Monday, November 3, 2014

Tying a Turk's Head Knot

Each month I'm presenting a new tutorial on a medieval skill from various types of textile-related crafts. The purpose is two-fold. First, it will allow me to locate, study, and try a variety of new techniques I might otherwise overlook, and second, it's an easy way to get information out there about skills that other people might be looking for or find helpful. This month, I present Turk's Head Knots.

In planning out my latest bag project, I made a note that I wanted to use turk's head knots on the tassels hanging at the base of the bag. This meant, of course, that I needed to learn how to create turk's head knots. And since you know I don't think anything is worth learning if I can't find a way to explain it to you all as well, here we go!

Turk's head knots are really just braids worked in a circle. There are several varieties of turk's heads, distinguished from each other by the number of times the knot works around the core, and the number of outside edge scallops that are produced.

In order to better understand how these knots are formed, there are a few knotting terms you should know. They are lead, bight and pass.

Leads (sorry for the blurry photo!)

Lead: Unlike braiding, where each strand in the braid has its own end, there's technically only 1 strand in a Turk's head knot (with a starting end and a working end.) So to distinguish the parts of a knot that the laymen might identify as strands from actual, honest strands, the term "lead" (with a long e) is used instead. Just like in a braid, the more leads in the knot, the more weaving is involved. The number of leads help classify the specific turk's head knot you are forming.

Bight: In general knot making terms, each u-shaped bend in the rope is called a "bight" (pronounced "bite"). In turk's head knots, these bends manifest themselves as scallops along the outside edge of the knot. This means that you can also classify the type of turk's head by the number of bights formed when it's complete. Even though bights are formed on both sides of the knot, they are only counted on one.

Pass: Since most turk's head knots are formed around a cylindrical core (such as a tassel), there's a point across the knot that marks when you've finished one portion of the knot and started the next. Visually, it's marked by where the starting end comes into the knot. Each time around the cylinder is called a pass, each pass forms a new lead, and each lead takes a unique path, creating a bight in the process. Pass = Lead = Path = Bight. The exception is the first lead, which is often created in the same pass as the second.

The other thing to know is that the turk's head knot is formed once all passes have been performed, and is then typically filled in by repeating the knot 1 or two more times. All of that repetition comes after the knot is actually formed, and has no bearing on the leads, bights and passes.

When you look out on the internet for "turk's head knot", you're likely going to first run into a 3 lead version, like this one (which is a 3 lead, 7 bight knot, BTW.) The problem with learning how to do turk's heads with a smaller number of leads is that you have to swap the leads manually in order to get the woven pattern correct. This isn't really a beginner-friendly thing. Once you understand the mechanics of the turk's head, however, it makes sense and is much easier to perform.

For this tutorial, I'm going to walk you through a 5 lead, 4 bight turk's head. This means that the knot will be completed (minus any repeats) once 5 leads are in place and the edge of the knot has 4 scalloped bends (the bights). This produces what's known as a square turk's head, and really highlights that the knot is woven together.

And speaking of weaving, here's a thought that might help you going in: turk's head knots aren't just "knotted". They are formed by an over-under working pattern. As you create the knot, you are weaving the strand with itself.

You don't have to start with a tassel. You'll need some type of sturdy string or cord, a tapestry needle, and a small diameter cylinder to work around. The size of cylinder you need is directly connected to the thickness of your string. If you're using a heavy crochet cotton, the diameter of a AA battery is nearly perfect. Your finger would also work, but I'd save that for when you've got a few successful knots under your belt.

Ready? Let's do this thing:

So here are some of the take-aways:

Remember that all woven things require strands worked in (at least) two different directions. The first pass of the knot creates the first two leads and sets up the two directions- that first X. This also establishes your over/under pattern, since lead 1 goes under lead 2. The remainder of the knotting pattern is based off this.

The knot is formed from the outside in. More specifically, the two edges are formed, then the additional leads work their way between them back to the start. This is different from traditional weaving, which starts on one end and works across the piece to the other end. When you place a new lead, you can use the first lead as a guide for what you need to do when you cross the third, fourth and fifth leads. Simply count out the over/under pattern for the leads that aren't there yet up to the one you're working.

Every pass is creating a bight. The bight appears before the lead's pass crosses through the knot on its way back to the left. So you go all the way to the right, then turn back (creating the bight), and go all the way to the left. Turk's heads with more bights may require additional trips back across- it depends on the lead to bight ratio.

Remember when you get to the tightening point to BE PATIENT. Take it a section at a time, and don't worry if it feels like you're just going around in circles not accomplishing anything. You are making an impact, and the knot will look much better for the effort.

I hope that this all makes sense and helps you see the mechanics of how turk's heads are formed, and why they are worked in the manner they are. I've tried my best here to break it down so you can see the mechanics and not simply the method. This doesn't mean that your first attempt not watching the video will be an automatic success, just that I hope you'll be better equipped to remember the method by being able to think through it. Good luck!

I'd love to see your knots- you can share them with me over on Facebook!

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