After challenging unrealistic sequestration expectations, I share my experience of making rope out of iris leaves.

I love making things, which is probably why I’m so annoyed by all the people who are insisting that the coronavirus pandemic is an opportunity to tackle a big creative project or be more productive. I want to be making things, people, trust me. But these are not the best conditions for creating.

First of all, just because we are at home doesn’t mean we have any more time. Many of us are still working plus trying to educate and entertain children while figuring out how to make a tasty meal with the canned artichoke hearts we found in the pantry.

Secondly, creativity requires not just time, but mental energy. I’m finding it hard to think and focus, even on things I really want to do. I get distracted easily. I can’t wrap my head around anything more complicated than my usual routine. We are asking too much of ourselves to expect to be able to create masterpieces in this time of constant stress and anxiety.

On the other hand, making things with my hands is one of the ways I deal with my anxiety, so finding projects I can work on when I’m resting has been important. I am knitting yet another pair of socks, because I find knitting soothing. And I did an interesting hand spinning project this week that particularly appealed to me because the materials came out of my own back yard: making cording from iris leaves.

My fascination with historic fiber techniques has included research into how flax is processed to make linen, so when I realized I had iris leaves “retting” in the yard, I was eager to try making cordage with it. I got the idea from a recent Spin Off article.* We leave plant material in our garden over the winter to help out the local wildlife, so our iris bed was matted with old leaves. I picked a bunch, soaked them in water, then sat outside in the sunshine and “spun” some leaves into cord.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. Wear gloves when pulling up old iris leaves. While irises aren’t thorny, some of their neighbors might be.
  2. Better yet, use shears to clip the leaves. Our irises were starting new growth and by accident, I pulled up green leaves with the brown.
  3. Give the leaves a good soaking. Mine sat in water for about an hour, and they were pliable and easy to work with as a result.
  4. Have a smooth cloth in your lap to work on. I wore my denim apron, which did what I needed it to. However, I kept catching my cording on the pockets, which kept me from getting a good rhythm going.
  5. Work outdoors if you can. The wet leaves drip and fresh air is good for you.
  6. Be patient. While the work was easy, it didn’t go all that quickly. It took me about 30 minutes to make 7 feet of cording. I am sure I would get faster with practice and better tools (see #4).
  7. You can get a more seamless join if you wrap the thin tip of the last leaf into the wide base of the one you are adding and twist them together. While this didn’t always work, it reduced the number of loose ends I had to trim off.
  8. The dried cording is only somewhat flexible. While you can manipulate it fairly easily, it is not supple enough to tie knots, for example. I dried mine around a round container so that it would be easy to make a wreath.

I had plenty of leaves to make yards and yards of cord, but this was just an experiment. I wanted to make enough to play with to see if I could come up with a use that would justify making more. The twisted leaves reminded me of grape vines and the cord would be good for making wreaths or other dried vegetation decorations. It is also strong enough for rustic baskets. My leaves had spots that are probably mold, so this might not be a good choice for anyone with allergies or mold-sensitivities.

This project turned out to be perfect for these challenging times. It was novel enough (new materials) while being familiar (twisting/spinning techniques) and easy to do. I had no expectations at all, yet got great satisfaction from the length of cord I produced. I will go back to my sock knitting until something else comes along that is interesting without being overwhelming.

Whatever you may or may not be up to, please stay safe and take good care of yourself. And let me know what you are making during the pandemic. And if you aren’t making anything right now? Totally reasonable!

*”Something from Nothing: Making Cordage from the Garden,” by Devin Helmen, Spin Off, Spring 2020, p. 20.

6 thoughts on “Making Rope Out of Leaves, or Why Simple Projects Are A Must Right Now”

  1. Thank you for this. I was feeling like I was “wasting time” by not getting on all my projects during this down time. This took some of the pressure off.

    1. I’m so glad you found it helpful. When I realized I don’t have to write the Great American novel, fill all the sketchbooks, and make all the quilts, I suddenly relaxed. I hope you find a fun and satisfying simple project to help you through your down time.

  2. I dragged out a ufo today and started the mindless sewing together of bricks and squares…just about my concentration level right now.

    1. I have to get my work tables cleared off and then I will probably also be doing some mindless sewing.

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