Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Friday, February 7, 2014

Chinese Knots {With resources to make your own}

Photo Credit: Kirk Siang
Chinese knots come in every color, though they are most commonly red, which is considered the luckiest color. Made from a single length of cord, they come in many different shapes, from geometric shaped knots to fish and butterflies. They are traditionally made of silk, and can be found either on clothing or as a hanging, decorative knot. 

Hanging knots look identical in front as well as the back

Chinese knotting is believed to been originally used for religious purposes. Important events were symbolized by tying knots, with the size of the knot relative to significance of event. Over the years, they became used as adornments to household objects (hanging from a lantern, for example), ornamentation to clothing, and most practically buttons. Though knotting was an art form that was nearly lost during the political turmoil of the 20th century, there has been a revival. These days they continue to be used as decoration, and on clothing as buttons and ornamentation. They are often given as gifts and used as good luck charms. 

Playing with Chinese Knotting

All three of us were excited to try our hands at Chinese knotting - I was certain we would have gorgeous, semi-elaborate decorations throughout our house, and the girls wanted to include it in jewelry making. It turns out, we had gotten ahead of ourselves. As with any craft worth mastering, knotting takes a great deal of practice. Maybe even hands on instruction :) Maybe, by the 2015 Lunar New Year, we'll have a better hang of it. We did manage a couple of basics knots, which is the best place to start.

I had picked up some red and gold metallic canvas cord at Michaels months ago (top left image, cord to the right), but then came across rattail at Lee Valley (cord to the left) and I was rather excited to use that instead. In fact, we didn't even touch the canvas cord. Rattail is a satiny cord made of rayon. Because it's shiny and slippery, it's easy to tie, tighten and manipulate, but I image with some knots it wouldn't hold its shape as well. You can also, of course, use Chinese knotting cord, which is round, braided nylon cord that holds its shape well. 

As well as cord, it is helpful to have sewing pins, and a surface to pin your cord onto - we used some sort of packing Styrofoam. 

We started off with button knots (gold knot pictured above was more successful). These are the knots that are actually used as buttons, and they can be used for a variety of other projects. You can find instructions for button knots here.

Then came the double coin knots. These knots represent long life and prosperity with the shape representing two overlapping coins. The girls were thinking of using this knot for a necklace. You can find instructions for double coin knots here.

The good luck knot is thought to (you guessed it) bring good luck. As a gift, it is considered to bring good luck to both the giver and the recipient. We started off following a tutorial from a book, but found the video tutorial below by Tying It All Together to be helpful. In the video though, it is done in hand - we tried that for a bit, but went back to using our pins.

Example of the use of pins for knotting
In order to turn our good luck knot into a decoration, or gift, we added a false tassel: I cut a few more lengths of the rattail; dabbed a drop of hot glue to the point where the knot joins the long length of the cord; stuck those extra pieces of cord to the glue; then wrapped around the glue mess with sewing thread. 

I think Chinese knots are beautiful, but to us, they were tricky. It was helpful to have a book with instructions and a video tutorial - that way if one step didn't make sense from one set of instructions, the other seemed to clarify it. 

75 Chinese, Celtic & Ornamental Knots: A Directory of Knots and Knotting Techniques Plus Exquisite Jewelry Projects to Make and Wear by Laura Williams & Elise Mann. (Affiliate link)
This is the book we used as guide and reference. The knots are gorgeous, and the instructions I think are as clear as written instructions can be - like us, they may not be enough. The knots are also ranked by difficulty level, which was useful :) It includes images of variations, especially for jewelry, however we weren't able to wrap our heads around how to get there. I'm sure practice, and getting to know knotting would help.

Our other issue was knowing what to do with our knots when they were finished - how do you join two knots together? It's one thing to have a length of cord and get your knot in the middle, but then what do you do? Other than glue gunning pieces of cord to it. I'll have to set more time aside to delve into this, and hopefully the girls will join in once I have a clearer idea of what to do. Maybe by next year, we'll have more to hang and bring us luck!

You can find more cultural and historical activities at the following linkups:
You can find more creative and kid friendly activities at the following linkups:


  1. Your Chinese Knots are very pretty. All of you must have a lot of patience and very fine motor skills to do even the simplest ones so beautifully! I've always found the knots to be very difficult, so I'm really glad that you're getting deeper into this topic, as I intend to hitch a ride on the back of your research and try them out next year! :-)

    I am so, so glad you're doing such a detailed study into the different aspects of Chinese culture and history, and being so generous at sharing your findings and resources. They are so very useful!

    1. Thanks Hwee, that's a lovely thing to say. It's a detailed study, yet we are still only scratching the surface. There's a list as long as my arm we haven't even touched - the Chinese culture is so rich! It's been a lot of fun though :)

  2. I really like these. They look like they would not look out of place in the medieval times in Europe and as we are trying to come up with costume for our next presentation, I might borrow this idea. (not sure if it would be very authentic, but it sure would look lovely!)
    Hwee's right, you have done a marvellous job with all your activities.

    1. The book we used also had a section of celtic knots - I'm not sure why I'm associating that with medieval, I guess because its European, but I think you're right, knotting would look nice with medieval costumes.

  3. Your good luck knots lack the corner ears. Here, try this (http://chineseknotting.org/luck/howto4/).

    Your button knots also look strange, but it could be that the bottom legs have been pulled sideways... Here, give this a shot (http://chineseknotting.org/button/howto1/).

  4. I see what you mean about the corner ears! Thank you for links!

  5. Oh man, so maybe I can repair the chinese knot on my cloak...... These are awesome!

  6. They are gorgeous, but I am not sure my boys would have the patience for it.

    1. They are definitely not for everyone! I would say patience is very much key :)


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