Sailor's Crafts


Sailors made pictures with yarn sewn onto burlap, sackcloth, or any other pieces of material they found on board their ship. As with all crafts, some were well done, and some were 'crude'. Never the less, they all show us a part of life of the time, and therefore they are all valuable. Most of the crafts were sent back to the sailor's families. Spending months at sea made life very lonesome; sailors sometimes befriended passengers, and taught them the crafts. It helped pass the hours for all.





The art of inscribing pictures onto any smooth, hard surface is called scrimshaw. Sailors used any available materials such as bones, shark's teeth, walrus tusks, etc. They drew pictures of things that they saw while traveling, or portraits of their loved ones left at home. These are important to us because sometimes, they were the only pictorial records of life aboard the sailing ships. Pictures were inscribed upon enduring materials so, we can now view them in maritime museums along with carved clothes pins, pie crimpers, yarn winders, and many other things.




When sailors first made scrimshaw, they drew their picture upon the chosen material; then they inscribed the picture on the lines of the drawing. For this, they used a sharp pointed tool that cut the surface with deep lines. After this was completed to their satisfaction, they laid a dark stain or dye on the surface and set it to dry to a sticky stage. Finally, they rubbed off the excess to remove all dye, but that within the recessed lines.


One of the first skills a sailor learns is knot tying. Sailors know how to tie a knot which holds under all circumstances and which slips open to automatically untie when necessary. Knots can save a ship or even a life. You might notice a knot board or two when you are at the museum. There are so many special purpose knots; it is impossible to mention all of them here.




For more detailed information about knots and how to tie them, check out these books:



When sailors had some leisure time, they often tied a series of fancy knots called "Macramé." They fashioned gifts for their loved ones at home. It was a good way to pass their leisure time on the ship.


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