Medieval adventures

Cordage, Hand Twisted Twine

While weeding the garden one day I noticed that the daffodil leaves were drying out. Long and brown, laying useless on the dirt, and then I remembered the experiment I wanted to try. I noticed a post on Facebook from Foraged Fibres. This amazing woman was making twine from plant leaves such as dandelion, lily, bull rushes and so on. She also makes tiny baskets! Intrigued, I decided that I would give it a try. So I grabbed a handful of leaves and stashed them in the kitchen for later.

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“Cordage” as it is called, is an ancient technique that is fast and very useful. People have been making plant-based rope, twine, cordage, and several varieties of weaving and sewing weight yarns since the beginning of time by simply twisting fibres together.

I love how useful this technique is especially because it is free, using plants that are already finished doing what they are meant to do. No retting required!

A list of fun plants includes; Daffodil, Lily, Oats, Cattail, Iris, Sedges (whatever I can find), Spider plant (because I have them), and anything else that has a long leaf or fibrous stems and roots.

After watching a few “how-to” videos, I felt confident to move forward with the experiments.

In the following paragraphs, I will share what I have learned so far…

Experiment #1 Daffodil Leaves

I soaked the leaves for about ten minutes. Seemingly pliable, they were ready to twist. After choosing two leaves from the vat and gently removing the excess water off of the leaves, I began twisting the top leaf away from myself, just a few twists and then wrapped it over the bottom leaf toward me. After a few repeats, the twine really started to take shape. I was surprised to see the colour variations. After I made my first cord I thought, hmmm… if I needed to get away suddenly I would need to unravel the twine from my fingers. I found a clothes peg that worked really well as a spool. If I want to make a really long piece of twine, however, I believe I would need something larger, much like a spindle.

Joining the leaves is a bit tricky, shown in the third photograph, at first and requires some dexterity. While working on my second attempt I learned that splicing the next leaf in place should be done at different stages while twisting the leaves together as it will make the join in the twine stronger.

In the bottom four photos, you can see the progress and the break in the twine where I have joined the next leaf too close to the previous splice. Only a few leaves made this much twine. Once I used up all the leaves I unravelled it from the clothes peg and hung them up to dry. I was pleased to see that the fibres stayed together and remained tightly twisted even after drying. The two-ply wool in the photograph is being used as a size reference.

The strength of the twine is not recommended for heavy-duty jobs or for the purpose of tieing and re-tieing often as you would with rope. Daffodil twine could only be tied two or three times before breaking. I love the look of it and should I need some decorative twine in the future I will make more.

Experiment #2 Daylily Leaves

Daylily leaves are longer and slightly stronger than daffodil leaves. After soaking for only 10 minutes they were ready to twist. I didn’t bother dumping out the water after soaking which meant that the leaves I used after the initial 10 minutes, up to half an hour, seemed to be a little slimy feeling and broke in some spots. Not all leaves behaved the same. I found that the very base of the leaves, wide and had a slightly slippery feeling (pectin maybe?) seemed to swell up more than the middle section of the leaves. The middle leaf section twisted the best with the most uniform results. While splicing more leaves into the twine, I made an effort to incorporate the smallest end to the largest end to help even out the twine. This method worked sometimes.

After drying, the twine was similar in size as when wet, however, the slimy ends shrunk down to become closer to the size of the rest of the twine. The twist held well and the variance in colour remained. I could tie and untie the twine a few more times than the daffodil twine, however, breakage was still happening more after drying. The twine was more pliable wet. So, I treated some twine with an olive oil and beeswax mix (about half and half) and this application helped keep the twine pliable.

The next experiment was to twist the length as tight as possible to be folded and twisted into a two-ply twine. This made the twine quite a bit stronger. The twist held (photograph #5)

While feeding the fish and enjoying the garden I noticed that I have a climbing rose stem that needed tieing up. Out of curiosity, I grabbed some daylily leaves from the garden and twisted them together, no soaking. It was very quick and the twine held. It wasn’t as smooth as the soaked leaves and my fingers didn’t get slimy, which was kinda nice.

Experiments #3 and #4

The first photo is, I believe, wild oats. They are prolific in this area. The leaves that I gathered from both the wild and cultivated oat plants (second photo) were from the middle of the stem. I would like to try another experiment using the base leaves of the plant, however, they are difficult to sort out along the roadside and appear to be still green at this time and I am impatient so…

I tried twisting the wild oat leaves first (photograph #4). They were more brittle feeling than both the daffodil leaves and the lily leaves. After soaking, the leaves didn’t have the faint “pectin” feel to them and didn’t twist as nicely. The leaves were also shorter so more additions were necessary to make a useful length of twine. This meant more spikey bits sticking out ( see photo #6).

The cultivated (I am using this term loosely as I am only assuming cultivated as I found them growing in a farmer’s field along the end, seemingly in rows but were clearly self-seeded and not planted this year) oats had longer middle stem leaves and were more fibrous. After soaking they had the same dry feeling that the wild oats had but a little stronger. Not a fan of the lack of smoothness to either of the twines.

I do not have a strong urge to make more of either twine unless I find a good use for them. They didn’t tie well and broke after tieing a couple of times. Held well with only tieing once and seemed strong enough for one-time use. The “barbs” might be useful for grabbing plaster, or “daub” and holding it to a structure? Maybe I will make more just to try this out.

Experiment #5 “Moses in the Cradle” a tropical house plant

Experiment #6 “Woolgrass” a rush

Experiments #7, #8, and #9 “Corn Leaves”

Experiment #10 Yellow Flag Iris

Experiment #11 Spider Plant Leaves

Experiment #12 Elephant Ear

Experiment #13 Forest Plant…

Experiment #14 Dragonfruit Cactus