LLX > Neil Parker > String Figures
Obviously every string figure has to start out somehow. The majority of the world's string figures start out with one of a small number of opening moves...the openings used in these web pages are described below. Also included below is a common ending used to display finished figures.
Position 1, also called first position, is probably the most common string figure opening in the world.
Pick up the loop with the thumbs and little fingers of each hand, so that it passes behind those fingers, but across the palm of each hand.
1. Pick up the loop on the thumbs only.
2. Insert little fingers into thumb loops from below, and return to their original position carrying the far thumb string.
1. Pick up the loop on the little fingers only.
2. Insert thumbs into little finger loops from below, and return to their original position carrying the near little finger string.
This is a very common opening, found all over the world.
1. Position 1.
2. Insert right index under left palmar string and return.
3. Pass left index through right index loop from above, and under right palmar string, and return.
When I was a child, the other children on my elementary school playground always used their middle fingers instead of their index fingers for opening A. The middle-finger version is not usual - in most of the world the index fingers are used.
In many publications, the reverse of opening A, in which the LEFT index takes up the RIGHT palmar string first, is called "opening B." But this conflicts with another common opening also called "opening B" (described below), so I will avoid it, and instead, the reverse of opening A will be called left-handed opening A (mnemonic: in the left-handed version, the left index moves first).
Actually, it usually doesn't matter whether opening A is made right-handed or left-handed. But there are a few figures where it does matter, so it's wise to assume that unless specified otherwise, opening A means the right-handed version (right index moves first).
Opening B is common in the Arctic and in Hawaii. To avoid confusion with left-handed opening A, this will be called "Arctic opening B" in the instructions.
1. Pick up the string on the left thumb and index finger, and on the right thumb.
2. Pass right index, from above, behind the left thumb-index string, and hook this string to the right. Then straighten the right index by giving it a half-twist away and up.
1. Position 1.
2. Pass the right index, from above, behind the left palmar string, and hook it to the right. Then straighten the right index by giving it a half-twist away and up.
3. Transfer left little finger loop to left index.
4. Release right little finger.
This is the right-handed (right index moves first) version of opening B, commonly found the Arctic. The version common in Hawaii is the left-handed version (left index moves first), made by swapping left and right in Method 1 above.
Opening C is common only in the Arctic.
1. Pick up the loop on the thumbs and indexes.
2. Pass little fingers forward, under the far index string and near thumb string, and up in front of all strings. Return carrying the near thumb string, passing under the far index string and being careful not to catch it.
3. Hook the little fingers down over the far index string, allowing the former far little finger string to slip off.
Though it's never mentioned in the published literature, I find that closing the ring fingers over the X where the near thumb strings go under the index-little finger strings is essential to the success of figures that start with opening C.
This opening got its name because it was first documented among the Navajo people of the southwestern U.S. It has since been found in many other places as well. Some publications call this opening by other names, including "Bow opening," "Yoruba opening," and "top opening."
1. Pick up the loop with thumbs and indexes, so that a short string a few inches long passes between the hands, and a long loop hangs down. Grasp the upper ends of the long handing loop with the middle, ring, and little fingers.
2. Make a loop hanging down in the short string between the hands by moving the right hand away from you and to the left.
3. Pass indexes toward you through the small loop made in step 2, and thumbs away from you through the long hanging loop. Draw the hands apart, turning indexes away from you and up, and releasing middle, ring, and little fingers.
4. Turn thumbs a quarter-turn up and toward you, under the index loops.
This opening was first documented in a figure from Murray Island in the Torres Straights. Some publications call this opening by other names, including "Little Fishes opening," "Index opening," and "top opening" (yes, that conflicts with the use of "top opening" to name the Navajo opening...a good reason to avoid the name "top opening").
1. Pick up the loop with thumbs and indexes, so that a short string a few inches long passes between the hands, and a long loop hangs down.
2. Make a loop hanging down in the short string between the hands by moving the right hand toward you and to the left.
3. Pass indexes toward you through both the large loop and the small loop, and draw the hands apart, turning the indexes up.
Throughout the South Pacific, this ending (also called pindiki in some publications) is commonly used to display finished figures. When it is called for, there will usually be one loop on the thumbs and indexes, and another on the thumbs and little fingers (with a string stretched across the palm as in Position 1). There may or may not be other loops.
1. Push the index loops upward, so that they are held near the tips of the indexes.
2. Press thumbs against indexes, pinching the thumb-index string between them to hold it in place, and (with indexes pointing upward) turn hands with palms facing away from you.
Some people find that it helps to hold the little finger loops in place by clasping the middle, ring, and little fingers to the palms, but this is not generally necessary.
The illustrations above are from [Jayne 1906], except for opening C, which is from [Jenness 1924]. The figure numbers in the illustrations are the figure numbers from the original publications.
LLX > Neil Parker > String Figures