Art History Week
A: INTRODUCTION TO PART THREEWelcome to Part Three!
(Please note: illustrations may be clicked, to increase size and readability...)
In some ways, this period, from approx 1450 - 1800, was the "Golden Age" of knotting. The two main reasons I call it this is due to: A:
The flowering of all things nautical, which as you can imagine, gave a profound boost to all things "Knottical" and, with the march of progress towards the "Industrial Revolution" and steam-driven ships and land-based coal and oil power also heralded the slow demise in many areas of the use of knots in many professional areas. and: B:
The increase in exploration, discovery and colonisation, which served to increase the types and forms of knots that were invented for various purposes from transport, and military use to fashion and a rapidly developing leisure industry including a new territory for knots: The Theatre. So, without further ado, let us now look at the increasingly diverse "Knot" in this era containing an explosion of creativity and art from Leonardo and Michelangelo to Shakespeare and that added macramé as a royally-fashionable "Pass-time"; an incredible variety of new knots and braids to the already famous pantheon of practical knots. Like the first and second parts in this 7 part series, I shall focus on a very few areas to show the diversity of some knotting techniques - and mention in passing enough other areas to put those I’ve highlighted into some sort of context. By the time the series is done there should be enough detail to show some of the depth, and enough references to show some of the scope that knots actually have...
People were producing lots of babies. Forget: "Breeding like rabbits!", guess what phrase rabbits have for it..... and to cater for the needs of all these little humans, people needed to spread out, seeking new spaces with which to create homes and extension's of their home countries. Just one problem: quite often, there were people already there. More on this a bit later...1: ANTI-COLONIALISM
Japan didn’t have any Empire of colonies, and didn’t want any commerce with the "Gaijin"
This state of affairs was principally the diktat of the Shogun victors of the “Sengoku” or: “Warring States” period of Japanese history. This period was probably the most famous one to westerners with it’s Samourai warriors, (fig 1, E) it’s flowering of the arts including the famous “Geisha” with her poetry, shamisen-playing, (fig 1, B), and poetry or haiku; The beginning of the production of those famous woodblock printed posters, invitation cards and books, (fig1, A), that are part of the collection of almost every art museum worth it’s name from Ougadougou to Ottowa was very much associated with the 17th to nineteenth centuries in Old Edo. So what does all the preceding have to do with knotting? Lets start with Japan, as a culture I mean... Many of the utensils, tools and technologies in Japan remained “simple and traditional” by our “western” definitions, whilst similar western techniques rapidly moved on in complexity and “achievement” and simpler, hand-made techniques were slowly discarded in favour of powered, mechanically-assisted or less labour intensive systems. The Japanese, meanwhile, kept their hand-made Kumihimo (”Braided Silk” - fig 1, H), which, amongst many other uses, secured clothing in a world where most garments were tied closed using knotted cords , (fig 1, E) to secure the gowns and shirts. Amongst the arts which had knots used as decoration and ornament was religion, (both Buddhist and Shinto), where shrines were decorated with ropes and folded or knotted paper prayers...The most famous use of Kumihimo was probably holding together the armour of the period (fig 1, E, G, F). There were many schools that taught Kumihimo and they jealously guarded their individual patterns, divulging them only to students once assured of their loyalty. Other uses of kumihimo included securing money, pouches, fans and other items to a waist belt.
Knotted ropes were also used to help erect the famous wooden houses and temples many of which had very few, if any, nails used in their creation. Ropes were used in sailboats, fishing, kite-flying and many other aspects of Japanese society including festivals where the “Tug ‘O War” with huge rice straw ropes like those used to decorate the temple entrances, was sometimes a feature. The Geisha had, as I’m sure you know, a very elaborate coiffure and clothes to enhance their innate attractiveness using embroidery, fabric-based sewn origami-like items like the “Kanzashi” resembling the flowers of the current season , and worn in the hair as in fig 1, B, above. Knots and strings figured on their clothes and as well as an essential part of their instruments. Printing used the “Baren” (fig 1, C), a major tool used to “impress” the ink onto the paper and is made from a coiled, plaited length of plant-fibre covered and knotted. Hokusai was arguably, the most famous woodblock-printmaker and artist to survive via his works to this day. The books used in Japan, (fig 1, A). were all held together by knotted threads and cords. Fig 1, D shows an Inro or pill box.2: COLONIALISM
Spain and Portugal had a few colonies... but wanted more ...and more ...as did the Dutch, the English, The Germans, the....1: The Galleon: Pawn of the Spanish State and Privateer Par Excellence
It was the early 1500's and the “Western” attitude, “Old World” that is to say, ...believed that expansion was the only way to proceed. This implied colonisation, and as a general consequence: conquering. The prime requirement to implement this was transportation, both land and sea. Most ships were unwieldy, and were mostly coastal-hugging affairs designed to transport goods to neighbours or across short expanses of water like the Adriatic, Mediterranean, various gulfs and small seas.. however, since most of Europe and Asia was in very secure hands already, it was necessary to travel further abroad. Ships, from the 15th to the 19th century, became bigger, faster and more streamlined up to the point where the elegant four-masted barques and clipper ships, with as many as 80 sails or more, started giving way to steam power, by which time, much of the planet had been discovered and laid claim to... but, nonetheless, ropes and cables, splices, bends and knots were still a very important feature of transportation and colony building via their use as cargo nets, lashing down cargoes, lifting and lowering goods and stones when building and creating harbours, customs houses and other building works. Naturally enough I shall not pass up the opportunity to extol the virtues of maritime knots and cordage, see fig 2...2: Learning the ropes...
In fig 2A can be seen a typical Spanish galleon of the 16th-17th century. after which they didn’t change much until they began to disappear in favour of larger and more efficient vessels in the 18th and 19th centuries. A Galleon typically had 3 masts and a bowsprit or angled sail-retaining pole poking forwards of the ship. There were about 32-40 distinct shrouds or lines that were associated with the working of each mast. and it’s sails. There was also the “Ratlines” a form of rope ladder allowing access to the upper parts of the masts in order to loose the sails, and reef them: or gather them to the spar they are suspended from until they are again required, (the original use for the “Reef” knot which does not jam even when soaked in salt water, and is easily tied and capsized)
As well as the basic mast lines and ratlines, there are the lines securing moveable objects to the various decks like the cannon, from which we get our expression: “A loose cannon” which is very heavy and can easily kill an unwary sailor if it’s unsecured and rolling around on the deck with each lurch and tilt of the ship. There are also the knots that secure the bunks to the bulkheads for sailors to grab a few hours sleep when they could, as well as the fastenings on their personal canvas “Ditty” bags, sometimes with the famous “Theif” knot, (see Maritime Links)
Other lines and their associated knots, served to hold the capstans and steering wheel fast, connect the ends of the anchor lines or chains to the capstans used to reel them in, (known as “The Bitter End” because it was the last section of anchor line that could be lowered; ... and if the anchor still didn’t touch bottom, the ship could be lost...) Old shellbacks, as sasilors were sometimes called, would share and exchange knots for favours or tobacco etc, as some knots like the star knot wee prized by the crew as they could create trade goods with them or impress their sweethearts. By the way, the wrists of these sweethearts would sometimes be decorated by a turks head tied by their salty lover...
All in all there were thousands of metres of line to secure, maintain and replace whilst under way, with different slip knots, bends, knob knots and others that needed to be learnt before a man was considered an “Able” seaman... ie one who knew the ropes and knots required to operate a fully-rigged vessel. Sailors would also tie knots as decorations on spars and posts aboard ship, mostly turks heads, to help brighten up the ship and exhibit of it’s crew which redounded to the Captain’s reputation. Since the captain was also responsible for navigation, any battle tactics and strategies as well as the welfare of his crew and doing whatever merchant or military duty he was commissioned to do, it was easy to understand the reputation of Captains as sometimes harsh and expecting absolute discipline since a single sailor could create a perilous situation out of reach of any help...
When these galleons anchored of islands, they were often met by canoes full of islanders eager for the trade items that the crew offered as well as conducting official business or politics. As well as all this, there would sometimes be various replacement colony staff to replace those retiring, and biologists to gather information for their home countries’ eager scientists. These floating villages, therefore, fulfilled many roles at the same time from resupplying colonies, making initial advances and forays into new territory, and patrolling the seas for the benefit of their own trade routes. Galleons had about 22 cannon and a few small grapeshot pivot-mounted guns for fore and aft protection.
At the end of this article will be some illustrations and diagrams of the knots discussed in this section, together with a few pictures of the sorts of goods traded by crew including scrimshaw...
During the 350 years covered by this article, oh so briefly!, knots helped in many ways to ease the life of, notably, the better off financially, of course..., as more and more variety in goods landed on the shores of the main colony founding European countries. The fantastic riches in the form of precious metals, spices, carvings and carpets; and much more poured into the the houses of the landed gentry who were often, also, the politicians, rulers and senior officers of the armies and navies of the old world.... Merchant-adventurers formed companies to supervise the trade on behalf of the state for a royal recompense and grew fat and wealthy on the native gullibilty or as we call it: trust... as an example, The famous “East India Company” did this for the British empire in India and the far east. Since much of what was produced by newly-discovered countries was very labour intensive, yet cheap due to the use of slaves or workers who weren’t much better off, the profit margin was often huge. One of the most knot-laden industries was rug and carpet making. See fig 3.
As architecture advanced and people required greater comfort, rugs and carpets were in great demand to ease the cold of interiors and soften the hard floors in houses; particularly on the ground floor which could often still be stone flags. The most famous areas for hand-made (until the industrial revolution), carpets was the near and middle east in countries like Turkey, Iran. Iraq, Pakistan, (then still part of India), and the far east: China, Laos etc. The finest came from persia, turkey and western Russia. In the steppes of central asia, (to quote a lovely piece of music), the nomadic herders created felt coverings for their yurts and other moveable homes. They were lined, like the Bedouin tents of N. Africa with rugs and bits of carpet. |These carpets were knotted on looms that were horizontal, (often the nomadic rug-weavers and carpet-makers), and vertical, (usually in established workshops in towns and villages).
Fig 3, A shows the main knots used to tie the pile into the warp and weft of traditional knotted carpets. Fig. 3 B+I, show two samples of hand-woven / knotted carpets of the type made in the 17th-19th centuries in Persian towns and in the city of Bokhara, originally named after the sanskrit word for “monastery” ie: “vikhara”. Bokhara's history, (fig 3, C), is one of the more picaresque ones amongst the stops written about on the famous "Silk Road". The romantically viewed city of Samarkand that figured in 8th -18th century tales and many a story of mysterious deeds of in Victorian fiction, and is just a short distance to the west. It's famous carpets were, and still are one of the jewels in Uzbekistan's trading crown. The Ark Fortress of the city's despotic ruler, Nasrullah, has had it's torture chambers and cells replaced by Artisan workshops....There are some magnificent examples of Islamic architecture also, one of which rivals the Main Mosque at Ispahan (fig 3, D). Silk, a material that even Roman Emperors found hard to afford, was just one of the products carried in the caravans that continually ferried goods to and from the far east to Europe including rugs and carpets. The best carpets are still made in the same way, though silk ones are now out of reach of any but Museums and Oligarchs and Billionaires... a mere million doesn’t go so far these days...
A spin-off from the production of carpets, is the creation of knotted tassels to secure the warp threads and a decorative finish, which sometimes had intricate, lacelike, qualities and feel. Queen Mary fig 3, H, on one of her travels, picked up the rudiments of this art, (in Italy I believe), which, like “Punto a Groppo” (also made in Italy), formed part of the parentage of the craft of Macrame. Queen Mary popularised macrame in England and Holland. The Victorians picked it up again and it became a desirable skill to be found in house-bound, dutiful, wives and daughters, who used macrame for edge lace, decorating furniture, and finishing-off embroidered runners, anti-macassars and the like. Carpets, of course, got dirty and were from time to time beaten when draped, outdoors on lines. The tools used to beat them were originally simple sticks but then tools like the rattan knot-formed beaters, fig 3, F, were created and soon any household with carpets in Europe had them... right up till the 1950's in most households. Many carpets were actually designed as door-curtains, wall hangings for insulation and furniture coverings. Many other fibre based, knotted crafts went on in these centuries, which, although labour-intensive, was relatively cheap for many European countries because pay was so low that it often amounted to slave labour. In south America, weaving and braiding were achieving a high degree of skill and were very colourful indeed... like the costume and attitudes of the local folk.
D: Intermezzo: A Few Salient Uses of knots The Key to Electricity
Franklin, when conducting his experiment on conducting lightning electricity from a storm to a leyden jar, (a form of storage capacitor), via a key attached to a kite avoided dying like previous experimenters who used metal poles stuck in the ground... The increased height allowed him to stay on the ground and the kite was less likely to electrocute him. According to the legend, Franklin kept the string of the kite dry near his end to insulate him while the rest of the string was allowed to get wet in the rain to provide conductivity. Not another S.I. Unit!
Lines with knots in them, attached to a log, were tossed overboard and used to define the speed of sea-craft - now known as nautical miles per hour or: Knots. (FIG 2, C) The log was refined into a self-righting triangle that helped resist forward movement, ie following the ship. The Civilisation that couldn't write it's name:
The South American Inkhan Empire didn't have writing so they used a system of knots of various sizes tied in cords instead. The "Quipu" as it was known, used, usually woollen, threads; they used also had colour codes, (usually two twisted threads of two colours), which resulted in them being able to create "knotted Databases" of everything from the number of sandals made in a particular village, to the amount of maize grown by another village in a particular year... until most of them were burnt, destroyed or lost by the invading Spanish like Cortes and Pisarro in the 16th century: the Spanish thought Kipu's were heretical items, thus, only a few hundred or so still exist... there were, without doubt hundreds of thousands considering the time span of the empire. The Kipu Express:
Inkans also had a system of relay messenger huts along the main roads, a bit like the pony express, but several hundred years earlier, without riders, and without ponies... (gulp...er maybe a different metaphor?), with which quipus could be relayed as much as 150 miles each day... not bad at all for foot messengers..... Luvale Bark Rope Currency
This type of rope, (a flat, brown, bast fibre), was collected in Western Zambia and strip-cut from from bark and stored. The Luvale and other Tchokwe related peoples from central Africa use the rope to bind timbers and canes with, during the construction of their homes, fish traps and basketlike packaging; and, unusually for a fibre, used it as a form of currency due to the effort of gathering it. The Legendary Origin of the Matthew Walker Knot
Matthew Walker, an old shellback who had been incarcerated on hearsay evidence in the East Indies, and was unfortunately looking forwards to a hangman’s noose on the morrow, heard the door to his cell open on the day of his court appearance before the governor. It was in fact, the Governor himself. Like many a governor, he had, at the right moment, changed from a Freebooter to a Privateer with papers from an English Admiral, and had performed his duty very well...with naturally a modest personal profit, and set himself up as a gentrified resident of the island. promotion to governor came after a few years to prove his “honesty”- what better than setting an ex theif to catch others? |So it was that this governor looked on a fellow mariner and asked him: “Did you do it?” to which the poor sailor replied: “No” then sighed and sat in the corner. The governor said: I tell you what, if you can tie a knot that I cannot both untie and tie up again, we’ll call it an “act of god” and I’ll release you”
Matthew asked for a fathom of rope and privacy, which he was accorded, the governor returning after half an hour as requested. The tar tossed the rope to the judge who couldn’t see the knot, just a slight kink in the cable so he grinned and said: “You’ve earned your pardon, now show me that blasted knot!” And with a relieved heart the sailor happily revealed the unlaying of the strands and the knot insertion that simply imitated the lay of the rope it was tied with, after which the strands were re-laid finishing off the procedure leaving what appeared to be a slightly kinked rope...again... which has been called the “Matthew Walker” ever since. The Tail of the Monkeys Fist
This heaving-line knot, ( a knot with a heavy metal core to throw a thin line ashore in order to use it to drag across a much heavier one -to make fast a ship usually-), was named after the way that certain islanders caught monkeys by hollowing out a coconut, drilling a hole and tying it to a tree. Finally, to set the trap a peanut was placed inside. the inquisitive monkey would smell and sense the peanut and would insert his paw to grasp the peanut-which made him turn his hand into a fist - which cannot be withdrawn through a hole only just big enough for a monkey's paw... even when the trap-setter approached, the monkey was too stubborn to let go of his nut and was captured.
E: THE SWEAT OF THE SUN AND THE TEARS OF THE MOON
I thought I would include an extra section on some of South America due to the incredible variety of resources and what they achieved with fibres. In the early 16th century, Francisco Pizzaro arrived and after a civil war had recently been won by the current Inka, summarily beat that Inka, called Atahualpa. The spanish demanded of the Incan Empire, ( which included parts of Columbia, Chile, Peru (the birthplace of the empire in about 1280), Bolivia, Argentina and Ecuador), a ransom for Atahualpa, who got his people to fill a room with gold, (fig 5, A), known by the native populations as: The Sweat of the Sun, and silver, known as: The Tears of The Moon. Atahualpa was executed in due course anyway... Much of what the Spanish thought was pure gold, was, in fact a blend of gold and copper called: Tombaga, which was used for much of their decorative work.
Apart from supplying the rest of the planet with coffee, chocolate, rubber and many other amazing materials, the Inca’s Mayans and Aztecs also had various techniques to benefit so-called advanced races. Here, however, I shall simply relate 2 or 3 things relating to the Inca’s people. By the way: “The Inka / Inca” is a title for the leader of the Empire composed of amongst other tribes, principally the Quechua, whose language was the Incan official tongue. Part of a successful empire is an efficient infrastructure and system of record-keeping. The infrastructure of roads and canals dug to supply water to all the settlements in the empire was a marvel of hydro-engineering; as was the Quapaq Nan or “Incan Path” now a world heritage site which allowed the people to reach all parts of their empire. Part of this road was supported by an Incan first: the suspension bridge. These bridges, (fig 5, D), of which only one still exists, near Cusco, , were made of grass twisted into rope and required renewing each year due to biological decay.
So much for routes and water, another facet of their infrastructure was buildings and walls. Given the “crudity” of tools available, the Incas produced walls of incredible complexity due to the fact that they fit together in such a close way that a thin knife-blade can’t be inserted between the stones. One theory consists of using a lashed tool with an attached plumb-line, to trace the correct shape to be cut in the next block, (fig 5, F), by tracing the green end across the face of the rock already in place - which means the red end will mark out the face of the next stone to be inserted. The plumbline, remaining between the two white marks, keeps the whole transcription device parallel and, therefore, accurate. Records are the other facet of a successful empire but, there was a small problem: the Inkan Empire never learned to write; instead, they developed the quipu, (fig 5, C1-2)
There is much that may be related about the Inca, their military system, unusual games played, their religion of sun worship (fig 5, B), and nature spirits as well as the many other South American tribes and Northern America ones also, but, after inserting a sample of woven Inca cloth from about 1550, (fig 5, G), We shall leave this brief detour to return to our track working towards the 18th century....
F: USEFUL LINKS
COMPARATIVE ART TIMELINE
COMPARATIVE ART TIMELINE FOR THE PERIOD IN THIS ARTICLE (APPROX 1450-1800 CE), COURTESY OF THE "MET", New York, NY. 1400CE TO 1600 1600CE TO 1800
Firstly, two great blogs on Kumihimo ,their types and uses, by Rod Byatt ("Japanese Textiles: from a Westerner's perspective")A: Article on “Temple Braid”:
Kumihimo – Chusonji-gumi*: June 28, 2009 jtex.wordpress.com/category/ku…
*The Kumihimo of Lord Hidehira: "the Chusonji kumihimo”B: Article on “Armour Braid”: jtex.wordpress.com/category/sa…VIDEOSA: Using a Marudai
Here is a no-nonsense flat kumihimo braid demonstration
with clear marudai use and useful tips, a good vid.B:
Using a foam (Portable)marudai
the principles are the same as prevailed in Japan, except that there is some evidence to suggest that most braids were tied “in hand” before braiding stands like kakedai etc were invented...VARIOUS KUMIHIMO SAMPLES:
Some samples of Marina del Bruyere's
gorgeous embroidery for which she learnt to make kumihimo accessories (drawstrings etc)
Some fabulous samples of Kumihimo
plus Mistresses of the Art from Japan and elsewhere with some modern braiding stands.VARIOUS TEXTILE AND KUMIHIMO LINKS: The Textile Society International Guild of Knot Tyers The Association of Guilds of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers Japanese Kumihimo Society
RUGS AND CARPETSTypes of Carpets
"Kelim", "Pak-i-stani Bhokkara", ... these and others are romantic names to conjure with in the world of carpets. Even contemporary Bhokaras of say, 3m x 2m can be £1.5k or more... Wiki Link: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CarpetTechniques and Types of Rug Knots
Using the Senneh & Turkish Knots, this superb article on Knotted Carpet Techniques`includes both horizontal and vertical looms, and other allied processes with some period photo's and is available in French or English versions. www.jacobsenrugs.com/knots.htmAzerbaijani Carpets:Weaving workshopCharley’snavajo rugs
shows a lovely range of tribal weaving traditions... simply scroll down the page.
SOUTH AMERICAN ARTSBOOKS
Ascher & Ascher: “Mathematics of the Incas: Code of the Quipu”, Quite simply the best book on the quipu
Rodrick Owen: “braids
: 250 Patterns from Japan, Peru and beyond” one of the three or four best books on this subject!MUSEUMS ETCCusco's Textile Museum: El Centro De Textiles De Cuzco
(Spanish/English text)The British Museum's Lost Kingdoms of South America
section on their excellent online site.VIDEOS3 empires:
A documentary from the point of view of technical achievements as well as a brief history on THE AZTEC, MAYA AND INCA
in EnglishMISCELLANYPeruvian Weaving: Article on the history of Peruvian weaving by the Andean Air Mail & PERUVIAN TIMES newspaper (5/5)
Ceremony of the Sun: Racquel from Wisconsin's informative blog on the Ceremony of the Sun at Cusco, in Spanish but 95% excellent narrative photography. Well worth a good look!
Overview of Peru: Peru Facts