This section is from the book "Feeling Better? Amusements and Occupations for Convalescents", by Cornelia R. Trowbridge. Also available from Amazon: Feeling Better.
WHY not practise knot-tying? If you have ever heard a sailor talk about bending a sheet to the clew of a sail or dogging an end with the lay of a rope, you know that there are deep mysteries to fathom and an intricate craft to study over.
For the present the simpler knots, such as the Tenderfoot Boy Scouts must master, may be all you want to attempt. It is useful to know them and they are not hard to learn. Before beginning on any of them, study carefully the illustrations as well as the directions. The rope end marked A is always the one held in the right hand when beginning the knot. It will be a help if that end of your rope is dipped in ink or otherwise colored. Use a good-sized cord, not necessarily as large as a clothes line, but such as will tie up a sizable bundle. To give these paragraphs a properly nautical flavor, we shall refer to it as a rope.
The first three knots given are used to fasten together two ropes or the ends of one rope.
The Scouts begin with the square or reef knot, with which sailors put in a reef in a sail on a windy day and which is useful more prosaically for tying up packages. It is shown in two stages in Figure i, a and b. Taking the rope you have marked as A in the right hand, put it in front of and around B. Then turn B back toward the left, lay A over it, under it and out to the right. Lastly draw both ends tight at once to make the knot "square." The reef knot meets the requirements of all good knots-it will not slip under ordinary tension and if the two ropes are of the same size and material, it can be untied easily or, as the sailors say, it will not jam. If A is put behind B in both steps, the result will again be a square knot. But if A is passed once in front and once behind, the knot will be a "granny," which will pull out. The Romans said that Hercules invented the square knot and they called it by his name. It often appears in ancient art on Mercury's staff or on the handles of vases or fastening the girdles of Vestal Virgins. Surgeons use a very strong form of it for tying bandages. They put A two or three times around B in both steps of the tying.
The sheet bend or weaver's knot, also used to tie two rope ends together, will never jam however great the tension and can be used to join ropes of different sizes and materials. In B make the loop known to sailors as a bight by crossing the rope on itself, the shorter end uppermost. Holding the bight in the left hand between the thumb and forefinger, bring A up through the bight from underneath, as shown in Figure 2, a, and around behind B and down into the bight as shown in Figure 2, b, and draw it taut. This is the knot used by weavers to join threads though they have a different method for making it. It dates back to prehistoric times. The nets of the Lake Dwellers of Switzerland, of the late Stone Age, were tied with it.
For the fisherman's knot the two ropes to be tied together are overlapped and with each end an overhand knot is made around the other rope. In the illustration, Figure 3, the knot is tied but the two ropes are yet to be pulled together to tighten it. Fishermen have more use for this knot than sailors. With it they join fishlines and gut.
The rest of the knots described here are made in the end of a rope to attach it to some other object. In very correct nautical language they are "hitches." The end held in the right hand we shall continue to call A. It will be the short end. The long end, held in the left hand, is known as the stand or standing part.
The clove hitch fastens a rope around a post or spar or ties a horse or a boat. The end A goes around the post and under the stand; then up and around the post and under itself. If the post is not too high, this knot is usually made by throwing the rope in two "half-hitches" over the top of it. A little study of Figure 4 will make clear both ways of making the knot.
The bowline is the knot most useful for making a loop at the end of a rope. It is really the sheet bend but only one rope is used. The bight or loop is made in the rope at whatever distance from the end will give a loop of the desired size and it is held in the left hand. Then the end A goes through the loop from below, around the stand and down through the loop again. Figure 5, a and b, makes all this clear.
It is often useful to have a slip noose at one end of a rope or cord. You probably know how to make one with a piece of string over a fingertip. When using two hands, as one must with a rope, make a bight, or a loop if you wish to keep to everyday terms, with the short end this time underneath. The loop must be large enough to pass the hand through. Hold it in the left hand. Put the right hand down through it and draw out through it the standing part, holding the end A between the thumb and forefinger until the bight closes up to hold the noose. Figure 6 is the bight closes up to hold the noose. Figure 6 is the pull on this knot, the more firmly it will hold. Yet it can always be loosened quickly.
Two half-hitches may be used instead of a slip knot and must be so used if the standing part of the rope is taut. The end A is passed around the tent peg, post two half-hitches or ring to which the rope is to be attached and tied in an ordinary, simple knot. Then A goes either under or over the standing part and out through the loop thus formed and is drawn tight around the standing part. For this see Figure 7.
Boy Scouts learn the timber hitch for hauling heavy logs and planks. It is very simple and can be worked out from the illustration, Figure 8. The end A goes around the standing part and two or three times around itself.
You should practise the knots until you can make them in the dark and with cords of various sizes, without hesitation or fumbling. You may discover ways of making them easier and quicker for you than those described here but the final results should agree with the illustrations. If you want to become still more expert in this ancient art, the Boy Scout manuals give a dozen other knots to try and the encyclopedias have pages of illustrations of them. When you have learned all the nautical knots, you can go on to splicings and seizings or to those Cowboy hitches which are the wonder of all Tenderfeet.