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Modern technology has improved our rope, string and twine products by creating twisting patterns and utilizing synthetic products. There are quite a variety of colorful, strong lightweight options from which to select when we go rope shopping. What happens if there is no time to shop or we need more than we have on hand?

Nearly any plant with continuous woodlike fibers can be used to create our own cordage – two strands of something twisted together into twine. Tree bark, woody vines and nettles are considered the best plant fibers to use for twine twisting. A skill I developed out of curiousity and a desire to maintain a natural aesthetic in the gardens is one that can also be used when making and setting snares and traps . . . not to mention stringing up a shelter, or binding a raft, or keeping your pants up.

There are quite a few video tutorials out there on twisting your own cordage using natural products, here are two of them:

– Ray Mears from Bushcraft Survival demonstrates how to make cordage from nettles:

– A different fine gent I do not know shows us how to strip and twist bark fibers into twine:


Moving on to what may be available inside the home and we find, fabric. Most fabric scraps can be cut into strips then tied and twisted or braided into strands of rope. Did you know your old T-shirts can be turned into cordage, as well? There is a cutting technique to follow if one wishes to create a continuous length of “yarn” from a regular ole T-shirt.

Knowing how to make our own cordage from a T-shirt is a handy lil skill if SHTF. T-shirt yarn can be used to make everyday items like dog toys, jump ropes (good exercise!) and plant hangers, etc. Use it now to make a few things for yourself or later to make a few things that might seem worthy of a barter deal.

Instructions on how to cut a T-shirt so it is a continuous length of fabric:

Lay out your T-shirt, unfolded and flat. Cut off the hem and across the body of the T at the armpits so you are left with a more squared off “tube” of the T-shirt.

Cut across the width of the t-shirt every 1″ or so to create strips. Stop cutting about 1″ before you get to the other side so you are not cutting strips off, just fringing the shirt, so to speak.

Turn the fabric so your uncut seam is facing up; it will be about 2″ wide. Now comes the tricky part. Cut at an angle, diagonally, from the bottom of the T-shirt through your first strand. Continue moving up the strands, cutting through from the end of one strip to the start of the other, at an angle, until you get to the top. (Follow the dashed cutting lines in this pic – do NOT cut straight across, make sure you are going at an angle.)

Now tug the yarn in sections down the full length so it curls into itself.

You just cut a length of T-shirt yarn! Fold the length of yarn in half, tie a knot a few inches down the folded middle of your yarn strip – you now have a closed loop on one end and two loose ends at the other. Attach the loop to a tree branch, fence post, stairway banister or similar unyielding surface and start twisting the strands together, one strand over the other (tutorials available online) until you get to the end.

Keep the yarn taut as you twist or braid to pull out any “give” as much as possible. You will probably need to untangle the loose ends from time to time as you work. Tie off the bottom when you get there and poof! Two strands twisted, you’ve just made about 15 yards of cordage from your old T-shirt!

NOTES: 100% cotton will work the best, polyester blends are also fine. What will not work well is Lycra or modal fabrics. When you use fabric with “give” to make rope, the rope will stretch a bit even after twisting.

If you would prefer a thicker cord, you can four strand braid (challah bread braid) your yarn by doubling the strip two times rather than once, cutting the extra loop at the bottom so you have four ends and a knotted top to work with. Twist cordage strands you’ve made with others for thicker, stronger lengths of rope.

One XL adult T-shirt should net about 30 yards of t-shirt yarn depending on how thickly or thinly it is cut.

This technique can also be used with plastic bags (no need to stretch so the pieces curl) to make “plarn”, plastic yarn.

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