american eagle figure

mixed loop passages

Several favorite designs of mine arise from doing different loop passages on each hand. In my circle notation charts i place an R or an L before a row to indicate that the loop passage should only be done on the right or the left hand. The first design in this series (figure below, chart 46) is called ‘Koi Fish’ because of the two protruding “eyes” that pop out of the center on the back side of the figure.

The second design is called ‘American Eagle’ (figure below, chart 47).
This eagle has a realistic head, two feet, a prominent feathered breast, and two fully extended wings, much like the eagle seen on numerous U.S. coins and government emblems. In this figure I combine mixed loop passages with dominant switches.

The corresponding 5-loop figure (index, middle, and ring leftdominant switched) is likewise impressive (figure below, chart 48).


Throughout my series of books outlining my approach to teaching math skills using string figures, methods for making several hundred intricate new designs have been provided, and if one includes the figures mentioned in matrices the number approaches a million or more. But the system i use for teaching these figures to students requires very little memorization. This is because all these wonderful figures derive from just three simple patterns gleaned from the literature: ‘Two Diamonds,’ ‘Ten Men,’ and the ‘Inuit Net.’

What I teach is how to break down their methods of construction into comprehensible units which can then be shuffled, iterated, transplanted, and hybridized.

In doing so my students learn to think in a whole new way, a way that fosters the type of analytical thinking required for tackling advanced math problems.

One of the basic ideas of my system of learning string figures was suggested to me by one of my high school students when he was challenged to describe how he would change the formation of a figure in order to make a new figure if he had to.

Early on my high school string figures class was devoted largely to the learning of string figures described in the classic literature. During my second or third year of teaching there was a shy young man who always sat in the back of the class and was shunned by all the other students because of his smell and his appearance. He was always in rumpled clothes and his teeth were very uneven and rather hideous looking. While he didn’t talk to or interact with the other students, he did try to learn string figures by watching the other students from a distance.

After about six weeks, and after all the students could form the simple diamond figures and all were accomplished at making ‘Ten Men’, I walked to the back of the room and sat in one of the empty chairs surrounding this young man. He bristled and then shrunk in on himself. In a soft conversational tone he was asked how he would change something in making the figure in order to make a new figure.
He didn’t answer and the conversational tone continued, as I explained that it wasn’t an idle question being asked but one of vital importance for his passing the class. I further confided that the instructor was blocked in his attempts at coming up with new figures, and that the Cherokee grandmother who had taught him his first figure always said that one could make up one’s own figures if one tried hard enough and was smart enough.

“You need help?” he said.

“Yes,” i said.

“Then I would spin the little finger strings before picking them up,” he smiled, and his face was transformed.

And that was the beginning of my fascination with the results of rotating the loops while performing clearly defined operations. By careful observation of the resulting figures, a string figure system began to form in my mind.

And it started with a frightened young man who was put on a hot seat and asked respectfully what he had surmised during his solitary play with the thin torus of string, his sole textbook for the course.

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