Making Natural Rope

| 3/6/2014 11:25:00 AM

Tags: rope, natural fibers, fiber arts, Virginia, Claire E,

Over the weekend, unexpectedly, I took a ropes course. Not in the way you’re probably thinking; the “ropes course” consisted of me winning a war against a yucca leaf. A friend of mine who is a Girl Scout taught me how to make yucca ropes.My Friend's Anklet

Making rope out of grass, bamboo or yucca is, as you can imagine, a much older and more environmentally friendly practice than making rope from synthetic materials, and the finished product is much more attractive. Nor is it any weaker than commercial rope: I once met a woman in Historical Jamestown who told me her husband had used grass rope to tow a car.

The friend who taught me to make yucca rope has a yucca plant in her yard, its pale green leaves spiking up into the air like swords. We needed to remove some of those leaves for use in our ropes. Unfortunately for us, yucca leaves, despite their many other virtues, are so rough they can give you splinters if you rub them the wrong way, and are hardly dented no matter how viciously you clamp down with pliers. Once we’d finally separated two leaves from the plant, we set them on a flat surface in the shade and started work.

I expected us to cut the leaves into strips, but it turns out you use the fibers inside of the leaf for yucca rope. We scratched the outsides of our leaves away with metal rulers. It was difficult work at first because of the crease of the leaf, but not too hard to get the hang of. As we worked, juice ran out of the leaves, letting off a powerfully green scent.

Since my friend had gotten a head start on the scraping and was better at it than I, she moved on to the next step of the process first. Her spear-sharp leaf had been replaced by a handful of off-white threads. She dipped them in a pitcher of water and held them under to the count of thirty, then attacked them with the ruler again. Wet, the fibers cooperated better, turning so white so fast they made their appearance before soaking look dark. The substance being scraped off now resembled basil pesto.

When she was satisfied with the whiteness of her fibers, we went inside, she to twist her fibers into rope, me to finish my leaf. While my friend worked on her rope, I got so frustrated with my leaf that she took pity on me and helped with the scraping for a while. At last my leaf came apart into a group of pale strands, rather like cooked spaghetti, except greener. I soaked and scraped them until they were white, and started braiding them into rope.

donna clawson
3/10/2014 7:50:36 PM

Wow! How interesting. Your writing style is so descriptive, I can easily visualize how to do this. Hard to believe that beautiful necklace started out as a yucca leaf! Good job.

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