Knots are first created to serve functions, but as any seafarer will tell you, even within each knot's particular use, each bend and twist can exhibit a beauty beyond compare. However, unlike the golden years of tall ships where every deckhand and cabin boy committed a vast library of knots to memory, the modern mariner may only use but a few. As Richard Bode opines in "First You Have to Row a Little Boat":
Six knots, that's all - six knots, each entrenched in my psyche each with an unexplored myth of its own - and I know there are thousands of others, so many untold knots like so many unread books, that in my lifetime I couldn't begin to know them all. And so I content myself with these six, for they are the ones I need the most when I go down to the sea and raise my sails.
I've always been drawn to the art of complex, old world knots. Over the years, I've taught myself the classic knots every sailor should know, but also a few less-than-useful ones just for the fun of it.
But I've always yearned to know more, to explore the knots of yesteryear. Several years ago I bought myself a copy of The Ashley Book of Knots with the dash of hope of mastering its encyclopedia of knots.
But I let that copy of The Ashley Book of Knots gather dust on my desk where it serves as more of a conversation starter than textbook. Thus, when Facebook "suggested" the below video of Windy Chen as one of their Artists in Residence, I was truly impressed.
Windy decided in January of 2016 to teach herself a knot a day for a year. She engaged in knot tying as an art form but as you look through her work you can see how quickly she gained an understanding of each knot's particular function. As she writes on her project's webpage:
Throughout her knot-tying year, The Ashley Book of Knots became her bible. With 3,900 knots included, she poured over them all and became a Master of the Knot, possibly unlike anyone since Ashley himself. And according to Wired magazine (and an inspection of Chien's Instagram page) after her Year of Knots was over she has kept up her passion. The artist has taken to creating large installations, playing with the presentations of knots, materials, and scale.
Clifford Ashley and Windy Chien are kindred spirits, both artists, both lovers and inventors of knots (Chien has developed a few of her own as well). Many of us have dreamed of deep-diving into the world of knots, and while few of us may ever find the time, it's inspiring to know there are people keeping The Ashely Book of Knots alive like Windy Chien.