In this Instructable, I will guide you through the process of conditioning raw hemp into soft and beautiful rope.
This is for informative purposes only. I am in no way responsible for any injury by or misuse of the finished product.
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Step 1: Tools and Ingredients
1. Hemp rope - I'm using 83 meters of raw 4 mm rope but the process is the same for thicker sizes. I buy Ecolution Romanian hemp rope through greenboatstuff.com. It's sold by weight so if you buy thicker rope you won't get the same length.
2. EMT safety shears
3. Stock pot or pressure cooker - large enough to hold all your rope and cover with water
4. Washer and dryer
5. Mesh laundry bag or old pillow case
6. Dye (optional) - use any brand you like, just make sure it's for natural fibers and that you follow the instructions. I'll be using Rit-Dye.
7. 1 cup salt (for dying)
9. Rough towel or piece of burlap
10. Gas burner or alcohol lamp
11. Mineral oil - get the kind sold as a laxative at the drug store. It's much more refined than other kinds at the hardware store.
12. Masking tape
13. Measuring tape.
14. Whipping twine or strong thread
Step 2: Cut Your Rope to Manageable Lengths
Eighty-three meters of rope is extremely difficult to work with, so we're going to cut it down into a few pieces. Find the two ends of the rope and tie an overhand knot on each end so the rope doesn't unravel. Feel through the rope and find the middle. Cut it with the EMT shears and tie another overhand knot in each of the new ends. Repeat this for each of the two pieces so that you end up with four equal length pieces of rope. Don't cut the rope to your desired lengths right now as you're going to lose a bit of length during the conditioning and whipping processes.
Step 3: Daisy Chain the Rope
Start by holding the ends of a piece of rope in one hand. We'll call this part the ends and the other side where the rope is bent is called the bight. Make a loop by crossing the rope over itself so that the ends are under the rest of the rope. Now reach through the loop and grab the rope and pull it up through the first loop, but not all the way, to create a second loop. Repeat this process down the length of the rope until you get to the bight. When you dont have enough rope to make any more loops, pull the bight all the way through the last loop that you made. Doing this keeps your rope from getting tangled. When you want to undo the daisy chain, just untuck the bight and pull. The whole thing will unravel into a nice piece of tangle free rope. Sweet.
Step 4: Boil the Rope
Pretty self explanatory. Get a big pot, put your daisy chained rope in it, fill it with water, and bring it to a boil. Boil it or a long time...a really long time...like over night. Add water as it evaporates. If you have a pressure cooker or a canner you can just put it in there for like two hours. Follow your manufacture's instructions. When you're done, pour out the nasty brown water and rinse the rope in cold water to cool it off. Throw the daisy chains in a dryer until they're completely dry. Repeat this step as many times as you need to until the rope gets as soft as you want it. Remember, the more times you boil it, the weaker the rope gets, so be careful if you are going to use your rope for load bearing activities. Dying the rope will add another boil and wash cycle.
Step 5: Dye the Rope (optional)
Use a dye made for natural fibers. I'm using Rit-Dye. It's cheap and easy to use. You can get it at just about any grocery or craft store. You can use better dyes but they require more materials and time. Follow the directions on the bottle. Basically fill the pot with more water and a cup of non-iodized salt. Don't put too much water in the pot right away or it will over flow when you add the rope. Pour in the dye. I used one bottle. You can use more for darker coloring. Now unravel your daisy chains and slowly add the rope to the pot, being careful not to splash. Add more water to cover the rope. Let it boil for at least an hour, longer for darker coloring. Add water to keep the rope submerged as it evaporates. When it's done, pour out the dye water and rinse the rope until the water runs clear. I did this by dumping the rope in the bathtub and letting the shower run over it until the run off was clear. Hang the rope outside to dry. When it's completely dry daisy chain each piece and put them inside a mesh laundry bag or old pillow case with the end tied shut. Put the bag of rope in the washing machine and run it on the hottest setting. Dry the rope in the dryer.
Step 6: Break in the Rope
Undo the daisy chains. Your rope is probably very kinky (no pun intended). Find some sharp sturdy edge like a metal staircase bannister. In my case there's a padlock latch on an out door closed in the back yard of my apartment. Any sharp edge that won't wear down or get splinters in your rope will do. Pull the rope across the edge at a sharp angle. Put a lot of force into it. Your arms and back should hurt. Wear gloves to avoid blisters. You're trying to break the fibers and sort of sand the outside of the rope. Start at one end and pull to the other end then go back. Your rope should end up looking pretty fuzzy and less stiff. This also will stretch and straighten the rope.
Step 7: Singe Off the Fuzzies
Use a gas burner or alcohol lamp. I don't like candles because they make a lot of soot. Pull the rope through the flame at a pace slow enough to singe off the fibers but fast enough to avoid scorching the rope. You're never going to get all the fibers off, just get the majority. Follow common sense fire safety precautions. When you're done, pull the rope through a towel or other rough cloth to remove the soot. Start at on end and pull until you reach the end then reverse direction.
Step 8: Oil the Rope
Pour a couple globs of mineral oil onto a clean cloth. Let it soak in a bit. You want enough oil to rub off onto the rope but not enough that the rag is dripping. Pull the rope through the cloth just like you did in the previous step. You don't want to saturate the rope, you just want a light coating.
Step 9: Coil the Rope
Drape the ends of the rope across your hand so that about a foot of rope is dangling. Pick the rope on the opposite side up and lay it across your hand in the direction of the ends to create a bight about a foot long. Do this back and forth until you get to within two feet of the folded end of the rope. Wrap the folded end up toward your hand around the bundle. When you have about 6 - 10 inches left, reach through the bundle and pull some of the folded end through to make a loop. Tuck the folded end through the loop and cinch. You now have a handy loop to hang your nicely coiled rope. Hang the rope up over night to let the oil soak in.
Step 10: Measure and Cut Your Rope
Decide how long you want your pieces of rope to be. I like 15' and 30' pieces. Use a tape measure and wrap pieces of masking tape around the rope to mark where you're going to cut. Cut at the middle of the tape so that each end of the rope is held together and doesn't unravel.
Step 11: Finish the Rope Ends
Your rope is now finished! To store your rope, coil longer lengths as shown in step 9. For shorter lengths, fold the rope in half twice and tie the bundle in an over hand knot. To wash your rope, daisy chain the pieces, put them in a mesh laundry bag or pillow case with the end tied in a knot and wash them in a washing machine with about half the amount of detergent you would use for a normal load. Hang to dry and re-oil.