There’s a science and art to nautical knots. Just ask Matt Beaudoin, who with wife Jill own Mystic Knotwork, which is located is historic downtown Mystic, Connecticut, in a building that dates to the 1830s. Building on the seafaring history of his great grandfather, who captained ships through the St. Laurence Seaway, and the knot tying skills of his Merchant Marine grandfather, who practiced his talents while on the Rio to New York City route, Beaudoin gave up a career in IT to keep this legacy alive. Today, the functional pieces made of hand-tied nautical knots that are for sale in-store and online are both traditional as well as contemporary.
“There are two lines of heritage to the knot tying arts,” explains Beaudoin. “First is the practical nature. Bosun’s aboard ships worked on rigging and general upkeep of the boat. In such, most of the ‘decorative knots’ have a direct linkage to the historic and practical uses. For example, the ‘coasters’ we sell are actually a thump pad that would protect the valuable wooden blocks from crashing into the hard deck of a ship. The doormats we make are actually pads used to prevent chafe. The second legacy is relieve tedium, hobby and resume building.”
Sailors had a lot of free time in the age of the square rigger, Beaudoin explains. Primary forms of entertainment at sea included wood carving, model building, macramé, and marlinespike work. Decorative Marlinespike work entails using long toothed and worn rope along with ‘smalls’ and marline to create intricate works using the practical skills the bosun uses aboard ship. This was more than a hobby for the bosun. That’s because the ship’s captain got to show off the beauty of his boat in the quality of the knotsmanship aboard. Equally, the bosun could illustrate his resume on every piece of work. The fancier the bellrope, the more accomplished the bosun.
The iconic New England white sailor bracelets were the first and only item in Mystic Knotwork’s catalogue back in 2007. Today these remain the most popular knot. A year later, at the insistence of his wife, Beaudoin added bracelets in different colors. A search for a company to make custom cotton cord came to a successful end in 2009 and opened a world of possible patterns. This is when the company’s repertoire expanded to coasters and trivets. Then, for the retirement of the Newport Harbor Yacht Club’s commodore, an order came in for 20 dog toys. A full range of requests for nautical-themed wedding items soon followed thus building a one-of-a-kind offering.
“Our newest line, woven ornaments at Christmastime, was unbelievable. I spent hours every day tying them up for the next day’s orders,” says Beaudoin. “We have a great community of enthusiasts that keep us full of ideas and people that connect us with other nautical enthusiasts. I like watching my teammates grow and come up with ideas of their own. My daughter is one of the creatives and watching them stretch their skills and really take a sense of ownership to the business is inspiring.”