Tying the knot: wedding traditions including ribbons and ropes, and ways to use them in your decor and theme
- In Japan the priest performing the wedding ceremony used to bind the bride and grooms hands with rope during the ceremony.
- The expression "tie the knot" is also said to descend from Roman marriages when the bride wore a girdle that was tied in knots which the groom had to untie on the wedding night!
- At many South Indian wedding the bridegroom ties a yellow thread - actually a plain white thread dyed gold with turmeric - around the bride’s neck to make a necklace, then he makes one knot in the necklace and two of his sisters (or aunts if he doesn’t have sisters) each tie a knot. This makes them the 'Naathanar' of the bride, promising that they will help to take care of the bride when she moves to her in-laws house.
Knots have always been believed to have a magical power. During the Middle Ages people believed that the consummation of marriage could be prevented by tying a knot in a cord during the actual wedding ceremony and then throwing the cord away into water. Until it was found and untied, no ‘union’ of the married couple would take place. In 1705 two men were condemned to death in Scotland for stealing knots which a woman believed to be a witch had made for them, to prevent the wedded happiness of a man they were feuding with. In Perth, up until the end of the eighteenth century, the wedding party would pause at the church door to untie any knot in the clothing of bride or groom before the ceremony. When you remember that trousers, petticoats and undergarments were often held up with strings, this must have made for some fairly precarious weddings! Even today a Syrian bridegroom will wear clothing that has no knot or buttons because of the folk belief that that a button buttoned or a knot tied might allow his enemies to deprive him of the pleasure of his wedding night.
Even before the wedding, knots were important. Norse sailors used to send a piece of rope to their sweetheart. If she tied a knot in it and sent it back, it meant she had accepted his proposal of marriage. The sailor would then splice to two ends of the rope together so that it became an endless circle. In the past century you could see such ‘love knots’ being used as door knockers in many fishing villages.
Mill workers in the Industrial Revolution were often allowed to collect ‘sweepings’, scraps of fabric left on the floor after garments had been cut out. The young men and women would then fashion them into knots – complex shapes like flowers – and present them to their sweethearts. Girls would wear a love knot on their hat to church to show they were ‘walking out’ and lads would tuck the knot into their buttonhole when they went to collect their lass.
In the Middle Ages, English nobles gave away love-knots made of ribbon to their wedding guests – such knots, worn as a kind of brooch pinned to clothing - were made in the colours of each family’s heraldry and showed that not just the couple but the two families had been united. This tradition has continued to the present day, in the presentation of favours tied with ribbon.
At a very trendy summer wedding this year I saw both bride and groom wearing special friendship bands – white and green to match the bride’s dress and with jade beads knotted into them – the bands had been made by the youngest bridesmaid, who was eleven. How sweet!
To incorporate the knot tradition into your own wedding planning, consider using the Celtic or knotted cross in your wedding stationery, or as seals on your envelopes. The design conveys infinity and represents eternal love.
You can extend this theme by having personalised ribbon at your reception, making love knots to place on your tables and elegant bows to hold together bunches of balloons.
Don’t forget that flower displays look lovely with ribbon knotted around vases or holders, and your wedding favours can be beautifully presented if you tie them up with special ribbon.
Ribbons and candles look wonderful together, but make sure that if you have ribboned candles at your reception, one of the waiting staff has been made responsible for ensuring that they remain safe – a glow is one thing, a fire is something else!
If you have many youngsters at your wedding, consider buying some of those plastic ribbons that are so popular at present. Photocopy the knotting instructions and pop them with a selection of the ribbons into small gift bags to be handed out by an usher as the little ones enter the church. It will keep little hands (and little voices) quiet while you say your vows, and avoid the misery of parents who have to haul a bored child down the aisle and out of the church because the dear thing has just decided it's time to scream its head off!