August, and our Tools of the Trade tour brings us to Suffolk, home of Footrope Knots and Des Pawson MBE.
A founding member of the International Guild of Knot Tyers, Des is known and respected the world over for his knowledge of knotting and ropework, and his enthusiasm and expertise sees him in demand at festivals and boat shows throughout the country. With his bright red cap and bushy beard Des is a popular and instantly recognisable figure, whether demonstrating ropemaking, or tying keyrings, bellropes or fenders. For his Tools of the Trade Des chose to share with us his Heaving Board and Heaving Mallet.
These tools are used in tensioning rope to ensure the tightest knot; essential in the making of a Monkey’s Fist. Traditionally used to weight the end of a line, allowing it to be thrown, the elegant interlinking rings of the Monkey’s Fist make it an attractive ornamental knot, and the perfect form for our doorstop and keyring.
Des explains his tools for us: “I cannot recall exactly how old the heaving board is but it is based on one I saw used by a rigger on the Cutty Sark a good few years ago. It is made from a piece of beech that I found floating in the river Orwell, although it has been broken and repaired once.”
Made by sailors from odd ends of rope, this brush was used for swabbing a boat’s deck, although our smaller version is perfect for brushing down your table or worktop. Although simple looking, this brush is very labour intensive, as straightening the strands to produce the distinctive ‘whisk’ involves controlled soaking, combing and drying. Available in limited quantities, this is a great alternative to a dustpan brush, and is a classic Labour and Wait product - timeless and functional.
As well as making rope products and demonstrating knot tying, Des also runs the Museum of Knots and Sailor’s Ropework. A valuable resource of rope artefacts and knot tying history, Des’s tribute to the art of the ropemaker is a unique collection celebrating the prosaic and practical skill, once commonplace, which is now the province of the specialist.
“We believe that the world should recognise the art and skill of knots and sailors’ ropework. Such items that have often not been valued or exhibited by museums. For many years we have collected old and recent ropework and ropeworking tools. We hope to encourage greater awareness by creating this setting to properly display our collection.”