Transform Retired Climbing Rope Into Bowls and Other Useful Things

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Introduction: Transform Retired Climbing Rope Into Bowls and Other Useful Things

About: I have a never-ending desire to try new things, build stuff, experiment, and learn. I don't really watch TV, or play video games - I prefer to get my entertainment from physically interacting with the world....

Rope bowls are quite popular and understandably so with their colorful patterns, intricate texture, and soft feel. They are a fun way to breathe new life into an old retired piece of rope or to transform a new piece of rope into something unique. While I will mention multiple materials and techniques in this Instructable, the primary material and technique I will be describing is using retired rock climbing rope and a zig-zag stitch on a motorized sewing machine.

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Step 1: Materials and Techniques

Materials used for rope bowls vary widely from small soft cotton cord to large stiff twisted and braided ropes. There are many great Instructables and YouTube videos covering the many different methods of construction, from liquid adhesives to weaving to hand lacing and industrial sewing. The method described in the following steps can be used for a variety of materials but here only depicts the use of retired rock climbing rope.

Step 2: Does It Fit?

Many household sewing machines can fit small cord and small rope (6mm diameter or smaller) between the presser foot and throat plate and sew through it with relative ease. This is what many of the videos you will find nowadays on YouTube depict. Larger ropes however present an immediate challenge of simply fitting into the machine. Now I'm sure that there are more industrial machines that can accommodate climbing ropes without modification, but being that I do not have one of those, I decided to tweak to my home/hobbiest machine to make it work. Part of this was accomplished by adjusting the presser foot linkage via a set screw, and partly by modifying the presser foot itself. There is obviously a limit to how far you can go and every machine will vary, but I was able to get about 10mm total clearance on my Singer (vs the ~6 mm I started with).

Step 3: Start the Coil

Once you can fit the rope under your machine, get some good strong nylon or other thread and dial up your tension until you can sew a nice zig zag pattern between two parallel strands. Climbing rope is rather stiff when compared to cotton cord, so the center of the spiral (bottom of the bowl) will have a hole in it if you do not trim back the core of the rope. Cutting the core on a diagonal helps taper and smoothly transition from full rope to a point.

Step 4: Round and Round We Go

Once you get the spiral going, it's actually quite fast to start building the base. A well placed fence helps with speed. As you can see a piece of packing tape and a found object can do the trick quite nicely

Step 5: Finishing It Off

Once you get to the end, whether you're making a drink coaster or a bowl, you can make a smooth termination by pulling out some core and doing another tapered cut similar to how you started. Alternatively, there are limitless options for handles or decorative finishes.

Step 6: Shapes of Bowls

The geometry of the sewing machine you are using may restrict the freedom you have to make any shape bowl you might want. Here you can see that a larger machine (forehead?) will limit your ability to make fast 90º bends from the base of your bowl to the sides. If you want to make a coaster, dish, or shallow angle bowl, most machines will likely accommodate this. If you are like me and want to figure out a way to make a cylindrical shape bowl, go to the next step to see some potential options for modifying your machine

Step 7: More Machine Mods

I wanted to give my machine a face-lift so I removed the fixed light, added a flex light, chopped off the plastic top piece and made a new cover for the left side of the machine (head?) While I was at it I decided to give the yellowed plastic top a coat of matte black paint and oil it up before putting it back together. For me the inside of a sewing machine was a bit intimidating at first, but at least the older mechanical ones are pretty simple once you dive in. Just take pictures before so you know how to put everything back together.

Step 8: Squares and Other Stuff

Squares are possible, but rounds and ovals are certainly faster and easier. My girlfriend wanted to make a carry strap for her yoga mat, so we made a simple choker strap out of a pice of climbing rope and a couple sections of zig-zag stitches.

Thats all I have for now. I'm looking forward to trying out some more interesting shapes and I hope you too decide to give this a try. Please share if you decide to make something as a result of seeing this, I love seeing what others can come up with. Thanks for reading through to the end and happy making!

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    12 Discussions

    0
    Jaklynnsbeads
    Jaklynnsbeads

    12 days ago

    Great idea to repurpose old climbing ropes. I use 1” fabric strips, often made with scraps leftover from projects, to wrap around clothesline. It’s amazing how ugly patterns, that use appealing colors, disappear as you make the wraps and see only the lovely colors.
    For machines, I prefer the old style Singer slant shank models 401 & 403. (Be advise the 404 is straight stitch only). These machines don’t have the very wide bump out for the light on the left side. Instead it’s located on the front center of the machine. This allows the sewist to get a greater range of angles, often 90 degrees for the side of your project.
    These machines are direct drive gears and all metal, so no plastic gears to crack. The slanted needle position brings the work closer to you for better view.
    Another favorite machine to use are the mid-century Sears Kenmore machines that have Super high shank presser foot, and most have the 1amp motors for extra power. (machines can be low shank, high shank, Singer slant shank or Kenmore Super High shank). Until recently, the Kenmore’s were the only machines that had the high gap space under the presser foot. I use the 158.1803 model but there are many more models that have this feature. Ideally, the best machine would be a free arm for more positioning options of your creations. However, free arms are difficult to find and therefore more expensive, but the flat bed Singers and Kenmores are relatively easy to find, and often fairly cheap, as the modern machines are so feature rich many people overlook the older machine.
    But I know my 70+ year old Singers & Kenmores will outlast me. Sew on!🤗👍

    D85918A6-B59B-40AA-9438-AB3F4256836D.jpeg9ECBDCCF-809D-4B7D-BC83-344760B0132B.jpeg336E13F7-C1E3-4392-8DA7-F9B02325B930.jpeg76B421DC-FD4F-4C3D-95AB-47B4D4101BAE.jpegB4387A8B-9A55-4D9D-8A50-B149B9EA5EBB.jpeg
    0
    Sky-Monkey
    Sky-Monkey

    Reply 7 days ago

    Your baskets look beautiful! Thanks for the info on the various machine models. I’ll be doing some more research. Definitely prefer the simpler/more mechanical older machines over the newer more electronic ones

    0
    Jaklynnsbeads
    Jaklynnsbeads

    Reply 6 days ago

    Thank you! I love what you’ve done with the ropes. I get so inspired by creative ideas like yours that are outside the scope of my experiences. 🤗Let me know what you decide as far as sewing machines. My family thinks I’m a bit crazy about the old machines. I hate seeing them end up getting junked.
    In case you don’t already know, you can shop for machines at www.shopgoodwill.com (their site is closed, last I checked, due to Covid) but you’ll need to know about machines as some don’t have foot controllers, or power cords or accessories. But you can get a good deal on good machines.
    Good luck!

    0
    Valvelifter
    Valvelifter

    Question 6 weeks ago on Step 5

    "adjusting the point at which the needle bar connects to the main shaft via the connecting link".
    I like the modification/adjustment of the presser foot and mounting bar but surely adjusting the needle bar height will adversely affect the stitch formation timing as the point at which the rotating bobbin case hook passes the needle scarf is critical and a large change to this will result in missed stitches? Perhaps an image might clarify this??

    0
    seamster
    seamster

    Answer 6 weeks ago

    Based on the image with the green arrow in step 2, it appears the author is only adjusting the height of the presser foot shaft (and not the needle bar). Perhaps the author can edit the wording to clarify.

    0
    Sky-Monkey
    Sky-Monkey

    Reply 5 weeks ago

    Hi Valvelifter, thanks for catching my mistake. I was totally off on my terms. Seamster has it right and I have corrected the wording. Appreciate the feedback from both of you :)

    0
    Valvelifter
    Valvelifter

    Reply 5 weeks ago

    You're welcome. Thanks for an interesting article. BTW, I was a sewing machine mechanic for about 8 years just after I left school. :D

    0
    Sky-Monkey
    Sky-Monkey

    Reply 5 weeks ago

    Wow, thats a solid amount of experience! Are you familiar with either the Sailrite Ultrafeed or the Reliable Barracuda? I'm interested in getting a semi-portable heavier duty walking foot machine. Would love one in that rough size that also does multi-point ZigZag, but haven't come across one yet. Might be possible with a retrofit/modification of the Ultrafeed or Barracuda with a custom made cam possibly?

    0
    Valvelifter
    Valvelifter

    Reply 5 weeks ago

    Sadly I'm out of touch with modern machines but walking foot machines have always been the preferred option for thick fabrics and materials. I don't know of any portable models as the ones I worked on were heavy industrial bench mounted. Unfortunately, they always attract a high price when 2nd hand. I moved into computer engineering after sewing machines as the "rag trade" was in severe decline at that time. Good luck with your search.

    0
    Sky-Monkey
    Sky-Monkey

    Reply 5 weeks ago

    Got it. You definitely made the right call picking the growing industry :) Thanks again

    0
    snowf7
    snowf7

    6 weeks ago

    This would be a great way to make small area rugs. They would look great, and with a little silicon caulking on the underside to keep them from slipping, they would also be safe.

    0
    seamster
    seamster

    6 weeks ago

    Excellent work! The rope bowls are fantastic, and I especially loved seeing the mods to your sewing machine. They're not that scary really, once you start toying around with them and are such great tools to have! : )