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  • April 07, 2019 3 min read

    Marlinespike, Macrame, and Tying Fancy.

    Knot Tyer, Fancy knotwork, rigger, marlinespike work, macrame.. These are all words we hear at the shop.  I get to tell some stories about the differences between the words, but it all starts in relatively recent history.

    Two historic knotting styles exist aboard ship during the time period known as the 'Age of Sail,' a time that ended approximately the same time as the US Civil War began in 1861.  Like any historic epoch, the Age of Sail describes a mindset and set of tools more than years of history. 

    The first is familiar to Etsy and it's craft movement as well as the nature movements of the 60's and 70's....


    Close up of macrame edgingMacrame itself has an interesting history.  Even during the age of sail, it was primarily a way to occupy time and be a hobby.  Along with wood carving, painting, needle point, and on specific ships, scrimshaw; it was a hobby to pass the time when off duty on a boat.  The commonality of the hobbies aboard ship were the ability to challenge and distract the mind without taking up much space.  Time passed slow on a square rigger, but space was at a premium as provisions were replaced by harvest from the seas.

    Macrame gets it's root from the word "migramah" which is Arabic for 'fringe.'  Turkish and Persian rugs are still woven with the warp fibers loose.  After removing from the loom, the ends are collected with square knots, half hitches, and other simple knots.

    Nautical Knot Macrame lampshades by Alton BeaudoinSeamen were exposed to these rugs during the trading with Europe and later the coast of the US Colonies.  The bosun and riggers were busy at their tasks, but did start to share the how-to with the rest of the boat so they could pass the time with the hobby of recreating these edging forms with found materials aboard, and macrame as a hobby was born in the west..

    Nautical Macrame Lampshades by Alton BeaudoinBy the mid 19th century as the old square riggers made way for the schooner, time aboard became limited and much of the shipboard hobbies began to fade.  (I can get into the other reasons for the decline and resurgence of macrame/fancy work in other write-up, but I'm getting to long winded already.)

    Suffice it to say that the original macrame, an arrangement of simple knotting to create complicated pattern, started as fine as lace or tatting.  As recreated in the early 1900's, through until today, the generations have been making the designs out of bigger and bigger material, but at it's root, it's all simple knots arranged to make intricate and beautiful patterns.

    Nautical Macrame Knotted Snowman
    Nautical Macrame Rope Belt by Alton Beaudoin

    On the other side of the knot tying spectrum aboard ship is:

    Marlinespike and Rigging

     Dressed Wheel Nautical Knots by Alton Beaudoin


    Marlinespike and Rigging

    The Marlinespike is a tool of trade.  It's usually a metal spike with a flattened point used for working up and tightening knots for practical use.  The term has stretched to include the results of work that should use such a 'spike.

    Rigging is the trade of using rope and hardware to hold the sails and structures of a ship for use.  I am NOT qualified for this topic, but it's a specialty of the bosun and belongs in the domain of a marlinespike seaman.

    Sample Board Nautical KnotsThe other side of marlinespike work is often called 'fancy knotting,' and consists of protective gear on the boat, gaskets, pads, chafe gear, whippings and seizings, etc.  All the knots in fancy work, at it's core, have practical use aboard.  This is where Mystic Knotwork gets its ethos.  My goal is for our work to originate from some practical purpose.

    Our coasters were originally used both as thump pads protecting block and deck as well as gaskets protecting lockers from abrasion from anchor chain.  Our bracelets are turksheads used to mark key spots on the wheel, provide rail grip, and are a general purpose knot for covering stuff unfit for human eyes... :)

    Fancy work became a competition.  Different bosuns aboard different ships would work to create the fanciest pieces, challenging each others, and creating artistic benefit for captains, ships, and crews.  This fancy work served as tactile resume pieces.  If a rigger can create such fancy work, imagine his skill in the practical functions of equipment aboard.

    I'll cut this short and pick the topic up later.  Everything above was made by either my grandfather Alton Beaudoin or my grandmother Ethel Beaudoin.  I ask any links attribute to their names as well as our family business Mystic Knotwork.


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