Category Archives: natural fibre

How to use a Spider to braid cord

for the people I met on my travels this summer

Find some thick card which does not crease easily, yet isn’t too thick to cut. A scrap of mounting board is ideal. Draw a circle about 9 cm across and cut it out. Divide the circumference into 8 sections of roughly equal size. Cut a thin notch, no more than 1 cm long, along each dividing line. Around the centre of your circle, cut out a hole about 1 cm across.

This is a spider.

Cut seven equal lengths of wool, ribbon or thread and knot them together at one end. Push the knotted end through the hole in the spider and lay the threads on top.

preparing the spider for braiding cord

Slot each thread into one of the notches around the edge. The notch should grip the thread quite tightly. There will be an empty notch. Hold the spider so that this is at the top.

Count three threads to the left. Take the third thread and lift it over the first two, slotting it  into the empty notch.

taking the third thread from the left across the other two and into the empty notch

Turn the spider clockwise so that the new empty notch is now at the top. Repeat the process, lifting the third thread to the left over the other two. Your cord will start to form in the centre.

spider 3 v2

Keep the braiding firm but not overtight.

As you work, the loose ends waiting to be braided get tangled. Separate them every so often. This limits the length of your starter thread to about two arms’ length, but once you get the hang of braiding, you can splice new lengths in. Do these one at a time to avoid unsightly lumps, and to maintain the cord strength.

Once you have had some practise and know what you need this tool to do, you could cut a longer lasting version from thin plywood. Try making cord from wild grasses, braid heavy duty cables from thin rope using a much larger spider.

The use of braided wicks was a key development in candle technology. Can you replicate this process? Could you invent a simple machine to braid cord? Why might you need to?

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The Hemp Twine Project – Introduction

There are just over half a million people in Somerset. Imagine if, just once a year, half of those people bought an item on which a local supplier made fifty pence profit. That would generate an amazing £125,000 for the local economy. More jobs created and investment in local initiatives…..at Community Resilience and Emergency Welfare CIC they have developed this concept into the Hemp Twine Project.

They were looking for an item, not too large or expensive, that always comes in handy and could be fully sourced locally. Although there are a few things made in Somerset, such as lavender oil, they decided to start a new product. This was an educational exercise rather than a commercial venture after all.

Everybody uses string. It’s not on the regular shopping list, but it’s not a luxury item either. It keeps very well, is easy to store and cheap to buy. Most household string is made of oil based plastic or imported cotton. Replacing this in your home with a locally sourced, organically grown, biodegradable string is definitely Good for the Environment.

As well as wool and apples, Somerset can grow large amounts of hemp. This used to be processed into fibre and supplied the local shipyards in the days of sail. Hemp as a material is remarkably resistant to rot, even in challenging salt water conditions, so it was often used in ropes and canvas. Nylon and plastic ousted natural fibres awhile ago, and the industry fell into decline. The soil and weather conditions which favoured hemp production are still in place though, and it is a crop which requires no chemical intervention to thrive.

Today, hemp twine is sold to the home craft market, for use in beadwork or macrame. Sourcing a larger quantity was difficult but, with the aid of the amazing desktop ball of string maker, finally translated into a product at the right price.

old fashioned string winding machine
The old fashioned winding machine is fed from a reel on the right and makes neat balls of twine

If enough people buy hemp twine, the hemp industry could revive faster than it fell. Farmers would be paid well for a low cost crop, a small industrial unit would suffice to process the fibre into twine and local shops would profit from the sales. Spin offs include hemp oil, valuable as a source of Omega-3, hemp cake for cattle and hempcrete for building material. Each of these can underpin another entire small industry.

All that is needed is a market – your one ball of string a year – and the local economy could be richer by a whole new industry! With a steady income from conscious consumerism, businesses can plan ahead. Instead of playing the customer loyalty game with uncaring multinationals, bring it home.

Think what else you could create by buying local.

The Hemp Twine Project – Part One

One of my planned projects involves encouraging the sale of hemp twine to promote the local economy in Somerset. Everyone needs string. Hemp was once a major crop here, supplying huge quantities of rope for the Bristol shipping trade.

You can still see some of the long sheds where the ropes used to be twisted together from fibres.

Accordingly, after my summer adventures in the field, I set about ordering some hemp twine. Reluctant to create yet another customer profile for a possible single purchase, I called my chosen supplier and spoke to a friendly chap from the north of England.

I deplored the price of hemp twine, given the ease and low cost of hemp cultivation. He told me the sad tale of the decline of the natural fibre rope making industry faced with competition from oil based plastics. The hemp I was buying came from Egypt. Could I believe that unscrupulous sellers even tried to pass off jute fibre as hemp?

Uncomfortably aware that, although my grandfather would certainly have known the difference, I could be thus hoodwinked all day long, I moved the subject to purse nets. The hemp twine – the largest and cheapest reel I had found – was destined to make and repair these nets, commonly used for catching rabbits.

Alas, there was a sad story there too. Modern lads take no care of their hunting gear, but are content to stuff wet and muddy nets into a plastic sack at the end of a day. Left in this condition, even the spectacular ability of hemp to resist rot is overcome. Cheap imported plastic nets, however, can be abused endlessly.

Lads – do you realise that your careless lazy habits are having this impact? Take a minute or ten just to rinse out your nets and hang them up to dry before opening that can and slumping in front of the TV! Buy hemp purse nets or better still have some pride in your craft and make your own. There are instructions on the internet.

Hemp can and should be widely grown in this country. As well as fibre to replace imported oil based plastics, it yields nutritious seeds ideal for livestock feed. All it lacks is a market. Hundreds of new jobs could be created.

See how it’s all connected?

Start paying attention.