Natural Cordage Materials
- Part 1
by Steve Lee
(go to Part 2)
The skill of making cordage from natural fibers
is one of primitive man's oldest skills and a necessary one for the survivalist.
Earth Mother has been generous in that natural fibers abound everywhere in
nature and are easily obtainable for our use.
I will deal with three main sources of cordage
materials and methods of processing them into suitable fibers. These sources
will be presented in order of abundance and availability. The stalks and leaves
of plants, the bark of trees, and the hide and sinew of animals. Part 1 will
deal with plant cordage.
Plants which contain strong fibers are found in
abundance in all climates throughout north America and are easily gathered and
processed. In most cases, the fibers are found within the plant stalks or in the
leaves, as is the case in some desert plants. I will deal with the stalks first,
which are best gathered after they have dried in the field, although green
stalks can be harvested and then dried. Cut the dried stalks close to the
ground, removing any branches. Flatten the stalk along its whole length and open
it up to form a long strip. To remove the fibers, break short sections of the
woody core toward the fiber side and pull the core off. This leaves you with a
long ribbon of fibers connected by a thin stiff layer of outer bark. To remove
the bark roll the ribbon back and forth between the palms causing the bark to
flake off, and you will have a bundle of soft Individual fibers.
Plants in which the leaves contain the fibers
are best collected while green and processed by using a method called
"retting". Retting can also be used with plant stalks and tree barks,
and was usually employed when the fibers needed to be soft as in the use in
cloth. This process involved soaking the green or dried plant in water to
facilitate removal of the fibers. This is brought about as the water penetrates
to the inner layers and causes the inner cells to swell and burst. This in turn
allows bacteria to enter and break down and dissolve the cellular tissue. Once
this has been accomplished, the fibers are rinsed and dried to stop further
bacterial decay which would weaken the fibers, making them useless. Then they
are ready for twisting into cordage.
Here is a list of excellent cordage plants:
dogbane, stinging nettle, milkweed, velvet leaf, wild-hemp, giant reedgrass,
bulrushes - all of which have fibers in the stalk; yucca, agave, and cattail -
these have fibers in the leaves.
From The Tracker magazine, Nov 1981,
published by the Tracker School.
For more articles from The Tracker magazine, visit the
Tracker Trail website.