Friday, April 24, 2015

Craftwork Aboard a Battleship

My husband cheerfully accompanies me to many a quilt show. So, when we were in the Southern California area last weekend and he wanted to tour the battleship USS Iowa docked at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, I went along. He thought I might be bored out of my gourd knowing how I react to the WW-II documentaries he loves to watch and I thought he might be correct. But turnabout is fair play, and I went along willingly as navigator and companion.

I actually enjoyed the tour. It was self-guided and self-paced with docents stationed along the way to answer questions. The posted tour guides also added anecdotal stories, many of them from their own naval experiences. The tour was estimated to take 1½ - 2 hours but we spent just over 3 hours on board. As we climbed up the gangway, we were greeted at the top by a docent standing behind a podium. On the front of that podium was a huge, podium-width, finely detailed and lavishly embroidered badge. Someone had designed and made that emblem. Seeing and admiring that badge prompted me to spice up my experience on the tour by looking for other craftwork aboard the USS Iowa. And I found it. Hence this post.

At the start of our tour we were alerted to watch for numbered posters with a picture of a dog to draw our attention to points of interest along the route. This was no ordinary dog.  He was Victory the Dog  - M1C (Mascot First Class), affectionately nicknamed Vicky for short.  The story of his sojourn on the ship can be found at I was drawn to the uniform that obviously was custom made for him. It too had finely embroidered details.

Next on our tour was the galley and dining area for the ship's crew. My eye was drawn to the macramé-like rope work on the posts. It is not macramé and is more correctly referred to as "fancywork". It is created by shipmen with a desire and the talent to produce it. Crewmen needed only request permission from the captain and they would be commissioned on small projects assigned as a means to decorate and thus honor the ship. There was much pride in this fancywork. I found this link with a bit  of background indicating this pride at

Here is a close up of one of the copper clad posts in the galley. At first I thought a section of it was a plastic molded surface, but it is actually rope. After the banded area had been up for a while and began to show a bit of soiling, it was painted over, giving it that glossy, molded look.

Here is a pole at another part of the galley that had not been painted. The grain and twist of the silky rope adornment and the intricacy of the knotting is more evident.

I googled images for "navy fancywork" and found many more examples of a craft I never knew existed but is quite prevalent in the military. Even in a stringent war environment there apparently is room for the comfort and peace that crafting brings. Columns on the outside decks were similarly adorned to those indoors and painted red. This one was banded in the middle. In the background is a smaller diameter post banded for a larger percentage of its length.

Here is a closeup of that pole in the background. Note the two color spiral accenting.

And here is another pole, covered its entire height, also color accented.

On the floor in the entry to the gun turrets was a reproduction of the embroidered badge for the USS Iowa recreated as an inlay in the floor tiles.

When I researched the image I found that there were four battleships of the same naval architecture design as the USS Iowa, BB-61. They were called the Iowa class battleships or the Dreadnoughts, BB-61, BB-62, BB-63 and BB-64, and had been built in the early 1940s. They each had a signature badge of their own.

Upon entering one of the gun turrets, this is a typical view the firing team would see... 

... and here is the chair where they sat while performing their duties. Note the stitching detail in the leather.

Here is a closeup of the stitching. It is simple but I think it shows a caring and dignity.

Note the appliqued star detail in the chair of another gun turret.

I do not know the significance of the direction the eagle points. I think, but am not 100% certain, that two chairs in each turret were mirror images of each other.

Upon exiting the turret, there was another inlaid image in the tile floor. 

The tour included views of the living quarters. My supposition is that craft items had been prevalent there, too, as they had been in the public areas, but were most likely of a personal nature and had been removed by the crew members as they left. 

I learned much more on this tour: the impressive power and range of 16 inch diameter barrel guns, the skill and expertise of the highly trained team who achieved a rapid 30 second load and fire sequence time, the impressive 33 knot top speed of the USS Iowa under full power even with a length comparable to Titanic but with a steel hull 18 inch thick at points, the decks skillfully crafted of exotic teak wood so as best to withstand the heat and humidity of the tropical Pacific. The designers, builders, and crew undoubtedly and deservedly took great pride in these facts. My husband will most likely remember and cite them readily and easily months from now. I may forget these facts, but I will remember images of military men taking time to honor and adorn the great and mighty ship on which they served.


  1. Wow that rope art is neat! and the stitching on those seats is impressive. I wonder if one of the Navy boys had to learn the art to do repairs...

    1. I, too, was impressed with the fancy work. It appeared to be a point of pride among the Navy guys.