Philippe Petit knows knots

(Photo by Violet Snow)

(Photo by Violet Snow)

High-wire artist, author, and Shokan resident Philippe Petit, ever the showman, doesn’t just do a book-signing. The man who walked the wire between the Twin Towers will present his new book, Why Knot?: How to Tie More Than Sixty Ingenious, Useful, Beautiful, Livesaving, and Secure Knots (Abrams Image, 2013) at an event to kick off the last phase of the Phoenicia Library fundraising campaign for the reconstruction of the burned-out building on Main Street.

“It’s interesting to gather a group of people, give them each a cord, and talk about my life with knots. I’ll show them a few knots and teach them a few knots, end with a Q and A, and then sign the book,” Petit explained. The free event will take place on Saturday, May 25, at 2 p.m. at the Methodist Church Hall in Phoenicia.

A week with Why Knot? has convinced me that knots are fun. I have been learning (or re-learning, in some cases) how to tie a bowline (a secure loop), a sheet bend (to attach two ropes of different size), a sheepshank knot (to shorten a too-long rope). I have practiced the simple flourish required for the attractive figure of eight knot, and I can make the double surgeon knot, in case I ever need to stitch up a wound. Each time I successfully tie a knot, I experience a little explosion of delight.


Why, I asked Petit, is knotting so enjoyable? He believes the utility of knots is only part of the answer.

“Knots are tools, not toys — they become instantly the solution to a problem,” he mused. “All the tying in world has an ideal knot for that task. It’s satisfying to attach a bike to a roof rack.”

But there’s also something wonderful about the activity of tying itself. “The 3-D exercise, the design, the architecture is satisfying,” he suggested. “With a few twists of your fingers, you create something. You can see it in kids — a victory, an achievement — and you can have that childlike mind as an adult, too. When I teach knots, adults become like kids.”

While I don’t have that many uses for knots in my daily life, I am finding their beauty compelling, and that aesthetic quality leads to another use of knots — for decoration. “Fancy work is a whole branch of knotting,” observed Petit. “You can make buttons, or mats to put your glass on the table, headbands, bracelets, necklaces. The same kind of knot makes a good stopper knot when you run a rope through a pulley and you don’t want it to fall through.” A good knot for fancy work is the handsome multiple overhand knot, my current favorite.