Today we tie things together with velcro, zippers, tape, and hypertext links. Slip knots, square knots, and granny knots are still tied; but most of us no longer use rope or knots to the extent that our ancestors did. The Ashley Book of Knots takes us back to an earlier time, a time when one's ability to tie many knots was commonplace. The author, Clifford W. Ashley, was born into a sea-faring family in 1881. He worked as a canvasman at a circus, served an apprenticeship in knots aboard a whaling bark, and dedicated over forty years to studying knots. He studied knots used by over 90 occupations including surgeons, butchers, weavers, and sailors. Eleven years were spent writing, researching, and richly illustrating this book of 3900 knots with over 7000 drawings.
The book was first published in 1944. It should be considered an important historical archive. Recently I saw quotes and drawings from The Ashley Book of Knots in E. Annie Proulx's 1994 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Shipping News. Ms. Proulx found a copy of The Ashley Book of Knots in a yard sale for 25 cents. She acknowledged that The Ashley Book of Knots inspired her to write the Shipping News.
Ashley lived to see the death of square-rigged ships, and the decline of knots used by other professions. He carefully illustrated dying and common knots, such as the Spiritsail Sheet Knot, the Cat-o'-nine-tails, and the Department Store Loop. Finally, he organized his instructions and illustrations into 41 chapters. The lasting gift of Ashley is that his work has kept many knots from being forgotten to history. Ashley's knots are available for us to tie and appreciate. Ashley wrote that, "...the simple act of tying a knot is an adventure in unlimited space." This book allows all of us to travel on the adventure.