Petite Pretzel is a rope switch from New York City. She has been presenting shibari since 2019 at Anatomie Studio London, as well as at other UK venues and across the world. Having been a shibari rigger for full length feature films, art gallery installations and rigging for the likes of Charlie XCX and Christine and the Queens, Petite Pretzel is one of the most skilled in her field.

The majority of shibari riggers today are male, so being a small framed young woman, Petite Pretzel doesn’t exactly fit the stereotypical bill. As a female shibari rigger normally tying her larger male partner, she has to be extra strategic in her approach, and she knows more than anyone that shibari isn’t as simple as we might assume.

How did you become a shibari rigger?

I spent a lot of my years teaching- that’s my background. Then I got into rope first as a bottom.

In shibari there’s a lot of bottoms and not enough tops/riggers because it takes many years to properly train to be a good at tying.

I wanted to be tied, but I couldn’t find anyone who I actually wanted to be tied by. So I started being the rigger instead. I still get tied sometimes today but mostly I am the rigger.

 

the experience of female shibari rigger, petite pretzel
Petite Pretzel, professional female shibari rigger.

Do you know many female shibari riggers?

There’s not many of us. I probably know most of the women in London who tie publicly, and I could probably count them on one hand. The vast majority are males. Usually when you do see a female shibari rigger, the bottom is also a woman.

I have travelled to many different rope communities all over the world and from my experience the most common pairing is a male rigger and a female bottom. After that it’s a female rigger with a female bottom, then it’s a female rigger tying a male bottom, and the least common seems to be a male rigger and a male bottom. But that might be because the gay male rope scene is its own separate thing, which I’m not often exposed to.

 

So there’s not many male bottoms?

I do shibari with my (male) partner. I perform and teach with him. When I’m doing it with him, I notice that other men are more likely to bottom. I think when they see him as one, they give themselves permission to do the same.

I don’t know any other male rope bottoms who are prominent in the scene. They definitely exist, just generally not so publicly. Maybe it’s a reflection of what people do privately and what they do publicly.

 

being a female shibari rigger: Petite Pretzel performing Shibari with her parter Penn.
Petite Pretzel performing Shibari with her parter Penn.

 

What is needed to be a rigger?

  1. A great deal of patience. It has taken me 8 years to get the skill level that I’m at.
  2.  You need to feel trustworthy. People need to feel that you’re going to look after them. I think because of my background in teaching, I have that sort of vibe to me. This element of feeling safe with someone is really important because our psychological state affects how we feel physically.So if you feel really safe, you can much more easily settle into pain and discomfort and move through it. For example, when you get a tattoo, it hurts but because you feel safe that you’re not going to get injured, you can get through it. Whereas you could be in a scenario involving less pain than getting a tattoo, but if you actually feel like you’re going to get injured, the pain can feel a lot more intense because you’re scared.
  3. It’s important to be grounded. In the sense that, if someone else is frightened or stressed, you can remain calm. Quite often in rope, things do not go to plan, and you take a lot of responsibility when you tie people because you can cause them serious injuries. There’s a lot at stake, so as the rigger, you need that inner strength.
  4. You also have to be a good giver. You give so much of yourself in shibari. Sometimes it can feel a bit thankless because (especially as a female rigger), you  get a lot of people messages in your inbox from people who are like ‘Hey, I want you to tie me!’ And I’m like ‘Hey…who are you?!’ It takes a lot to tie someone, it’s not just a light, easy thing. I’m not sure if people realise that.

Do you offer something different as a female rigger?

Definitely. I have worked on music videos and films as a BDSM consultant, and I think part of the reason why I get hired for those jobs is because I’m a woman and women usually feel comfortable working with another woman.

My approach to tying is completely different as a woman because I’m a petite person, so I have to be very strategic. Most rope pairs are a big man and a small woman so when the rigger suspends them (lift them off the ground), they normally just pull the rope and the bottom goes easily straight up into the air.

My partner is 8 inches taller than me and a third heavier than I am! I have to be very methodical, and I try to conserve my energy for the performance quality aspect but also for the safety aspect, because if I get exhausted and we run into problem, I won’t be able to help him. I usually build escape routes into what I do.

I teach a class called ‘tips for smaller riggers’ and some of it derives from what I leant doing martial arts. It’s about body manipulation- and part of that is mental, meaning how to project confidence and dominance over someone when you’re a lot smaller than them. Then the other part is physical, which is how to physically dominate someone you’re a lot smaller than.

Sometimes I wish doing shibari would be easier for me, but then I realise that my complete methodology would be different too.

 

the experience of a female shibari rigger, petite pretzel
Petite Pretzel.

Does the rigger have all of the power and control in shibari?

Riggers don’t have all  of the control. The bottom has a set of boundaries and they also have physical limitations, which I am obviously going to follow. We agree what we want to do together beforehand.

But physically in the moment, the rigger does have a lot of control because the bottom can’t move their own body so the rigger moves it for them. The rigger also has a lot of responsibility for their safety, because sometimes the bottom might have an injury but not be able to see how serious it is, so it’s up to the rigger to keep check on these things. 

However I do think that when we remove the danger from shibari, it becomes less beautiful.

The element of risk involved highlights how shibari is such an act of giving, from both the rigger and the bottom.

For example, my partner and I did a shoot where he was tied up underwater and somebody thought that it was AI/photoshop. And I explained that he it’s real and he actually was tied up underwater. This fact changes the photo, because there’s somebody giving themselves there, somebody taking a risk.

 

female shibari rigger: Petite Pretzel with partner, Penn, doing an underwater Shibari shoot.
Petite Pretzel with partner, Penn, doing an underwater Shibari shoot.

 

What are some common misconceptions are about female shibari riggers?

There’s so few of us we don’t even have a stereotype! Actually, I guess there is a slight stereotype because I certainly don’t fit into it!

When people find out I’m a rigger, they are super confused and somewhat amused. Even in a BDSM context, when I turn up to an event with my partner, people immediately assume he’s the one in charge.

I also worked on a set for a film called Graphic Desires (2022), as the BDSM consultant.  I was talking to an actor, giving him tips about tying, and I was so unlike what he expected that he actually thought I wasn’t the BDSM consultant! He thought I was another role on set and was like,  ‘How do you know all of this information? Wow what a coincidence!’ And I explained, ‘No, it’s me, I am the BDSM consultant!’ This is the Shibari rope suspension scene I created.

If you you think of the film stereotype of a BDSM top, it’s normally like Michelle Pfeiffer or something in a full latex catsuit with a whip etc. I think that for a long time, the reason I couldn’t see myself as a rigger is because I didn’t connect to that stereoptypical image of a top. Now I understand that I can be a top without needing to have a whip in hand. I did things my own way.

 

What’s your advice for female shibari riggers starting out?

Do the thing man! Get out there. Talk to other women. Get tips, make friends with people. My favourite thing about rope is that I’ve met some amazing women. My core group of friends is through the London kink scene. A positive that has come from the negative stigma around BDSM is that people take extra care to look after each other within the community.

 

Read our full-length interview with Petite Pretzel.

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Iso

Iso

Author

Iso is a writer and filmmaker based in East London. She is passionate about all things erotic and leads a sexy, shame-free life in hope that she can inspire others to do the same. Originally from a Northern seaside town, she is naturally drawn to the best things in life: candyfloss, trashy karaoke bars and heart-shaped sunglasses.


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