More String Figures

| INTRODUCTION | GLOSSARY |

I have deliberately chosen to describe figures that do not appear in the World Wide Webs since their explanations are quite clear, and they have nice pictures. I may refer to their figures, or provide alternate methods for producing similar figures.

I learned the figures here mostly from the book Fun With String Figures by W. W. Rouse Ball (Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1971). However, the pictures and instructions on these pages were composed entirely by me.

The string figures are arranged alphabetically. If a figure is giving you trouble, let it rest for a while, then attack it afresh. If the directions are bad, email me and I'll try to make them better!


Batoka Gorge

This figure is supposed to represent an aerial view of the Zambesi River below the Victoria Falls as it winds through the Batoka Gorge.

  1. Hang the string over the right wrist so that half hangs in a loop on the near side of the wrist and half hangs in a loop on the far side. (No twists!)
  2. From the near side, insert the left hand into the loops until the loops are around the left wrist. Extend. There is now an X between the wrists, and a single loop about the wrist.
  3. With the little fingers, pick up from below the two strings forming the X. Extend.
  4. Throw the near wrist string over the rest of the fingers.
  5. With the thumbs, pick up from below the two strings which make a V at the center of the figure.
  6. With the right hand pick up the left dorsal string and let it fall on the palmar side of the left hand.
  7. With the left hand pick up the right dorsal string and let it fall on the palmar side of the right hand.

The Broom or The Fish-Spear

This one's simple. I remember doing it in elementary school between games of Cat's Cradle.

  1. Do the first three steps of Opening A.
  2. Twist the right index loop several times by rotating your right index finger.
  3. Let the right index loop lay on your palm. On the back of the left index finger, pick up the piece of the right palmar string which lies between the strings of the right index loop. Extend.
  4. Release the right thumb and little fingers.

The Moth

This is a Zulu figure that works best with a short or doubled string

  1. Opening A.
  2. Drop the thumb loops.
  3. Reach the thumbs over the index loops and pick up the near little finger strings on the backs of the thumbs.
  4. Drop the little finger loops.
  5. On the backs of the thumbs, pick up the near index finger string.
  6. Navajo the thumb loops.
  7. A loop now depends from each of the strings stretching from the thumb to the index finger. These loops form triangles. Reach the index finger over the far string of the dependent loop, into the triangle. Continue to rotate the index finger down and away from you, allowing the index loop to slide off as you pick up the far string.
  8. Finish with the fingers splayed and the palms facing away from you.

The Pillars of the Sun

This is an alternate to the World Wide Webs method, using the Many Stars beginning instead.

  1. Do the first 4 steps of Many Stars
  2. Reach the little fingers over the far middle finger strings and pick up the near middle finger strings on the backs of the little fingers, lifting the loop off the middle fingers.
  3. Drop the loops from the index fingers.
  4. Reach the index fingers over the far thumb strings and pick up the near thumb strings on the backs of the index fingers, lifting the loop off the thumbs.
  5. Reach the thumbs under the index loop. Pick up the near little finger strings on the backs of the thumbs.
  6. Insert the thumbs from below into the index loops.
  7. Caroline extension.

The Porker

This figure is both difficult to learn and inelegant because it involves reaching across the figure and rearranging strings, a process that appears awkward and is difficult to describe in these text-only instructions. However, in this case, the result is so charming that I believe it is well worth it.

The Porker works best with a short or doubled string. For clarity's sake, I have described movements made with the left and right hand separately, though the movements are symmetrical with the exception of the last few steps.

  1. Make the Small Fish.
  2. With the right thumb, pick up the two strings composing the outermost right leg of the "W" at the center of the figure.
  3. With the left thumb, pick up the two strings composing the outermost left leg of the "W".
  4. Release all the strings from the index fingers. (You will probably need to use your left thumb and index to remove the strings from the right index, and vice versa.
  5. With the index fingers, pick up the far thumb strings (not the palmar string) and lift that loop off the thumb.
  6. With the thumbs, reach under the index loop, dropping the thumb loops. Reach over the far little finger string and rotate the thumb down and back into position, catching the little finger string on the back of the thumb.
  7. With the right thumb and index, reach into the index finger loop on the left hand. Reach under the near index finger string. Grasp the thumb loop where the strings cross. Lift the thumb loop up through the index loop, then replace it on the thumb so that the loop goes over the near index string
  8. Do the same with the left little finger loop.
  9. Use the left hand to do the same with the loops from the right thumb and right little fingers.
  10. With the right hand, lift the left index finger loop over all the left hand's fingers and lay it across back of the hand left hand.
  11. Use the left hand to do the same with the right index finger loop.
  12. Use the right index to pick up the near little finger string and the far thumb string on the left hand. Lift both these loops off the fingers and draw the left hand out of the dorsal loop.
  13. Move these loops from the right index onto the left index, placing the loop that used to be on the left little finger closer to the base of the left index finger.
  14. Use the left index finger to pick up the near little finger string and the far thumb string on the right hand, lifting these loops off the fingers and withdrawling the right hand from the dorsal loop.
  15. You now hold four loops on your left index finger. From the base of the finger up, in order, they are the loop from the left little finger, from the left thumb, from the right little finger, and from the right thumb. The top loop goes on the right little finger. The next loop goes on the left little finger, the next on the right thumb, and the loop at the base of the index finger goes on the left thumb.
  16. The body of the pig is the mass of strings at the center of the figure. The legs are the four loops that stretch from the middle to the outer strings. Insert the right middle finger from above into right little finger loop, and with the middle finger catch the near little finger and far thumb strings, releasing the little finger and thumb. Insert the index, middle, ring, and little finger into the middle finger loops and hold them with the near strings up and the far strings down. Now by pulling on the top strings, you can make the pig approach the right hand, and pulling on the lower strings will cause the pig to retreat toward the left hand. Mr. Ball writes that, "During his progress you can address him in whatever terms you deem suitable."

The Veiled Sun or The Eclipse

One of my faves-- it's the astronomy thing.

  1. Opening A
  2. Grab the far little finger string in your teeth; stretch it up over the figure so it's out of the way, and release the little fingers.
  3. Reach the little fingers over the index loops and on their backs pick up the far thumb strings. Release the thumbs.
  4. Insert the index fingers into the loop in your mouth above the place where it crosses, i.e. as close to your mouth as you can. Release your teeth.
  5. Navajo the index fingers.
  6. Draw the figure taut very slowly and watch the sun disappear.

| INTRODUCTION | GLOSSARY |

Return to: North or The Origin

This site is maintained by:

Britt Scharringhausen
Last modified: Mon May 6 15:48:20 EDT 2002