This method was derived from the Helios method found on Jimi Tatu’s website at: http://www.japaneseropeart.com/RopeArt/index.html.
Fundamentally, we process hemp rope to make it more pleasant on the skin and there are many ways to do this but they all do the same fundamental things. Each method can have its own attraction based on ease of process and connection to the rope. The method outlined below minimizes the amount of work required to make a superior product but does not have the spiritual connection desired by some.
- Clean - Cleaning removes the dirt and chemicals from the rope. This is typically performed as the first step when the rope is put through a washing process.
- Singeing - Singeing removes the excess fuzzies from the rope so that it is smooth. This is usually performed over a stove after the cleaning process.
- Soften - Softening makes the rope more pleasant for the skin by breaking up some of the fibers and making the rope more supple.. This can happen by working the rope in any number of methods. Some common methods are by manually working the rope, running it back and forth around a tree, tumbling in a dryer, etc. My method involves using a dryer and I can only speak to the efficacy of that method.
- Moisten - Hemp, un-oiled is very dry. Dry rope is unpleasant on the skin and much less pleasant to work with. There are many possible oils that can be used. Some common oils are Vaseline, jojoba, hemp, mink and almond. Avoid bio-degradable oils like vegetable oil or you will have a rather rotten surprise in your toybag.
What you will need:
- Washing machine
- Gas stove
- Pressure cooker (optional)
- Oil of your choice
- A place to stretch the rope at the end
Depending on how picky you are about the lengths of your rope, you may wish to cut it first. However, be aware that it will change length slightly (possibly even growing!) during processing. Leaving a full batch of rope uncut will dramatically increase the amount of time spent detangling rope as you work with it. If you do not wish to live with rope that is not exact length, it would still be advisable to cut into two or three lengths of rope. Tie overhand knots into the end of each of your ropes so they don’t unravel in the washer.
Place the rope into pillow cases or other bags and put them in the washer using a gentle detergent like Woolite™. This will remove dirt and chemicals from the rope.
When the wash cycle has finished, place the rope in the dryer and dry until dry. Leaving the rope in the pillow case(s) will minimize tangling but will not accomplish the goal of beating up the rope and breaking the fibers nearly as well. The dryer steps are critical for making the rope soft.
Once drying is complete, the rope should be detangled and singed. The simplest method for singing is the run the rope slowly over a gas stove. Alternatives are a propane torch or candle. Be careful not to actually burn the rope but you will find this surprisingly difficult to do.
At this point many methods call for manually rubbing your choice of oil on the rope to moisten it. We are going to skip this step as it is completely unnecessary and labor intensive. You may rub oil on the rope here and skip adding it to the pot in the next step if you desire.
Place the rope in a sufficiently large pressure cooker or pot with a dollop of oil. I use Vaseline because it works well for people with sensitive skin. Boil for one hour at 10PSI in a pressure cooker or just boil if in a pot. The big benefit of a pressure cooker is that it keeps the smell in and it raises the boiling temperature of water by about 15 degrees C and causes the oil to emulsify and adhere to the rope slightly better.
After boiling, place back in the dryer and dry again.
I have found that my tastes have changed and I now skip the repeat cycles in these dashes because it produces rope too soft for my taste so I just skip from the single boil/dry cycle to stretching and cutting.
We get a huge time savings at this point with the dollop of oil method because we don’t have to detangle the rope after drying. We just place it back in our pot and boil again with another dollop of oil.
We repeat the boil/dry process for three or four times until the rope is at the desired softness.
Find a place (bedframe, two trees, chair, etc) to stretch the rope around and pull as tight as possible to restore most of the length lost due to shrinkage. Leave for a few hours just for good measure. Trim to length and finish the ends.
A few notes of importance:
- Any times/amounts are approximate. There is no exact science behind 10PSI for 1 hour. What we know is that it possesses that quality known as “enough”.
- The dryer step could be replaced by hang drying and manually working the rope if you really want to make more work for yourself.
- The dollop of oil method can be replaced by manually adding oil to the rope by rubbing it through your hands. There is no quality advantage of doing this.