By Contributing Editor Kristina Strain
Knowing how to make rope was once a critical skill for survival and self-sufficiency on the frontier. Early settlers were able to make rope from a variety of materials, but the main thing they used was hemp.
These days, growing hemp is illegal in the United States. Hemp has none of the intoxicant properties of its cousin marijuana, and has traditionally been grown for humble utilitarian purposes such as making hemp twine, paper, cloth, and the all-important rope. But it’s guilty by association, I suppose, and off-limits to any would-be hemp growers in this country.
Fortunately, it’s perfectly legal to import and use hemp grown outside the country. And that’s a lucky thing, because when it comes to rope-making, hemp is hard to beat.
A rapid growing plant, hemp is perfect for making rope. Hemp grows fast. It produces up to 75 tons of dry matter per acre per year. It thrives in poor soil, needs no fertilizers or pesticides to succeed, and gobbles up atmospheric CO2, stymieing the greenhouse effect. It produces more fiber per pound than either cotton or flax, and these fibers are easily extracted in order to make hemp rope, twine, or cord.
Hemp rope is easy to make. Some methods involve using a rope machine, but fortunately such an investment isn’t necessary to the process. All you really need is some hemp fiber or hemp twine, and a short piece of wooden dowel. Our hemp rope maker, available in our shop, will really streamline the process for you if you plan on making lots of hemp rope.
Make Hemp Rope
Step one: Separate the hemp fibers or unwind the hemp yarn and cut into lengths approximately twice as long as the desired length of the rope. Continue cutting until you have a bundle of fibers approximately half the size of the diameter of rope you’d like to make.
Step two: Grab the bundle of fibers and fold it in half, securing the fold by placing a dowel rod through the resultant loop and into the ground. Smooth the fibers of this bundle down by running your hand along the length of the cord.
Step three: Divide the bundle in two, holding half the fibers in your left hand and half the fibers in your right.
Step four: Twist each bundle clockwise until the cord you are creating begins to kink and loop. Pull as hard as you can while twisting.
Step five: Twist the two cords together, wrapping one over the other in a counterclockwise motion, to form a rope.
Step six: Secure the ends with overhand knots beginning with the end in your hands. Once the first end is tightly tied, slip the rope off the dowel rod and tie it as well.
To make a cable, repeat steps 2 through 6 and twist the two ropes together. This process can be repeated as many times as you like, making thicker, stronger cables as you go.
Enjoy making your own hemp rope! This technique can be used to make hemp twine, hemp cord. and hemp yarn as well. It all depends on the size of the fibers you start with. Need some ideas for what to do with your newly-made hemp rope? Try using a piece as a clothesline, for air-drying your clothes. Make a hemp leash for your pet, or keep your hemp twine petite for use in jewelry making.
Making rope is a great way to be self-sufficient and eliminate the supply chain requirement. Everything you can make yourself is one less packaged product– in this case, one less coil of synthetic rope– that needs to be manufactured for you. Have fun!