String Figures

| GLOSSARY | FIGURES |

Why I collect string figures, and why you should too.

A warning to the unwary:String-figuring is addictive. It will lead to sore wrists and forearms, chaffed fingers, and little loops of string all over the house. But it is also a rewarding activity. New figures are often impressive to friends and family. (Of course, about the eighth time you shout, "Watch! Watch!" and do the same figure over again, their enthusiasm will pale.) Once you learn the figures, you'll find that they don't require a lot of brain power to perform. You can do them while carrying on phone conversations, riding on the bus, and during other times when you don't feel like sitting with your hands idle. And once you've memorized a string figure, it's yours forever. It's like riding a bike. When trying a long-neglected figure, you'll fumble at first, but if you relax and let your hands do the thinking, it'll come back to you!

Collecting string figures is cheap. Most libraries will have a book or two on string figures and cat's cradle, usually in the Young Reader's Non-Fiction. I also keep getting string figure books from friends as gifts-- a fairly inexpensive one has kept me occupied for a long time. And there's always the web. String is pretty cheap, too. You can seek out slightly slick, highly flexible nylon cord of some sort from a craft store, or you can just use plain, old, handy-around-the-house string.

p.s. I am now a card-carrying member of the ISFA! Thanks, Jason!

Materials

You'll need a good length of string. I use about eight feet -- the distance from my finger-tips to the floor when I stand tippy-toe and reach real high, plus a little extra. You can use longer or shorter lengths, depending on the size of your hands, the length of your arms, the sort of figures you're doing, and what feels comfortable. Tie the string into a loop with a small, tight knot, and trim the ends off so they don't get in the way. If you're using nylon string, you can melt the ends to seal them (Kids -- ask an adult for help!).

That's it! That's all you need! Go on-- bookmark this page, then go get some string. I'll be waiting when you get back.


Getting started

If you don't understand one of the terms, just go to the glossary!

Opening A

A common beginning; the leaping-off place for many popular figures. Note that this is not the same as the beginning "Bridges" figure in Cat's Cradle!
  1. Hang your loop of string across the thumb and little finger of your left hand, so that there is a short palmar string and a long loop hanging down the inside side of your wrist and arm.
  2. Hang the other end of the loop on your right hand the same way.
  3. With the right index finger, pick up the left hand palmar string, and extend.
  4. With the left index finger, pick up the right hand palmar string from between the strings of the index loop.
  5. Extend and viola, opening A!

The Teacup, The Outrigged Canoe, and/or The Eiffel Tower

So simple it borders on the ridiculous. This figure works best with a short string, or with a long string doubled-up.
  1. Opening A. (See instructions above.)
  2. Reach the thumb over two strings and use the back of the thumb to pick up the far index string.
  3. Navajo the thumbs.
  4. Drop the loops of the little fingers, and extend. This is The Teacup.
  5. If you rotate your hands so that your palms face away from you, the figure is known as The Outrigged Canoe.
  6. If you take the near thumb string in your teeth, drop the thumbs and stretch the figure out, you'll find The Eiffel Tower!

See! piece of cake! Now that you've tackled that, check out some more figures!


String Figure Links


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This site is maintained by:

Britt Scharringhausen
Last modified: Mon May 6 11:27:19 EDT 2002

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