Hand-crafted Knot Jewelry:
Decorative Marlingspike Seamanship rendered in precious metal.
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I've been interested in knots, and in knot-tying, ever since I was ten years old. My oldest brother brought some knowledge of seamanship home from the navy, and I was fascinated by the intricacy and beauty of various types of knots, from the simple bends used to tie lines together to the fancy decorative knots that were often created by bored sailors during long journeys. One of the most delightful presents I ever received was a copy of The Ashley Book Of Knots, a veritable bible of knottery, (ISBN: 0-385-04025-3) Copyright 1944 by Clifford W. Ashley. I may quote a few lines from this, but I hope and trust that my use of them will be considered "fair use" within the context of this discussion.

Turk's Head Knots:
(What the heck is a turk's head, anyway?)
One of the questions that I am asked most frequently, in discussing my jewelry, is "What in the world is a Turk's Head?". Here is a quote from "The Ashley Book Of Knots", by Clifford W. Ashley, on the subject:
The Turk's-Head is a tubular knot that is usually made around a cylindrical object, such as a rope, a stanchion, or a rail. It is one of the varieties of the Binding Knot, and serves a great diversity of practical purposes but it is perhaps even more often used for decoration only; for which reason, it is usually classed with "fancy knots." Representations of the Turk's-Head are often carved in wood, ivory, bone, and stone.
The Turk's-Head is a general class of three-dimensional knot that lends itself well to decorative uses. My knots are the "single-line" variety, meaning that the overall path within the knot is a single continuous run, which can be complete in itself, or which can be followed again to "double" the knot. (A third part could be referred to as "tripling" the knot, or, in sailor's parlance, "doubling it twice". Odd, huh?) The second time through, the material must be kept from crossing the first line, in order to allow the knot to keep its even woven appearance.
[Flattened knot] The knots are described in terms of the number of leads (complete turns around the cylinder) and bights (loops from edge to edge), and additionally by the number of times the path is completed. For a very simple example, see the drawing: a Five-lead Four-bight Turk's Head knot, flattened out into a mat to show the turns and loops as they weave in and out. To make a ring of this knot, one would spread the center hole, taking material from the edges, until everything is even. This particular knot wouldn't make a very good ring, since it would be very floppy and the individual parts would shift around a lot, but it is easy to tie. I also have a labeled example with one of my rings, if you would like to see it.
Says Mr. Ashley: There is but one actual limitation to the size and proportions of single-line turk's heads: A knot of one line is impossible in which the number of leads and the number of bights have a common divisor. All others are possible if the knot tier has sufficient time and cord at his disposal.
When I'm tying a ring, I first decide how many leads (five, at least, up to eleven or so) and bights it should have, and try to estimate how far apart the edges will be. They can be adjusted quite easily, afterward, over a range that is determined by the density and the length of the wires that it is made from. Notice that most of my rings have been doubled, or even tripled, so that a lead has two or three strands in it, making a nice pattern. They've got another advantage, in that they're much more stable - sometimes I match the ends and join them, sometimes I just tuck them in, but with a single strand running through the knot it is crucial to make a good solder joint with the two ends.
Here, I am working on a ring, pulling the work away from where the end of the wire is anchored in a clamp. That's a beat-up old billiards cue I'm pulling on, and the rest of the wire is below my right hand, being guided into the knot. I have to be careful not to let it kink as it is pulled into place. Me, working on jewelry.
All of my rings are made by hand, obviously, with considerable time and effort. I've evolved some tools and methods which speed the work and improve the results, but it still boils down to tucking sharp springy wires through tiny apertures and pulling out the kinks that inevitably form during the last inch or so. It is nice to work with 24K gold, since I don't have to anneal the work nearly as often, but for most purposes I use 18K gold, and I'm lucky to get more than two or three tucks done before I have to anneal it again. Some white gold is awful to work with, since it starts out hard and just gets worse, but the finished piece is almost worth it. Another white gold, alloyed with palladium, is easier to use, but not as brilliantly white. (Compare)


(This site last updated on 04-30-2018)

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