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What is String Art?

Sheri Cyprus
Sheri Cyprus

String art is a thread weaving craft with its roots in mathematics — mainly geometry. It was developed in the 1960s by teachers and mathematicians before it became a popular craft taught in many schools and children's summer camps through the 1970s. The basic supplies for this type of art include a board or plaque, nails or pins and various colors of thread or yarn. The mathematical concept behind string art is that it's possible to make curved geometric figures using straight lines.

Pins or nails are placed on the board or plaque in any desired shape and distance apart. Typical beginning shapes in art are a triangle or circle. The string or thread art crafter then attaches colored thread to a pin or nail head by wrapping it around and pulling it across to another peg on the board. The artistic part of the craft is that the creator of the piece decides what kind of design to make by which pins or nails he or she decides to wrap string around as well as the color choice and how many times each thread is wrapped.

Three spools of thread for string art.
Three spools of thread for string art.

The figures and shapes that can be made with string art are limited only by the imagination. Flowers, sailboats, butterflies and bicycles are just some of the many designs that people make out. Purchased patterns and kits are available in many craft stores. Original patterns for this type of art can be created using graph paper and colored pens or pencils. Points representing where the nails or pins will go on the board are drawn onto the graph paper before the colored lines are made to connect each desired point in the pattern.

Nails are hammered into a pattern on a wood board for string art.
Nails are hammered into a pattern on a wood board for string art.

The colored yarns or threads used for string art projects must be pulled taut between the pins or nails as they are wrapped and carried to the next nail or pin. This isn't usually that difficult to do after some practice. Older children are often able to construct basic, attractive string or thread art projects. Yarn may be easier for small hands to use rather than thread, at least for beginner projects. Scraps of different colored yarns can also make for fun child's string art crafting. As a quicker alternative to using a painted or stained wood board with nails hammered into a pattern, a foam board and pins may be used. The foam and pins method isn't as sturdy, but requires minimal preparation time before wrapping the string.

Discussion Comments


String art can mean several different things. It sounds like aishia, TheGraham and ahain do the kind of string art that involves one piece of string and your hands -- the temporary kind, you know? I do the kind with pins and lots of different pieces of string, and it's permanent. The other comments made me curious about what free string art patterns were available on sites like YouTube, though, and you know what? The hand kind of string art and the pinned kind can be blended in an interesting way.

I've tried making the kinds of forms that hand string art performs with my pinned artwork, and while the "animated" ones don't work, the other ones look really pretty! "Jacob's Ladder" can be emulated in the pinned form of string art much fancier than you could make it with your hands, because I can make the rungs a rainbow of colors. If you do only the hand form of string art or only the pinned form of string art, you should try combining the two -- this's really fun!


@TheGraham - I've tried animated string art before -- pretty cool stuff. Where did you first learn string art designs, anyway? Most people who I ask say they first tried string art by playing Cat's Cradle. I guess I'm a late bloomer or whatever, though, because I learned how to do string art entirely by watching videos of string artists on YouTube!

It's pretty amazing what kind of instructions you can find online to do stuff like this. Try doing a search online for string art videos to watch how the pros do it, too -- if nothing else, you'll spend a few minutes with your jaw hanging in amazement at the kind of art some people can do with just a piece of string. And when you're done watching and want to learn to do it for yourself, the web is full of free string art instructions for anybody, from beginners to advanced people. It's pretty awesome.


Did you know that you can learn how to make string art patterns that are "animated"? Unlike traditional forms that focus on how complicated the design looks, animated string art patterns tend to look simplistic: they have a frame with a shape inside, often an animal like a dog. The real magic to these string art designs is that you can make them move. In the dog design, for example, pulling on a particular string makes the dog run from one side of the pattern to the other. My kids never get tired of watching me play with string! Animated string art is more kid-friendly than the usual kind, in my humble opinion.


String art is similar to Cat's Cradle. Cat's Cradle, if you've ever played it, is a simple kind of string art that lets two people switch a loop of string back and forth between their hands, making different patterns in the string depending on which fingers they use and which parts of the string form they pull.

So yeah, string art is like Cat's Cradle, only taken way beyond the basics. Ever heard of "Jacob's Ladder"? It's one of those string art patterns that people aspire to master one day when they first take up string art. As the name suggests, it forms a ladder shape, and the more rungs you can form in the middle the better. Some people can achieve up to 17 rungs -- wow!

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    • Three spools of thread for string art.
      By: Carlson
      Three spools of thread for string art.
    • Nails are hammered into a pattern on a wood board for string art.
      By: donatas1205
      Nails are hammered into a pattern on a wood board for string art.
    • A foam board requires minimal preparation for string art.
      By: vvoe
      A foam board requires minimal preparation for string art.
    • Making string art can be a fun child's activity.
      By: chasingmoments
      Making string art can be a fun child's activity.