Learn the ropes

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By Catherine Chambersfreelance writer

Experiment with making ropes from different materials

Rope is a tough, flexible, intertwined material made of either strong natural fibres, such as sisal and Manila hemp, or oil-based man-made fibres, such as nylon and polyester. Rope can also be made from steel wire twisted around a fibre core.

Fibres used for rope-making are combed straight, then spun together into yarn. Several yarns are twisted together to form a strand. Twine is made of two strands. Three or more twisted strands make a rope. Cable-laid rope is made from three or more ropes twisted together. Ropes can also be made by braiding and plaiting. Each method changes the rope’s grip, elasticity and strength.

Early humans made rope from human and animal hair, stringy plants and roots, vines, and strips of animal hide. Rope was used in China in the 28th century BCE, and 20,000-year-old cave paintings show its early use in Spain, too. Ancient Egyptians were among the first to employ mechanical devices to make rope. The Incas used knots in rope to keep accounts – and much longer rope structures to make bridges across ravines. Hemp and flax were used from the Middle Ages until the 19th century, when better manufacturing techniques enabled the use of tougher Manila hemp and sisal. Synthetic fibres came into use in the 20th century. Nylon, developed in 1938, revolutionised rope-making.

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