natural cordage and retting

Discussion in 'Other Skills' started by UAHiker, Nov 18, 2016.

  1. UAHiker

    UAHiker Supporter Supporter

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    i'm a complete newbie to natural cordage. i've found plenty of dogbane, milkweed, cattails and some others. I've tried extracting the fibers by splitting the stalk into quarters and the crack the sections down to get the fibers but i'm having trouble keeping the fibers in tack and in long sections. I also know some things need to ret, so when and what to rett?
     
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  2. Guillaume Longval

    Guillaume Longval Scout

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    Im curious as well, tagged.
     
  3. MiddleWolf

    MiddleWolf Guide

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    I'll come back and see some of this myself. Good questions.
     
  4. melbolt65

    melbolt65 Scout Bushclass I

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    For these types of materials, as you're pulling the material away from the cracked piece, work in chunks around 2-3 inches at a time or shorter if the skin is sticking to the woody material a lot. Start from the center of the piece rather than on the end.

    Crack it at the center, next move up about 2 inches from the initial crack and make another crack. Work the cracked piece halfway off the skin in one direction and then go to the other side and work it backwards. If you only go in one direction it tends to stick and you start losing pieces.

    Retting that I've seen done has been with wooden logs which causes each layer of the cambium to come apart in sheets and softens them up as well. The retting breaks the bonds down that hold the layers together before it breaks down the actual wood cells themselves. The result is a very soft pliable material, soft enough that some natives made clothing out of it. I attended a natural cordage course at the practical primitive school in new Jersey just last weekend where he showed us the result of retted split logs and it's pretty cool, the layers peel off almost like a book and are like a very soft paper.

    It should also be noted that fall and winter is a very bad time to harvest wood fiber from trees as the sap leaves the cambium in preparation for winter. It won't peel off well and will crack on you, soaking in water will rehydrate these and allow you to peel them.

    Dogbane and such can be done bone dry and dead though.

    I haven't seen retting on these annual weed type of materials but I've read it is done with flax. I don't see why you couldn't but it takes time and isn't necessary usually for a lot of the annual weed type of materials just to make cordage but perhaps if you're trying to make very soft fine cordage for clothing types of material it might be worth a try.
     
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2016
  5. UAHiker

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    Thanks ! very informative , I'll try it next , ive got a stock pile so plenty to try with!
     
  6. OrienM

    OrienM Scout

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    I've used retting on yucca leaves...a pretty low-tech process! I just left roughly shredded leaves in a bucket of water for a couple weeks during the summer, until the the flesh basically turned to slime, then stripped the goo off the fibers by pulling hanks through a split piece of cane. It worked well, and seemed like an easy method for producing large amounts of fiber, but the whole process smelled truly horrible :26: . The finished fiber smelled OK after being rinsed a few times and sun-dried.

    No experience with retting weed-bast fibers like dogbane or milkweed, but I do tend to prefer "last years" dogbane stalks, which seem naturally retted to some extent...the fiber is softer and more easily stripped from the stalks.
     
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  7. UAHiker

    UAHiker Supporter Supporter

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    picked up another stalk of dogbane at lunch and tried starting at the center and it WORKED much better!! i was able to actually get a long usable section!! thanks @melbolt65
     
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  8. renter6

    renter6 Scout

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    I've retted tulip poplar bark, it worked really well and produced a fragrant fiber that I ended up using like packing straw for bushy gifts (to family... where I knew I'd get the stuff back...). I put the bark in a bucket outdoors for a couple of weeks, that's all.

    But in my area (Middle Atlantic hardwood forest) tulip poplar and I guess other bark fibers can be had just as easily from downed branches that have been rained on for half a season, that takes care of the retting and you can get the inner bark pretty easily.
     
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  9. T. Pollock

    T. Pollock Hobbyist Hobbyist Supporter Bushcraft Friend Bushclass I

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    Fellow member and friend @Tennessee does an awesome job making natural cordage and did tutorials at the last meetup I hosted.
    Here's some of his natural cordage YT videos you might enjoy watching.
    Making Cordage - YouTube
     
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