The International Guild of Knot Tyers North American Branch meeting was at the New Bedford Whaling Museum last weekend, and it was a great chance to catch up with friends, meet new people and generally have a good time.
I was expecting to learn, teach, and encourage each other. I wasn't expecting to get my hands dirty, and the last thing I was expecting was rum and tobacco. Let me explain.
Ken Yalden was doing a hands-on workshop where a bunch of guild members, myself included, were able to make our own. I went to RW Rope for lunch and left with a pound of rum soaked tobacco wrapped in canvas and rope and learned a nearly forgotten answer to a little-known question.
In the 1800's, the British Royal Navy would issue tobacco for use outside of the normal workday. That tobacco was issued 'in the hands,' meaning you got a stack of dry leaves, too dry to actually use. This is how the sailor overcame and made something talked about but rarely seen.
(no, I didn't expect to make this thing, but how can a knot tyer resist such a weird activity)
Separate the leaves from the stem. Stems would be sent back to the tobacconist for grinding into snuff. The leaves were very dry and brittle. We needed to be careful to not let them crumble when we tore the stems free.
Flatten and dampen tobacco with water and rum on a section of canvas duck cloth
Another view of Step 2, wetting the tobacco with rum and water
Roll the damp tobacco into the canvas. Get this as tight as possible and the next steps are easier
Using a packing hitch, I parceled the canvas so it wouldn't move during the next step
Clove hitch to set the serving, but I was told to leave room at the end to tie it later, the next couple pictures give a sense of the energy needed to pull this tobacco tight, the goal is to squeeze the moisture we added to the tobacco back out and ensure there is no air left in the leaves. This was a VERY educational moment. I haven't ever worked with wet filler before. I started thinking that wetting manila used in mousing might make it flow more smoothly when doing bow fenders. This was the 'moment' something in my head clicked and the experience became more than a chance to try something. I very honestly learned something really cool about how fiber works. I was able to feel the tarred seine loosen as the tension gave it heat through friction, and then firmed up as the tar cooled. There were a lot of things going on that can't really be understood without the doing. These pictures are why I wanted to share, but I feel that the experience isn't well reflected in the pics.
(of course, we missed a pic of the other side, but really, they both look the same..imagine not seeing the canvas there, and let's move on)
This isn't really part of the project, but part of the navy plug was its use as a shipboard trade good. Some folks took to the pipe more than others. The people that didn't smoke their allotment would often use theirs as a trade good to either get out a chore or to get something else from a crewmate. Because I'm not a smoker, I chose to put a turkshead on my prick to show that it's a good open to trade. I also imagined that the turkshead would serve, underway, as a security device. I would know my property by the knot, and if removed, the clean spot under it would also help identify. In any case, I enjoy making turkshead knots and saw this as a good excuse to put one on...
Nearly complete, just need to finish the passes on the turkshead and create the simple carry handle.
This is the finished Navy Plug, Prick, or Perique. There is a Monograph on the process and history available with Des Pawson. You can also see Ken Yalden, Des Pawson, and others demonstrating in this video from 2008.
International Guild of Knot Tyers whose North American branch hosted the event
Des Pawson, my friend, inspiration, and mentor. Great to see him there