Learn the ropes with Des
VIDEO His work has appeared in blockbusters like Pirates of the Caribbean and he's recently received a MBE in recognition of his skill and expertise. Today JAMES MARSTON meets Des Pawson, a man with a remarkable passion.
HIS work has appeared in blockbusters like Pirates of the Caribbean and he's recently received a MBE in recognition of his skill and expertise. Today JAMES MARSTON meets Des Pawson, a man with a remarkable passion.
DES Pawson is quite a character.
With an infectious enthusiasm for his subject, Des is more than happy to share snippets of his knowledge and pass on his interest. Walking in his large garden at the rear of his Wherstead Road home there are clues to the subject he has loved since childhood.
There's a ship's mast, there's workshops and there's rope everywhere.
For Des is fascinated by knots and rope working.
He said: “It started when I was about seven. My uncle gave me a scout book that had knots in it. For some reason I found they had a purpose and such a variety that I was fascinated by them.”
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Today Des makes his living from what began as a boyhood craze. He said: “My work is knots and what you can do with knots and rope. My in-depth knowledge has enabled me to be a professional ropeworker, so my passion has always had a value.
“Primarily my work is maritime-based or inspired by the maritime use of cordage - that encompasses things such as rope fenders, ship's bell ropes, rope mats, nets and all kinds of particular and specialist commissions.”
But for a number of years Des' skills have been in demand by the entertainment industry.
He said: “I made a pair of bell ropes for Pirates of the Caribbean, I made some sea chest beckets (handles) for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and a Cat O'Nine Tails for the Hornblower tv series.”
His most recent commission was ropes for the just released Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Des said: “I was asked to make a complex knots for the costume of Sir Walter Raleigh. Film work is often quite challenging and its specialised work but it is interesting to do.”
Approaching his 61st birthday Des has worked professionally with rope for nearly 20 years. He said: “There's always been a market for my work. My first commission was when I was in my early 20s. My wife and I were saving to buy a house and I was working in Harrods in London in the furniture department.
“I went along with some samples to a yacht outfitters in Piccadilly and asked to see the buyer. I got an order for three dozen bell ropes.”
So what started as a hobby and a way of earning a little bit of extra cash has developed into the business run by Des and his wife today.
And behind the exterior is a hint of determination and ambition required to succeed.
Des said: “My wife shared an ambition to leave London and work for ourselves. We wanted to leave London to bring up our children. It wasn't until I was in my mid 40s that I started working full time for myself.”
As he demonstrated a Carrick knot, Des said he has since travelled the world with his skill and knowledge.
He said: “I've been all over Europe, mostly to the great maritime nations like Holland and Germany and France. I've also lectured in America.”
Surrounded by books which fill his office and drawing room, Des is currently building a library to house his collection. He has written a number of books and his Handbook of Knots has been translated into 17 languages and sold more than 50,000 copies.
He said: “I'm delighted I can pass on my knowledge. I don't come from a ropeworking background and it's important to keep these skills alive.
“Writing is a way of sharing my trade secrets and knowledge I have built up over the years.”
A worldwide human activity knot making has a direct link with the ancestry of mankind.
Des, a member of the Ipswich Maritime Trust, said: “I love the historical side to rope working and knots. They are the building blocks of civilisation. The sheet bend knot is the earliest knot that has been found. It dates back 8,000 years.”
With plans to do more research, Des, who was a founder of the International Guild of Knot Tyers, is a little bit perplexed by the MBE.
He said: “I'm not sure how it all happened really. I can't really remember what I said to the Queen.”
Do you have a passion like this? What do you think? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Bight - The center part of a length of rope, string, or yarn as opposed to the ends. A bight is any curved section, slack part, or loop between the ends of a rope.
Bitter end - More a ropeworker's term than a knot term, the reference is to the end of a rope that is tied off, hence the expression "to the bitter end".
Loop - A full circle formed by passing the working end over itself.
Elbow - Two crossing points created by an extra twist in a loop.
Standing end - The end of the rope not involved in making the knot, often shown as unfinished.
Standing part - Section of line between knot and the standing end.
Turn - A turn or single turn is a single pass behind or through an object.
Working end - The active end of a line used in making the knot.
Working part - Section of line between knot and the working end.
Splice - A knot formed by interweaving strands of rope rather than whole lines. Usually stronger than simple knots.