Field Activity Magic – The Knot Bag

Whenever I have gone on an outing with youth that lasted more than a few hours, we have had periods of waiting. Often, we filled these ‘down times’ with stories, songs, and skits. I also found that these periods were a great chance to share new skills. Always wanting to be prepared for an opportunity, I started creating bags that would allow me to share new skills in an entertaining and constructive way. Some of these are just fun, others build on skills that your youth group might already teach. Most importantly, they give youth the opportunity to see that learning can be fun and share a sense of accomplishment.

I have several bags grouped into different categories, and I usually grab one to take along on a trip that allows me to teach, entertain, and connect with the youth. I rotate the bags from time to time based on my own interests but also how the youth responded the last time I brought a bag along. Two other bags that I take are Fire Starting, which includes materials for a number of different fire starting techniques, and Carving, which has wood blanks, knives, and sharpening equipment to teach that many more useful things than a sharp stick can be made with a pocket knife. Other bags that you could possibly share might be magic, games, sewing, leather craft, basketry, painting, drawing, and pottery. The list is only limited by your own interests and imagination.

Today I wanted to focus and share one of these bags: The Knot Bag.

Warning: Learning fancy knots and making projects can be addictive. Signs that you may have a problem include: 1) no longer looking at the TV at night but listening to programs as if they were radio plays, 2) your friends start calling you a knot head, and you like it, 3) you start to lurk in knotting related web sites looking for new challenges. There is no known cure.


My knot bag liberated from my wife.

My knot bag liberated from my wife.

 This is my knot bag. I liberated the bag from my wife, who received it at a work conference. (It’s okay, she has done the same with some bags that I was given at conferences.)

It works very well for a quick grab of materials for knot projects.

Three pockets allow for a little organization of your materials and tools.

Knot Bag - Top Pouch

Knot Bag – Top Pouch

 I use the smaller top pocket just for the thinnest cotton twine and some whipping cord as well. I run a small piece of twine outside of the bag and then zip it closed. This allows me to pull some twine out, cut it off and use it without needing to open and search through the bag for what I want.

The front pouch holds some tools and supplies.

The front pouch holds some tools and supplies.

 The front pouch is reserved for various supplies and some tools that do not fit into my knot tool kit.

The main compartment of the knot bag contains my various cords, tool kit, and other supplies too large to fit into the smaller pockets.

The main compartment of the knot bag contains my various cords, tool kit, and other supplies too large to fit into the smaller pockets.

 The main compartment holds the knot materials like paracord, satin rattail, and other types of cord. I keep my smaller tools together in a little kit bag inside this pouch as well.

Cords in various sizes and color combinations to allow for creation of unique projects.

Cords in various sizes and color combinations to allow for creation of unique projects.

 I bring along various cords so that there is a good size and color available depending on the project. Most of the time we use paracord for projects (it is very popular right now), but other projects call for different materials. Sunglasses keeper cords, for example, work better with a thinner cord. Cotton twine is old school, so if you want to share how sailors would have made knot projects, this is the cord to use.

I pick up my cords at various sources. I usually look for sales and then get a supply to last for a while. One of the best places I have found for paracord and other rope types is R&W Rope in New Bedford, MA. They do a great job getting the rope to you, and if you sign up for their mailing list you will hear about some good rope specials from time to time. I have also had good luck with cord shipped directly from Amazon, but be careful with vendors that ship directly, I have had both good and bad experiences.

If you are interested in going the traditional route, I can recommend Marty Combs. He has cotton cord for sale that is high quality (meets his standards) and had in the past offered discounts to scout groups. Might also help other youth groups out as well; you will need to contact him for details.

Various tools used for making knots

Various tools used for making knots

 A collection of tools is useful too. Some I have made, some are re-purposed for knot use, and some are designed specifically for tying knots. In the picture from upper left clockwise are:

  • Cylinders for tying Turk’s Head knots
  • Marlin Spikes (or Fids) used to help tighten the knot work
  • A Monkey’s Fist jig to aid in tying that knot
  • A small bag to store the knot kit
  • A clay stylus also helpful in tightening knots
  • Hemostats used to pull cord through some tight spaces
  • A lighter for fusing nylon cord ends to keep them from fraying
  • Wire cutters for cutting the cord. A knife or scissors could also be used.

Some supplies used to help create knot based projects.

Some supplies used to help create knot-based projects.

 I also have a collection of knot supplies that can be utilized for the projects.

  • Nite-Ize S-biners are helpful for lanyards and keychains
  • Inexpensive flashlights can be decorated with knots. This helps people know which light is theirs when they otherwise all look the same
  • Lanyard clasps from trade shows. I cut the from these off and save them for use with knotted lanyard projects
  • Lanyard hooks like the ones that I used for the ten cent youth award zipper pulls
  • Plastic buckles for bracelets and watchbands
  • Split rings for key chains
  • Bottle stoppers
  • Scunci hair bands for a one-size-fits-all bracelet
  • Marbles to fill the center of a Monkey’s Fist knot. I use these to create a Matinee Cowboy Lariat for the jumping rope knot trick

Some of the things that can be made using knots.

Some of the things that can be made using knots.

 I also keep in the bag some of the things that I have tied in the past to share as examples for what may be possible.

  • Eyeglass or Sunglass keeper cord
  • Lighter decoration
  • Flashlight decoration
  • Water bottle bangle for identification
  • Lanyard for a hemostat (for identification and to keep it from falling out)
  • Bell rope pulls
  • Survival Bracelets
  • Zipper pulls
  • Lanyards
  • Matinee Cowboy Lariats

A group of books that I take along to help provide inspiration and instruction. Paracord Outdoor Gear, Creative Ropecraft, Knot Craft, Knotting Matters Magazine.

Some of the books I take along to help provide inspiration and instruction.

 I like to bring along some resources for project ideas and instructions on how to make some of the knots needed. Here are some of my favorites, mostly because they focus on finished projects rather than just the knots themselves.

  • Creative Ropecraft by Stuart Grainger is the exception to the project rule. While it does have a few projects in the back of the book, it is most useful as a reference book for various knots, splices, and braids (known as sennits in the knot world)
  • Des Pawson’s Knot Craft features a lot of sea type projects, but has a number of other useful items to make as well.
  • If you become a member of the International Guild of Knot Tyers, you automatically receive issues of the magazine, Knotting Matters. These can be useful resources for different project ideas. They have given away free membership to youth organizations who are willing to teach knotting skills. See their web site for more details.
  • I just found this copy of Paracord Outdoor Gear Projects by Joel Hooks at my local scout shop and could not resist buying it. If I had to limit myself to one resource to bring along, I think this one would be it. It has some very useful projects, and covers just enough of the knots that you need to make the projects in the book.

An old scout 40 knot card

An old scout 40 knot card

 While not useful when you are in the field, these sites can also offer you some insight into possible rope projects:

  • Fusion Knots. J.D. Lenzen can be credited with creating a new generation of knot tyers with his Youtube videos, website, and project books.
  • Stormdrane’s Blog. David Hopper runs a fun site that has several knot projects along with a bunch of other things that often involve paracord.
  • Frayed Knot Arts. Vince Brennan does custom-made rope work but also features a library of projects and how to make them.

I hope you begin to start making your own ‘Go To’ project bags that you can use to share and teach new things to the youth you lead.

As always, we welcome your feedback on this post.



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