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Example of a Lesson Plan for Rope Making.

Example of a Lesson Plan for Rope Making,
Theodore R. Hazen.

: Rope Making
TEACHER: Theodore R. Hazen
GRADE LEVEL: 4th to 6th DATE: August 2006.

1. The student will understand who the rope maker was and why he was important to the early settlers.
2. They will recognize the basic equipment found inside the rope maker's shop.
3. They will be able to understand that the rope maker and his apprentice were craftsmen who deserve special recognition.
4. The student will define in special terms distinguished from other craftsman because he worked with tools often of his own design and creation manipulating a material called rope.


The rope maker was a professional who worked in the field of iron working, and was a well qualified specialist in fibers and textiles. The rope maker transformed lumps of fibers into objects of utility and grace.

The rope maker has been neglected by history. The rope maker's trade, his methods of working are like of the raw material which he harvested from the earth. The rope maker worked with fibers and yarn, and sweat to create an inexhaustible amount of rope over the centuries from the prehistoric times through the Renaissance. When the rope maker came to American he was on his own. He had to start from scratch. He was dependent upon England and Europe to import his basic tools and the raw material with which he worked. When the American rope was produced by rope walks in America the British crown discovered new ways of reshipping to impose taxes on their product. During the colonial period the rope makers specialized during their apprenticeships and often learned to make just many varies of rope and cord. After the colonies fought the Revolution and people began spreading over the Appalachian Mountains, rope making began making began to become steam powered, and the industry changed.


1. Introduction:
A. The Name of the Site.
B. Self Introduction.
C. Program Introduction.
D. Safety message.

2. Rope-Making trade:
A. Rope the magic cord.
B. Seventeen thousand year history. The knowledge of fibers and braiding them.
C. Discovery of different types of fiber and twisting them into crude implements of warfare, hunting.
D. What part did rope play in the thrust forward to civilization? Its part in invention and manufacture of complex machines which could not have been built with traditional materials, such as steam engines?
E. The workability of rope gave inventors and woodworkers the ability to make intricate moving parts with an accuracy superior to wooden counterparts.

3. Discuss the properties of rope:
A. hemp is the rope maker's raw material.
B. Rope is tough, long lasting, naturally elastic.
C. The most important thing about fibers is that it is easily "worked" with the equipment of the rope maker.
D. Rope walks became long covered wooden buildings.

4. Discuss the rope walk and the vats of molten tar:
A. The rope walk is the heart of the rope making, and the piles of fiber is the soul of this shop.
B. The revolving hooks which turn and twist the fibers, and creates rope.
C. Simple tools were used for thousands of years in rope making all over the world.
D. The rope maker and his helper or apprentice worked the walk.
E. The rope and his world, the coastal towns, the ship yards, sailcloth makers once part of everday America.
F. What do the records show and what, where and who are the rope makers of today.

5. What was the importance of the rope maker?:
A. Making rope.
B. How many people, crafts, industries, mills, use rope?
C. Ships, boats, fishing industry, and canal boats.
D. The rope maker's world ever become part of our world with "sayings," the material of the makers' culture in our lives today.
E. How did the rope maker get paid for his hard work?


1. Set: Introduction to program.
A. Compare modern methods of rope making with historical process. Is it the same or has it changed?
B. Demonstrate simple rope making skills.
C. Make a piece of rope from start to finish.

2. Activity:
A. One student will crank the hooks of the jack and another crank the hook on the traveler.

3. Assignment:
A. Ask students if anyone in their families was a rope maker?
B. Discuss what type of world it would be if we never learned to use fibers and there were never rope makers.

4. Closure:
A. Ask students to compare modern importance of rope makers with that of the mid-1800's rope makers. Which was more important? Why?
B. What are the benefits and effects of items made by the rope maker on our lives and culture?

1. Jack.
2. Traveler.
3. Top.
4. Knife, cutter, tape measure.
5. Yarn.

1. Observe how easily the students learn the basic steps of processing fibers into everyday usable items.
2. Ask the students to list the basic steps in making a simple item.
3. Ask the students to identify the tools used historically by the early rope makers.
4. Ask the students if there is an end to the usefulness of rope makers in our world and in the future?


An industrious man
never stops weaving the rope.
Yet as much as he can twist,
the donkey can devour.
Thus the lazy wife squanders on herself
what her compliant husband has gained.

Rope Making. by Theodore R. Hazen

An 18Tth Century Craft:

A Craft is an occupation in which a skill is needed. An art, trade, sense of skill, ingenuity or profession requiring special skill or knowledge, especially manual dexterity. A member of a trade or handicraft. A skill or technique. A Craftsman.

Chaucer said, "The Life Is Short, The Craft so Long to Learn."

A Craftsman a workman skilled in a craft. A person woo practices a handicraft, an artisan. Craftsmanship

A Trade is a skilled handicraft. The habitual practice of an occupation, business or skilled handicraft, especially one requiring an apprenticeship. as distinct from a professional, or skilled handicraft, as distinct from any other occupation. The development of a regular course, or occupation

A Tradesman (Tradeswoman) a person who is skilled in and follows a trade or skilled handicraft, an artisan, a craftsman. A person who is engaged in trade or the sale of commodities, especially a shopkeeper. An artisan.

Tradsmanship is the fact of being a tradesman, the character of a tradesman, tradesmen, collectively.

Sinclair (1782) said, "A "tradesman" in Scotland, implies one who works with his hands at any handicraft trade; where as in England, it means a shopkeeper."

A Handicraft is work that needs both skill with the hands and artistic design, such as woodworking, needlework and pottery. A Handicraftsman.

Rope Making:

Today we are going to talk about and demonstrate a very old and long craft. Does anyone know what I could be talking about?

Early ropes were either twisted or braided. Rope making goes back 17,000 years, and its exact original may be never know. The Egyptians first developed simple mechanical advantage tools. Their tools was like a drop spindle where three strands were twisted together. There is some argument as to if this could work or not, and it may be simply a misinterpretation of written inscriptions. A Similar method was used by the Indians in the American Southwest about 1,000 A.D.

Fibers used in rope making. Animal Sources: Hair, horse hair, hide, sinew (fibrous muscle tissue), and gut, catgut. Vegetable Sources: There is an Egyptian mention of the use of papyrus. A Roman mention, Pliny mentions the use of flax. Hemp was used for sea-going vessels. In the 14th century there is mention of birch, juniper and willow twig cordage used since the from the 12th and 13 h centuries, together with cordage of shredded wood. There is also mention of heather cordage, and roping thatch. In the 19th century manila began to replace hemp. Hemp has been used for 12 thousand years as a rope material. In the Orient shoots of bamboo, reeds, small grasses, and the hairy covering of coconuts was used.

The history of rope making would undergo four major changes: 1. Hand twisting/braiding; 2. Simple mechanical advantage tools; 3. Compound mechanical tools; 4. Power machinery.

The Persian ruler Xerxes were able to spin huge ropes a mile long and more than two feet in circumference in order to rig an invasion bridge across the Hellespont to Greece.

In the middle ages (from the 13th century until the 18th century) rope was used using the "rope walk" method. This allowed for ropes up to 300 yard or long to be made. Sometimes rope walks were more than a quarter mile in length. They were using a covering considered a light shed. Short ropes to make them long would require splicing and a short splice would double the diameter of the rope in the area of the splice. This would cause problems in rigging hard ware such as buckles, and pulleys.

Almost every culture and country have stories of the dishonest miller. There may be dishonest people in other crafts and trades. The following is an example of the rope making trade of a dishonest practice.

In 1460-1480 an engraving with accompanying text, in an archaic dialect of German, reads: "I am a rogue and a blighter. I worked together flax and powder(?), and covered it with hemp. That is how I cheated people."

Another called the THE ROPE MAKER

An industrious man
never stops weaving the rope.
Yet as much as he can twist,
the donkey can devour.
Thus the lazy wife squanders on herself
what her compliant husband has gained.

The first settlers who founded the colony at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, however, did not make the long journey across the Atlantic to become hemp farmers. Like most Englishmen, they came to America in the belief that the country abounded in gold and silver. These early colonists expected to make a quick and easy fortune and planned to return home as soon as possible. When they found no gold or anything else of material value, they became so discouraged they refused to work to support themselves. Had it not been for the friendliness of the Indians who gave them food and showed them how to raise some basic crops, they would have starved to death.

In 1611, formal orders to raise hemp were finally received in the colony. Hemp was among the first crops to be introduced into the Massachusetts Colony. In 1629, shipbuilding was started in the village of Salem, and hemp was so scarce that it had to be imported from abroad.

In 1630 was one John Harrison, master rope maker, of Salisbury. For 30 years he practice rope making in the Massachusetts colony. In colonial times rope making, like many other trades, relied on a system of indentureship, which bound young apprentices to a sort of limited-term paid slavery.

The early rope walks were relatively primitive industries. All that was needed was a large open field. Later on, when rope making became a major industry in America, the fields were enclosed in long covered alleyways, some of which stretched over 1,000 feet in length and 20 feet in width, with three or four rope makers working side by side. The sight of one such enterprise later inspired Longfellow's poem, the "Rope walk" (1854):

In that building, long and low,
With its windows all a-row,
Like the port-holes of a hulk,
Human spiders spin and spin,
Backward down their threads so thin
Dropping, each a hempen bulk.

A core rope made the rope stronger. Tar, used to make rope smoother and more water-resistant.

The great enemy of the rope walks was fire. The structures were too long for economical stone construction, they were usually wooden structures full of dried hemp. Tar-soaked rope and the open flames of the tarring vats were first-class fire starters. Often one rope walk would burn to the ground several times.

History of rope making is vary scant, the first process is spinning the yarn. Then the yarns were stretched on revolving hooks sometimes 300 yards apart. These hooks twist the yarns together into rope.

First the material was treated and combed, like that used to spin cloth (Wool or Cotton) into clothing. The fibers were spun together to form yarns. Each stage of twisting was preformed in the opposite direction to prevent unraveling.

Hemp came to rope walks in bales. It was processed similar to that of flax. It was first soaked (retted) and beaten (scutched) to clean the fibers. Sometimes it was spread on the grass for several nights to be dew-retted. The fibers were then combed out by being drawn through a series of spikes arranged like a bed of tall nails. This process, called hackling, transformed a mass of rough, treated fibers into bundles of long, straight threads and prepared them for spinning on a wheel or series of wheels into yarn.

The rope walk method employed a JACK or SPINNER. These are where the three revolving hooks would turn on a stationary Jack. Three strands of rope was stronger than a four or five strand rope.

On the other end of the rope walk you had the TRAVELER. A single revolving hook constructed on a simple wheeled device that would allow it to move slowly in the direction of the JACK as the yarns were twisted and grew shorter into rope.

Moving back and forth on the rope walked backward from it at a practiced pace of about two miles per hour. Thus a rope walker would walk close to twenty miles in a ten-hour workday. To prevent the strands from entwining too rapidly, an instrument is imposed, which is called the TOP. It has two or more notches on a handle called a STAFF. As the TOP is moved away from the JACK it regulates the amount of twist the rope will receive. The rope walker had yarn wrapped around his waist which he used to recharge the rope making process.

The beauty of this process is they replicate exactly the way rope was made in the medieval times down through modern times.

The spun yarns were gathered together in loose skeins called junks, to prevent them from becoming tangled during the next step, tarring. Ropes exposed to air and or water are usually tarred. Most naval rope had to be tarred to preserve it from the effects of sea water. After a thorough soak in the black preservative, the junks were squeezed out through rollers like so much wet laundry and separated into individual yarns again. The seasoned and tarred yarns were then wound onto large spools or bobbins, just as in any textile factory, and the bobbins themselves were skewered in long rows on racks known as creels.

The rope walks were generally powered by water wheels until steam came in in the nineteenth century. The spinning wheel was the first piece of rope walk machinery to be steam-driven in 1808. In 1841 Moses Day adapted the spinning jenny for rope yarns. By the latter half of the nineteenth century, rope making was changing. The whaling fleet, withering as the whale population dwindled from over hunting, was already in decline by 1861. Then another blow came with sail-assisted steam power, and on the newer ships, wire became the material of choice for the standing rigging that supported masts and smokestacks.

During the nineteenth century abaca, a plant native to the Philippines (also known as Manila hemp, though it is a completely different type of plant), increasingly replaced American-grown hemp as a raw material for rope. Abaca was stronger than hemp and did not need to be soaked in tar.

Intestines of animals are composed of fibers, sheep and lambs which is made into cat-gut. This is used for musical instruments, hatters, watch-makers, etc. Horse hair which comes from the mane and tale and is frequently used for rope making is durable, elastic, and impervious to moisture. However, the rope cannot be used where is is subject to considerable friction.

Spot Cord, a cotton rope first made in 1884. Rather than being laid up in the time-honored way, it is plaited, woven in a tight geometric pattern around a straight fiber core. It has proven to be very resistant to snags and abrasions. Spot Cord has been the ideal sash cord for windows, clotheslines, and many other domestic uses.

Modern rope making materials Nylon, polyester, and Dacron.

Rope was originally used for mill drives to power machinery with pulleys that had grooves for the rope to travel though. Flat leather belts replace rope drives in mills. When wire rope and steel cable was developed it was never used for mill drives inside of the mill because of the problems of spark, fire and dust explosions.

Ropes are also used to tie down culprits for especially severe physical punishment, in exposed positions, on various contraptions. Ropes can be used for whipping, of widely different impact depending on length, weight and whether the target zone is bare; working in knots or hard objects gives a fiercer bite. Aboard ships, a rope's end was frequently used to administer the lightest on-the-spot discipline to boys and adult sailors,

For somewhat worse offenders the fearsome cat o' nine tails was usually made of rope. A rope of about 18 inches long, dipped in hot tar to make it heavier and brittle, usually with a knot on the striking end. Nothing like a cat o' nine tails dipped in hot tar struck across one's back!

The rope is also a metonymical expression, as is the noose, for capital punishment by hanging.

Rope Fibers:

HEMP (Roman Times).
FLAX (Europe).
JUTE (India).
HEMP (Europe/Asia).
SISAL (Americas).
ABACA (Manila Philippines).
NYLON (About 1937)


Guild of rope makers in London at least as early as 1328. The record shows that in that year five men were elected and sworn to govern the "ministry of Corders."


Strong tread or string made of two or more strands twisted together.


Hazen, Edward, 1846, Popular Technology, Professions and Trades (The Panorama of Professions and Trades; or Every Man's Book), Chapter: The Rope-Maker, in Two Volumes, Harper and Brothers, New York. Reprinted by Early American Industries Association, Albany, New York, 1981.

Lane, Frederic Chapin, 1932. The Rope Factory and Hemp Trade of Venice in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, Journal of Economic and Business History, Vol. 4 No. 4 Supply. (August 1932).

Plymouth Cordage Company, 1931. The Story of Rope; The History and the Modern Development of Rope-Making. Plymouth Cordage Company, North Plymouth, Mass.

Sanctuary, Anthony, 1996. Rope, Twine and Net Making. Shire Publications Ltd., Cromwell House, Princess Risborough, Buckinghamshire.

Teeter, Emily, 1987. Techniques and Terminology of Rope-Making in Ancient Egypt, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 73 (1987).

Tyson, William, no date. Rope, a History of the Hard Fibre Cordage Industry in the United Kingdom. Wheatland Journals, Ltd., London

Millers loading their Delivery Cart, circa 1910.

Question: How many uses of rope and cordage are there in a windmill?
Answer: (1) Rope is used in the sack hoist. (2) Rope is used as control ropes which activates the movement up and down. (3) Rope is used to tie the canvas sails on the arms of the wind wheel. (4) Rope is used on the wind mills break wheel. (5) Rope can be used in rope drive instead of using flat leather belting to operate cleaners and sifters. (6) Cord is used to tie the miller's knots on the sacks of flour and meal. (7) Cord is used on value chutes to control the direction or movement of material inside of the mill. (8) Cord is used on the door latch of the mill. Etc.
Note: (1) Leather cord or strips are used as the crook string which connects the twist peg, damsel, and miller's willow. (2) If the mill has a lighter staff and bottle weight tentering system, then a leather strap is used to attach the end of the strap to the bottle weight, and wrapped around the staff several time. (3) A leather cord or strip is used on the warbler or warning bell. This was a bell that sounded automatically when the hopper was empty, to prevent the millstones from running empty. Such a device was found on older mills such as the pairs of French millstones in Peirce Mill (before it has been fooled with) in Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C., the Grist Mill at Lobachsville, Odey, Pennsyvania, and a number of the mills in Perry County, Pennsylvania.

A German ropemaker, around 1460-1480. The text, in an archaic dialect of German, reads: "I am a rogue and a blighter. I worked together flax and powder(?), and covered it with hemp. That is how I cheated people." So it was not just the dishonest miller that cheated people, What was that powder?

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Copyright 2006 by T. R. Hazen