Sometimes our creative instincts can catch us by surprise. A friend showed me her copy of this book, The Ashley Book of Knots, by Clifford W. Ashley, and I was enchanted!
But let’s back up a little. It is good to know that Clifford Ashley was a very skilled and famous maritime painter. Here is his work, A Whaleship on the Marine Railway at Fairhaven (ca. 1916):
Wow. I would be able to look at this painting for a long, long time, and still find things to discover. Many of his works were less impressionistic, but full of detail and accuracy, like this illustration from one of his books on the whaling ships at the end of the 19th century:
The carving at the bow of the ship, the basket holding the drill, the chain and ax – all are very precisely rendered. Ashley, born in New Bedford, MA in 1881, went off to sea for several years on a whaling ship, and then came home to study art in Boston. What a change of careers! But actually he used his knowledge and love of the sea throughout his artistic life.
Here is another painting of his, A Clipper Ship at Full Sail, which I thought any rughooker who has done a sailing ship design would appreciate:
That sky! And look at how the colors of his sky are reflected on the sails!
Ashley also spent years learning and collecting the details of knots, along with their uses and detailed instructions, culminating in his book of knots:
This definitive book on knots features his precise illustrations of over 3,600 knots and instructions for making them, with a history of when they appeared, and what functions they serve. And each chapter heading has funny, charming illustrations about each category of knots:
And he did not limit himself to the knots of seamanship. He studied knots used by butchers, steeplejacks, cobblers, electric linesmen, poachers, surgeons, and “elderly ladies who knit”… He includes decorative knots and rope buttons:
…and even the mats that a ship’s cat might curl up on:
I must say that his instructions are a lot more understandable when reading the descriptions that accompany his illustrations. Some knots are beyond confusing, and a few brought back memories of the macrame I did years ago:
And yes, the string game of ”cat’s cradle” we played as kids was included, along with how to tie a tie! And some of the knots are simply beautiful:
Does this have anything to do with rughooking? No, it doesn’t! But I just found this man, his paintings and his big book of knots fascinating, so I thought you might, too.