The Everyday Lore Project

3 April 2020 – Cat’s Cradle

3 April 2020 – Cat’s Cradle

Today I really wanted to decorate a salty pit then dance around it. But salty pits are scarce to non-existant in Brighton, and although salty pit dancing could probably be classed as exercise, I’m fairly certain driving to Droitwich to do so, wouldn’t come under essential travel. It felt a little tenuous to bedazzle an old pickle jar full of brine then electric slide round it, so poor old St Richard of Chichester was not honoured today for his sterling work in making the brine pits flow. At least not in this household.

Instead I’ve been finding an outlet for my fidgeting and re-learning how to do a cat’s cradle. For those of you who don’t remember or never did one, a cat’s cradle is a playground game with string. There was a time when children’s traditions weren’t considered folklore but the marvellous Iona and Peter Opie changed all of that. To keep me company as I watched muted YouTube tutorials, I listened to one of Iona Opie’s playground recordings. Children in 1972 were very obsessed with singing about bras. 

Click on the image to be taken through to the British Library page hosting the recording.

Beyond saying a cat’s cradle is repetitive finger dance with string for one or more people, it’s quite difficult to describe. So I won’t, you can watch a YouTube tutorial instead. I will say that a round has 8 steps. One of the steps looks like a Saltire. When the string I was practicing with started chafing my hands, I switched to wool. My hands got all stiff. I laughed more than I should have at the children on the recording. And I found there was a kind of muscle memory going on. It’s probably a good 35-40 years since I last played cat’s cradle but the movement was not unfamiliar. And with that came a certain amount of satisfaction. It also took my mind off things for a bit. So if you’re in need of a distracting hand eye co-ordination activity, look no further. Just don’t use string.

For more on the Opies skip to the Resources at the end.


Cooper, Q. and Sullivan, P. (1994) Maypoles, Martyrs & Mayhem: 366 Days of British Myths, Customs & Eccentricities, London, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Published by Liza Frank

Author of My Celebrity Boyfriend. Obsessed with hula hooping, sons of preachermen and fresh dates, sometimes all at the same time. Curator of Folklore Agony and The Everyday Lore Project.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.