- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2003

PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. — More than a century after it was created by a South Carolina riverboat pilot, the Pawleys Island rope hammock remains a must for backyard captains who would safely navigate a long summer afternoon.

River pilot Joshua John Ward wove the first Pawleys Island rope hammock in 1889 to replace hot grass mattresses used on his boat that plied South Carolina’s coastal waterways.

In the 21st century, Father’s Day is the busiest sales season for hand-crafted Original Pawleys Island Rope Hammocks.

“Father’s Day, that’s our Christmas,” said Laurie Rudd, marketing director for the HammockSource, the Greenville, N.C., company that manufactures both the Original Pawleys Island Rope Hammock and Hatteras Hammocks.

Hundreds of thousands of the hammocks are sold worldwide, many through mail-order companies such as L.L.Bean.

Over the years, they have been sought by celebrities including writer Mickey Spillane and Magic Johnson. According to the company’s Web site, every president since Harry Truman received a gift of a Pawleys Island hammock from former U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, who retired in January after 48 years in the Senate.

In weaving, workers pass shuttles wound with rope through hammocks taking shape on large steel frames.

Marvin Grant has woven hammocks for 13 years in this quaint seaside town and will tell you that a large hammock takes about 1,200 feet of rope and two hours’ work.

Mr. Grant, 46, works alongside Harry Woodbury, 45, in a small hut amid a cluster of shops along busy U.S. 17, the main tourist route along the South Carolina coast.

Most of the local weaving is done a mile or so away at the company’s production plant, where about 25,000 hammocks a year are made, production manager Michael Cameron says.

At peak production, the company employs about 400 people in both Carolinas, says Miss Rudd, who declined to discuss sales figures for the privately held company. Peak production is in the fall and winter as hammocks are made for the upcoming spring.

What made Capt. Ward’s hammock design unusual was the spreader bar — a wooden bar at the top and the bottom of the hammock to keep the ropes separated. Without it, the hammock would form a cocoon around the user, similar to hammocks common in Central and South America.

“Without the spreader bars, it would be like a sling,” says Mr. Grant, who each year shares the weaver’s art with thousands of schoolchildren at the hut.

For souvenirs, he will often weave children a “T” — the narrow end of the hammock where it attaches to a tree or stand. On the wall behind and ceiling above Mr. Grant are dozens of postcards from children, some from as far as Scotland and Russia, thanking him.

“I sure love kids,” he says. His partner, Mr. Woodbury, not quite as talkative but certainly as friendly, has been weaving for about four years.

When he started, he was exhausted after a day of moving the rope-wrapped shuttle up and down. “After a month or so, I would put on my jacket to go to church and it was too tight,” he recalls. “This is a pretty good workout.”

Hammocks generally last three to five years, depending on the climate and whether the owner brings them in when they are not in use, says Rhonda Travis, a regional sales manager for the HammockSource.

“What I have found is the first season, people will take them out and then bring them back in to keep them out of the weather,” she says. “The second season they keep them out during the [entire] summer. The third season, they take them out and they don’t bring them back in.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide