Fireworks and the Pyrotechnic Arts

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The Fireworks Knot

 

 

Making Fireworks Making Fireworks This blog is about the fireworks factory where I grew up and the things that I learned there. Looking back as a young boy learning the trade from my Italian fireworks making father and grandfather, the most fundamental skill I learned was how to tie the Clove Hitch – the fireworks knot. Everything in the factory revolved around this simple way of connecting two things together.I learned to tie in the finishing building on a Sunday afternoon in 1968. It was spring, a significant time of year in a fireworks factory where the aura brightens with the
approaching fireworks display season. I sat quietly across the table from my father on a high stool watching him measure out lift and tie the bottoms of the shells stacked neatly in a pile in front of him. With the shell snugly between his legs and his head tilted slightly to one side, just enough to better see the paper and string in front of him, I watched with awe the rhythm of exquisitely performed ties, horizontally, around once, twice, pulled tight and cut, with the precision of a surgeonSitting there across from my father that afternoon I was baptized into my identity. I was a Rozzi. Somehow I knew that my credibility as a fireworks maker was directly related to my skill at tying that Clove Hitch. I could not follow his hands quickly enough in order to just imitate the movements and my father didn’t have much patience. So, in order to teach me, he had had to slow down enough to separate the movement into its parts. For him it was like pulling teeth.

To teach me, he had to break his meditative rhythm and concentrate on passing his skill to me: “over once, over twice, cross – and through the loop.” I tried it again and again, referring back to his example, watching him tie the shells, as if learning to ride a bike. Then the moment came of first success. They say that the fireworks business is in one’s blood. Well, at that moment, it did in fact flow as much through my veins as through my hands and fingers. The ceremony was complete.

The first unspoken measure of one’s worth as a fireworks maker, a pyrotechnist, was his or her ability to tie the clove hitch- and then how fast. Speed came with practice. Everyone who ever worked at the plant either learned how to tie or hopelessly gave up. They were intimidated, of course, since those of us trying to teach them were lightning quick.

Then there’s the proper way to use the scissors as an extension of the fingertips. Speed depends on holding them just the right way. You can’t put the scissors down after each tie and expect to get fast. You must hold the scissor in your palm with the tips between your thumb and index finger. The action of the hand like a snap of the finger snips the string and leaves the hand free to tie again. And of course, any skilled craftsman knew how to use his teeth as a third hand, thereby never having to put down the string between ties at all.

In the factory we tied everything: finales, leaders, buckets, flash bags, gerbs, Niagara falls, wheel drivers; we even tied up bundles of freshly cut paper with the knot. At a fireworks display we tied down timers, hooked the finales, and matched the lancework, all using the knot. I couldn’t count how many ties I’ve tied since that first day but my quiz night best guess would be around a million.

As I got older and witnessed other fireworks technicians working on their show sites without string, taping finales together, I scoffed. How could they do that? But the more I witnessed, the more I realized that so many people had simply given up on the tie and found easier to learn methods that sufficed. It affected me deeply. I felt like the Last Samurai. Didn’t they know the sacred clove hitch? Didn’t they understand?

The Clove Hitch still stands for a lot about what makes the profession more than just a job, more than something one does for eight hours a day. In any profession, such a skill, such a talent, radiates that committed spirit of what we do as a perfect completion to who we are.

 

 

 

 


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