Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Making rope from garden fibres



We tried our hand at making a little rope this weekend - a super useful skill to have - the kids were enthralled - simple, purposeful and fun. 


Natural plant fibre ropes are biodegradable and strong, and many plants in the garden can be used, for example:

  • Banana
  • Lemongrass
  • Lomandra/ matrush
  • Bulrush/juncus
  • Acacia bark
  • Hibiscus bark
  • Agave
  • Yucca
  • Flax
  • Nettle
  • Straw
  • In cooler climates than here, also plants such asWillow and Maple
Homemade ropes may not always be as strong, but they do have so many uses:
  • for biodegradable plant ties
  • for constructing bamboo trellises
  • for preparing some basket making fibres
  • to create materials for weaving seats (one of the most comfortable chairs I've sat on was a woven banana fibre seat top)
  • for a washing line
  • for making cubbies
  • for a skipping rope
  • for lots of children's games and activities
  • craft
  • gift ties
  •  ...

While I was teaching permaculture at a community garden last weekend, my family was off exploring nearby Hervey Bay by bicycle.  A definite highlight for them was the Hervey Bay Historical Village and Museum where they learnt how to make the sisal rope from Agave sisalana fibres (above) and hear how rope fibres were extracted from various plants. The kids also tried their hand at de-kerneling a corn cob and watched a treadle-powered wood lathe, and a blacksmith at work.  They were fascinated.

I'd missed seeing this, so back at home the children keenly taught me how to make the rope, demonstrating the method with a piece of used paper - a good way to get used to the technique. It worked really well and made a lovely soft twine (see picture above).  I can imagine this would be great for craft work. 


We're keen to have a go using plants from our garden. I think we'll begin with banana and hibiscus. The bananas need thinning and when the rosellas have finished flowering I will have lots of stems available. 



Banana fibre (Image: ecouterre)

It would be great to have something like the 1911 rope-making machine, but we can manage without it. To make the paper rope, we tightly and evenly twisted 3 lengths of fibre. We then twisted the three lengths together - twisting in opposite direction. That's it - if twisted together consistently, the rope will stay together. Just whip (lash with thread) the ends and voilĂ !

The key thing to explore now is how to best extract the fibres from the garden plants. A local Aboriginal woman showed us how to simply roll the plant fibres of lomandra to make rope, and the historical centre showed wire brushes that helped to process things like banana.


For more details on rope making, I recommend googling homemade rope and natural cordage. There appears to be lots of information about there. Like everything, you just need to know to ask the right questions! Having said that, I'd love it if you someone could personally recommend some great instructions for the whole process - from harvesting and processing the fibre.


This activity reminded me about the Transition Town Movement which also encourages people to reclaim and remember traditional skills. Founder, Rob Hopkins, called for a Great Reskilling Movement. A great way to get together in the local community to keep useful skills alive and being passed on. Worth checking out, and perhaps finding ways to seek out and share your knowledge locally.

Maia was asked to be the assistant during the demonstration at the historical centre. What a useful machine - 100 years old.

Maia's rope.


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