of knots was used to make these examples, and I chose different types of hardware – rings, carabiners or clasps – according to how I thought these pieces might be used.
Parachute cord (a.k.a. paracord) is strong rope originally used as suspension lines for parachutes. It consists of a smooth braided multi-strand nylon sheath encasing a core (the kern) of twisted two- or three-ply yarns. Paracord comes in several different diameters, each measured by its minimum breaking strength, from 95 to 750 lbs. I often use black 95 paracord as a cord for pendants, as it is slender but durable, has a pleasing sheen, and can get wet without being damaged. 325 can be useful when you want jewellery that’s not too bulky. 550 paracord, at about 4 mm thick, is probably the most popular for practical and decorative applications.
Camping, hiking, climbing and survival enthusiasts will often carry a lanyard, keychain or bracelet made of several feet of loosely-knotted paracord that can be quickly unwoven when the need for some rope arises, but most crafters will make their items, such as the ones shown here, to stay permanently knotted.
Women’s styles, L to R: Double mandala knots with faceted glass bead, finished with a diamond stopper knot and tassel; Cobra knots form the body and wings of the dragonfly, with pony beads for eyes; Emperor’s snake knot with glass bead, diamond knot and tassel.
The ends of nylon paracord must be melted and sealed with a flame to prevent fraying. It takes a bit of practice to perfect, but once you do, experimenting with the dozens of types of knots and the things you can make is a lot of fun. You Tube is the place to go for instructional videos on anything from lanyards, keychains, zipper pulls, water bottle holders, pouches, dog leashes, walking-stick handle wraps, figures (animals and people-shaped “buddies”), bracelets, necklaces and even rings!
If you know macramé or Shamballa knotting, you’ll recognize some of these knots by a different name. A square knot, for example, is known in the paracord world as a cobra knot, and a length of cobra knots is called a Solomon bar.
The cobra knot, shown here in patterned paracord, is the most common of knots. Beads or jewellery components add interest.
These knots and weaves can be rendered with material other than paracord, of course. I’ve made a lanyard for a utility knife from thick, bargain-store poly cord, and am planning a project using cotton rope. But if you take up paracording, go for good quality material. Cheaper paracord doesn’t melt and seal as cleanly, and won’t hold up to as much use. Your local craft store will probably carry a few different colours, patterns and weights, but you can get far more variety online. I’ve purchased happily from Canada Paracord.
I made the keychains you see here as party favours for a recent family birthday get-together, customizing the design and type of knot for each recipient. I’ll share other paracord projects in upcoming posts.
Men’s styles: The monkey’s fist (top) is another classic knot, originally used at the end of a rope as a weight or anchor; snake knots form the chain, and the two cords are fused together. I made the fender design (bottom) for my brother, a boating enthusiast. This style weaves two colours in the round crown sinnet knot.