ACTIVITY – Learn how to make decorative knots.
The History of Sinnet Knots
Sinnet (sometimes spelled sennit) knots are decorative chains used by mariners that shorten line and prevent tangling. But even if you’ve never been on a boat, chances are that you have seen this knot. Examples include friendship bracelets, key chains, and even straw hats!
From 1857 – 1921, the sennit or straw hat formed part of the British naval uniform. The hat was sometimes worn with a black cover in bad weather or a khaki cover on active service ashore. Often, it included included the ship’s name on a tally band around the crown.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, the boater (also known as straw boater, basher, skimmer, The English Panama, cady, katie, canotier, somer, sennit hat) became a semi-formal summer hat for men. Made from stiff sennit straw and has a stiff flat crown and brim, this type of hat typically has a solid or striped grosgrain ribbon around the crown (as shown in the picture above).
Boaters were popular as summer headgear, especially for boating or sailing, hence the name. Some FBI agents wore them as a sort of unofficial uniform in the pre-World War II years. Since 1952, the straw boater hat has been part of the uniform of the Princeton University Band, notably featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated Magazine in October 1955. Coco Chanel, who popularized men’s wear for women, loved wearing boaters and made them fashionable for women in the early 20th century.
“Straw Hat Day”, the day when men switched from wearing their winter hats to their summer hats, indicated the beginning of summer. The exact date of Straw Hat Day might vary slightly from place to place. For example, in Philadelphia, it was May 15; at the University of Pennsylvania, it was the second Saturday in May. The practice of wearing formal hats largely disappeared by the mid-1900s. However, as late as 1963, an editorial in the New York Times commemorated Straw and Felt Hat Day (the winter equivalent).
“It must be remembered that a straw hat or low hat cannot be worn with a black coat of any kind…. If he goes to a garden party in a frock-coat and straw hat, he is condemned more universally than if he had committed some crime.”Mrs. C. E. Humphry in Manners for Men (1897)
The term “straw hat day” referred both to the day of their adoption, at the beginning of summer, and their destruction, at the end. In 1922 in New York City, the tradition escalated into the Straw Hat Riot, which lasted eight days, involved a mob of 1,000 young hat destroyers at its peak, and resulted in a number of arrests and injuries.
The name of a boater, the sennit hat, refers to the construction of the hat made from decorative knots. Knots are ancient technology and predate the axe and wheel. Many types of decorative knots are more recognizable than one may think. Think of macramé plant hangers, cable knit sweaters, or those sailors knots bracelets. Now that you’ve learn a bit of history about decorative knots, why not use examples from historic text below to make your own friendship bracelet?
Make a Friendship Bracelet from Sinnet Knots
Use these images from The Art of Knotting and Splicing by Cyrus Lawrence Day (US Naval Institute, 1955), SSHSA Maritime Reference Library at the Ship History Center to learn how to make sinnet chains, or friendship bracelets.
You can also visit Animated Knots to see a variety tutorials for decorative knots you can try at home!
Check out our other activity on learning to tie the 7 essential knots every mariner should know.
Learn more about this knot used by mariners by reading: Boater’s Tip: The Chain Sinnet (‘Daisy Chain’) Knot.
Read the article, In Praise of the Humble Knot in the New York Times.
Learn more about boater hat fashion history from the Gentleman’s Gazette.