So Knotty!

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.

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Falling for Riverwood

This tiny creek nestles at the bottom of a steep ravine near Chappell House. Oct 29 2017

The Riverwood Conservancy has quickly become my favourite local place to practice shinrin-yoku (“forest bathing”). Since writing about my first discovery of this wonderful urban oasis, I’ve visited many times, usually after a long day at work, to rejuvenate and seek peace. In this post, I’ve included images from September and October. I look forward to experiencing what the property has to offer in all seasons.

Oct 15 2017

So far, I’ve followed new trails and enjoyed the deep solitude of the woods, meadows and riverside. I’ve taken dozens of photographs of the park, and I’ve sat on the back terrace of Chappell House, nursing a cup of tea and feeding the black-capped chickadees by hand. (I usually bring a pocketful of wild bird seed; these cuties are easy to coax to the hand.)

Back garden view of Chappell House, built in the Arts and Crafts style in 1919. In keeping with the artful nature of the park, I’ve given this photo a painterly effect. Sep 17 2017

The gardens, still so full of foxglove, Japanese anemones, hydrangea, monkshood, echinacea and roses in September, are drowsing now, awaiting the first blanket of snow. (We had flurries here the other night, but nothing stuck.) The volunteer gardeners, however, have ensured that shrubs and small trees will provide structural interest – and food for birds – during the colder months.

The Arts and Crafts-style gardens complement the house. In September, Japanese anemones provided vibrant colour. Sep 17 2017

On another part of the property stand the McEwan house and barn, the foundations of which date from 1850. There and in a new building, the Conservancy and Visual Arts Mississauga offer community programs for school children and adults. In the surrounding gardens, there is a raised-bed Sensory Garden featuring plants with different scents and textures, and the Enabling Garden invites disabled participants to pitch in and help grow an amazing variety of herbs, flowers, fruits and vegetables.

Painting in the Visual Arts Mississauga building, where community art classes and gallery shows are held. Title and artist unknown. Oct 16 2017

It is from this area that several trailheads lead to more discoveries, including a grand allée of Norway spruce planted over a century ago to protect the fruit orchards (remnants of which can still be seen) from wind damage. Dotted around the woods are 19 “tree caches”, different species of trees marked with QR-coded tags. Scanning the tags with a phone app brings up a website with all kinds of interesting facts about each of the marked trees, some of which are quite rare.

Scanning the code revealed that this tree is a White elm (Ulmus americana), a rare species in eastern Canada due to the ravages of Dutch elm disease. Oct 16 2017

Each time I go to Riverwood, I have a little quest in mind. The Conservancy’s website hints at structures associated with the 1919 Chappell House, but doesn’t specify where they are. These mysteries eluded me at first, but, in best Time Team spirit, I followed obscure paths and paid attention to archaeological clues, and eventually stumbled across the original stone-lined swimming pool and paved tennis court. The pool is now fenced off for safety (not very picturesque, so no photos), and the tennis court’s remaining bits of broken asphalt are now home to moss, weeds and monarch butterflies – and Tai Chi practitioners. Both are a poignant paean to the privileged life of the early 1920s.

Oct 15 2017

I’ve enjoyed watching the autumn colours come into their glorious own. There’s a particular part of the forest that is incredibly peaceful, full as it is of towering sugar maples (one in particular is known to be over 250 years old), beeches, oaks, birches, evergreens and a number of Carolinian (southern) species. The squirrels and chipmunks are quite entertaining, and I’ve been serenaded by the calls of resident and migrating birds: blue jays and robins, woodpeckers, goldfinches, kinglets and sparrows. The other day, I spotted my first dark-eyed juncos of the season, which means only one thing: winter is coming!

The serene beauty of autum woods. Oct 29 2017