Making Rope from Cattails

As I started planning out my next Stone Age projects it became increasingly clear that I needed to learn how to make rope, since so many Paleolithic technologies use cordage in some way. There are a plethora of different ways to make rope from natural materials, but I decided to make cattail rope first since there are tons of cattails where I live. Cattails are incredibly useful plants. The roots are an edible vegetable, several parts of the plant have antiseptic and medicinal properties, the seeds can be used to make fletching for darts or as tinder to start a fire, green leaves can be used to weave baskets, and dead leaves can be used to make rope.

The first step is to find a wetland area where there are cattails growing and gather some dead leaves. The leaves are brittle so you won’t need any tools to break them off, but they are a little tricky to break cleanly since there are so many fibers (these fibers are the reason cattails make good cordage). You’ll want quite a few leaves. If in doubt, take more.

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Next, you need to soak the leaves for at least two hours, but not longer than four hours. They are very brittle at first, but soaking them will rehydrate the fibers and allow the leaves to be bent and twisted without breaking. Soaking for too long will cause the fibers to weaken and fall apart when twisted. Finding a place to soak them is easy since they always grow near water. If you’re not a Stone Age technology purist, you can use a sink or bucket.

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This only made about 10 inches of rope

After the leaves have soaked for the right amount of time you can begin to make your rope. The trickiest part of this whole project for me was figuring out how wet the leaves should be when you begin to twist them. They dry out fast so you need to take them out one at a time and leave the others soaking until you need them. However, the leaves can be too wet so sometimes I found I needed to press them flat to get some of the water out before I twisted them. The first step before you twist is to fold the leaf in half lengthwise as shown below.

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Then twist the until there is a kink. That will be the end of your rope. Fold the leaf in half where the kink formed and then begin to twist each of the two strands the opposite way from how you are braiding them together. That’s hard to explain in writing so please watch my short explanation video below to see it in action.

Here’s a picture of what it looked like before I had to add another cattail.

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…But when I needed to add the other leaves, which is done by twisting the end of one and the beginning of another together for about two braids, it looked like this.

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Not so pretty. I waited for it to dry a bit then used my trusty obsidian knife to cut off the pieces that were sticking out. My final product looks like this.

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It’s not pretty but the rope is pretty strong. I couldn’t pull it apart even when I tried, so I’d say it’s a success. This skill will be invaluable since rope is an essential part of many of the projects I intend to try and I’m very pleased with how well this process turned out.

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Leave a comment if you have any questions and subscribe if you want to learn more about Stone Age technologies! Thanks for reading!

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