International Guild of Knot Tyers

Sailmakers’ Palms by Des Pawson MBE

Sailmakers’ Palms by Des Pawson MBE

Des Pawson 2018

The sailmakers’ palm is a traditional and basic tool for pushing needles through heavy canvas for seaming and roping sails – there are many variations: my small collection of 10 or so palms includes sailmakers’ seaming and roping palms in heavy and light construction, sailors’ palms and a home-made palm which turned up in a secondhand tool shop a hundred miles from the sea.

Sailmakers’ Palms (number 8 in the series of Museum of Knots and Sailors’ Ropework Monographs) was first published in 2010. The monographs were intended to record the history of various aspects of sailors’ tools and work, and to be updated as more material became available: 2018 sees the revised edition.

Workman’s tools tend to have poorly recorded histories because they seem to have attracted little interest compared with more decorative objects – furniture, china, silverware etc, so their history must be reconstructed from old catalogues, museum and antique trade examples with provenance of variable reliability, and more latterly from archaeological sites, where these materials increasingly attract the attention they deserve, both in conservation and interpretation.

The first edition of Sailmakers’ Palms ran to 64 pages – the revised edition has been expanded to 110 pages. The inclusion of colour images is welcome, adding to the clarity of photographs which are sometimes of low contrast. Additionally, images are reproduced at a slightly larger scale than in the previous edition.

A new section illustrates palm irons (the metal thimble on the palm used to push the needle) from various archaeological sites. Palms and palm fragments from marine archaeology (for example the Mary Rose) help to push back the history of palms a century earlier than the documentary evidence.

The section on “The British Palm” has been enlarged and benefits from reorganization, a new section giving some history of the Liverpool Pattern Palm. The chapters on “London makers” and “The Palm in America” also include new material.

This monograph is a comprehensive source for those interested in the form and evolution of the palm (Horsley’s Tools of the Maritime Trades devotes only half a page to it). Recommended to anyone fascinated by the detailedstructure and function of hand tools.

Murray Peake