Interesting Reading About Hemp

Rope Making

– page 128
WHEN I WAS A BOY I WORKED ON A farm in Essex for a summer. Old Bill Keehle, the foreman, called me to help him one day. He had with him a small instrument rather like a carpenter’s brace that turned a hook – I later learned it was a whimbel (see p. 54). Bill led the way to a straw stack, caught up a hank of straw in the hook and told me to start cranking and walking backwards. As I turned he kept catching more straw into the straw that was already twisted. In not many seconds we had quite a long rope ; not very durable, but as long as it was not allowed to untwist, it was quite strong. Bill used it for tying down the thatch on hay ricks. The simple twisting of fibres in this way is the basis of all rope making. For a useful, long-lasting rope, however, you need to use a stronger fibre than straw.

The best rope-making material in the world is hemp. The rigging for Nelson’s ships, and those of almost every other navy in the world, was made of hemp. It is very strong, long-lasting and does not chafe that easily. However, most governments forbid us from growing hemp.

How to Spin Yarns
Ropes are made by twisting hemp yarns together. Hemp has to be retted, or rotted in water, and then shived, that is stripped of all its short fibres. A spinster (not necessarily an unmarried lady) then ties great bunches of the fibre to his waist, catches the ends on a turning hook, and walks backwards, paying out the fibres as he goes. The yarn produced is then hardened by twisting, sized by rubbing with a horsehair rubber, and then laid, or doubled back on itself.

Other Rope-Making Materials
Cotton is not as strong as hemp, nor as long-lasting or water-resistant, but since it is far nicer to handle it is often used for sheets in dinghies and small boats. Other materials used for making rope include sisal, which was used for binder and bailer twine until artificial fibres came in; jute, a hemp-like plant grown in Bengal, but much inferior to hemp; and manilla, which is grown in the Philippines and makes a fine rope. But unfortunately, all of these are being superseded by artificial fibres, which, incidentally, do not last forever either. From Yarn to Rope Many English seaports once had their ropewalks long areas of open ground used for laying out the individual yarns of a rope prior to twisting them together. Such walks would be at least 80 yards long and some up to 240 yards. Every 20 yards or so there would be a T-shaped post called a beaver or skirder, which had a row of upward-pointing pegs that kept the yarns from tangling. At one end of the walk was the jack (below), with at least three revolving hooks ll turned independently by one handle. A Traveler with Crank for Increasing Rope Tension the other end was a swivelling hook fixed to a post on a trolley or a sled the traveller.


page 162
Foolish Laws

In the eighteenth century, hemp (Cannabis sativa) was the most favoured material for the making of paper. In fact, the hemp plants were grown for this purpose alone. Old worn-out ropes made of hemp were eminently suitable for this purpose, too. The British navy of the time must have been a plentiful supplier of old ropes. Now, however, owing to foolish laws in many countries, the cultivation of this magnificent and useful plant is outlawed, and so we continue to use up the world’s forests, destroying the ecological balance through vast areas. It can be argued that, no matter how good hand-made paper might be, it would be impracticable to provide the paper for, say, one of the mass-circulation daily newspapers.

This may well be so, but perhaps the world would be a better and finer place if there were more emphasis on quality and less on quantity.


page 352
Making the Cloth
In the days before synthetic fibres, the cloth that clothes were made of was woven from either animal fibres, such as wool or goat hair, or vegetable fibres. In many temperate regions, besides making the best rope in the world, hemp made a tough and lasting cloth. It would again if people were allowed to grow it, but alas it is now grown only illegally and for quite other purposes. In the Middle Ages, nettles, a close relative of hemp, were cut and turned into a tough if rather coarse yarn for weaving into a strong cloth.

Flax, that marvellous gift of nature or God to humankind, besides giving us linseed oil, provided the fibres for the finest linen and the toughest sail cloth alike. As it requires hand labour to produce cloth made from flax, it has suffered a severe decline and is hardly produced at all these days. Silk, originally brought from China in caravans of camels that wound their way along the Great Silk Road, was bound for the wealthy only until it began to be produced in France and prices fell. Its production there is happily now being revived.

Wool, that most noble of materials, clothed most of the population of Europe for most of its history. Cotton arrived in Europe from the East and the Americas in increasing quantities during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Very cheap cotton, produced by slave labour in America, flooded into England, and other countries in Europe, and soon became the basis of the commonest fabric. It withstood block printing easily and made gaily coloured cloth cheaply available for the first time.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email