A guide to picking and treating your rope


Cannabis sativa. Not the kind of hemp you smoke, the kind used industrially to make rope and cloth, the one that was often heralded by the founders of the US as a plant that should be cultivated to help boost the economy of the young nation. The plant from which the most commonly used (in the West) rope for shibari - the art of Japanese bondage - is made. Here is our guide to rope conditioning for Shibari.

ode-rope-conditioning-shibari-2Good hemp rope has a beautiful, transcendent scent for some of us who love it. Cheap hemp rope - of the kind you find in your local hardware store, which was industrially manufactured - smells like a mix of the earthy, sweet grass scent of hemp and the motor oil that’s used to treat it. I’ll admit that personally, these cheap ropes bring me back to a childhood spent in barns, napping with my face against scratchy burlap sacks made of this same industrial hemp. Properly conditioned hemp rope, though, smells like nothing but sweet, dry grass on a warm day. A good hemp will create a halo of this scent around the wearer, and becomes one of the strongest sensory aspects of a rope experience - scent is, after all, one of the strongest triggers for memories.

What kind of rope is best for Shibari?


Another common plant-based rope used in Shibari in Japan specifically is jute - often more difficult to find in the West, and a bit lighter than hemp with a different kind of earthy smell. There is also Linen, which is less commonly used for bondage - it’s light, made from the flax plant, and usually “fluffier” than hemp rope. It has little to no smell. There are also more commonly found natural ropes like sisal, manila, and coir, but these all have much larger fibers that can “splinter” and are very rough on the skin - they’re also harder to tie properly. Whatever you use, proper rope conditioning for shibari is very important.

For those looking for the heady smells that are sometimes associated with rope, therefore, hemp and jute are the best options, and hemp is usually the easiest to find in the US and Europe. Another aspect that goes into the scent of rope, and the quality of rope, is conditioning the rope. There are a variety of ways to do this, but if you buy your own “raw” hemp or jute rope by the foot, yard, or meter, it can sometimes be less expensive, though the conditioning process is labor and time intensive.

Though there is a lot of time and effort that goes into conditioning your own rope, it can help you customize your rope - making lengths that are not commercially available, making it softer, and connecting you with your rope in a way that you can’t by just buying a couple lengths. Conditioning rope for shibari on your own can also help you sterilize rope if you use it with more than one person and any bodily fluids get on the rope. Here are the basic steps:

Rope Conditioning for Shibari: boil, trim, dry


If it’s new rope, cut it down to the desired lengths and finishing off the ends, whether that’s with a simple overhand knot or a smoother-looking “whipping” with twine, which you can see an animated tutorial for here. You then loosely coil the rope to be about the size of whatever pot you’ll be using to boil them, and secure with waste yarn or twine, again loosely. You shouldn’t tightly wind or knot your rope before boiling, as it will contract during the boiling process - if it’s tightly wound, you won’t be able to get it undone!

Boil your rope - place it in a pot and cover with water, cover and bring to a boil, like you’re making pasta. The rope will contort, hardening and twisting, and will pop out of the water - keeping it covered will help steam penetrate any rope that’s not submerged. Once it comes to a boil, lower the heat and let it simmer for a couple of hours, then turn off the heat and leave the rope there until it’s comfortable to handle - usually about 12 hours. You should then move it to the washing machine and put it on the delicate cycle. Some recommend adding a small amount of detergent, but it’s likely not necessary, and may even damage the rope in the long run.

There are a few methods for drying the rope, but both involve stretching. You can throw the rope in your dryer on a medium setting, but this will result in a lot of hemp fluff in your dryer and it’ll get pretty tangled. After taking it out of the dryer, you should remove the yarn or twine holding it together. You’ll have to stretch it - if there’s a smooth bar suspended near your ceiling that can take your weight, you can loop the rope over this and tug to get back some of the length back. There will likely be some twists left in the rope even after stretching, which should come out if you let it dangle and spin out the extra twist. The other rope conditioning for Shibari drying method is hanging it up - this should generally be done under tension, to help the rope stretch and to remove some unwanted twists. This method takes about a day. There are some pretty detailed methodologies for cleaning your rope online.

Some detail-oriented riggers will, after drying their rope by the preferred method, use a flame (you can get little lamps with an open flame for this purpose) and singe off any fuzzies and rougher bits that are left after the washing process. There will always be fuzz, but this helps smooth out the rope. Some will either simply run a hand over the rope after singeing, or go through the washing and drying process again. Again, this is only for those perfectionists out there, and is not necessary - especially if you’re new to this.

Rope Conditioning for Shibari

Don't forget to condition your new Shibari rope


The last step of rope conditioning for Shibari is oiling your rope, which makes it shiny, keeps it “conditioned” which helps it last longer, and it gives you control over how much “tooth” the rope has - too little tooth, and knots slip, too much, and it might jam when it should slide. There is a lot of contention over the right oils to use for rope conditioning. Some say coconut oil because it’s antibacterial and antifungal. Some say coconut and other nut and vegetable oils aren’t ideal because they’ll go rancid over time, and boiled vegetable oils go stiff. Others recommend Jojoba extract oil, because it does not go rancid or stiff. Many like pure mink oil for their rope, but this is both incredibly expensive and requires actual mink to make - therefore not being vegan-friendly. And the “mink oil” you’ll find at your local shoe store is usually a mix - 10% mink oil with pig fat, mineral oil, or other petrochemicals.

Put your new rope to use!


Once you’ve done a bunch of research and gone down the rabbit hole of rope conditioning for shibari options (as I just did), and weighed your options and decided what’s right for you, it’s time to give your rope a rub down. Saturate a rough woven cloth (like linen) with your oil, then rub over your length of rope. Repeat in the other direction, then go over with your hands. If you’re using mink, do this a total of two times - for jojoba, three times total. Before your last run, let the rope sit and dry for a couple hours or a day before going over it one last time.

Rope bondage and conditioning often come with rituals, care methods, and whole philosophies that are different for each person. Not everyone needs to do all of this to their rope - there’s no problem with going and buying a set of rope ready to go. Some people love the ritual of caring for their rope. Everyone has different ideas about how to treat new Shibari rope, but you shouldn’t be intimidated - safety methodology is important, but everything else you can tailor to yourself and your rope partner’s desires.

 

Caitlin is a writer, sex educator, consultant, and product reviewer who focuses primarily on issues of sex toy and accessory safety, pleasure, sexuality, gender, and more. You can learn more, or ask any questions, at their website- www.sex-ational.com.
Images by Ater Crudus, Ater Crudus and Pantelis Roussakis via Flickr with CC BY 2.0 license

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done! cheers

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Take the stupid Google, Facebook, Twitter toolbar off of here. On a mobile screen (iPhone) it's in the middle of stuff I am trying to read. Everyone's phones have a button for sharing as it is. Enjoyed reading for a bit, but that toolbar ruined it. Sorry.

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