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Nettle cordage Improving Technique

Discussion in 'Bushcraft and survival skills' started by jdlenton, Jun 10, 2005.

  1. jdlenton

    jdlenton Full Member

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    Hi all I’ve put this thread together after reading all the other threads regarding nettle cordage as I now have more questions than answers and want to improve my technique.

    I guess I’ll start by telling you what I did so you can tell me if I went wrong any where and how to improve it and then I’ll ask the questions I now have.


    • I went and got my self 3 or 4 nettles cutting them as close to the ground as I could about an inch above the ground. I then stripped off the leaves and with no wilting/drying time went on to the next step.

    • I stood on the stems to break up the inner part of the stem as per Toddy’s suggestion in one of the other threads

    • I split the tube of the crushed stem down one side to create a flat strip suggested by Hoochi in a thread

    • I peeled of the outer layer I’ll call it the bark and hung it up to dry in the greenhouse. It then looked like this (sorry about the quality of the photo)


    [​IMG]


    • I separated the now dry bark into thin and as long as I could get strips about 2 to 3mm wide and rolled them into small twists about 1-1.5 mm in diameter so they looked like this.
    [​IMG]


    • I took two of these lengths and bent them at about 2/3 one side and 1/3 the other (I think I explained that the best way) I don’t know who suggested it but it was to stop the splices on each side of the twist being together and making a thick part to the cord when new lengths of fibre were added.

    • I then started to twist as in this diagram I think this is the method Hoochi described in another thread.


    [​IMG]


    • I spliced new lengths of small twists as the lengths were wound into the twist like in this diagram


    [​IMG]


    • The resulting cord was about 3mm in diameter and just over a meter long, it looks like this. I don’t think its too bad for a first go at making cordage


    [​IMG]



    [​IMG]



    So now onto my questions:-

    1. As I was working the twist I noticed the very fine light green fibres had a coating that I could guess as the out side of the nettle so how do I remove this to refine my fibres and up the quality of my cordage?

    2. I think the answer to the first question is retting, I am currently retting some fibres one set in a bucket of tap water (I think this is called the water method), the other set on the lawn (I think this is called the dew method) how long should I do this for? What do I look for in the fibres to tell that they are clean/ready to use?



    3. Once the retting is done what do I do with the raw fibres to improve the quality of my cordage, how do I treat, clean, handle and store them?



    4. Do I leave the fibres straight or twist them before I start to twist them into cordage



    5. Can I colour my cordage? If so what do I use as dye stuff and what colours can I get?



    6. What are the different lays that I can use to make a nice thick piece of cord say for the top and bottom lines of a gill net or a nice fine piece to make into a lanyard?



    7. If I want to make a fishing kit with some cordage how thick should it be and how should I attach it to a hook? Also what design of woods built (by this I mean non metal) hook should I use, a black thorn or some sort of wood and bone combination maybe?

    I’m looking forward to what you have to say and trying out all your hints and tips.



    All the best


     
  2. VIRULENT SALAMANDER

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  3. KIMBOKO

    KIMBOKO Nomad

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    I read this thread earlier in the day and thought if he does all that and experiments he will probably be the BCUK expert.
    Q1 I think most people would just leave the cord as you've made it. Then use it for whatever purpose, its only a bit of string!!!! The green adds colour and will change with time.
    Q2. The use of the nettle green is a bushcraft expedient for an instant string. The retting, hacking and combing is more of an old rural method for extracting the fibre. The whole nettle was retted in pits so that you dont have to break, split and remove the fibre from each stalk individually.

    When retted enough you can extract the fibre more easily, time and temperarture will obviously affect retting action..
    Once retted the bunches of nettles were hackled by beating to remove the inner "pithy" bit and the the hackled bunches were combed with a metal comb to extract the fibres.

    Q3. Should be reasonable clean but more combing/brushing to improve fibres and keep them dry until use.

    Q4 When you twist them you into cordage you twist them so i dont think a pretwist required.

    Q5 Never tried. Presumably any dye would work but I prefer au naturel.

    Q6 Either use more fibre to make two thicker twinned cords or twist up a third cord and add into the twin ply to make three ply. You of course make up three, three ply cords and lay them in together to make a much bigger cord. With single or double yarns you could flat plait them or circular or square plait them.

    Q7 For fishing line, strength test your cord and make it up to the strength you want. I have made hooks from bone in shape similar to metal ones but thicker or you can make bone gorges(get stuck in the mouth.) You can whip it on or depending on hook type perhaps incorporate a hole and knot it on. The thorn hooks are fixed to the non working end (the end you start with) of twinned cordage. And I can't explain in words how perhaps you can see the first part of the latestr RM programme?.
    Hope it helps.
     
  4. Toddy

    Toddy Mod
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    What you have made sounds like good sound cordage.
    To refine it ? Well, practice makes better quality and retting gives only the fine fibres. However, only about 1% -2% of the weight of dried nettles is the fine white fibres. While this is a necessary step for cloth making it's not really needed for cordage.

    To colour the fibres you have to overcome the nettles own green/brown colouring first. Let the cordage soak in warm water and rinse thoroughly. Then let it soak in a madder root solution.....depending on whether you add mordant or not you'll get either a dull red or a chestnut brown or perhaps even a plum colour. If you soak the cordage in oak bark liquor you'll get brown, woad will give blue and birch leaves or weld will give a yellow. Problem is that soaking must be kept short if you can or the fibres will start to rett and your cordage will weaken.

    Vigorous combing to remove debris only suceeds in breaking up the fibres too. Better to hold the retted bundle under running water and gently work your fingers through the lengths allowing the water to 'comb' the fibres free. This avoids snarls and gives excellent fine fibres in good workable lengths.

    Cheers,
    Toddy
     
  5. Stuart

    Stuart Full Member

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    there are people far more knowledgeable with cordage on here than I, so i will leave information about cordage to them. But I may be able to help you with the fishhooks.

    the cordage you have looks thick enough for fishing, test a section of it first though to be sure, and be aware of any weaker sections in the length you wish to use. (its only as strong as its weakest point)

    my favourite Bush fishhook is this one:
    [​IMG]

    made from a sharpened wishbone fitted into a wooden shaft.

    other designs include but are not limited too:
    [​IMG]

    left to right: a wooden gorge designed to lodge in the gullet, another wishbone hook, a thorn hook (damaged), wooden fishhook, bone and wood fishhook.

    here is a fishing set using nettle cordage, a stone weight, wooden float (note the peg which allows you to adjust the position of the float, which in this picture is the wrong way around, the wide end of the peg should be on the reel side of the float) and hand reel (the reel tapers to a narrow cross section beneath the cordage, so the is more cordage on the reel that there appears). there is also another wishbone hook in the centre of the picture.
    [​IMG]

    there are of course many other designs.

    I will make up a new thorn hook and post a better picture of it
     
  6. Snufkin

    Snufkin Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)

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    If you want to make it look tidy just run it quickly through a candle flame and it'll scorch off the wispy bits.
    And if you use it for fishing dry it carefully after use as it'll rot quickly.
     
  7. jdlenton

    jdlenton Full Member

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    Thank you all for your replies.

    It looks like I'm off to make a fishing kit and some hooks and then I think I'm going to make a net



    Stuart: Out of interest how long is the line on your fishing set?



    Off to pick lots of nettles now and harden up my rolling callus to make meters of cord





    Will post some photos of my results
     
  8. Buckshot

    Buckshot Mod
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    Just wondering, would there be any advantage to using nettle on one side and say a bark of some sort on the other?
    You'd nee to make sure the strands stayed the same size to stop one curling around the other I know but I wonder if the properties of one material would benefit the other?

    Or is that just being silly?

    Cheers

    Mark
     
  9. Stuart

    Stuart Full Member

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    I have just gotten it out and measured it and the one in the picture above has 20 feet (6m) of nettle line.

    which reminds me, I said I would make and post a picture of a thorn treble hook, so I am of to find some thorns.
     
  10. Marts

    Marts Native

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    Post some pictures of how you make too Stuart :D
     
  11. Snufkin

    Snufkin Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)

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    Hmm, interesting. The only bark I've worked with is willow and it was a lot stiffer than nettle fibres so the nettle might tend to wrap around the bark fibres. Perhaps mixing the fibre so you have some bark and some nettle in each strand?
     
  12. Mat

    Mat Forager

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    Hi guys,

    Having read this thread I thought I'd give nettle cordage a try. It worked ok but I find that when I try to roll the fibres down my thigh they just slip, rather than roll\twist. Any tips? I tried different pairs of trousers (even some of my wifes!) but I'm finding it hard to get a decent twist ...

    Any tips gratefully received!

    Mat
     
  13. match

    match Settler

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    I've used my bare thigh for this and it grips very well - however if like me you happen to have any hairs on your leg you'll sound find these in your fibres and no longer attached to your leg - OUCH! :eek:
     
  14. jdlenton

    jdlenton Full Member

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    Hi Mat

    I’ve not had much success trying the leg rolling method with nettles either, it may well work with other fibres but I haven’t tried it as this is also my first foray into making cordage.

    This is how I role my fibres:

    After preparing a bundle of fibre half the thickness of the finished cord, I hold it with my hands six to twelve inches apart the centre of the gap between my hands is about one third of the way from one end. Twisting the fibres clockwise with both hands, I wind the bundle tight making single-ply cordage. I then bring my hands closer together and keep twisting, a kink should form and rotate on its own in an anti clockwise direction (as in the first drawing below). Twist until two or three rotations occur you now have the start of two-ply cord.

    [​IMG]

    I then finger twist in the hand, winding the finished cordage onto a bobbin or netting needle as I go. When finger twisting the left hand acts to control tension while the right hand does the twisting.

    To finger twist place the Y the point where the two ply’s come together between your left thumb and fore finger.

    [Step 1]Take the lower of the two ply strands and twist it tightly clockwise lock the twist in by closing your remaining three fingers over the strand.

    [step2]Then while holding the twisted ply A securely, twist ply B with your right thumb and forefinger. As you twist, you should feel the completed string begin to twist counter-clockwise. Follow this motion with your left thumb and forefinger while maintaining even tension and a symmetrical Y.

    Next move your left thumb up to the fork in the Y as before and repeat steps 1 and 2 until you need to add more fibre.

    This diagram should help clear tings up if I haven’t been too clear

    [​IMG]



    Hope you understand what I’m getting at and happy finger twisting
     
  15. cicelythepotter

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    that cordage is great- especially for a first attempt.

    when ive done nettle/ bramble cordage ive done it like this:

    1. pick the nettles/ bramble runners( as long, straight and thick as possible), strip the branches/ leaves/ thorns off)

    2. one at a time, beat the stems with a wooden baton on a hard wooden (smooth) surface- i use a 25 cm long section of haxel or chestnut( fresh so that its a bit heavier from the sap) and keep the beating hand in prettymuch the same place while my left hand feeds the stem/ runner undrneath.- bas a bit harder on the nodes and let the bounce of the baton set the rhythm fo that you are beating fast, with little movements and virtually no effort.

    3 split the stem using the side of your thumbnail (not a knife) ususlly, if youve done the beating right, the stem wil be divided lengthwise into 4 strands which stay linked together at the nodes.

    4. holding the split stem between your hands(as though your praying), hold the pith (stiff rough brittle side ) so that it is grippped the thumb and the knuckle bit on the side of your hand, and the thin stringy green side is held by the other hand in exactly the same way. that way you can controll the way the pith and outer fibres separate by rocking your hands back different amounts

    once you have some long strands of the strong outer fibres, tear them into narrower strips and dry them

    tfor laying them up into cordage, i have tried thigh rolling etc but never had much luck with it. for thin cordage, I hold the bit with both strands twisted together at the point where they fork and use the thimb and index finger of the other hand to roll the 2 strands(at the same time but separately if that makes sense)when they are twisted enough, release the fork point ( held by index and thumb of left hand) and the strands twist together.

    theres a bit of a knack to it especially wth strands that are wide and flat- having slightly grimy hands helps.

    as for dyeing, there are loads of naturad dyes around though the colours would be more visible on refined fibres( retted and combed nettles can be cleaned and refined till they are pure white and like silk- theres a fairy tale about it involving 7 brothers who get turned into swans)

    here are a few dyes: note- the dye can be made 'fast' i.e a bit more fadeproof by stewing the fibres in a solulion of alum ( and aluminium salt - evil stuff), or by pre stewing it in a load of rhubarb leaves though these will impart a bit of colour themselves.) dyes from trees do not need mordenting to remain fast because the tannin found in them acts as a mordent. you can also use over stewed tea as a mordent because it contains bitter tasting tannin- boil a handfull or more of cheap teabags for an hour or more and add it to the dyebath/ or pre stew the cordage in it

    I know that with willow, boiling the fibres in lye solution makes them last longer and changes the colour to a browny purple so that might work for nettles too.

    madder- reds and pinks- use the finely chopped root, and do not boil or you will get brown. stewing the mixture with a some oat/ wheat bran in a copper pot makes a brighter colour( the copper thing goes for all of the following. put the rooty bits in a muslin bag along with the bran or youll spend forever picking the bits of root out of you cordage

    oak galls- black( or just about the closest youll get pick loads of oak galls, smash them up, place in a muslin bag and boil, when the walter goes properly brown, add a little copper sulphate and the dyebath should react and turn jet opaque black- stew the cordage in it on a low heat for an hour or so

    walnut- very dark brown -any part of the tree, though the nut husks are best. boil like hell

    dyers rocket/ weld- bright lemon yellow( icky neon green if you over cook it) this plant is fairly commen- check out roadsides. cut it up, slick it in a muslin bag and stew

    woad-tricky- blue. (email me if you want o know and ill post it but it would take a while to re type it now)redberryfreak@hotmail.com

    onion skins- pretty golden yellow onion skins, boil etc

    nettles are a dye in their own right- yielding a colour known in tudor times as goose turd green

    fishing nets were traditionally made of NETtle fibre hence the name nets

    retting is best done in grotty stagnant stinky rainwater- there are more bacteria in there already to break down the stems. those dog brushes( like a flat wooden board with loads of short ish thin wire pins in it) work well for combing the fibre to get the pith/ other bits of unwanted stuff out- just like carding combs , but smaller and a hell of a lot cheaper.

    good luck
     
  16. torjusg

    torjusg New Member

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    There is one thing on your cordage. I would advice that you wet the pieces of bark and scrape off the coarse outer shell so you are left with the inner bark only. Makes for much higher quality string.

    Braiding will give you a better feel of the fish as the string becomes "dead".

    Have temperate water around when working with vegetable fibres, wetspinning (or braiding) gives a lot smoother and stronger result.

    Good luck or should I say: Have patience. :) It takes some time to learn.
     
  17. sam_acw

    sam_acw Native

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    I'm sure I've read something about beeswax helping the cordage become stronger. Can't remember where though.
    How well does nettle cordage keep? I made a couple of feet earlier in the summer and a few weeks later it was very dry and brittle
     
  18. torjusg

    torjusg New Member

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    You probably left the coarse outer bark on. Scrape it off with your nail before using the fibres.

    I doubt that beeswax will make it stronger, but probably more water-resistance and because of that: More rot-resisant.
     
  19. philaw

    philaw Settler

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    I've just had a second go at producing nettle cordage, and I'm finding it difficult to get long fibres off the plant. They often peter-out or break when I go past a knot. I used fairly big ones, but not the biggest. Does that matter? Was Inot pounding it enough?

    cheers
     
  20. dave038

    dave038 Guest

    hello all.
    I had a go at making braided nettle string took for ever to do, and found it hard to keep it all the same size (which mine isnt :rolleyes: )
    found the notes in this thread helpfull though so thanks.

    wanted to put some pics on but im worse with computers than nettle string and thats sayin something :lmao:
     

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