How to Prepare Rope
Most of us like to use rope when we play one way or another. If we don’t use it a lot, we have used it at some point in our scene life. Or had it used on us. There is nothing more erotic than having soft rope pulled across my body and then used to tie me immobile. Problem is, how does the rope get to that point? That exquisite softness?
Along comes SteveB. He’s not a dominant, self proclaimed top. SteveB just loves to tie people up and suspend them. I watched him work his magic on many people over 2 weekends and the tales they told of a spiritual experience were amazing. No one came away without a smile and a glow.
Recently SteveB gave me a copy of his technique to soften hemp. With his permission I am posting it here for others to be able to learn and use. Thank you so much SteveB!
Knotsteve’s guide to hemp treatment
Written/updated 08/04/07, by Steve B
(knotsteve …a.t… gmail.com)
Permission is given to reproduce this anywhere you like as long as credit is given.
Why treat your own hemp?
Why would you want to treat your own hemp? It’s messy, wears your hands raw, tedious, very time consuming, smells up the house, and finding a good raw rope source is a pain. Ultimately, unless you need a whole lot of rope, you may be better off buying pre-treated hemp from places like Twisted Monk or Kinky Ropes. When you add in the cost of your time and materials, it may even be more cost effective to do so.
That said, while I’ve bought rope from both of the above sources (and I admit to lusting after Twisted Monk’s Bavarian Blonde – I wish I knew of a source for it untreated…), there are a couple of reasons why I personally treat my own rope. These may apply to you as well.
First, I do rope suspension, and thus need a lot of rope. Hundreds of feet. And if I want multiple colors, or thicknesses, that can add up to a huge amount. The raw materials costs needed to treat my own hemp at that quantity is far cheaper than I can get it anywhere else. It just costs time, and I’m willing to spend that.
Second, not all rope treatments are alike. You’ll notice below I have two different procedures for treating rope, and that’s because I need load bearing ropes, but prefer much softer ropes for actual skin. (Not to mention for my hands…) You may like pre-treated rope off the shelf, but I have yet to find any which is treated to my tastes. If I treat it myself, though, I can make it exactly match my tastes exactly.
Note that I’m probably being paranoid with needing the two treatments — I once worked out that the way I tie suspensions (I use a *lot* of rope…), for a 200 lb person I probably don’t have more than 20 lbs tension on *any* bit of rope in the lot, and most pieces have less than 10 lbs. Even heavily treated, hemp is pretty strong. Still, better safe than sorry…
Credit where credit is due
My basic procedure is derived (but tweaked heavily for my preferences) from a set of class notes written by Angeline Black of the Helios Project. Those notes have other useful info including other methods of doing some of the basic steps, how to dye your hemp, and sources for untreated hemp. It can be found on the web here. I recommend reading it in addition to this document.
Other bits and pieces were taken from discussions on the Adult Rope Arts Yahoo Group. This group has a huge number of really good rope people, and there are discussions of variations of nearly every step of rope treatment, from how much to treat, to what type of oil to use to different methods of stretching and drying.
Before I get to the specific treatment, some quick notes. First off, so far I’ve only treated 3 strand 6mm Romanian hemp. The instructions below work for that. For different thicknesses or types of hemp, you may need to treat more or less, may need to dry longer, etc. Second, you can get different results by repeating the treatment steps more or less times. You should feel free to experiment and find out what treatment works for you.
What you will need
You’ll need quite a few things to treat your rope, not the least of which is time and a place to do the work. I do most of my treatment in my kitchen – it’s a large open space and the floor is clean and not carpeted, so the rope runs over it well and doesn’t pick up gunk. You’ll need the open space, and avoiding carpet is a very good idea.
As for time, each pass and stage typically can be accomplished in one evening, and it’s usually cost effective for your time to do 2-3 batches at once in different steps as you go. I typically do three batches at once, doing the initial prep on a weeknight, then the two main treatment passes over the weekend, then one or two evenings to finish, depending on the treatment type.
For this specific treatment, I also use the following stuff:
- Pressure Cooker — I use a $50 Mirro 8 quart 10psi pressure cooker I bought at Wal Mart. It just barely fits 1 Kg of 6mm hemp (about 135 feet), so if you are treating more rope at once, you may need to either cut it down first (see the notes in the cutting section if you’re going to cut first), or use a larger pressure cooker. Note that you’ll probably ruin the cooker for anything other than hemp treatment in the process, so don’t use one you really like to cook with.
- Drying rack — I initially used a folding wooden drying rack from Wal Mart originally and would tie one end of the hemp to a corner and wrap it around and around the rack. I later found it tedious to use that, and wanted to have multiple batches of rope being processed at once to save time, so I built three stretching/drying racks designed specifically for the job. Each one is basically a simple light rectangular wood frame, about 4 feet by 6 feet, with dowels every 2 inches down the 4 foot sides (maybe $10 of raw materials) — you tie one end of the hemp to a corner dowel and weave it back and forth from side to side, using tension to keep the rope on the frame. These are great for stretching, very quick to put the rope on, and it pulls right off again quickly and easily when you need it later.
- Washer and Dryer – Typical household ones.
- Lingerie/Sweater Bags – These are zippered mesh bags used for washing lingerie or sweaters without getting them entangled in the washer. I recommend the Mainstays Home brand bags I got from Wal Mart – their lingerie bags cost less than a dollar each and are by far the most sturdy ones I was able to find. Most other bags don’t survive well in the dryer and tend to rip along the seams the first time you use them for such. The Mainstays ones, on the other hand, survived much better (although even they sometimes rip, so buy extras…), and were cheaper than the rest. The Mainstays sweater bags are only a bit more expensive and are a bit larger so I use them most of the time, but the lingerie ones are fine as well. Since I was working on different batches, I numbered my bags with a laundry marker, and kept eatch batch with or in it’s bag so I could keep track of which batch was which. (NOTE – I’ve recently discovered a Wal Mart which stopped carrying the Mainstays brand and started carrying some expensive name brand for washing bras, instead, and no sweater bags. I don’t know if that’s a change which is going to happen elsewhere or whether it’s just that store…)
- Woolite or similar detergent – You want a fairly gentle detergent for washing hemp. I use Woolite. If you’re going to dye your hemp, you may need something else – see the Angeline Black notes I referenced above.
- Mineral Oil – This stuff is readily available at your grocery store. You can usually find it in the medicine aisle, sold as a laxative. It’s basically exactly the same stuff as baby oil without the perfume which is typically included in baby oil. It’s easy to find, non-allergenic (unlike some animal oils), will never go rancid (unlike some plant oils), it has no smell, and is inexpensive. You can use other oils if you like (the debate over which oil to use is neverending), but this is the one I use.
- Alcohol Burner – This is a small glass container with a wick that burns denatured alcohol. You can find them at a number of places, science stores, craft stores. I got mine at a archery supply store. Google “Alcohol burner” or “Alcohol lamp” and you’ll find a number of them.
- Denatured Alcohol – For the alcohol burner. You can find this in the paint department at Home Depot or similar stores.
- Cotton canvas work gloves – For protecting your hands and removing soot during singeing.
- Old towel – For removing soot after singeing.
- Needle, Thread, Scissors and Measuring tape – For measuring, cutting, and whipping the ends of your rope. I’d love to use hemp thread for this, but I’ve found no reliable source for it. Hemp twine used in beading is too thick for a good whipping. So I usually use some extra heavy duty cotton/poly blend thread from the local fabric store.
- Raw Hemp – Obviously, you need some hemp to treat. I’ve gotten rolls in 1kg form from Rainbow Rope and Rawganique. Almost all of it comes from the same wholesale source, Ecolution, which is an even cheaper option if you have a business or tax ID and can use it to buy your hemp direct. There are some links on the Ecolution site to other retail vendors, but I haven’t tried any of them yet. In the future, I plan to buy all my hemp in larger rolls (3kg for 6mm, 4kg for 8mm), which will give me some more flexibilty in cutting so that strand splices don’t get in the way as much as they did with the 1kg rolls.
Treating your rope – an outline
I use two different treatment levels – one for load bearing ropes (such as might be used in suspension), and one for softer ropes for more comfortable use against skin. In this section I’ll list an outline of the steps involved in each treatment. In the next section, I’ll describe each of those steps in detail.
Hemp Treatment A (for load bearing ropes)
This is my main treatment for load bearing ropes. It results in a relatively smooth surface, moderately soft, yet not so heavily treated that it’s lost any significant strength. It isn’t, however, soft and smooth as the second treatment below, although it has softened some with use. That said, I think this feels nicer than anything I’ve bought pre-treated, and would be happy just using this technique for most rope. (Maybe adding one more pass through the main treatment if I wanted it a little bit nicer…)
- Initial Prep:
- Main Treatment: (Do this 2 times)
Hemp Treatment B (for softer ropes)
This treatment originally started as an accident from misreading directions in my early experiments, but people really like the feel of hemp made this way, so I do about half my rope this way now. It’s very soft, lighter in color, and smells a bit less. Because it’s been so heavily processed, I don’t trust it to be as strong as rope treated via the first treatment, but if you’re not worried about the breaking load, or if you’re going to use enough wraps that each wrap doesn’t need to hold as much, this method should be fine.
- Initial Prep:
- Main Treatment: (Do this 2 times)
Detailed descriptions of each step
I suggest washing your rope at the start in a large bucket with hot water and some Woolite. The main purpose of this is to get rid of some of the particulate matter (splinters, dirt, etc.) that may be embedded in the rope. I put an overhand knot at each end of the rope, which stays there throughout processing, to keep it the ends from unravelling as you treat it.
This involves putting your rope into a large lingerie bag and washing it in a washing machine using a tiny bit of a mild detergent (Woolite, in my case). (For later stages, skip the detergent entirely…). Wash using warm water, gentle cycle and rinse twice if you used detergent.
This step involves putting your rope into a large lingerie bag (usually the same one you washed it in) and drying it in a dryer, You want to be on medium heat at most, and dry it until the rope is fairly dry. For 6mm rope, in my dryer, this means about 70 minutes. For a different dryer or different sized rope, it will vary. When it comes out, the rope will be puffed out a bit and seem very fluffy, a bit shorter, and probably quite thoroughly tangled.
This step involves taking the rope and stretching it out on your drying rack. The fluffiness will go away as the rope cools, and the tension will loosen. Eventually, if you leave the rope long enough and adjust tension every once in a while, it will get back to normal and regain the original length or close to it.
This step involves letting the rope dry in the air on your drying rack. It has to be bone dry after one of these steps, so I usually let it dry overnight or longer.
Oiling the rope is needed to help prevent rot and make the rope more supple. You want it bone dry before you start oiling. There are lots of ways to do this, and lots of different oils people use. I use pure Mineral Oil as noted above. The way I oil is to rub a small amount of oil on my hands until it’s damp, then rub from the hands onto the rope until the rope surface is barely damp with oil. It absorbs quickly and you’ll see it get darker where it’s absorbed. Then move onto the next section. Tedious and time consuming, but in the basic oiling steps you don’t need to be particularly smooth or accurate yet, because you’re going to boil and oil the rope again anyway.
Coil your rope loosely and put it in a pressure cooker. Fill with water, and boil at 10 PSI for about an hour. (This is gonna be loud and smelly, BTW — you’ve been warned…)
Singeing the rope takes off the fuzzies and leaves your rope smoother. Each time you dry it, more fuzzies will appear, but after 2 or 3 singes there will be fewer and fewer. There are several ways to singe – mine involves using an Alcohol Burner. What I usually do for singing involves setting up the burner on a tray table, having a bucket of water nearby (just in case), wearing cotton canvas work gloves, and drawing the rope through the flame by hand. I draw about a yard through at a rate of about a foot a second, twist it so it’s facing the other side down, and draw it back at the same speed. The fuzzies will burn away nicely but the rest of the rope shouldn’t be affected. Be thorough and make sure you don’t miss any fuzzies. Then I pull that section through the gloves (which takes off soot, and puts out any embers), and move on to the next section. When I’m done, I take an old, flat, towel, and I draw the rope through the towel about 3 times to get rid of the worst of the soot.
The last oiling stage is to oil smoothly. It’s the same as the other oil stages, except you want to take your time and get a smooth and even coat this time.
I initially did this stage just because the instructions I had said to “cure” the rope. Basically it’s like a Tumble Dry stage, except you do it at high heat, and only for about 5-7 minutes. I’m skeptical about the “curing” property of this stage, but one thing it’s definitely good for is eliminating the sooty smell left by the final singe, so it’s worth doing. Don’t do it too long or you’ll start to get more fuzzies.
When measuring your rope for cutting, one thing to look for is splices. There are two types of splice that you’ll find in your hemp – a thread splice, and a strand splice. Strand splices are big – they might look like a lump about a half inch across, on one strand. I’ve had 1 KG rolls with no strand splices, most have 1, and I’ve seen one which had 2 strand splices. I always mark a cutting point at these, and work out lengths and other cutting points from there. (If you need to cut a larger 3 KG roll before treating, do it at the strand splices and you’ll have more flexibility in picking lengths later.) Thread splices are much smaller, but if they form a hard lump (as they sometimes do), you might consider cutting there as well. (Your play partners will thank you for it — or they would if they knew about it…) You will also be cutting off the end knots at this point, as they usually aren’t too useful.
Before I actually cut, I measure twice. I treat ends by using a palm and needle whipping, using an extra strong cotton/poly blend thread, so what I’ll do is do all the whippings at the cut points before I actually cut the rope. (Remembering to do them in the right direction given where the cut will be…) The other thing some people do is put a wall knot at the end of their rope (or two or three – you can get a neat effect with three) – for that, of course, you’ll need to cut first. If you’re whipping with thread, you might consider color coding it. I color code by treatment, other people color code by length. You can probably find better descriptions of whippings and wall knots in a good rope knots book.
Some final notes
If you’re going to process a lot of rope, you can work on multiple batches at once as long as you have drying racks for each batch. For example, I can process three 1 kg batches at a time, and I can finish them in about 3-4 evenings if I’m willing to sit down and do oiling, boiling and singing continuously for about 6 hours each night. Oil batch 1, then oil batch 2 while batch 1 is boiling, then oil batch three while batch 2 is boiling and batch 1 is drying. Then you can singe batch 1 while batch 3 is boiling, and batch 2 while batch 3 is drying. And so on.
And by all means, experiment – my tastes are likely different from yours, or your bottom’s. Every single step can be done in different ways, and the main processing can be repeated a different number of times. Don’t feel locked into one technique just because I happened to write it here.
Thank you Steve!
Now for regular twisted rope and braided rope, it’s a bit different.I took some braided and some twisted and washed them in mesh bags. Let me say first to remember to put the washer on gentle cycle. It may come out better than mine. It took me many hours to repair the rope and some I wasn’t happy with in the end. But some came out so soft! So try gentle cycle or hand washing it. I used extra conditioner on mine to try and soften it more. It worked. Poly and cotton rope takes much less work to prepare but they don’t have the character of the help. It’s personal choice.