This is somewhat of a follow up to the Is Whipmaking Easy? post from several days ago. People ask about the importance of straight seams on a whip. For a whipmaker, this is something that should be basic knowledge. It’s a given: a whip should exude tight & neat plaiting, no lumps or bumps, good balance & have straight seams. Other things could be added to that list, but those are pretty basic characteristics. The fact that it should crack I think goes without saying, & that would fall under the balance part. Straight seams are important to a whip’s construction, not only for aesthetics, but also in a whip’s functionality. I’ll touch on some points here relating to both aspects and, hopefully, make some sense.
- In the very least, straight seams show the experience of the plaiter. At most, it reveals the character of a whip’s construction, which I’ll touch on in a bit. The longer someone’s been plaiting, the better they should be at plaiting; meaning, straight seams, neat & tight plaits, not crowded or pinched.
- Straight seams look better. Honestly, a whip with straight, neat-looking seams looks better than one with migrating, inconsistent seams. Now, I’m not referring to small changes in the seams, a little bend here & there. Let’s face it, no whipmaker/plaiter is perfect, & we all make mistakes. But seams that twist & turn are flaws which should be corrected, problems that result from improper technique.
- Simple mistakes are magnified in complex patterns. I think a lot of new whipmakers, because of their excitement with this craft, endeavor to move on to more complex patterns before giving enough practice to keeping the seams straight & neat on simpler patterns, such as the double herringbone, double diamonds, & even the most basic whipmaker’s plait or cowtail or herringbone, whichever you prefer to call it. If the seams on simple patterns aren’t straight, then more complex patterns will look worse, allowing more problems & bad techniques to develop.
- Identify the mistakes & focus on improvement. After you’ve built a few whips, & you feel you’re progressing, don’t be embarrassed to show your work to a more experienced whipmaker. If you’re having some sticking points or troubles, share them with a veteran, be open to their critique. This isn’t easy for most of us, to have our work scrutinized; but a more seasoned whipmaker can help point out some things that you’ve missed. When you’re excited about doing something, as I know firsthand, it’s easy to miss some basic things in all the excitement. Someone who’s been at it for a while has a more developed eye for spotting things that a newer plaiter may not. I’m glad when people are excited about whipmaking, & it’s something that’s needed. The other day, Tony Layzell of Essentia Whips commented on how we need newer blood in the trade of whipmaking to help keep more experienced plaiters honest. I very much agree.
- A whip’s appearance is just one aspect of its construction. Of course, a whip can look as good as an award-winning masterpiece by Chris Barr & yet handle poorly. The overlay of a whip, the plaiting which everyone will see, should be an indication of how well the rest of the whip is constructed. The inner structure of a whip, that which no one but the whipmaker sees, must be given the same attention as the overlay.
- The whip should be fluid, falling consistent & straight. Inconsistent seams throughout a whip won’t allow a whip to fall straight. One reason for twisting, migrating seams is inconsistent pressure in plaiting. If one hand pulls with more force than the other, it’s only natural that the seam will ‘pull’ toward that side.
- Inaccuracy. With seams that ‘pull’ to one side, this means that the core or belly; that which is being plaited over; isn’t receiving the same pressure from all sides. This will impede the whip from tracking straight when thrown, as well as interrupt the energy flow throughout the whip. Perhaps this could be termed as being misaligned.
- The whip will flex unevenly. If one side of strands is consistently pulled tighter than the opposing side, the whip won’t flex evenly when thrown or coiled.
- Function is first. The purpose of a whip is to function, to crack, to perform consistently well over time. Many whips are judged by how they look, the straight seams, tight plaiting, neat knots, etc. We’re all fascinated with fancy patterns & intricate details, but that’s not all that goes into making a good whip. It needs to function well. What determines how a whip functions is what you don’t see when looking at a whip, the guts or inner construction. There’s an oft quoted saying, almost to the point of abuse: “A whip with no guts is like a man with no character.”
The appearance of a whip doesn’t tell the whole story. A good-looking whip isn’t necessarily a good-functioning whip. The appearance is the final touch in its construction. Yet the same logic can be used to say that if care isn’t taken to make the appearance the best as possible, the part which is visible, then what other flaws lie inherent in the whip’s construction? I guess my point is this: the same honest attention & detail that’s given in creating straight seams & neat plaiting must also be given to every aspect in building a whip. The overlay of a whip, the plaiting which everyone will see, should be an indication of how well the rest of the whip is constructed. How well a whipmaker tends to the smallest of details in constructing a whip shows the character of that whipmaker. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post & I hope also that I’ve made at least a little sense.