My Dad’s been teaching me how to tie knots since I was a kid. I’ve been able to tie a bowline backwards or forwards in seconds for as long as I can remember. It was the practical knots that always stuck — I wasn’t as interested in the decorative knots. He’d often tie a type of decorative knot called a Turk’s head. My eyes would glaze over as he’d show me how to tie a basic 5-part 4-bight Turk’s head. Little did I know that years later I’d be tying that exact knot for my wife’s engagement ring, which was the inspiration for my current project, Freakin’ Sweet Knots.
I’ve been programming since I was a kid, as well, which I also learned how to do from my Dad. After learning how to put lines and circles on the screen using QBasic, and using that information to create a picture of a bug and a car, my Dad showed me how to use a loop to make the bug crash into the car. From then on, I loved programming visual and interactive things, such as games and effects.
In college I majored in computer science and most thoroughly enjoyed taking 3D graphics classes. It was at that point that my Dad started asking me to write programs that could generate instructions for how to tie Turk’s heads. I still had no idea how to tie a Turk’s head, nor really wanted to, but I took it as an opportunity solve an interesting problem while creating something visual. Of course, to write a program that explains hows to tie a Turk’s head, I’d have to actually know how to tie one. So, that’s when I first started tying them, and after that it became a hobby.
After reading up a little on algorithms that you could use to generate your own instructions with pen and paper, I implemented the first version. I started with a 2D version, which became known as the Grid Maker on Knot Heads World Wide. It can provide instructions for how to tie any single-stranded Turk’s head. After that, I made a 3D version, which was intended to generate an animation of a Turk’s head being tied. I included a video of it in my demo reel when applying to Dreamworks Animation, and I was told that it was in large part because of that animation that I got the job.
I was accepted into a program called the FX Challenge, where they take entry-level grads right out of college, train them for six months on how to be an effects artist and then throw them into production. I took art classes, learned new software, and overall strengthened my understanding of 3D representations. I worked on How To Train Your Dragon, Megamind, and Madagascar 3 before leaving Dreamworks to pursue my own projects.
While still at Dreamworks, I continued tying knots as a hobby. I also decided to ask my girlfriend at the time to marry me. When I decided to ask her to marry me, I began the search for an engagement ring. My sister pointed me to a site dedicated to Turk’s head rings woven out of wire. It seemed like the perfect idea! The only problem was the rings on the site were more suited to wedding bands than engagement rings, as they didn’t have a spot for a diamond. I took it upon myself to learn how to tie Turk’s heads out of wire and to experiment with how I could incorporate a diamond into the ring. It took months of practice and experimenting but I was able to create the perfect ring! I put together an Instructable that describes the process of making it. It recently won the grand prize in their Jewelry Contest.
During the process of making the ring, 3D printing was gaining popularity and it occurred to me that I could adapt my 3D knot animation program to output 3D printable rings. I stumbled on to Shapeways, an online 3D-printing service that can print 3D models on demand. I signed up and ordered a ring that seemed to have the complexity that I was looking for, but didn’t pursue the idea any further until recently.
I left Dreamworks in February of 2012 and spent the next year learning about programming for mobile and Unity 3D. My knot tying had died down until January 2013, when my wife and I decided to get a puppy. Buying rope toys seemed outrageous when all you get is a few overhand knots in some 1″-diameter rope. I bought a bunch of thick cotton rope and started cranking out dog toys. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed tying knots! I started an Etsy shop to make sure I kept up with it, along with a Facebook page.
My renewed interest in knots brought back the ideas for 3D printing knots so I dug up my old code. I started playing around with it one day a week. I put in orders to Shapeways, along with other 3D printing services such as Kraftwurx and i.materialise to experiment with what was possible. Mid-July I was able to start working on Freakin’ Sweet Knots full time, and in 2 weeks I released the first version of the app, which allows you to design Turk’s head rings. It hooks up directly with Shapeways and allows you to order your ring through them.
There are many features I plan to add to the app so that knots such as the ones listed below can be created with it. These are all available on my Shapeways shop.