Cordage Making ("Joining In")
I want to show in this page how to join raw materials into longer cordage. This is not a difficult as it sounds, but there are a few basic principals that we will address. I have used the cattail leaves in this survival lesson for a few reasons. First of all, it is very prevalent in most areas and many people recognize the plant easily. Secondly, it is easy to work with and depending on the number of leaves you use can make thicker cordage than other plants much more quickly. Cattail is strong for standard usage, and joins easily.
One of the easiest plants to recognize in the wilderness is the Common Cattail (Typha latifolia). It is probably one of the most valuable plants in wilderness survival, being called by some a "Wilderness Supermarket" because of it's many uses. Every part of the plant is usable for different purposes from cordage, to food, to medicinal purposes, to sheltering. It's typically seen brown "fuzz" seedpod is readily recognizable in swamps and lowlands everywhere.
Cattail is best used after the leaves have been dried and then rehydrated. If you use the green leaves the resulting cordage will become very loose because of the great amount of shrinkage in the leaf. Below are some leaves that I have stripped from a plant that was already dried in the field. I then put them in water for a few hours to rehydrate them, and then wrapped them in a wet towel overnight.
Once I am ready to make cordage, I blot the water from the leaves and lay them on a damp towel to keep them moist as I work with them.
Cattail is basically "ready to use" once the drying and rewetting has taken place. You can cut the leaves thinly for finer cordage such as fishing line, or you can use one or more leaves for thicker cordage, depending on your need. Here I will be using a full leaf as each "fiber bundle". One of the things you will notice about cattail leaves is that they are wide and thin as seen below. To "break" the fibers a bit and allow the leaf to "roll" in my hand better I "pre-roll" it between my palms.
Now take 2 leaves of different lengths that have been pre-rolled and begin your "reverse wrap" technique (If you have no idea what I am talking about please see Cordage Part 1 Once you get to the end of one of your leaves, you should have a piece of cordage that looks like the picture below.
One of the things you will notice is that I am left with a long fiber bundle and a short fiber bundle. It is very important to stagger your joints so that you do not have a weak area in your cordage. If you put both joints at the same spot the cordage will have no strength to it, and will break easily!
If the remainder that you are about to "tie in to" is thick you will want to taper it and then take the narrow (top) end of your next leaf and lay it on top of your shorter fiber bundle. Making these 2 pieces thinner will keep your cordage constant in thickness.
Now, keeping pressure with your thumb on the two fiber bundles twist the new leaf and the old leaf together and continue with your reverse wrap. Leave a bit of the tip of the new leaf protruding to make sure you have a good grip on it as you see in the following pictures.
Continue with the reverse wrap until you reach the end of your old leaf. Please notice that the joint is about 1"-1 1/2" long. This gives the joint more strength and tends to "tie" the two leaves together better. You will now have 2 long fiber bundles again with the cordage looking similar to the next 2 pictures.
Notice the tips of the leaves sticking out of the cordage. This wouldn't really hurt anything, but to keep your cordage looking nice and show yourself as the true "professional" that you are, you want to trim these loose pieces off. You can either burn them off by rapidly moving the cordage through a flame, or you can trim them off with a knife.
Notice the small remaining "nub" from the old leaf at the tip of the knife. Again, this is nothing to worry about and will not affect your cordage.
Ok...continue cording and joining in new pieces as necessary, remmbering always to stagger your joints. Add leaves until your cordage reaches the length you desire.
When you have your cordage at the length needed, simply tie an overhand knot in each end of the finished product and trim the ends. You can now either "buff" the cordage over a stick, or use it as is. I do not "buff" cattail as it is a stiffer cordage and I use it for purposes that require more "body" in my rope.
Here is the finished product with all of the leaves and ends trimmed. It is approximately 4 feet long. Notice the color differences from the different leaves. With practice, your cordage will be beautiful and versatile. Have fun!!
Here is a board that I have with different cordage materials. From left to right they are Braided Cattail, Plantain, Human Hair, Milkweed, Corn, Grass, Cattail Cordage, Lily Leaves, Bark, and Spider Plant. I have even made cordage out of napkins from Burger King (You should have seen the looks I got sitting in the restaurant doing that)! This board is 7 years old, showing how some cordage ages after time and how some stays the same as the day you made it! As you see, you can make cordage out of almost anything that is flexible enough. Experiment and see what works best for you. Have fun!!