17 Dec 2010

Tied up in string

Jemimah's Daddy and I were showing off our skills with Cat's Cradle on Wednesday night, pulling the Xs and lines to make new and exciting shapes with a piece of string. Because that's what you do when there a bits of string left over from unwrapping the Christmas gifts, right? Only, much to our surprise, none of the other adults in the room could make anything at all!!.

Which made me wonder about you. Do you play string games with bits of string? Do you make the Parachute, the Eiffel Tower, the Cup-and-Saucer and the Butterfly? Do you trap your friends' hands in the Hand Trap? Do you know the story of the Candle Thief? Can you Cat's Cradle with the best of us?

It's been around a long time, Cat's Cradle. Charles Lamb played it with his school chums back in the 1780s, and George Eliot had Celia playing it in Middlemarch in 1869:

Celia had no disposition to recur to disagreeable subjects. It had been her nature when a child never to quarrel with any one - only to observe with wonder that they quarrelled with her, and looked like turkey-cocks; whereupon she was ready to play at cat's cradle with them whenever they recovered themselves.
According to Anne Akers Johnson in her book, String Games From Around the World, you'll find people playing with string as far afield as Australia's Torres Strait Islands, Alaska, Ireland, Paraguay and Ghana. Jemimah loves it at the age of eight, and her Daddy loves it at...well older than eight.

And so, if you've never tried playing with bits of string I would encourage you to give it a try.

If you can't quite remember the moves, Anne's two books, the one mentioned above along with Cat's Cradle, which I haven't seen, but looks equally as good, would be a good start. Alternatively, try this online book, String Games by Arvind Gupta. It contains most of the good stuff for free. Actually, I wonder about Indian copyright laws because it contains most of String Games From Around the World within its pages, but anyhow, it's quite good, and the diagrams are easy to follow. Unfortunately, I don't seem to be able to link to the page with a hyperlink. The address is:


While you're at it, teach your kids. Apparently the parents in Paraguay are better at string games than their kids. It would be a shame if this activity died a death with the advent of television, wouldn't it? I could tell you that playing string games will improve your child's eye-hand coordination, and maybe it will. But I say play string games because you can do it alone or with friends. It is cheap, enjoyable, imaginative and safe. Most of all though, it is fun. That's what childhood's all about in my book.

We can't have our kids looking like turkey-cocks now, can we?


  1. I think I can only pull one or two moves... and I certainly don't know the names for them... you are SO totally intelligent. ;)

  2. Are you having a go at me, Amy?!!!!

    More likely signs of my misspent youth, perhaps?

  3. I used to be able to do a couple - I remember that we called one of them "Jacob's ladder" but would never be able to make it now.

    I've seen kids in Japan doing string games, but not having gone to Japanese school farther than kindy, my kids haven't picked them up. We'll have to check out those links!

  4. String Games were what we spent a good part of our recess doing when I was young.

    Max knows more than I do (Cat's Cradle is the only one I remember through). He just told me that Jacob's Ladder is the hardest one he knows.

    Max here: hi everyone! The one I have is Cat's Cradle: A Book of String Figures by Anne Akers Johnson.

  5. I loved playing string games growing up. I have shown my children a few moves but never knew there were books about them. I will have to look into getting them.

  6. Hi there, my friend Max! I should have guessed that you would be good at Cat's Cradle!!

    I put something in the mail for you yesterday...

  7. We also whiled away our bus trips to school and many morning tea breaks with our strings! I recall some of the ones you mentioned and one called London Bridge which you pulled in the middle to collapse.
    Good times, indeed.

  8. I love the one we called Everlastings which two people do and it goes on forever. I can still do the easy ones like parachute and cup and saucer but have forgotten harbour bridge I think.

    I have a half-written post about pieces of string and have Mr Gupta's link but not the others, so thank you!

  9. Do you have "Chinese Jump Rope" down there? It's a great game for an only child as you can use the dining room chairs to hold the rope. Teaches dexterity and is a "string" game. The "rope" is more like a bungie cord.

  10. Yep. I still know a lot of the simpler ones but when Star was younger we used to be able to do the full cat's craddle [requiring 2 player & changeing hands] together. Think we would need a refresher course to do it now. Been a while. ☺

  11. The string-game books that are popular in Canada are by Camilla Gryski--her first was Cats Cradles Owls Eyes. All our girls have gone through a cats-cradle phase, and I've had my arm "sawed off" uncountable times.

  12. Your link didn't work... and I was sorely disappointed.

  13. The link still won't work, but I've posted the address. Hope that helps. Otherwise, Google his name and the name of the book and you'll find it!

  14. Hopewell, I loved 'Chinese Skippy' as a kid. Can't get Jemimah inspired though...


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