MYSTIC — Matt Beaudoin’s hands are always moving, bending string, making loops and tying knots that become decorative functional items like sailor bracelets, keychains, coasters, trivets and doormats.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 7 years old, that’s 41 years of doing this,” Beaudoin said Wednesday as he finished a bracelet and picked up another piece of cord to start anew. “A safe estimate is I’ve tied 700,000 of these in my lifetime; that’s about 40 a day and I generally can go over 200 a day.”
The results of Beaudoin’s years of production and practice can be seen at Mystic Knotwork, a nautically themed retail and online store with two locations here: 2 Holmes St. and 25 Cottrell St.
Beaudoin learned knot-tying from his grandfather, Alton Beaudoin, who learned the art while in the merchant marine and sold pieces from his home in Mystic.
In 1996, Matt Beaudoin inherited the business and began slowly by placing products in local stores, though his grandfather warned him not to try growing the business.
“He told me never to make this into a real business because he could never make enough money at it,” said Beaudoin of his grandfather. “He was considered the No. 1 knot-tyer in the world, but was still doing things to make ends meet.”
What started as a tiny business at a kitchen table, however, has grown into a thriving business with a presence on Amazon Handmade as well as Etsy.
“The big advantage I have is I have a much larger market reach,” said Beaudoin.
The Beaudoins started selling through Martha Stewart American Made in 2012, and when Amazon Handmade started 2015, Mystic Knotworks came aboard as a pre-selected vendor.
“About 44 percent of all online searches start with Amazon, so being in that first-tier search really makes a difference,” he said. “The moment we moved from the previous venue to Amazon, our Martha Stewart sales tripled.”
The dramatic increase in sales has grown the business to five full-time employees and about 10 part-timers.
“The business has always been a family business,” said Beaudoin, whose wife, Jill Beaudoin, 48, and daughter, Christa Clark, 27, are part of the enterprise.
“I started tying when we met. I was about 25,” said Jill.
“She’s only been tying for 23 years — she’s a rookie,” laughed Matt.
Getting employees trained to tie perfect knots requires about 80 hours, he said.
“This is a business designed along perfect execution of simple knots, very repetitively, you have to be really good and very efficient about what you’re doing,” he said.
Colleen Franks, who was hired in July, was tying knots at the Cottrell Street workshop Friday. She said learning how to tie the knots required practice and repetition.
“For me it’s not that bad once you get the hang of it. Initially I had to record [Beaudoin] and then take it home and figure it out,” she said. “But once I started doing it, it didn’t take long at all to pick up speed.”
On the walls of the workshop were older “knot boards,” or art pieces made by tying knots, some made by Alton Beaudoin.
“My grandfather claimed there were 7,000 knots that were tied and known, of which he claimed he knew about 2,500,” Beaudoin said “And that number changes every story you read, and the number kept getting lower as he got older.”
Many customers have a connection to Alton Beaudoin, including David McKeehan, of Westminster, Mass., who stopped at the workshop on Friday. McKeehan said he knew Beaudoin’s grandfather 30 years ago from visits to Mystic Seaport.
“I knew him as a knotmaker, and I stumbled into his shop and home, across the street from the Seaport,” he said. “He always had several projects going, and we’d stop every time and ended up talking and listening to him telling stories and picking up pieces that he had available.”
McKeehan happened to walk into Matt Beaudoin’s shop and was pleased to see the continuation of the craft.
“It’s handcraft, it’s craftsmanship, it’s knowledge of a longstanding tradition and the functional aspect of it,” McKeehan said. “It’s great art but it’s also functional.”
Beaudoin said he wanted to grow the business so that he’d have time to make art like his grandfather’s knot boards, and to teach the craft.
“My whole goal in this business is to make my grandfather’s legacy stick,” he said.
“This isn’t my generational business; it’s not about me or Jill. This is about him.”