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How To Make Cordage For Basketmaking

Cordage is made from two or more strands of plant fiber twisted and plied together. Plant fibers have been made into cordage for centuries for use in cords, netting, ropes and sandals. Cordage can be used in basket making as a weaver or perhaps fitted in as a rim cover to tidy up your rim lashing. Plants with long, strong, flexible, plant fibers can be used to create cordage.

As the Summer winds to a close, many plant materials are ready for harvest. You may well have suitable plants in your own garden, yard or even house to make lengths of cordage yourself. Try collecting day lily leaves, cattails, or even house plant leaves such as spider plant to twist into cordage. The fiber will need conditioning before use. Situations may vary, but conditioning usually consists of drying green leaves for several weeks, turning often. Leaves will then be soaked for a short time, then wrapped in a damp towel to mellow until the leaves are uniformly dampened.

As you get more adept at the process you can forage for more plant types that might not be as accessible. Leaves, bark, roots, or plant stems may be used. Woody plants are usually collected after frost because the fibers strip away easier than when the plants are 'green'. Pounding the stem may be necessary to ease the removal of the desired inner fibers. The fibers may have to be retted before twisting into cordage. To ret is to rot the flesh from the fibers.

Once you have suitable fiber you can begin to make cordage. Tie the ends of an even number of strips of fiber together. It is best to have the two groups of fiber be different lengths, so that they do not run out at the same time. Secure the tied end to something stationary. Divide the bundle into two equal groups. Take each group into one hand and twist between your fingers to the right. Once twist is imparted into the separate fiber groups, pass the right hand group over the left hand group, changing hands. Once you have switched the bundles, resume the twisting, then pass the bundles from right to left again. Keep the direction of the twist the same each time and pass the right hand bundle over the left each time. Continue twisting and passing until you reach a few inches from the end of your shortest fiber. Splice in new fibers by laying in a new piece where the two bundles meet and twist the new fiber into the bundle, leaving a short end protruding. You will trim off these short ends after you complete your cord. Continue twisting, passing and adding new fibers until you reach a length of cordage that you need. Readjust the clamp to make the length comfortable to work on. Take care to maintain a uniform thickness in each ply so that the cord will be uniform, unless you deliberately choose to create slubs in your cord. You can vary the thickness of the cord you make according to your need by adding more or less fiber.

You can also twist your fibers on your thigh. Thigh rolling is faster than the first method I described, but may be a little more difficult to master. Use two bundles of fibers. Bind the fibers at one end. While seated, hold the bound ends in your left hand, drape the open ends over your right knee and spread the two bundles apart from one another in a "V". Roll the bundles down the thigh under your palm. Once the twist is into the separate bundles release the tied ends from your left hand. The bundle will twist into a rope effect. Regrasp the tied end in your left hand. Reposition the loose fibers on your thigh near your knee. Roll the separate fiber bundles under the palm of your right hand along your thigh. Release the left hand and allow the cord to twist. Splice new fibers in as needed and leave a short end that will later be trimmed off. Continue rolling, releasing and adding new fibers until you reach a length of cordage that you need. Take care to maintain a uniform thickness in each ply so that the cord will be uniform, unless you deliberately choose to create slubs in your cord. Make your cord delicate by using less fiber in each bundle, or heavier by using more fiber.

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