[This is an expanded and illustrated version of a recent post I made on Fet-Life]
One of the things I sometimes say when explaining my geekish enthusiasm (or enthusiastic geeking) for frope is that any numpty can buckle a cuff; rope is different. It’s a skill, its a form of expression. In a world where the mainstream is becoming more adn more obsessed with everything digital rope is something in my life that’s analogue, so analogue.
The great thing about it being so analogue is that you can take what you want from it. The basiscs of tying someone, or even just using a length in our hends to hold someone is immediate; but there’s more there if you want it. There’s the history, different styles, theory and aesthetics; and also there’s the ropes themselves.
My first every rope was some kind of nylon bought off the internet in 2006. Then when I first started getting serious about rope I bought some lengths of sash cord, then upgraded to three lengths of 6mm hemp from Esinem. Those three lengths were with me for best part of a year, had a lot of good energy go into them and ultimately were passed on to some very good friends of mine who were just starting out on their own rope journey (sorry, did I mention this post was going to be pretentious as fuck? Oh well, too late). I’ve moved on to having larger sets of dedicated rope, and have spent a good chunk of the last fortnight processing and dying a new set that’ll be making its way to some ropey events in the near future (also meaning I’ll get full use of my shower back… huzzah!). It’s fascinating stuff and, as time goes on, I can see myself on the dark and slippery slope that may well ultimately end in trying to make my own rope. But for now let me talk a little about my current ropes, what they are and how I’ve processed them. This is still a voyage of discovery and I’m likely to change my approach in the future, but this is a snapshot of where I’m at currently.
I like thick hemp. The smell is intoxicating, and the simple solid weight and bulk in my hand screams “ROPE!” where thinner lines and especially jute ones just whimper “string”. Yes, I’m a cave man, forgive me.
My current set was manufactured at the historic Chatham Dockyards where they have a working rope museum. The 6mm hemp is still made today on the hundred-plus year old rope walk. It’s soft, heavy and beautiful.
I started by pulling off enough rope from the coil to make my set of ropes. Unlike previous sets, I’ve done this based upon arm stretches rather than a precise measurement. My thinking is that four full arm stretches is basically the most I can pull-through, so my lengths are a little over that (but probably around the seven meter mark).
I broke the entire hundred(ish) meter length over a carabiner. This really pushed out a huge amount of twist that had been stored in the coil.
Then I bought a camping stove (because I have an electric hob in my flat) and set about singing the fluff off it.
Photos don’t quite do it justice, but the Chatham hemp is super fluffy and singing it makes it go through a miraculous transformation into something that looks like rope, like proper rope that proper rope people use. The downside was it was then slightly sooty (even after a quick wipe with a wet cloth) and smelled of smoke, although the smell began to dissipate after a few days.
After singeing I cut it to lengths (eight ‘standard’ lengths, four short ones and an extra long one) and went dye shopping. My previous set had been dyed a dark red and a deep purple. It’s pretty as fuck, but this time I wanted a starker contrast between the two shades. After much deliberation I opted for green and yellow. There’s a reason for this choice of colours and if you ask nicely in person I’ll tell you.
I dyed the rope using Dyelon’s hand-dye sachets, using a large salad bowl, warm water and a shitload of salt. I doubled the ropes over two or three times to make loose manageable bundles, and then put one half into the dye mix for the yellow ends.
It took about an hour then I let them dry hanging over the lip of a bucket for a couple of days. I then repeated the process with the other ends and the green dye.
Then I tied the lengths into magic-rope bundles and put them in the washing machine for a quick and cool spin to remove any excess dye.
Next comes the fun bit. By which I mean the fucking infuriating bit. I’m currently able to dry three ropes at a time under tension. I’m doing this using three 12 litre buckets of water hanging from my shower rail.
Getting the ropes up and down is a maddening exercise in carefully not dropping half a length into a bucket of water. But the 12 litres seems to offer enough tension to dry the ropes nicely without them becoming too weirdly slack and bunchy (the Chatham hemp has a tendency to do this). I came home a little drunk the other day to a very wet bathroom floor. At first I thought that my shower rail had given way, nope, instead it just turns out the lengths I’m processing stretched more than I expected them to… note to self, have the buckets at least a foot off the floor.
Once dry I’m currently oiling them with Jojoba oil (Thanks Jin for the recommendation). I’m oiling them fairly lightly because I ended up over-oiling my purple set and I figure that if they still feel too dry after a few days I can always add more. I oiled my previous set with almond oil, which works well, but the smell had started to go a bit off recently.
Incidentally, part of my recent rope working has been to singe, wash, dry and re-oil my purple set. One other thing I did was add some more twist. The strands of the rope can begin to unspiral over time and with use. To re-twist I tied one end of the rope to the window latch in my bedroom and then traipsed the rest of the length through my flat to the front door… It wasn’t quite enough distance, but close enough to ‘fudge’ it. I twisted the end of the rope around a hundred times, then pulled on the rope, leaning my body weight into it, before releasing. The rope untwisted a little but most of the new twist stayed. I repeated the pull and release a few times.
The last thing I’m doing with the new set is putting the new processed oiled ropes in a plastic bag with the remaining unprocessed hemp to help bring out that glorious hemp smell (thanks again Jin for the tips).
So, within the next few days I’ll have the new set good to go, and I’ll be able to take a shower without ducking between pendulously hanging buckets… I’ll call that a win.