Did your childhood include a woven cotton sailor bracelet? Did you wear it all summer until it became so dirty that the start of school meant you had to cut it off? Did it witness all the sun, fun, salt, and sweat of a great childhood or youth? No matter the decade in which you grew up, if you lived near or visited a shoreline community in New England, you probably bought and wore one of these bracelets. They were, and still are, an affordable piece of the shoreline experience and history. A testament to sailing traditions and knot-tying, the iconic sailor bracelet has its roots in Mystic, CT.
In 1939, Alton Beaudoin began tying knots while working as a bosun’s mate on cargo ships running between Argentina and New York. Knot tying as a shipboard hobby dates back to the 1800s. After serving honorably in WWII and learning skills from other knotters, Alton established himself as an expert in knotwork and even donated display pieces to the Smithsonian Institute. He developed the traditional sailor knot bracelet we recognize today as well as belts, guitar straps, and bellropes including a bellrope that was used for ten years aboard the United States Coast Guard Barque Eagle.
This history and skill was passed to his sons and grandchildren. Matt remembers learning macramé, splicing, sennit work, and fancy knotwork from his grandparents. He says, “My cousins and I used to race to see who could make twenty sailor knot bracelets the fastest. My childhood is definitely one that I treasure. I wish everyone could have experienced such a tight knit family.”
Matt, Jill, and Christa Beaudoin carry on and evolve the family business with new, beautiful, functional pieces Alton probably never considered: woven bowls, door mats, wreaths, dog toys, boat fenders, and much more. Their contribution to enduring traditional American crafts was recognized during the American Made Summit in 2014 with an honorable mention for heritage arts. Matt says, “Martha Stewart, who hosted and curated the event, chose us as one of 4 heritage artisans from over 6,000 worthy choices. The combination of traditional technique along with a respectful combination of colors speaks to the modern nautical design sense. Upon a foundation of traditional style, Jill expanded the colors and designs of the original bracelet to appeal to a wider audience. The whole team works together to design and produce an array of handmade, wearable art and home décor to add a nautical touch to any outfit or room. Whether fans are enticed by nostalgia or current trends, the impact is fresh and understated.
The media recognizes Mystic Knotwork style as a contemporary business with traditional roots. Over the past 20 years, accolades accumulated as more people discovered the beautiful craftsmanship. The East coast is flooded with shops that carry sailor bracelets, coasters, and keychains. I’ve seen these Mystic-made treasures in Maine, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida. West coast shops carry them too so you’ll find them in all sorts of charming coastal towns.” In 2016 Business Insider identified Mystic Knotwork as having the number one CT souvenir. Yankee Magazine awarded the Best of CT Editor’s Choice Award to Mystic Knotwork in 2019. Connecticut Magazine regaled them as the Best of Made in CT Shop in 2019.
High profile people enjoy and support our local shop. Travel Channel start, Andrew Zimmern, is wearing a Mystic Knotwork classic white sailor bracelet in each episode of Bizzare Foods. Mrs. Richard Blumenthal has given Mystic Knotwork monkey knot wine bottle stopper gifts to Congressional colleagues. Insider tip: they’re beautiful and affordable!
The charming shop overlooks the Mystic River at 25 Cottrell St. and is open daily as Matt and Jill continue to keep the nautical traditional alive. If you aren’t able to visit in person, you can shop to your heart’s content at MysticKnotwork.com and isn’t now a good time to reminisce about sweet childhood memories and create some new ones? The bracelets look great with jeans, yoga pants, or almost anything and your dog would love a new toy.