Natural Fibre Ropes – a Brief History
Looking back in history the very first natural fibre ropes were created from twisting strips of lime bar. This quickly progressed to using plant fibres like flax, water reeds and vines, animal hair and leather were also commonly used to make rope. Ropes in some form or another have being used for over 20,000 years.They have been seen in cave paintings to prove this.
Samples of Egyptian and roman rope can also be found in some museums. Rope played an important part in daily life and were utilised by farmers, hunters, soldiers, merchants and craft workers for many different purposes.
During the middle ages rope walks were introduced, these were long areas where the total length of the rope could be laid out. Hemp fibres were attached to a wheel which was subsequently turned to twist the rope, at the same time a rope maker would walk back down the length of the fibres as it was being turned and would introduce extra fibres. This created extra length and strength, groups of these fibres were then twisted together to form a rope.
This process allowed the rope makers to produce extremely long, one piece ropes. These would be tougher than joined/spliced ropes, and essential in the shipping industry. Joined or spliced ropes also caused problems when they needed to be run through a pulley system because of the thickness of the splice.
The production of natural fibre ropes has changed hugely over the years and modern ropes have no resemblance to these early ropes. Ropes are still produced from natural fibres today, but often for their visual effect rather than strength and durability. This is because modern man-made ropes are often stronger, more durable and resistant to many elements.
The most common fibres used in the production of natural fibre ropes are sisal, cotton, jute and manila, the fibres are twisted or braided together to produce strong and supple rope, these fibres are also used to produce twines, string and cords.
Cotton rope is soft, smooth, stretchy, lightweight and flexible making it comfortable to handle, it can also be dyed very easily to any colour desired. On the downside cotton rope is not resistant to any chemical, oil or water so it will be more limited to the areas where it can be used.
Sisal is a durable fibre and has some stretch qualities and is quite durable; its resistance to salt water is also a key benefit especially when used in marine environments. Â Sisal used to be the material of choice for twine and cords due to its durability, strength and stretch qualities, and its salt water resistance is also another plus. However in modern times it has become less frequently used as the newer man-made ropes with tougher properties take prevalence.
Sisal rope is still used for aesthetic purposes such as decking rope; its texture is similar to manila and a little lighter in its colour; Sisal will not generally last as long as manila rope. Sisal is manufactured from the Agave plant.
Natural manila rope is, in all probability the most frequently utilised of all the natural fibre ropes. Manila is derived from a plant known as Abaca; a relative of the banana plant, which is predominantly found in the Philippines.
Manila has a natural resistance to sunlight and salt and thus particularly appropriate for marine applications, however it is also commonly used in the agriculture and construction industries as well as for aesthetic purposes like decking rope and stair rope/banister rails.
Due to the fact that manila is a natural product it shrinks when wet so depending on what it will be used for it is wise to pre-shrink it before use, this can be easily done by soaking in water over night. Because of this shrinkage you should allow extra when ordering, it is suggested to allow around 8-10% for shrinkage.
Jute is also a natural product which in more recent times is used for twines, fabrics like hessian cloth and jute sacks rather than rope.
Jute can be blended with various other fibres during the manufacturing process to make much stronger twine and rope, sometimes used for boating, towing and stair ropes.
If you require any more information on the range of natural fibre rope we supply then please get in touch.