SEWING Decorative knots tied to interesting history

Intricate knots were used to record important events.
Last year on my program "Sew Much More," we filmed a show that highlighted closures, specifically the sort which are applied to the surface of a garment after it's completed.
I demonstrated a number of loops made from narrow tubes of fabric, but my favorite treatment was a Chinese ball button and matching decorative loop that I made from cord. I had a lot of fun preparing for the program; what at first seemed impossible soon became fun and nicely challenging.
Book on Chinese knots
I came across a wonderful book a few months ago and was able to explore my growing fascination with Chinese knots a little further. "Chinese Knotting" by Lydia Chen (Echo Publishing Co. Ltd.) is a treasure trove of history and technique.
The book begins with a fascinating history of Chinese knots. In prehistoric times, knots were used to record events and to keep records. Later, elaborately knotted sashes were used to fasten the long robes with flowing sleeves that were a part of both men's and women's wardrobes.
Decorative knotting grew to play an important role, and the tying of knots was considered a necessary skill for young unmarried women. Fortunately, this once-dying art has been revived and knot tying is again becoming a hobby.
The materials are simple, of course -- I started with a long length of cord, a corkboard and push-pins. The knot is carefully laid out on the corkboard, according to a diagram, then the pins are removed and the knot is carefully tightened. With practice, the knot can be tied right in the hands, without the board and push pins. The book presents basic knots, compound knots and creative applications (belts, necklaces, fastenings for handbags, fancy tassels, elaborate clothes fasteners, etc.).
Start with an easy one
I'd like to share how to make one of the easiest knots -- the Chinese ball button. I recall that on the television program, we used a material called military braid, but you could easily use the smooth satin cord (often called rattail) that's available in most fabric stores, or even use a narrow tube of bias fabric that you've made yourself.
Locate a pattern like those found in "Chinese Knotting." When practicing, I've found that it's helpful to actually say the pattern out loud as I work. In this case, it's "over-over-over-under; over-under-over-under."
The ball button fastens into a decorative loop, and the easiest way to get a series of loops to match is to make a paper pattern, and match the size of each against the original pattern. You'll need to hide the raw edges of cord after you've formed the loop; it's easy enough to tuck them out of sight underneath the loop, using plenty of small stitches to secure the ends firmly.
Give buttons and loops a try, and I think you'll find making them is as much fun as wearing them.
XSusan Khalje is an author and host of DIY-Do It Yourself Network "Sew Much More." Contact her at skhalje(at) or Box 51 Long Green, MD 21092. For more information, visit or

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