20200426Timandra Harkness ties together five stories that begin with a knot to discover how knots have played a role in human history, technology, culture and mathematics

She visits the The Museum of Knots and Sailors’ Ropework – a shed in the garden of Des Pawson, one of the world's leading authorities on knots - who tells us where and when the first humans started to tie things together.

She also meets Mike Lucas, a forensic knot expert who helps police dealing with murders and suicides where rope has been involved. A knot can reveal a lot about the person who tied it.

Although not possessing one herself, Timandra finds out that there are in fact ‘85 Ways to Tie a Tie’ from physicist Thomas Fink, co-author of a book of the same name. He explains that that a humble tie connected in a loop is an example of an ‘unknot’ in a branch of mathematics called ‘knot theory’.

Closely connected to this is mathematical ‘braid theory’ which takes us across the Atlantic where Timandra talks to Chicago poet Raych Jackson, whose poem ‘A sestina for a black girl who does not know how to braid hair’ recounts the importance of hair braiding in black culture from someone who did not possess the skills herself.

Climber Dave Macleod tells Timandra of the importance of knots in mountaineering and abseiling and recalls how the lack of one almost lead to his death.

Finally, returning to the Museum of Knots, Timandra discovers that some of the earliest known knots can now be found on Mars – this most basic of technology is now being used on the NASA Mars Rover.

Producer: Julian Mayers
A Testbed production for BBC Radio 4

Short strands about five knots, woven together by Timandra Harkness.

20200507Short strands about five knots, woven together by Timandra Harkness.