Chinese Knotting Supplies


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One of the joys of Chinese knotting is that there are very few supplies you need to complete most designs. Some string, a cutting tool, maybe a bobby pin and some tweezers. If you're getting into the really complicated knots you might want a macrame or padded board and some pins. For finishing you might want a lighter, needle and thread, perhaps some beads. But the one thing you can't do without, the most important thing you need is string (or cord if you prefer).

What to use

An important feature of Chinese knotting is the cord used must have a certain amount of stiffness or "body" to hold the structure of the knot. Completely limp strings will almost never produce the desired effect, and something that is too stiff (ie. wire) will probably not survive the knotting process for anything but the simplest designs. Caveat: I've never tried to use wire and I'm not a metal-worker.

These days you can find a small selection of the appropriate cording in just about every craft or bead store as well as many fabric stores under the name of "rat-tail" (mouse-tail or bug-tail) or "satin cord". It is usually made of nylon or occasionally rayon, sometimes with a cotton core. Of course, if you live in Taiwan, there are (or were when last I visited in 1996) whole stores dedicated to the craft much like bead or yarn stores in North America.


Why use nylon?

I almost want to say that satin cord made of nylon is the "traditional" material to use since it seems that way based on the Chinese knotting books that you can buy, but obviously that can't be true. In all likelihood the "traditional" material was silk, but that is expensive and somewhat difficult to come by in modern times. The modern knotter will more likely than not be using nylon satin cord or braided "parachute" cord (also nylon, or the functionally equivalent for our purposes polyester/polypropylene), and there are several reasons why this would be the case.

Texture
satin cord has a close approximation to the look and feel of silk, also it holds the shape of the knots and loops well. Rayon based satin cord is softer and more slippery than nylon, making it trickier (though not impossible depending on the knot) to work with.
Finishing
nylon can be heat fused and heat sealed ensuring that the ends either will not fray or can be joined quickly and easily without the need for whipping, splicing or glues. This is not true of the rayon/cotton cords.
Matching
the fabrication method by which most satin cord is made means that the fibre for a matching tassel is easily obtained by "unweaving" the cord and steaming the crinkled fibres for a smooth tassel.

Other cord types

President's Braid
The nylon satin and parachute cords that I have been referring to previously in this document are round. Another popular type of cord made of the same type of materials and similar in texture is "president braid" (defined on the Wright's Glossary page as "A braided cord with two defined edges.") often seen in the premade, packaged frog buttons that you might find in a fabric store.
twisted/spun cords
cords formed by rope-style twisting. Any tassel book will give the basic instructions for this.
Leather
cords, lacing, braided strips, etc.
Gimp
a squarish or round plastic cord that is often marketed for use with the big plastic beads to make "beady buddies", lanyards for kids, or just to create designs on plastic mesh "canvases".
kumihimo cords
hand braided (usually) silk cords.

Where to buy

Satin cord can be found in most craft, bead, or fabric stores.

Parachute cord suitable for decorative applications is more often found in outdoor supply/sports/mountaineering/marine supply and occasionally hardware/building supply type shops.

President's braid can occasionally be found in a really well stocked fabric store. If you want to spend a lot of money on a little bit of cord, this style of cord is currently popular as a shoelace (oval laces).

In North America, there are a tiny handful of stores specializing in Chinese knotting supplies. The locations listed below are places I have personally visited, but hopefully more info is forthcoming from the friendly net.people around the world .... 8)

Stores

Vancouver, BC
Alpha Craft (Yaohan Mall, Richmond)
#2405-3700 No.3 Road, Richmond, BC, V6X 3X2
p: (604) 231-0881

A general Asian craft store with some knotting cord, lots of fancy yarns, some origami supplies, some beads, books and a little bit of just about everything else.

Los Angeles, CA
Chinese String Arts
Monterey Park Plaza
922 E. Garvey Avenue
Monterey Park, CA 91755
Tel: (626) 280-0699
Hours: Tuesday - Saturday: 11am - 6pm
From the ashes of String Arts Inc, a leaner and trimmer store in the same strip mall has been opened by an associated instructor.
Houston, Texas
I have a report of a store specializing in Chinese Knotting supplies in Texas, but no other details.

Online

Note: I have never purchased from any of these sources, but I've been accumulating the addresses against the day where my need for string outweighs my need to see things before I buy them. Actual experience based recommendations when that happens (although if you decide to bite the bullet, please share your experiences with the rest of us!)
The Barre Army and Navy Store
Milspec 550 and 450 pound test parachute cord in many color and length choices from a store in Vermont.

CLW

Creation Date: Thu Nov 15 17:15:53 PST 2001
Last Modified: Tuesday, 20-Jul-2004 20:36:03 UTC
Page accessed at local time: Monday, 21-Apr-2014 09:46:35 UTC