Cultural Resources Management Program
Pacific Region / California & Nevada Region

Cordage Making the Traditional Way

Fiber Cordage Drawing

Cordage of all types -- rope, string, fine twine -- played an important role in almost every aspect of life for people throughout the West. Along the Columbia River, for example, cedar was a favorite material, but nettle, rushes, and willow bark were also used to create strong, versatile cordage which could be used for making fishing nets. In the Great Basin, dogbane, cattail, and willow were used in the manufacture of duck decoys. See if you can find out what types of native fibers were used in your area.

Experts could make cordage by rolling strands of fiber along the thigh, but the method illustrated here is easier for beginners. Using two strands of fiber*:

STEP 1: Holding one strand in either hand, begin to twist each one clockwise

Step 1 - cordage making

STEP 2: With the little finger of your right hand, pick up the left strand.

Step 2 - cordage making

STEP 3: Twist your right hand over to the left, turning both strands in a counter-clockwise direction

Step 3 - cordage making

STEP 4: Continue the process until you have a length as long as you like. You'll know you've done it right if, when you let go, it doesn't unravel.


Step 4 - a length of cordage!

Try This!

Figure out how long it takes you to produce 1 foot of cordage, and then answer the following:

I can make 1 foot (12") of cordage in _______ minutes.

At this rate, how long would it take you to make 200 feet of cordage?

It would take me ______ minutes.

Wow! Can you imagine how long it would take to make enough twine for a fishing net?!?!?

Last updated: December 20, 2012

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