Rope – The Great Compromise

Rope – The Great Compromise
By Knot Knormal

Rope is one of those innocuous things that, to the uninitiated, seems like a commodity item. To a rope enthusiast, nothing could be further from the truth. Rope is probably one of the very earliest tools mankind has made, and we’re still passionate about the right rope.

For our purposes here, I’m going to talk about natural fiber ropes and more specifically jute. Before I can talk about that, I’m going to briefly talk about synthetic ropes – I have no qualms with folks using a synthetic rope, use whatever you like – I am not one to judge you. But in regards to shibari or kinbaku style of roping, there is little doubt that natural fiber ropes are best for the job. They simply hold against the skin and against itself better, which is very important in Eastern style roping.

Jute and Hemp are the number one natural fiber ropes for folks doing our kind of play. There are several reasons folks prefer natural fibers, including but not limited to; avoiding plastics or petrochemicals, color, feel, smell, aesthetics, etc. The flip side is, natural fiber ropes might not be as strong, and they tend to be harder to clean compared to synthetic ropes and you can’t run to Home Depot for a new set. A word of caution, folks with grass allergies, might have issue with jute or hemp.

Hemp tends to be stronger than jute because the fibers are longer – which means less “joints” in the rope. Less joints means more of the strength of the rope is reliant on the fibers themselves, and not the friction between the fibers. Jute fibers are either brown or white (or golden) – the brown jute is a shorter fiber and thus weaker than the white or golden jute fibers. You’ve probably seen brown jute fibers in use as cheap hardware store twines. Longer white jute fibers are more commonly used in the textile industry, and can be used from anything from burlap sacks, webbing, backing fibers for Indian rugs, or bondage rope.

Jute yarns come from the factory on spools in either a 1-ply or a 2-ply construction. A 1-ply yarn is a bunch of the jute fibers all spun in the same direction into a yarn. A 2-ply yarn is two of the 1-ply yarns spun together in effect making a fine twine. A bondage rope is typically made of 3 strands – each one of those strands has multiple yarns in it. For example a 6mm 1-ply jute rope might have have 12 yarns in each of the 3 strand for a total of 36 yarns in the full rope.

In my experience a 1-ply based rope tends to feel slightly little less stiff than a 2-ply rope with the same construction – I believe this is because with a 1-ply rope, all the yarns are going in the same direction, moving as one. The 2-ply has yarns spun against themselves and half the yarns are countering the movement. 2-ply yarns tends to wear better, and I believe that’s because of the way the yarn wraps around itself – it gives the yarn support in a way that the 1-ply doesn’t get. Compromises.

When a rope is spun up, the direction of the spinning indicates which way the rope will lay – meaning the strands will twist to the left or right. More likely you will hear the lay referred to as an “S-lay” or a “Z-lay” – if you look at the middle portion of the letters S and Z – that will represent the direction of the lay on the rope. Many folks don’t realize that the rope can feel and handle differently depending on which lay you go with – this is because of the underlying yarns. Before I decide to spin a rope up either in S or Z lay, I look at the yarn that I’m using and look at which way it is twisted. I’ve found spinning a group of yarns in the same direction of the twist of the yarn’s twist, creates a rope with more tooth, and sometimes feels a little stiffer. Alternately, if I spin the strands in the opposite direction of the yarn’s twist, I get a faster, smoother rope. Compromises.

And speaking of faster – how tightly or not the rope is spun will give the greatest effect on the feel of the rope. The Japanese tend to use a rope with a longer/looser lay – that is the strands aren’t making a full revolution around the rope as quickly as most rope you see in the west. A rope with a longer/looser lay will be faster and easier to handle, causing less resistance for the Nawa pulling it through, and it will compress more and make for smaller less bulky knots and frictions. The downside, is a looser rope is also more likely to have strands come apart in a tie or look unsightly, and requires more upkeep as the yarns can pop up out of the strands because the rope is not as tighly spun. A rope that is spun tightly is stiffer handling, but is more abrasion resistant, lasts much longer and needs next to no maintenance over it’s life. Knots and frictions tend to be bulkier as it doesn’t compress as much compared to a rope with a looser lay. Compromises.IMG_0470cropped

L-R: 2ply S-laid 6mm, 2ply yarn, 1ply yarn, 1ply tigher S-laid 6mm.

How to decide 1-ply vs. 2-ply, tight vs. loose? That is The Great Compromise! (Queue Rolling Stones’ “You can’t always get what you want”) If you want a fast lively rope, chances are it will wear out sooner and need more care. If you want a long lasting rope, it will tend to be a little stiffer and harder to handle, but you won’t have to baby it. But you really can’t get a very loose rope that’ll last forever. Now this isn’t to say that all rope is polarizing in it’s construction . You don’t have to have to settle for something that is overly loose, or overly long lasting. How high is high? How loose is loose? There is very often a middle ground.

In the market for rope? Ask around of folks who’ve used or put their hands on some, then do your due diligence and get samples and play with it – see what works for you. Just because others love brand X, doesn’t mean it will be right for your skill level, or style of tying. Many of the home-based rope makers can craft something that’s loose, tight, or somewhere in between, in addition to a choice of S or Z lay and can tailor the yarn count for custom sizes. Talk to your prospective ropemaker and give them feedback – you’ll be much happier in the long run.

Lastly, I’ll mention conditioning your rope. You’ve spent all this time trying to find out what will fit you best. Now you’ve got it home, and maybe it’s a little scratchier than you’d like, or it’s shedding like a Collie in August. Or maybe you noticed, “Man this jute is lightweight!” You might want to consider conditioning it with some oil or beeswax, or a mix thereof. Be sure you do not use an oil that will oxidize and leave you with stinky rope – avoid vegetable based oils. The oils that I know will work are mineral oil, jojoba oil, and tsubaki oil (also known as camelia oil.) I’ve found the addition of oil makes the rope feel a bit smoother, and adds mass to the rope which makes throwing or clearing the tails easier. But as much as the oil helps my rope, I don’t like the oily feel on my hands, so I add beeswax on top and it seems to bring a little tooth back into the rope as well. Some folks use a beeswax mix blended with oils, and some rub raw beeswax onto the rope. It’s up to you, and I recommend experimenting to find what you like.

So this simple thing, rope, is more complex than you might have realized – there are so many options and varieties in rope, and how it’s made that while seeming complicated, actually gives more options for the buyer. With so many good sellers, materials and custom makers out there, we are quite possibly in a golden age of bondage rope. No Compromises.

Knot Knormal is an enthusiastic and ever learning rope tangler who enjoys making jute and (b)itchin’ coconut rope in his spare time. KnotKnormal.com

 

Happy New Year!

Here’s hoping you have a terrific new year in 2014, and that your 2013 was great too!

2013 was a great growing year for my rope making – I started selling my 2-ply jute in earnest, and used over 120 lbs of jute there.  Bought another 200lbs of single-ply jute and ventured into new territory.  My brand is definitely growing, as I’ve had multiple sales to Europe and Canada in addition to sales throughout the U.S.

In just a few weeks, I have my new shipment of top grade tossa jute coming in from overseas – this means a lot more rope I’ll be able to make for the foreseable future, along with lower prices!   “Lower” you say?   Why yes, because I’m now buying jute direct from overseas at bulk discounts, my cost has come way down, although I have to buy a lot of it.  My initial over seas supply is over 1,000 lbs, which is a big expenditure for me, but I know I’ll make it back and, I’m passing some of those savings on to you.  My 6mm will be at $15, and my 4 mm at $13 for the foreseeable future.

Additionally, I’ve got a big batch of unprocessed premium coconut which I’m planning on spin up in the coming weeks as well, and hope to offer a lot of that rope as well.  The premium coconut is quite a bit more difficult to spin up, and in fact needs two people to spin it properly – or at least as tight as I like to make it.

It looks like 2014 is going to be a serious rope year, I’m planning on making hundreds of single-ply and double-ply jute, along with loads of (b)itchin’ coconut.  It’s the only kind of rope I’m planning to make – jute and coconut.  I’m trying to keep the product line simple and of the highest quality.  Hope your 2014 is just great as I’m anticipating mine to be!

Cheers,
KK

The Coconut rope is ready!

I’ve finally gotten a chance to spin up some of the raw coconut twine into rope. It’s thinner than my jute at about 4-5mm, and is very gnarly with lots of tooth and has bits sticking out up to 3 or more inches – seriously fuzzy. Please note that coconut is an allergen for some folks, so test it first to check for reactions. It’s difficult to spin up requiring a different setup than my jute, so I’m offering the 30 footers at a slight premium over the 15 footers.

I should have about 20 full-length ropes I can net from my first overseas shipment of coir*. I’ve already ordered another batch for the next round of rope – but it will take a month to get here. If you think you want some get it sooner rather than later. If you’re looking for rope that is different and stands out – this might be it!

* Coir is technically what the fiber is called, though it is from a coconut

coconut

Rope and Rope Care 101

Here are some rundowns on rope types.

In general, there is twisted rope and braided rope.  Almost all jute, hemp or other natural ropes are twisted ropes.  There are some braided hemp ropes but those are hard to find and they’re very abrasive on the rigger’s fingers.  Cotton is another natural fiber you’ll find braided, but check closely as it’s often a cotton/polyester blend.  Braided ropes are more common with synthetic fibers, though many synthetic ropes are twisted – it’s probably 50/50 in that regards for synthetic ropes.

Most folks find that synthetic ropes are more likely to cause rope burn compared to natural fibers.  Personally I like the feel of a natural fiber on my skin – it’s warmer, looks better, doesn’t feel cold or clammy like a synthetic rope can.  There are pluses and minues to both, but I feel the natural fibers wins in the long run.

Jute and hemp are the top two rope choices for natural fibers.  Jute is probably used by more top riggers compared to hemp.  It’s a lighter and livelier fiber, and holds it’s shape better which is important if you’re doing photography work: the strands with jute will show contrasting shadows better than a similar hemp rope.  Help does tend to be a stronger fiber though, which is important to some, but I’ve never had a jute failure.

Oh, and how about some rope terminology?  All my rope is twisted up from 2 or more strands.  Most rope is 3-strand construction – that is if you start to dissect my rope and untwist it – you’ll get three bundles which make up the rope.  Those bundles are the strands.  Each strand is made up of a number of yarns.  The two versions of my 6mm rope are made up with 9 and 15 yarns per strands (which is 27 and 45 yarns per rope respectively.)

Now down to the nitty gritty – the yarn.  The yarn is the smallest unit in the rope – it’s how I get the jute when it arrives on the spool.   I have two yarns I use, a double-ply and a single-ply yarn.  Lets start with the single-ply yarn.  Think of a piece of conventional yarn or thread – if you look at it it should spin in one direction only. You should be able to unwind it to a small cluster of fibers.  At which point it all starts to fall apart.  Double-ply yarn is simply two pieces of single-ply yarn spun together.  They’re spun in such a way that they hold the component yarns together making the rope a bit more stable.  At a magnifying glass level when a single-ply rope makes a bend the yarns are stretched and loosened – rope made from single-ply yarns can have the yarns stretch ever so slightly.  Over time this can lead to rope with a strand that sticks out from the rope – it’s called high stranding.  You have to work the “bump” out of this one strand much like pushing the bubble out from under your cell-phone protector.  This is the one thing with single-ply rope you have to allow for – occasional maintenance.  Double-ply rope doesn’t have that issue to the same degree.  The yarns are locked together in pairs keeping the component yarns more stable.

The single ply rope also tends to handle just a bit better in your hands since all the yarns move as one.  The difference between my double-ply when and the single-ply in that regards is subtle at best.

Rope Care?  I don’t recommend washing it unless it gets very dirty.  Jute will puff up when wet, and it causes the rope to shrink.  Stretch it out along a fence and hang a pop bottle or such from it to keep it under tension.  As it dries, it stretches out and you might have to move one of the ends to keep it under tension.  If you don’t stretch jute while it dries, it will become loose and misshapen.  If you dye your rope, you’ll have to use this technique to dry it.

If your rope seems too stiff – try baking it in a preheated oven at 200F for 15 minutes.  It helps ease the fibers into their twisted state.  Some folks boil their rope, I only do that when dyeing it, but it’s a valid option but just requires more work.

Some folks oil their natural fiber ropes lightly to help lubricate the fibers and keep the fuzzies down.  All my rope can be used as is, but if you like to experiment, go for it! Just keep in mind, that it’s hard to remove oil from a rope!  Don’t use any vegetable based oils as they can oxidize and go rancid which will leave you with stinky rope.  I recommend mineral oil applied with a damp cloth as you pull the rope through; some old jeans work well for this.  Best to take the less is more approach, since you can add more oil if you need it, but much harder to remove excessive oil.  Another recommended oil is Tsubaki Oil (traditional with the Japanese but expensive,) and Jojoba oil (but I don’t know how this holds up to oxidation long term.)  Some folks also use an oil and beeswax paste – it’s all personal preference.  I use the mineral oil/beeswax paste myself, and apply it fairly lightly.