Welcome to the first installment in my series: Primitive Island Crafts. Greg and I are currently staying in Belize for several weeks. And since I have always aspired to be a master of primitive living, I will be practicing my skills while here on Caye Caulker and later, Placencia Village. This first installment shows how to make coconut cordage, or rope/string from coconut husk fibers. (Please note that I use the word “master” very loosely. This will be my first attempt at practicing each of these skills.)
Step One in Making Coconut Cordage – Get a Raw Coconut
Here on Caye Caulker, Belize, there are coconuts laying on the ground at every turn. I only had to walk a few steps to find my specimen. I chose a fairly large one, just so that I would have plenty of fibers to work with. If your regular grocery store does not have them in the raw state, try an Asian grocery.
Step Two in Making Coconut Cordage – Crack Open Your Coconut
I just happened to have a machete handy, but you can use a chisel and hammer, a sledge hammer … whatever you happen to have that will do the job. However, if you plan to eat the coconut inside, you will want to be careful that you don’t smash the whole thing to pieces.
Step Three in Making Coconut Cordage – Remove the Fibers
You can see by the photo that some of the fibers pulled loose in the process of cracking open my coconut. However, most of them are still bonded together against the coconut shell. If you have ever prepared a spaghetti squash or hand pulled a roasted pork shoulder, this process is very similar. A little at a time, pull the fibers from the shell. Your goal is to make them as fine and long as possible, taking care to keep them all straight.
Once you have all the fibers you think you’ll need, start going back through them and separating them even further. The finer your fibers, the cleaner your cordage will be.
Step Four in Making Coconut Cordage – Twist the Fibers
This is the most important step of the process and it will be repeated two, three, four or more times to get the thickness and strength of cordage you need.
- Start with two strands. Hold one end (of both) tightly between your right index finger and thumb.
- Twist tightly in a clockwise motion.
- While still holding that twist in place tightly with your right index finger and thumb, take your left hand and turn the outside strand (the one furthest away from you) over the top of the closer strand (towards you) and tightly hold in place.
- While still holding onto the strands with your left hand, let go with your right forefinger and thumb and reposition to twist tightly once again in a clockwise motion.
- Repeat this process until the shorter of the two strands is about an inch long. Note: With coconut fibers, this may only be two or three twists because they are so short. This is why it’s important to keep the fibers as long as possible when removing them from the coconut shell.
- Now, holding tightly onto the twist with your right hand, with your left hand select another single fiber from your supply. Overlap the new fiber with the shorter fiber in your work. Using your left hand, give those two one twist in a clockwise direction. While still holding that tightly with your left hand, use your right thumb and forefinger to twist tightly in a clockwise motion.
- Repeat this process from number three above.
Step Five in Making Coconut Cordage – Double Your Strands*
What you have now is a very thin piece of cordage, probably not strong enough to do much of anything. To make it stronger, you are going to repeat the above process, but instead of using single strands, you’ll use two equal sized pieces of cordage. The only difference is, this time you will do all of your twists counterclockwise. You can continue to double up until you get the thickness and strength you desire.
*I chose to also experiment with crocheting a single twist of cordage. Those instructions are below.
How to Make a Crochet Hook to Crochet Coconut Cordage
- Find a small tree branch and remove all except one of the small offshoots.
- Cut the larger branch about one-quarter of an inch above the offshoot you left.
- Cut the other end of the branch so that the total length is about six inches.
- Cut that offshoot about one-quarter of an inch away from the limb. (The one-quarter inch part that is left will serve as your hook).
- Using a carving knife, smooth over the top of your crochet hook as much as possible so that your cordage does not get caught in the rough surface.
- Do the same thing with the actual hook portion, being careful not to remove too much or it will damage your hook.
How to Crochet Coconut Cordage
Using your first generation coconut cordage (the cordage with just a single twist), crochet a chain. Be careful to crochet loosely so that your homemade hook will be able to pass through easily. Once you have a chain, you can use that as cordage or continue with single crochets to make a fishing net, gathering tote, etc. If you have lots of time on your hands (and your fingers aren’t blistered from all that twisting), you could even make a hammock.
Have you ever made cordage from a natural fiber? If you have we’d love to hear about it in the comments below.