This is a picture tutorial on how to make serviceable cordage out of natural fibers. I happen to be using Common Milkweed in this series of photos. As it happens, Milkweed does not grow in Nova Scotia (or if it does I haven't found it yet!) so a big shout-out goes to our good friend Machine for sending me these stalks all the way from Connecticut! Thank you sir. If you do not have Milkweed in your area, this technique known a "Reverse Wrap" can be used for virtually any type of fibre-baring plant.
Now, I understand that a few of the pictures could be a bit clearer and a bit more in focus but, hey... speak to Mrs Blue about that...... its none of my doing!!
To start, I have selected a stalk where repeated freezing and thawing has seperated the "bark" containing the fibres from the hard, woody inner stalk. I usually look for Milkweed stalks that have a mottled-white/grey/black appearance.
This shot clearly shows the fibres of the "inner bark".
To begin removing the fibres from the stalk I first crush and flatten the entire length of the stalk between my fingers moving from one end to the other:
Once flattened, I will split open the length of the stalk:
This shows the stalk almost completely opened up:
Once the stalk is completely opened up, I will break it about 6 inches down from the base. The crack must go completely thru the hard inner core of the stalk but, not tear the fiberous outer layer....
The next step is to slowly peel the fibres away from the inner core:
This process can
be quite easy and will produce a long sheet of fibres, often the entire length of the stalk without tearing. I begin by removing the fibres from the short length of broken stalk:
Once the short end has been removed, I then finish by stripping the fibres from the rest of the stalk's length:
I have discovered that the fibres will have less of a tendency to rip or tear if I pull them away from the stalk....
....rather than pulling them down from the stalk at a sharp angle:
This is what I'm left with when the process is complete:
The next step is called "buffing". By lightly
rubbing the length of fibres between the palms of my hands, I can remove the flakey outer bark from the fibres, and seperate the individual fibre strands all at the same time. You can clearly see the accumulating pile of greyish flakey bark on the table.
You can see a comparison here between the buffed fibres on the left and the raw fibres on the right:
Once I have completed the buffing process, about 4-5 minutes, I am now ready to begin twisting the fibres into cordage. To start, pinch the length of fibres between the thumb and fore-finger of the left hand (if you are right-handed).... at a point approximately 1/3 of the length down the fibre strand. For this demonstration I have seperated the whole quantity of fibres in two, and am starting with only half of the total quantity.
Now, I am right-handed, so I start by twirling the fibres between my thumb and fore-finger of my right hand
in a clockwise
direction. Twist until the fibres tighten up and actually form a "pig's tail" curl when you gently release the pulling pressure. I cannot stress enough the importance of the CLOCKWISE rotation of the twist as it will make the difference between success and failure with the next step and in the finished product.
Once this pig's tail has been formed, I grasp the length of fibres on the right side
, twist them clockwise, then wrap that length COUNTER-CLOCKWISE over the top
of the fibre strands that are on the left side. I now have a "new" untwisted length of fibres on the right that I twist clockwise, again with the thumb and fore -finger of my right hand, then wrap that over the top of the fibre strand on the left side. This twist and wrap process continues throughout the entire length of cordage always "working" with the fibre strand on the right side. To test whether you are doing this twist-and-wrap process correctly, make several "courses" of twists and wraps, then pinch the pig's tail at the top and let the fibres hang down. If tthe cordage unravells... you have done something wrong. If the cordage remains tightly twisted... you have done this correctly.
I have now twisted enough cordage so that I have reached the end of the shorter length of fibres. It is now time to "splice in a new length of fibres onto that short length.
Start by placing the new length (in my left hand) between the two working sides (in my right hand) leaving a short "tail" of new fibres to extend out the "top" of the splice junction:
Next, lightly rub the new length of fibres into the shorter length:
Twist and wrap 2 courses of cordage then fold the "tail" back into the new length
of fibres and continue twisting away.
The length of cordage nearly complete:
The completed length of cordage shown next to a length of raw, unworked fibre:
There... its as easy as that!!