Monday, January 25, 2010

Hemp rope explorations....

I'm xposting this from my main blog because it explores a subject many of you enjoy: bondage ... rope ... and how to actually use it! It also gives me the opportunity to again promote a cause dear to my heart ... read on...


A few weeks back the subject of hemp rope was raised on my Northern NSW Fetlife group. DucatiGuy posted:

"I attended the Shibari level 1 workshop this week (highly recommended) and during the evening Satomi said that hemp rope was great for this but hard to get hold of. I seem to remember reading somewhere about hemp producers on the Northern Rivers who were looking for products and outlets for hemp. Does anybody here know of a potential supplier in the area who may already make hemp rope or would be interested in doing so?"

Are we talking about what you think we are talking about here? We are, indeed. Wiki notes:
"Hemp use dates back to the Stone Age, with hemp fibre imprints found in pottery shards in China and Taiwan[45] over 7,000 years old. They were also later used to make clothes, shoes, ropes, and an early form of paper ... Hemp cloth was more common than linen until the mid 14th century."
Hemp rope is made from of stalks of fiber harvested from sativa, a variety of the Cannabis group of plants. Many seafarers preferred hemp rope because it was extremely durable, very strong and had a high natural resistance to mold and the damaging UV rays of the sun.

Hemp rope is much loved by kinksters interested in serious bondage. Japan Rope notes:
"Hemp rope is the traditional material of Japanese Rope Bondage. It's the first thing a kinbakushi (bondage master) reaches for when binding someone. And for good reason. Finished hemp has the perfect balance of textures - both rough and soft - a sensual treat that dovetails ideally into the form, function, and underlying philosophies of bondage"
Here MissEvilGen, who post on the same Fetlife thread, explains part of the attraction:

"Those of you who have seen Me rigging, will have seen that I use Hemp rope, or Jute rope...usually Hemp. (As a matter of interest, the word in Japanese is the same, for both "hemp" and "jute" rope LOL). Now, both types of rope have the same lack of stretch, that wonderful quality that you will never get with a cotton or silk rope. It's like being bound in concrete, I like to say. Hemp is heavier rope, which adds a nice weight to it during play, but when you carry as much as I do, the toybag gets bloody heavy! Jute is much lighter, without losing anything from a play perspective, although it doesn't have the lovely oil'y smell that Hemp has. So, both ropes, much of a muchness...there are small advantages and disadvantages to both, really"

Diane ("female, 53, het., switch but more sub than top" ) a happy customer of JapanRope also describes hemp rope's attractions evocatively:
"Oh my God. This rope is sensational.

"I haven’t had hemp rope next to my skin before. I ripped open the box, grabbed a length, and tied a rope bra on myself. I was instantly aware that no other sort of rope even approaches the sensations the hemp gives. Nothing else creates such an intense feeling of being tightly, unrelentingly bound. The scent is earthy and intoxicating and intensifies as my body warms it. Making the knots creates a "lock, click-in" kind of sound that magnifies the sensation of being in bondage. As I twist my body, I feel more of the rope scratch. The scratch is delightful and seems to arouse my whole body, not just where the rope is against my skin.

"I didn’t know hemp creaked! The creaking speaks, telling me I’m bound. It doesn’t stretch!-- the tie stays as tight as when I first tied it. It stays put! The two double wraps around my back are exactly where they started five delicious hours ago. Over the hours, the scratch of the rope only gets more interesting. It was a terrible letdown to have to take it off, but the gorgeous marks it leaves behind are profoundly satisfying. Thank you, guys, for bringing us this wonderful rope. Yow!"
Hemp rope has another attraction from sol's and my point of view.

As eco kinksters interested in tracking down natural materials we like the fact hemp rope is environmentally friendly. And that kinky hemp rope businesses are locked in to sustaining a green ethos. Of the business that sourced Nawa Joshi's "raw" hemp rope, Nawa Joshi writes:
"The Rawganique rope is organic (yay pesticide free!) with all that all-natural goodness you'd expect from a hippie-dippy company bent on saving the world. Really though, those guys are pretty cool and you'd be doing your karma a good turn to support them :)"

And for already finished hemp rope, you can't beat Twisted Monk's ethos:
"Whenever possible, our rope is obtained from fair trade producers and finished using animal free/ vegan friendly oils and dyes. We take our commitment a step further and recycle the waste materials from our conditioning process for use in eco friendly, "green" building projects around the region"
Which brings me to this photo:

You are looking at the creme de la creme of hemp rope there.

That's an example of the exquisite rope Twisted Monk sells, their ultra premium 4 strand hemp rope ... and in fact I'm going to use this post for a bit of further promotion...

Every month Twisted Monk creates a small batch of a special color. In this photo you can see what's about to be released on Saturday January 23, 2010. This rope is "Bavarian Blonde" and this month it's a "shocking, bright pink". It's been created for the best of causes:
"this month's color is a benefit color with the profits going to support Midori and the AIDS/Lifecycle ... This color will go on sale Saturday, Jan 23 at noon. The color of the month always sells out fast, but the Midori colors always sell even faster, hence me giving you all lots and lots a warning."
You can purchase the rope via their website here. And you can support Midori on the AIDS /Lifecycle here. Need more info? Midori writes :

"From June 6-12, 2010, I'm being a roadie volunteer for AIDS/LifeCycle. It's a 7-day, 545-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles to make a world of difference in the lives of people living with HIV and AIDS.

Help me support this big huge cause by giving what you can. Every little bit counts! Think of it this way... would you buy me a drink? An equivalent of a fancy coffee or cocktail would be fabulous.

(If you're going to be in Seattle on January 30, 2010, and you're a gal, you can come to my big sexy party called "Bang 4 The Buck" - it's our fabulous AIDS LfieCycle fundraiser party.)

Thanks for being on my team and believing in all the crazy things I do...

hugs Midori"

Thank you from Ms160, too. OK, back to hemp rope explorations....

As Satomi had pointed out to Ducatiguy, hemp rope can be hard to track down. This is often because the production of industrial hemp remains illegal in many countries, where local laws don't differentiate the production of industrial hemp from the production of any other form of cannabis. Wiki notes that licenses for hemp cultivation are currently issued in the European Union, Canada, in three states of Australia, and nine states in the United States:
"In Australia the states of Victoria, Queensland and most recently New South Wales issue licenses to grow hemp for industrial use. Victoria was an early adopter in 1998, and has reissued the regulation in 2008.[60] Queensland has allowed industrial production under license since 2002[61] where the issuance is controlled under the Drugs Misuse Act 1986.[62] Most recently New South Wales now issues licenses[63] under a law that came into effect as at 6 November 2008, the Hemp Industry Regulations Act 2008 (No 58).[64]"
So Ducatiguy's post raised a topical issue. With the new licenses it should now be easier to find hemp rope locally in New South Wales. Shouldn't it?

It wasn't!

Sol and I thought we knew a local hemp rope supplier, as we live very close to the ... er .... hemp capital of Australia (ask me about the annual Mardis Grass Festival sometime). Because there was quite a bit of behind the scene interest I organized a munch for a few group members interested in hemp rope to meet at Sphinx Rock (where we've held several munches) and then check out what was available in Nimbin.

It turned out the hemp rope available locally was being imported from Europe. It was also unconditioned or untreated ... what's called "raw" rope. You can see some of what we purchased locally, below:

The Rope For Pleasure site explains about "raw" hemp rope:
"Raw" hemp rope is very stiff and rough. It needs to be properly broken in before using it for erotic bondage. Raw rope has coarse fibers that can splinter into your bare hands if you rub them along the rope briskly. Finished rope is worked so it lays better when used in bondage and the risk of any splinters from the fibers is minimized. Finished hemp rope has a feel very much like your favorite wool sweater. The process involves working the rope, removing the "fuzz", and treating the rope with a touch of natural animal oil. The oil mats the surface of the rope and makes working the rope easier on your hands"
You can certainly play with "raw" hemp rope, but it does limit what you can do. I found I rather enjoyed the texture of the untreated hemp rope we'd purchased. It was viciously rough ... see the bits of fibre and twig sticking out of the rope in the photo below:

The texture did things to my head, and made me think of interesting ways to use it, for shorter bondage scenes. For example, here's sol in an untreated hemp rope body harness during our recent Xmas Party Weekend:

Now usually a rope body harness is the kind of thing a sub can wear all day (want to know how to make one? Read tacit's instructions here :) ). But this one, no way. I think sol lasted about half an hour. See how nicely the "raw" rope moves against the skin, irritating the skin with it's many rough fibres:

You can't leave it on too long.

I'm leaving this particular piece of rope unfinished as I like it that way. But what about future purchases? To be honest at some point I am going to want to process it, to get more use of out it. MissEvilGen wrote about this particular task on the same thread in my Fetlife group:
"buying raw and finishing yourself is a very rewarding experience ... but Goddess it's a chore! LOL. It's a long process, and getting the good oil as it were for finishing is also a bit difficult"
True. But note that "very rewarding experience" bit. As the Shibari Nation site observes:

"Some people enjoy preparing and treating their own rope, as they enjoy the feeling of working with something they helped to produce. It also allows more freedom over the finished product; if its not soft enough, boiling for longer will soften it up, if you want a length that isn't generally commercially available, you can cut the rope to that length yourself.

"Another reason you may wish to treat your own rope is cost. While the procedure is simple, it is time consuming, and paying for someone else to do this means that treated rope ready for bondage is considerably more expensive than untreated rope.

Rope For Pleasure agrees:
"Finishing “Raw” hemp rope is a process that takes a fair amount of time to do correctly. When you complete the process you will have a piece of rope that feels very similar to a sensual, albeit scratchy, Shetland wool sweater when it rubs across the skin. You will also have a relationship to your rope and your partner that no amount of money can buy. Having presence of mind in bondage begins with the patience born of "knowing" your rope."

What's actually involved with processing or finishing the rope? In case you feel like doing it yourself, you can:
  • buy a copy of Midori’s groundbreaking “The Seductive Art of Japanese Rope Bondage”. Midori's favorite type of rope is "softened hemp rope" (p35) and she tells you exactly why. She also provides details as to how to finish the rope (p37) and look after it (p38)
  • you'll find a detailed essay by Jason (Shibari Fetish Tribe) on Hemp Rope Finishing here
  • and a Tribe thread discussing hemp rope finishing here.
As Midori's info is offline, and I'd like to provide a bit more detail here about finishing hemp rope, I'm going to quote the following info on hemp processing from Monkey Fetish Studios, which in turn is derived from the Helios method found on Jimi Tatu’s website:
"Fundamentally, we process hemp rope to make it more pleasant on the skin and there are many ways to do this but they all do the same fundamental things. Each method can have its own attraction based on ease of process and connection to the rope. The method outlined below minimizes the amount of work required to make a superior product but does not have the spiritual connection desired by some.
  • Clean - Cleaning removes the dirt and chemicals from the rope. This is typically performed as the first step when the rope is put through a washing process.
  • Singeing - Singeing removes the excess fuzzies from the rope so that it is smooth. This is usually performed over a stove after the cleaning process.
  • Soften - Softening makes the rope more pleasant for the skin by breaking up some of the fibers and making the rope more supple.. This can happen by working the rope in any number of methods. Some common methods are by manually working the rope, running it back and forth around a tree, tumbling in a dryer, etc. My method involves using a dryer and I can only speak to the efficacy of that method.
  • Moisten - Hemp, un-oiled is very dry. Dry rope is unpleasant on the skin and much less pleasant to work with. There are many possible oils that can be used. Some common oils are Vaseline, jojoba, hemp, mink and almond. Avoid bio-degradable oils like vegetable oil or you will have a rather rotten surprise in your toybag.

What you will need:

  • Washing machine
  • Gas stove
  • Pressure cooker (optional)
  • Rope
  • Oil of your choice
  • A place to stretch the rope at the end

Depending on how picky you are about the lengths of your rope, you may wish to cut it first. However, be aware that it will change length slightly (possibly even growing!) during processing. Leaving a full batch of rope uncut will dramatically increase the amount of time spent detangling rope as you work with it. If you do not wish to live with rope that is not exact length, it would still be advisable to cut into two or three lengths of rope. Tie overhand knots into the end of each of your ropes so they don’t unravel in the washer.

Place the rope into pillow cases or other bags and put them in the washer using a gentle detergent like Woolite™. This will remove dirt and chemicals from the rope.

When the wash cycle has finished, place the rope in the dryer and dry until dry. Leaving the rope in the pillow case(s) will minimize tangling but will not accomplish the goal of beating up the rope and breaking the fibers nearly as well. The dryer steps are critical for making the rope soft.

Once drying is complete, the rope should be detangled and singed. The simplest method for singing is the run the rope slowly over a gas stove. Alternatives are a propane torch or candle. Be careful not to actually burn the rope but you will find this surprisingly difficult to do.

At this point many methods call for manually rubbing your choice of oil on the rope to moisten it. We are going to skip this step as it is completely unnecessary and labor intensive. You may rub oil on the rope here and skip adding it to the pot in the next step if you desire.

Place the rope in a sufficiently large pressure cooker or pot with a dollop of oil. I use Vaseline because it works well for people with sensitive skin. Boil for one hour at 10PSI in a pressure cooker or just boil if in a pot. The big benefit of a pressure cooker is that it keeps the smell in and it raises the boiling temperature of water by about 15 degrees C and causes the oil to emulsify and adhere to the rope slightly better.

After boiling, place back in the dryer and dry again.

We get a huge time savings at this point with the dollop of oil method because we don’t have to detangle the rope after drying. We just place it back in our pot and boil again with another dollop of oil.

We repeat the boil/dry process for three or four times until the rope is at the desired softness.

Find a place (bedframe, two trees, chair, etc) to stretch the rope around and pull as tight as possible to restore most of the length lost due to shrinkage. Leave for a few hours just for good measure. Trim to length and finish the ends.

A few notes of importance:

  • Any times/amounts are approximate. There is no exact science behind 10PSI for 1 hour. What we know is that it possesses that quality known as “enough”.
  • The dryer step could be replaced by hang drying and manually working the rope if you really want to make more work for yourself.
  • The dollop of oil method can be replaced by manually adding oil to the rope by rubbing it through your hands. There is no quality advantage of doing this.
A few more words about oils:

Nawa Joshi writes:
"I choose to use mineral oil on my rope for a number of reasons:
1. It's crazy cheap and widely available
2. It's stable and won't go rancid
3. It's edible! Cutting boards are often sealed with mineral oil, and drug stores sell it as a laxative of sorts. I figured if I used mineral oil on the rope it would still be safe to put in mouths and sensitive bits.

"If someone out there in internet-land thinks this was a bad idea, please let me know. But really, I'm happy with the results :)
Rope For Pleasure reminds us to take:
"precautions about animal oils - be sure that they do not contain neetsfoot oil with the petrochemical smell that is its trademark. Do not use vegetable oils as they go rancid quite easily and will eventually cause some rotting of the hemp fibers".
However you CAN use jojoba, according to the Tied Out West site's rope preparation and care page:
"Jojoba extract is not a typical vegetable oil, it is actually a liquid wax. All vegetable oils will go rancid and sticky, even nut oils. Boiled vegetable oils cure stiff. Jojoba extract does not go rancid or stiff, and has a very pleasant, slightly sweet woody smell”.
If you want to buy hemp rope already processed and conditioned with jojoba, contact Canadian business HandmadeRope . JapanRope works Bayu oil into the fibers of their ropes. What if you have sensitive skin or might be allergic to hemp? Twisted Monk suggests:
"A common allergic reaction from hemp bondage rope is from the oils used. Our rope is process with an allergen free, vegan friendly oil. Also, check out our Exotic line of rope for other fibers such as silk, jute or hemp linen. Order a sample pack and see all our ropes and see what ones work best for you"
MauiKink also seem to take a lot of care with the oils they use. Their website notes:
"We use several oils. Our newest addition to our collection is a luxurious and exotic Tahitian Oil created with coconut oil. No preservatives, emulsifiers or animal products are added to these oils.

"Among the oils in this collection, we can condition your ropes with the Pikake, Tiare, Plumeria Tipani, Santal, or Vanilla Monoi Oils. We can also use pure Mink Oil to condition our hemp ropes as well as other natural oils such as Hemp Seed Oil and Hypo-Allergenic Mineral Oil. We will send the ropes already conditioned in either the lightly scented coconut Monoi oil or Mink oil, so if you don't want your rope conditioned with anything or prefer a different oil, please note in your order or email us. We will work with you find the right type of oils and products in our collection, so be sure to let us know!"
The final process in hemp rope processing is what's called whipping the ends of the rope, which is usually done with whipping twine or strong thread. The Two Knotty Boys have a great video on this:

I need to learn some more about the options available for this. In a blog post about rope finishing ranat (from beyondthehills) observes:
"Over at Twisted Monk, they apparently use French palm-and-needle whipping for the ends. Upon further research palm-and-needle appears to be the longest-lasting form of whipping, and I have tried in vain to find instructions for it. The closest I’ve found is instructions for sailmaker’s whipping, but I’ve also seen some references in books that look exactly like sailmaker’s whipping, but claim to be palm-and-needle."
Cordage responded:

"From what I know, the sailmakers whipping (plain) wraps around the twisted rope several times then “binds” the horizontal bands with verticals that cinch between the twists of the rope at least twice.

"The ‘French’ come in by using half hitches instead of wraps around the rope. The horizontal bands, perpendicular to the rope, are a series of half hitches around; with or without the binding cinches.

"IMHO, I say go with the regular whipping, but make it at least half an inch wide for 6mm rope, 5/8 of an inch for larger, 3/8 of an inch for smaller, depending on the twine you use to finish."

And so did albesan:

"Here’s [a link] to a description of the palm and needle method. Also, the “palm” in “palm and needle” must come from the tool used by sailmakers to push the needle through the fabric which is called palm. there is a picture of one in the link on the post above this one."

It's all interesting stuff. I hope ranat had fun with her Leonardo” rope machine.

So, there you go ... you now have some idea of your hemp rope options. You can buy exquisitely finished ropes from places like Twisted Monk (and support extremely important causes while you do so ) or you can find somewhere that sells "raw" hemp rope and undertake the finishing process yourself. Or you can leave it "raw" . Or....

Possibilities .... possibilities....



Midori’s “The Seductive Art of Japanese Rope Bondage”

Buying pre treated hemp rope:

I highly recommend Twisted Monk "the information-packed online rope store catering to both the elite shibari master and the bumbling couple tying each other up for the first time. With instructional videos, links, kits, and a blog, The Twisted Monk goes beyond just providing some string to fool around with". MissEvilGen agrees ("Generally, I rig with Hemp which I get direct from Twisted Monk in the USA (Ms160 linked them in a previous post). In fact, I have just replaced My Hemp, after about 5 years of heavy it does last and last!").

Join their mailing list today!

Also: The Twisted Monk blog and The short Q & A with the Twisted Monk

Kinky Ropes


Maui Kink

Japan Rope

Buying non treated hemp rope:

The author of the instruction tutorial on condition hemp rope writes "I buy Ecolution Romanian hemp rope through . It's sold by weight so if you buy thicker rope you won't get the same length"

Nawa Joshi writes: "I ordered my rope from these nice people"

If you are in Australia, drop me a line via my Fetlife profile and I'll grab some from the Hemp Embassy in Nimbin for you.

About hemp in Oz:

Hemp Embassy, Nimbin

Industrial Hemp in Australia

"Opportunities to engage in commercial low THC hemp fiber and seed production in NSW".

"Guidelines for engaging in the commercial production of industrial hemp in Queensland".

Online resources:

wiki - Hemp (accessed 22 Jan 2010)

David El's instructions for his finishing rope dry method on Rope For Pleasure

Post documenting Nawa.Joshi's own hemp rope conditioning

Tied Out West page on rope preparation and care

Essay by Jason (Shibari Fetish Tribe) on Hemp Rope Finishing

an illustrated guide to rope preparation on Shibari Nation

Tribe thread of hemp rope finishing

Tutorial - Condition and Dye Your Own Hemp Rope

Tutorial - How Hemp Rope is Made

How to make rope from hemp

Tools for making hemp rope

Discussion about hemp rope on ranat's blog


"Bavarian Blonde" rope photo courtesy Twisted Monk
blog "As Promised" posted 19 Jan 2010

Twisted Monk

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