After the success I had making primitive rock tools, I've been on the lookout for other seemingly daunting outdoor skills I can take a quickie approach with. The idea is to use imperfect materials and techniques, yet still get usable results. After some research, I decided to apply this same philosophy to making cordage. Rope is one of those items that just about every outdoor project seems to call for, and knowing how to make it would be super handy. Like high quality rock tools, the ingredients seem hard to come by (we don't grow much yucca around here) and the skill looks quite advanced. Turns out, also like rock tools, these hurdles are easy to overcome.
First, for materials I used an old t-shirt. This is an idea I'd mentioned almost a year ago, yet never took any action on. An old t-shirt not only works because it's easy to find for practice, but in an outdoors situation you'd most likely have either a t-shirt or the equivalent to work with. I'd imagine that I could perform the exact same routine using a mylar space blanket or a lightload towel if it was cordage I was after.
Second, the technique really isn't that hard. It's tricky to describe in words, but actually doing it is pretty straightforward. Here's what I did:
Step 1. I grabbed an old t-shirt and a rock flake to do the cutting. The rock was broken off of a piece of quartz I found lying next to my house. Nothing exotic. I was curious if I could make cordage using nothing but the t-shirt and other natural materials. Oh, and YouTube. Using the rock, I perforated the shirt and pulled out some strips:
Using this quick technique, I ended up with 4 strips of t-shirt:
Step 2. I opened up this YouTube video on the topic of making cordage. You can watch the whole thing, or skip to 5 minutes in and watch just the relevant part. Or, you can search YouTube for other cordage videos, there are lots of options. I simply did what Mitch instructed in the video:
Step 3. After about 10 minutes I marveled at my creation:
To my amazement, the results looked an awful lot like cordage! This is definitely one of those no-thinking needed tasks, so once you get going, I could imagine cranking out foot after foot of cordage.
While I was impressed with how rope'y my results were, I was curious how functional it was. I attempted to dangle a 15lb kettle bell from the rope and sure enough, it broke at a splice. At a non-spliced point however, it held the weight without issue. While I wouldn't want to rock climb with this stuff, I could see how you could actually put this cordage to use.
While not quite as satisfying as bashing rocks together, making cordage really is pretty amazing. You start with random strands of a t-shirt and end up with all-purpose rope. So cool.