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String Figures

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String figures have been a favorite hobby for children and adults for a number of centuries. With a loop of string, people weave with their fingers to make beautiful patterns and designs.

According to the International String Figure Association, some string figure designs are ancient, dating as far back as the Stone Age.

The art of string figures means many things to different people. "In some locations, string figures provided a much needed artistic outlet -- competitions were held to see who could make the most interesting design," says the association's website.

"In other locations, string figures were used by tribal storytellers to illustrate their tales. Elsewhere, string figures served as good luck charms to help ensure a bountiful harvest or a successful hunt."

You can take out your loop of string anywhere to pass the time, entertain friends or just discover new designs.

People are continuously finding and making new designs. Creatively, the number of string figure designs is limitless.

"Instructions for making over 2,000 traditional patterns have been published since 1888, when anthropologist Franz Boas first described how to make an Eskimo string figure," states the International String Figure Association.

Because string is so accessible, the number of people getting involved in this recreational activity continues to grow. Several people have websites devoted to their designs. Creativity and eliminating boredom seem to be two of the main reasons people take up this hobby.

"It's cheap, easy and fun. All you need is string. Learning new figures takes a little bit of work, but it's not something you have to practice every single day. It's fun to learn new figures just for your own amusement, and also to share with other people," says Britt Scharringhausen. She is a string figure enthusiast in New York.

Finding a job related to string figures is unlikely. However, there are some people who travel around the world telling stories and demonstrating their string figures. Other string figure enthusiasts have made money from the hobby by writing books on the subject and studying string figures of other cultures.

Getting Started

Anybody can take part in string figures. All you need are fingers, imagination and a loop of string.

This is a very inexpensive hobby. A loop of string can be bought for less than a dollar. Craft stores, hardware stores or department stores have string that can be purchased for string figures.

There are several Internet sites available that demonstrate different designs and include instructions on how to make different designs.

Scharringhausen has a website devoted to string figures and many of its designs. "I like having a string figures Web page because I get e-mail from people who've read it from time to time, sometimes because they have questions, and sometimes just to tell me that they've enjoyed it. I imagine that for every person that sends me e-mail, many more people have read my page and enjoyed it without e-mailing me."

String figure enthusiasts can chat with other enthusiasts through organizations and associations. Although there are dues for these organizations, they are well worth it. Enthusiasts meet other members, see new designs and patterns and receive newsletters.

String figure books are plentiful. They give instructions on different string figures. Some also recount the history of string figures. And some tell stories through string figures.


International String Figure Association
P.O. Box 5134
Pasadena , CA   91117


String Figures
By Brian Cox, who calls himself the Incredible String Man

With instructions and links

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