Half-way through our holiday we went to a workshop on upper body rope ties for ‘womyn and queers.’ I found it through Fetlife, looking through resources for queer women in Berlin. The workshop was held in Karada House, which in their own words is “a queer collaborative art space that explores the boundaries of body, art and the multitude of interactions between them.”
Karada House is beautiful, with bare walls, house plants and fairy lights everywhere. There are a lot of workshops and events on offer and if you’re going to Berlin soon, I would highly recommend going to whatever you can. I knew that I had to go there after reading their house rules.
She has a very warm personality and I really appreciated the introduction where we all got to talk a little about our prior experience and specify what pronouns we use. I have taught and led workshops in the past, and I must admit that my work brain clicked “on” because of how pedagogically sound the workshop was. And yes, I’m using the phrase “pedagogically sound” in my secret BDSM blog, bite me. I could feel us moving up Bloom’s taxonomy of learning, from remembering to creating!
I really enjoyed the initial Q&A session where we all clarified our reasons for wanting to practice rope bondage/shibari. I was really inspired by the range of experience, and by the different aims/expectations that people had. I really loved what Caritia said about the importance of not chasing an aesthetic, but using rope as a tool for connection and shifting power dynamics. We also spoke about how rope can be used to hurt, but also to create security and comfort for the bottom.
The first activity was a warm-up drill against the clock. Cadi used my limbs to tie and re-tie as many lark’s heads, bowlines and other basic ties as she could in the time period. I felt like I was watching that bit of Saturday Morning Kitchen when they try and make omelettes! My wee Cadi did very well, more than keeping up with the group!
The second activity was a more challenging structured activity. We worked in couples to recreate a takate kote tie. For whatever reason, my arms just don’t seem to bend enough for me to comfortably cup my elbows, if you know what I mean? We’ve done that sort of tie before but it’s not my favourite. We spoke to Caritia and she gave us some valuable tips on using little tweaks to make it better. I made a self-depreciating joke about how useless I am and she flipped it around to give me a confidence boost.
Next, we had quite a long time to improvise an experimental new upper body tie. When I heard this was the challenge, I was super excited! I love improvising and just mucking about and seeing what happens. The biggest challenge for me is refining and organising my ideas. Last year I really wanted to host a Drag On A Dime themed birthday party just so I could have a go at doing the challenge.
Cadi is the opposite of me in that respect. As I’ve said, she’s a Virgo and an introvert. She’s very thorough, she likes things to be in control, and she wants to do things “correctly.” I think the pressure to be creative, and being in a room of strangers, was just heightening that panic.
She got into a bit of a flap. She was stuck in a loop of starting to tie me, and then losing confidence and untying the knot. This does happen with us from time to time. Cadi or I want to try something new, and then she’s found it tough to get going. I think it happens to everyone at some point, I know it’s happened to me in life drawing classes and writing workshops!
I don’t think I helped, because my natural impulse was to make suggest things and to look around and compliment others. I meant it in the sense of, “How amazing is this experience, tying in a room of other women and queer people?” and “What they’re doing is great, why not take some inspiration from that?” However, Cadi experienced it as criticism of her and her lack of progress. In retrospect, I probably should have thought of that!
I was also physically uncomfortable. The eczema on the arches of my feet was sore and bleeding and I was wearing dressings and bandages on both feet, and I’d been standing there for quite some time. I started to get despondent, and zoning out (not in a sub-spacey way!) to protect myself from the pain in my feet. I was anxious about how we would manage if we didn’t complete the challenge, and particularly anxious about what Cadi’s reaction to that might be. I just didn’t want her to be upset or disappointed because of me. I love playing with rope with Cadi, but this has happened on other occasions, and when it does I rarely ask for help because I’m so scared of letting her down.
I think Caritia recognised what was going on and came over to check in on us. I think you must be exceptionally perceptive to run this type of workshop, and I really admired how Caritia came over with a “you’re okay and I’m okay” approach that put us at ease. She reiterated that it’s not about technique and aesthetics, and that if you lose the power dynamic then you might as well be tying a chair! She also talked a little about the importance of playfulness. I think that got both of us back on track and we completed the rest of the exercise. It was nothing to write home about, but it was an upper body tie and my joints and nerves were safe and I was properly restrained. It fulfilled the brief!
After we’d all finished and untied we did a warm down exercise, and then a group check-in. My feedback to the group was that it was absolutely electrifying to be in a kinky space with so many women and queer people, and not to have to choose between different parts of my identity. It was the first queer kinky event I’d been to, usually we just have to cross our fingers that it’s a safe space for us. I also really liked that Caritia took time at the end of the workshop to acknowledge that we might not always remember everything we learn in a workshop, and that’s okay. I always feel a real pressure to retain everything. I learnt a lot from her as a workshop facilitator that will inform my facilitation practice.
The next day, we went to the beautiful Templehofer Feld. It used to be an airport but has now been turned into a public park for the people of Berlin. It’s very popular with tourists and Berliners alike, and there are even allotments. It’s an extraordinary place with a fascinating history. We took a picnic and spent the whole day there, from mid-day to sunset. We also rented a pedal cart to drive around the airport runway, which was hilarious! I don’t drive and I made Cadi let me take the wheel. She was a bit nervous at the beginning but by the end she was letting me do doughnuts and all sorts!
Anyway, this is relevant because we still had our rope in our rucksack (supplemented with brand new gorgeous fuchsia rope from Other Nature) and we decided to practice in the park.
I think Cadi was keen on putting what we’d learnt from the workshop into practice. Not so much the techniques, but the focus on domination and connection. I think because our relationship is really strong, we sometimes take connection for granted when we play. In the park Cadi took her time to push me in the ground and make me feel that powerlessness, and then used the rope to throw me around a bit, roll me around, and sit me up and then push me back down again. It felt very different from the anxiety and disconnection of the night previously; we were laughing together and also I was very aware of her dominance over me. The chat we had with Caritia wasn’t unfamiliar to us, but it is important to hear and sometimes having someone else there helps a familiar message land differently.
So I’m really glad that we attended the workshop, it prompted some really important reflections for us and has definitely had a positive impact on the way we play with rope.
Here’s some beautiful pictures that Cadi took: